Category Archives: Texas ScholarWorks

The Red Sheikh 

Abdullah Tariki.

Due to the Geology program’s size, prominence, and traditional emphasis on field science, The Walter Geology Library’s thesis and dissertation collection has always been a central factor in providing research assistance. Prior to the 1980’s, many of these works remained essentially unpublished, and even those that were eventually published were highly condensed, leading researchers back to the original for full access to the complete data set.

When the Texas ScholarWorks digital repository was unveiled in 2008 as the new home for graduate research, we felt it would be advantageous to move as many legacy theses as possible into this new, open, and fully accessible format. A secondary consideration was preservation, for these works are in editions that rarely exceed ten copies, and many have loose plates, glued in photographs, and sometimes low quality paper and binding.

Our strategy was to begin in 1897 scanning the theses of deceased graduates, and to use our extensive alumni network to track down living authors and get their permission to share their work. To date we have been able to produce hundreds of scans of works from the pre-digital era. Is this effective? One recent story serves to illustrate the potential.

Abdullah Homoud Tariki, born in 1919 in Zelfi, Saudi Arabia, got a bachelor’s in geology from Fouad University in Cairo, and in November 1945, just two months after the end of WII in the Pacific, found himself in Austin Texas, entering graduate school in the Department of Geology. Apparently he was the first Saudi Arabian to study geology in the US, and, as best we can determine, the first Saudi Arabian to write an academic thesis on Saudi Arabia. He received his MA in August 1947, and, after a short stint in Houston, returned to Saudi Arabia. In a career filled with firsts, he later became the first Saudi Oil Minister, and, (reportedly based on his understanding of the Texas Railroad Commission’s structure and purpose), one of the original founders of OPEC. He was outspoken, and later involved in a number of disputes with Prince (later King) Faisal, which got him sacked, and earned him the title “The Red Sheikh”, according to some middle east sources. He died in Cairo in 1997.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tariki’s poor thesis sat mostly undisturbed on the shelves, having been checked out only a few times over the decades. Recently, a Saudi Arabian graduate student asked to see the thesis. He was born in the same village as Tariki, and claimed him as the founder of the Saudi geosciences technical infrastructure. As far as he knew, no one in Saudi Arabia had ever seen Tariki’s thesis. We decided to add it to our scanning project, and it was posted in late October of 2016. The Geology of Saudi Arabia, now almost 70 years out of date, has demonstrated that with easier access and a wider audience, digitizing such older scholarship brings new life to old texts. In the two months since its release, Mr. Tariki’s neglected thesis has been downloaded more than 50 times around the world. We are thrilled to be able to extend the reach and impact of our student’s work in this way.

What starts here changes the world.

Preserving Voices from the Past

Phone conversations of the past.

Just in the last month, the university has announced research achievements in areas as varied as digital neuroscopy, millennial socioeconomic demography, biofuel farming practices, new species discovery and engineering to improve physical therapy. It’s a testament to how much starts here that really does change the world that we are constantly moving on to the next discovery or innovation.

But the basis for these discoveries doesn’t just disappear into some massive warehouse never to be seen again. Especially in the age of digital preservation, even those materials that could easily have fallen victim to the ravages of time can now be reasonably saved for contemplation or further consideration at some point in the future.

Such is the case with a trove of audio recordings compiled by Communications professor Robert Hopper (1945-1998) documenting the most seemingly commonplace of activities — human conversation.

Over the span of decades, Hopper meticulously captured thousands of hours of person-to-person interactions, phone conversations and phone messages in an attempt to understand how we connect with each other in the most basic of ways.

Hopper’s research resulted in nine books, over sixty essays and numerous papers on the subject, but just as importantly, he left us with a sizable snapshot of how people shared space with each other during a particular era in which the telephone was a significant tool for conversation.

From voice to magnetic tape and now to a collection of ones and zeroes spread across time and distance, this information has been carefully preserved from its origination in the 20th century to today, and is available through the Libraries digital repository, Texas ScholarWorks, for anyone to access.

Established in 2008 as the University of Texas Digital Repository, Texas ScholarWorks was created to provide open, online access to the products of the University’s research and scholarship, preserve these works for future generations, promote new models of scholarly communication and deepen community understanding of the value of higher education.

Along with its recent renaming, the repository received a significant upgrade making it easier than ever to access, utilize and synthesize data and knowledge generated at UT for broadening our understanding of the world and of ourselves.

In such a way as to warrant a reconsideration of his work — made possible through endeavors like Texas ScholarWorks — Hopper presaged the increasing centrality of technology to the human experience in his 1992 book, Telephone Conversation:

“As citizens in the telephone age become increasingly summons-vulnerable, technical innovation transforms and constrains possibilities for speaking. In constructing summons and in answering them, we use resources already available in the speech community. But adaptation to this new medium alters communications patterns that are among our most priceless community resources. Ecological pollution may strike semiotic systems as well as air and water. We experiment on ourselves by using the telephone which may be the electronic medium that transforms its users the most thoroughly.”

The Libraries copy of Robert Hopper's "Telephone Conversation," inscribed by the author.