Tag Archives: digital humanities

Quantitative Criticism Lab, or What Happens When a Classicist and a Computational Biologist Walk into a Bar

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

The Quantitative Criticism Lab (QCL) was formed in 2014 as a collaboration between humanists, computer scientists and computational biologists. The project’s unique combination of expertise informs its innovative approach to the computational analysis of Latin literature. And I’m not just saying that as a research assistant for the project!

The lab is led by Pramit Chaudhuri, an Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin, and Joseph Dexter, a computational biologist and Neukom Fellow at Dartmouth. They recruited me before I knew what digital humanities was, though I was certain that I wanted to do something more with my Classics undergraduate degree other than teaching fifth graders “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Latin (“Caput, umeri, genua and pedes”, if you were wondering). 

This digital Classics project uses machine learning, natural language processing and systems biology to study Latin literature and its influence. QCL uses a computational approach to explore the traditional study of “philology”, or the development and history of language in text. The lab’s first development was its tool, Fīlum (Latin for the thread of a web), an apt name given the tool’s purpose to reveal relationships amongst Latin texts by identifying intertextual references in Latin literature. 

For an example of intertextuality, in the epic poem the Aeneid, Vergil uses the phrase “immane nefas”, meaning “huge wrongdoing” to refer to the unspeakable horrors of the underworld. Years later, the author Lucan, in his epic, the Pharsalia, references and adapts that phrase to “commune nefas”, or “collective wrongdoing”, to blame an entire community for the horrors of civil war. Fīlum aids scholars in discovering, tracking, and discussing such connections. 

So, what makes Fīlum better than a ctrl+f approach? In the example above, a scholar would have to search many texts to even possibly discover Lucan’s reference; with Fīlum, they can search many texts simultaneously. Furthermore, Fīlum can even detect phrasing similar to the search query. 

QCL’s computational approach tabulates similarity, using the concept of “edit distance”, or the number of character changes through additions, deletions or substitutions in two words or phrases. For example, the edit distance of “kitten” and “sitting” has an edit distance of 3. You substitute “k” with “s”, “e” with “i”, and add a “g” – three changes in total. 

What if you have a feeling the phrase you want to use in Fīlum, might be in a different word order? With “Order-Free” searching, the tool searches for any arrangement of the words in a phrase. This is an especially valuable feature since Latin often refuses to follow a regulated pattern of word order.

With its search phrase, edit distance and order free option, Fīlum searches through a selected text or a user-selected corpora of Latin literature from the site. With a free account, users can create a search corpus from a library of texts or upload their own. 

The output cleanly displays results distinguished by each text’s author, work, and highlights the relevant words in each result. For added context, when selected, each result displays the previous and following lines from the text for context.

I have enjoyed both working on Fīlum and using the tool for my research. As QCL continues to improve the tool, I hope other classicists will appreciate not only its value but the interdisciplinary method that built it. 

If you are interested in the project and its study, please stay tuned to information about an upcoming QCL sponsored conference in April, here on the UT Austin Campus:

Digital Humanities Beyond Modern English: Computational Analysis of Premodern and Non-Western Literature https://qcrit.github.io/DHBME/

For further reading on topics like digital classics and text analysis, please see below:

Digital classics outside the echo-chamber teaching, knowledge exchange & public engagement / edited by Gabriel Bodard and Matteo Romanello.

Text Analysis with R for Students of Literature by Matthew L. Jockers.

Critics, compilers, and commentators : an introduction to Roman philology, 200 BCE-800 CE / James E. G. Zetzel.

Philology : the forgotten origins of the modern humanities / James Turner.

UT Library Libguide on Text Analysis by European Studies Librarian, Ian Goodale

Illuminating Explorations: French Communism and Global Revolution

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.


Radical politics in Europe experienced a pronounced growth in strength and popularity in the early 20th century, both before and following the communist revolution in Russia in October 1917. France possessed a unique position in the continent-wide growth of leftist and labor-focused–and specifically communist and anarcho-syndicalist–parties and movements. The Paris Commune and its politics played an important role in the development of Marxism, which would later become the most prominent political position in politically successful leftist parties and revolutionaries from Russia to Western Europe. While very influential and popular throughout France in the early twentieth century, there were also significant forces opposed to the rise of left-wing sentiment both in France and across Europe. This exhibit curates a number of significant holdings of the UT Libraries surrounding communism in France, and is organized into sections containing pro-communist, anti-communist, and leftist but not explicitly pro-communist materials.

The exhibit aims to shed light on the varied political attitudes and interests active in Francophone literature at this time. These perspectives include explicitly pro-Leninist ideas, firmly in line with the Soviet-led Third International, or Comintern, to outwardly monarchist tracts opposed to the Bolshevik seizure of power. Also included are dissenting leftist opinions that, while decidedly pro-labor and in the leftist camp politically, are nevertheless not truly in line with the Soviet model of democratic centralism as propagated and put into practice by Lenin. In addition to French authors, the exhibit also represents a few pamphlets that are French translations of Russian texts, highlighting the truly international character of European socialism during this period.

The pamphlets presented here have been selected for this exhibit not only because of their importance to the UT Libraries’ distinctive collections, but because of their relevance to the political and socio-cultural history of Europe, both Western and Eastern, which continues to influence contemporary politics in France and beyond. Many of the publications also feature graphics and designs that will be of interest to anyone interested in the history of monographic design and publishing in the early to mid-twentieth century.

This collection will be of interest to anyone who would like to learn more about French-language history and propaganda, or who is interested in the development of socialist (specifically communist) and anti-socialist ideologies in Europe. The print versions of the pamphlets are available at the Perry-Castañeda Library and their digitized versions are available through the UT Libraries’ Collections Portal.

Ian Goodale is the European Studies Librarian for UT Libraries.

Read, Hot and Digitized: French Revolution Pamphlets

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

The French Revolution Pamphlets Digital Initiative, based at the Newberry Library in Chicago, is a large-scale digitization initiative that makes digital copies of over 38,000 documents, mostly pamphlets, accessible online. The documents, which primarily consist of material published between 1780 and 1810, encompass 850,000 pages of text, and the dataset produced by the project, containing OCR and metadata files, is roughly 11 gigabytes. This collection of French Revolutionary materials is among the most comprehensive in the world, and enriches the study not only of French and European history, but casts light on broader concepts of revolution and social transformation relevant to a global audience. The materials are of interest to numerous fields of study, including legal, social, and cultural history and the history of printing and publication.

The homepage for the project, built in Scalar.

The collection gathers materials from a number of the Newberry’s collections, including the French Revolution Collection, the Louis XVI Trial and Execution Collection, and several smaller groups of French Revolution era material. The materials chronicle the political, social and religious dimensions of the Revolution’s history, and include works by a diverse set of authors, including Robespierre, Marat, and Louis XIV. The texts include arguments both in support of and opposing the monarchy between 1789 and 1799, and serve as a firsthand chronicle of the First Republic. The collection includes complete runs of well-known journals, many rare and unknown publications, and about 3,000 French political pamphlets published between 1560 to 1653 that document a period of religious wars and the establishment of the absolute monarchy.

The main interface for the project was built in Scalar, a free and open source web authoring platform from the The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture at USC. The Scalar site links to the digital copies of the pamphlets, hosted on archive.org, as well as translations of select pamphlets. The sites also includes a number of other valuable resources, including data downloads, digital pedagogy materials, and pages designed for librarians interested in working with the digital collection.

The digitized pamphlets on archive.org.

To help support scholarship using the collection, the Newberry has funded an open data grant to support researchers working with the project’s large data set. The recipients of the first grant, Joseph Harder and Mimi Zhou, are conducting a sentiment analysis of the French Revolution materials, assigning numerical values to word-use in order to code for positive and negative tone across the data. By applying sentiment analysis to both the popular press and propaganda, Harder and Zhou hope to find trends in public opinion throughout the French Revolution, and to see how those trends shaped the revolution’s political outcomes.

The project’s data on GitHub.

The project serves as an important contribution to digital scholarship in European Studies. The sheer volume of the project’s digitized materials alone is impressive, but the variety of the resources it encompasses makes it particularly distinctive. Its venture into funding research using an open data grant—and the fact that its data set is openly available to anyone who wants to download it—is especially exciting, and I look forward to seeing the scholarship that results from making these materials freely accessible online. For those interested in exploring French Revolutionary materials in the UT Austin Libraries, I recommend looking through our extensive holdings on the subject, including our collection of pamphlets, both in print and on microfilm.

LLILAS Benson Collaborates on Remote Translation and Transcription of Colonial Documents

By Albert A. Palacios, Jenny Marie Forsythe, and Julie C. Evershed

Leer en español.

On September 21, 2019, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections and the New Orleans Jazz Museum joined forces to make their colonial collections a bit more accessible. The two institutions led a joint transcribe-a-thon that convened community members in person at the Louisiana Historical Center, and remotely through the Benson Latin American Collection’s Facebook page. Together, participants transcribed handwritten Spanish and French documents from 1559 to 1817, with the goal of making these records more useful to teachers, students, researchers, and family historians.

FromThePage’s transcription interface, https://fromthepage.lib.utexas.edu/llilasbenson.

FromThePage, a transcription, translation, and indexing tool, enabled the long-distance collaboration. During a three-hour window, participants browsed the compiled list of manuscripts at both archives and worked together to decipher and transcribe them in the digital scholarship platform. At the halfway point, New Orleans Jazz Museum staff gave us a glimpse of unique colonial cases in their archive, including a declaration of freedom mounted on cloth for a Jamaican man named Santiago Bennet, and broadcast it live through their Facebook page. Following their lead, LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship (LBDS) staff shared through their Facebook event page some of the Benson’s notable holdings, including its digital collection of geographical descriptions and paintings, or Relaciones Geográficas, of New Spain.

New Orleans Jazz Museum staff works with transcription collaborators at the Louisiana Historical Center, September 21, 2019. Courtesy of the New Orleans Jazz Museum.

As students, researchers, and community members retraced and rewrote the words of colonial notaries, they were also furthering a long-standing digital initiative of the New Orleans Jazz Museum and Louisiana Historical Center. In the early 2010s, the Museum and Center, along with many other community partners and advocates, accomplished the incredible feat of digitizing some 220,000 pages of notarial records from colonial Louisiana to create a digital collection, www.lacolonialdocs.org. Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon Project Managers Jennifer Long, Michelle Brenner, and Jenny Marie Forsythe culled from this rich resource to create the Museum’s FromThePage collection, which reveals details about enslavement, self-liberation and rebellion, kinship connections, pirate raids, colonial medicine, gambling parties, disputed inheritances, marital strife, and much more.

Painting, Pueblo of Tepatepec (New Spain) against Corregidor Manuel de Olvera, 1570–1572. According to the account, Corregidor Olvera—identified throughout with a corregidor’s staff—did not deliver on the legal representation he promised the Tepatepec Natives over various disputes regarding tithes and labor conscription. Local Spanish abuse of power was prevalent in New Spain. Genaro García Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.

For the joint event, LBDS staff curated a FromThePage collection of documents written by or about indigenous populations in Mexico from the 16th to the 18th centuries in celebration of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The team had their work cut out for them: the Benson Latin American Collection preserves numerous significant holdings documenting politics, religion, and culture during the Spanish colonial period, including some of the earliest books published in the Americas (1544–1600) and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s vows of profession (1669–1695), to name a few. Throughout the weekend, a small but dedicated group of individuals answered LLILAS Benson’s call and joined online. Collaborators from both coasts of the United States and as far south as Peru collectively volunteered over twenty hours of their time and fully transcribed fourteen documents from the Benson.

Pictorial representation of the lands owned by the Jesuit College of Tepozotlán, circa 1600–1625 (left). Viceregal decree ordering Tepozotlán’s repartidor to provide the Jesuit college with Native laborers, August 18, 1610 (right). Edmundo O’Gorman Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.

During the weekend of October 19–20, the University of Michigan’s Language Resource Center (LRC) offered some of these transcriptions in their Translate-a-thon, a community-driven event aimed at translating materials for the benefit of the local, national, and international community. A few volunteers—one of whom had done research on colonial Mexico—were thrilled to see documents from the Benson and tackled their translation. Among these was the above decree ordering Tepozotlán’s royal administrator to assign six Natives to work for the Jesuits, underscoring the importance of Native labor in the figurative and literal construction of the Spanish Empire, and the propagation of the Roman Catholic Church. Given the success and Michigan faculty interest in this joint effort, the LRC and the LBDS Office plan to continue the collaboration to broaden the accessibility and use of the Benson’s early modern materials.

Dr. Cinthia Salinas, chair of the Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction, walks Social Studies Methods master’s students through a teaching exercise using a pictorial account of the meeting between Moctezuma and Hernán Cortés, a document from the Benson’s Genaro García Collection, March 19, 2019. Courtesy of Albert A. Palacios.

The next step at the LBDS Office is to incorporate these primary sources into Texas high school and UT Austin undergraduate curriculum. Earlier this year, LLILAS Benson initiated a Department of Education Title VI–funded partnership with the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction to design World History and Geography lesson plans around the Benson’s rich holdings. Building on these pedagogical efforts, LBDS staff will be translating, contextualizing, and promoting the use of these Spanish colonial documents in undergraduate classes and digital scholarship projects at UT and beyond. 

For those who missed the event, you can still join the effort! The Benson’s FromThePage collection will be open for collaborative transcription and translation until Sunday, November 3. Check out the documents list and guide to see how you can help.

Project Participants

  • Greg Lambousy (Director)
  • Jennifer Long (Scanning Manager)
  • Bryanne Schexnayder (Scanner)
  • Michelle Brenner (New Orleans Jazz Museum & Louisiana Historical Center, Reading Room Manager)
  • Jenny Marie Forsythe (Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon Project Co-Manager) 
  • Handy Acosta Cuellar (PhD Candidate, Tulane University; Instructor of Spanish, Louisiana State University)
  • Raúl Alencar (Graduate Student, Tulane University)

Click here for more information on Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon Collaborators.

  • Julie C. Evershed (Director)
  • Translation collaborators: Zhehao Tong, Marlon James Sales, and Olivia Alge
  • Albert A. Palacios (Digital Scholarship Coordinator)
  • Joshua Ortiz Baco (Digital Scholarship Graduate Research Assistant)
  • FromThePage collaborators (usernames): guillaume candela, Ken, Betty Cruz L, Matt H., Carolina Casusol, and Handy1985

About the Authors

Albert A. Palacios is Digital Scholarship Coordinator at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, The University of Texas at Austin. Jenny Marie Forsythe is co-manager of the Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon Project. Julie C. Evershed is Language Resource Center Director at the University of Michigan.

Embroidered Testimonies of Salvadoran Civil War Refugees Accessible Online

By Albert A. Palacios, LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Coordinator

Leer en español

Over the summer, LLILAS Benson and El Salvador’s Museum of the Word and the Image (often referred to by its acronym, MUPI, for Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen) added yet another digital initiative to their long-standing partnership. Since 2012, the two institutions have worked closely to digitize archival materials related to the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992), thanks to the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. While continuing these efforts, this time around the collaboration explored the potential of digital humanities tools to showcase one of MUPI’s most visually compelling collections—embroidered refugee accounts.

Embroidered piece remembering a Salvadoran refugee camp and the people and activities associated with it.

Testimonies of human rights violations come in different forms, and MUPI’s founder and current director, Carlos “Santiago” Henríquez Consalvi, has actively sought to preserve the diversity. Soon after the signing of the 1992 Chapultepec Peace Accords that ended the Salvadoran Civil War, Santiago directed a campaign to rescue cultural heritage created prior to, during, and after the armed conflict. This has included political propaganda, periodicals, and the Radio Venceremos station recordings. Since its formal foundation in 1999, MUPI has continued this preservation and expanded its collecting and educational scope to include various topics in Salvadoran culture and history.

Its most recent growing collection—and the focus of this newest collaboration—consists of remarkable embroidered testimonies created by refugee Salvadoran peasant women in Honduras during the civil war. These pieces were meant to communicate to the world the refugees’ lived experiences, with many of the textiles being sent to solidarity groups and organizations in Europe and Canada at the time. Thanks to a recent international campaign, over twenty artworks have been repatriated and sent to MUPI. Through community workshops in El Salvador’s countryside, MUPI has striven to renew appreciation for this cultural tradition, promoting the art form and subsequent collecting efforts through an exhibition titled Embroiderers of Memories in San Salvador.

Now that the testimonies are making their way back home, MUPI is using digital technologies to continue the advocacy work these women began in the 1980s. In an effort to educate a broader and international audience, specifically El Salvadoran-descendant youth in the United States, the Museum worked with LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship (LBDS) staff to recreate Embroiderers of Memories online. This past June, the LBDS team went to San Salvador and trained MUPI exhibition designer Pedro Durán on how to create digital exhibitions in LLILAS Benson’s Omeka platform so that he could reconceive his design online using working scans of the embroidery. The LBDS team also took the opportunity to introduce MUPI staff to other open-source digital humanities tools that could enrich MUPI’s active engagement with local youth groups.

Digitization of an embroidery.

The visit also launched another post-custodial archival project for both institutions. The initiative required an entirely different approach to digitization and new equipment training, considering the size of some of these artworks; for example, the piece pictured at the beginning of this blog was over 8 feet long. Pre-trained by the Benson’s post-custodial (PC) staff, the LBDS team worked with MUPI staff to start the archival-quality digitization and item-level description of the embroidery collection. The PC team hopes to incorporate the collection into LLILAS Benson’s Latin American Digital Initiatives later this year, so stay tuned.

Members of LLILAS Benson’s Digital Initiatives team work with archivists at the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen in El Salvador.

Project participants:

  • Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen
    • Carlos “Santiago” Henríquez Consalvi (MUPI Director)
    • Carlos Colorado (Digitization Coordinator)
    • Pedro Durán (Graphic Designer)
    • Jakelyn López (Archive Coordinator)
  • LLILAS Benson
    • Dr. Jennifer Isasi (CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow) 
    • Albert A. Palacios (Digital Scholarship Coordinator)
    • David Bliss (Digital Processing Archivist) 
    • Itza Carbajal (Latin American Metadata Librarian)
    • Theresa Polk (Benson Head of Digital Initiatives)

Read, Hot and Digitized: Footprints – The Chronotope of the Jewish Book

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  

Working as a book conservator back in the days in Tel Aviv, I was always intrigued by the notes and scribbles found on flyleaves, covers, and pages of centuries-old books. It seemed that this text, which supposedly was not related to the actual content of the book in hand, had its own story to tell – about places, people, and events. Now this data is playing the main role in Footprints; these pieces of information could be interlinked, and show us a new spatial landscape of Jewish texts through generations.

The goal of the project, a collaborative initiative by the Jewish Theological Seminary, Columbia University, University of Pittsburgh, and Stony Brook University, is to create a “database to track the circulation of printed ‘Jewish books’ (in Hebrew, other Jewish languages, and books in Latin and non-Jewish vernaculars with Judaica contents).”[1] Those notes, scribbles, and ‘marginal’ pieces of information are scattered in many forms. Footprints lists many types of evidence while documenting the movement of books, and presents visualizations of mobility, including mapping. Some types of evidence include owners’ signatures and bookplates; handwritten notations of sales; estate inventories; references to exchanges of books in correspondence of scholars or merchants; unpublished booklists copied in flyleaves; printers’ colophons; subscription lists, and lists of approbations indicating backers or patrons of the books who presumably received a copy of the product.[2]

Footprints website.

Take for example the literary work titled ʻAḳedat Yitsḥaḳ (“the Binding of Isaac”) – a collection of philosophical homilies and commentaries on the Torah by Isaac ben Moses Arama (1420-1494).

This text is represented by five different imprints. Each imprint is represented by various unique copies, and each copy has between one to nine ‘footprints.’ For example, the imprint published in 1547 in Venice, Italy, has five unique ‘holdings’ in the database. One of these copies is traced through six different ‘time stamps’, owners, and locations, from 1599 (Modena, Italy) through 1986 (New York, NY). Another fascinating example is the journey of a copy of Masekhet Nedarim (a Talmudic tractate) printed in Venice in 1523. In 1663 it was bought (and sold) in Yemen. Between 1842 to 1894 it was owned by Alexander Kohut in New York, and since 1915 this particular copy has been owned by Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Inscription with details of the sale of Masekhet Nedarim in Yemen, 1663. (https://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/footprint/6085/)
Inscription with details of the sale of Masekhet Nedarim in Yemen, 1663. (https://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/footprint/6085/)

Librarians and researches from Europe, Israel, and Unites States are constantly adding new information and validating accuracy of current entries. The database currently includes 7638 unique footprints, and is searchable by keywords, footprint year, and publication year. Here in Austin, The Harry Ransom Center is also collaborating with Footprints; data gleaned from the Center’s early Hebrew books holdings, mainly those dated pre-1800, will be uploaded soon to the database.

Footprints is an open-source and open-access tool; it uses a PostgresSQL, an object-relational database system, which is available on Github. As such, it is both a digital humanities project and a global collaborative project. The digital platform makes public the very process of scholarship performed by trusted crowd sourcing. The collaborative platform invites immediate feedback, editing, and revision.[3] The project owners anticipate future uses to include inferential statistical analysis and network visualization. They anticipate that “cultural historians and statisticians would leverage their mutual areas of expertise to offer a statistical analysis that takes into account social, cultural, political, and economic contexts.”[4] In addition, they plan to visualize networks of book movement showing connections between places, and networks connecting individuals to each other or to other places.

Footprints brings to mind Bakhtin’s Chronotope, where time and place are merging into one meaningful experience. A physical printed book travels through times and places; created, owned, and used by various individuals, carrying with it ideas and intellectual meaning. A Chronotope of the Jewish book, Footprints is a multidimensional bibliography, which highlights and makes use of previously unknown resources in a way that re-imagines the practice of Jewish book history.


Further reading (all available at Perry-Castañeda Library)

Pearson, David. 2007. “What Can We Learn by Tracking Multiple Copies of Books?” In Books on the Move : Tracking Copies through Collections and the Book Trade, edited by Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Mandelbrote, 17-37. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press ; London : British Library.

Walsby, Malcolm and Natasha Constantinidu, eds. 2013. Documenting the Early Modern Book World: Inventories and Catalogs in Manuscript and Print. Leiden: Brill.

Dweck, Yaacob. 2010. “What is a Jewish Book?Association for Jewish Studies Review 34: 367-376.

[1] http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/about/

[2] http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/about/#about02

[3] Michelle Chesner, Marjorie Lehman, Adam Shear, Joshua Teplitsky. “Footprints: Tracking Individual Copies of Printed books Using Digital Methods.” 2018. Medaon, 23. https://www.medaon.de/en/artikel/footprints-tracking-individual-copies-of-printed-books-using-digital-methods/

[4] http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/about/#about05

 

 

The Infinite Atlas Project, Or a Supposedly Fun Project the Library Didn’t Create

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is considered, by some, a masterpiece of late 20th century American literature. The Harry Ransom Center’s acquisition of Wallace’s personal papers in 2010 gave his work a higher profile among scholars[1], and “Wallace Studies” has emerged as a sub-discipline.[2] Curiously, his writings inspire an obsessive fan base that resembles the enthusiasm and devotion found at sci-fi cons rather than serious literary study.[3] (Wallace had his own obsessions with television and “low-brow” pop culture, and perhaps he would find his fandom amusing.)[4]

I started reading Infinite Jest while I was living in Boston, and I was struck by the novel’s sense of place. Wallace set the novel in a dystopic future where the United States has merged with Mexico and Canada to form the Organized North American Nations. Despite this setting, Bostonians will quickly recognize places in the novel because Wallace reimagines the city in excruciating detail. Critic Bill Lattanzi suggests Wallace was mirroring James Joyce’s painstaking recreation of Dublin in Ulysses. But Lattanzi recognizes what many readers familiar with Boston understand about the novel: There is a distortion of the city in Infinite Jest. It’s not Boston, or even the United States, as we know it. [5]

In this context, I chose to evaluate the Infinite Atlas, an interactive, crowd-sourced mapping project that geo-locates references in Infinite Jest.  William Beutler, a communications consultant, created the Infinite Atlas and the travel blog Infinite Boston in 2012. The site’s “About” section describes it as “an independent research and art project.”[6]

Infinite Atlas 1 Ennet House copy
The Infinite Atlas includes fictional and fictionalized locations unique to Infinite Jest. The Ennet Drug and Alcohol Recovery House is set in the town of Ennet, a fictionalized version of Boston’s Brighton neighborhood.

The Infinite Atlas is built on Google Maps, with design work by the firm JESS3 and programming from the web development company Red Edge. (It’s unclear if Beutler paid for the design and programming.) Beutler credits his friends and family for helping him with data collection, which included going through all 1,000+ pages of Infinite Jest one-by-one. The project also allows users to create their own locations and upload photos and descriptions, so the Atlas has expanded beyond the Boston area.

What can academic institutions take away from this project? What strikes me is the dedication, love, and passion Beutler and his friends brought to it, and their continued maintenance of the Infinite Atlas. Maintenance of digital projects is an ongoing issue for academic institutions and libraries, which can’t afford trendy design firms. However, we can learn from the Infinite Atlas team’s dedication. We should choose projects that we are passionate about, ones that we will care for and attend to in the future, much in the same way we care for our physical book collections.

Infinite Atlas 2 Ryles copy
This is the Infinite Atlas entry for Ryle’s Jazz Club in Cambridge, which was the setting of a notable scene in Infinite Jest and is a place you can actually visit.

This project also has interesting implications for scholars. Infinite Jest is a very difficult book. It is long, convoluted, and full of footnotes. It requires stamina of its readers. If the novel is, as Lattanzi suggests, a fragmentation of Wallace’s experiences in Boston, it is logical that fans would try to make sense of that. Beutler told Fast Company in 2015, “I re-read Infinite Jest after Wallace’s passing, and became obsessed with the idea that there was a way to treat Infinite Jest as a very large data set.”[7] The Infinite Atlas is an attempt to better understand this novel through data, and that is one of digital humanities’ primary goals. Furthermore, the Infinite Atlas could be an object of study unto itself. It is, in a way, a primary source potentially useful for scholars interested in reader response to Wallace’s work. In the universe of digital projects, a non-academic work like the Infinite Atlas is an intriguing example because it challenges our notions of scholarship and leads us to other potentially better questions.[8]

You can find editions of David Foster Wallace’s fiction and non-fiction, including Infinite Jest, at the PCL, where you can also find critical and scholarly works on Wallace’s writing.

[1] Meredith Blake, “What’s in the David Foster Wallace Archive?” The New Yorker, March 9, 2010, https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/whats-in-the-david-foster-wallace-archive

[2] See the Preface to Boswell and Burns’s 2013 book Companion to David Foster Wallace Studies for a brief history of Wallace Studies: http://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b8828072~S29

[3] See fan sites like the Infinite Jest Wiki: https://infinitejest.fandom.com/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace and the Uncyclopedia: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace And then there’s this particularly, er, challenging essay by Mike Miley in The Smart Set magazine from 2014: https://thesmartset.com/article08181401/

[4] See Wallace’s famous essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” in his 1997 book A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again for Wallace’s examination of his own fraught relationship with television: http://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b4267999~S29

[5] Bill Lattanzi, “Messing with Maps: Walking David Foster Wallace’s Boston,” Los Angeles Review of Books, February 6, 2016, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/messing-maps-walking-david-foster-wallaces-boston#!

[6] “About Infinite Atlas,” Infinite Atlas, accessed February 7, 2019. http://infiniteatlas.com/about

[7] Teressa Iezzi, “Infinite Atlas: A Location-Based Visualization Of A Literary Masterpiece,” Fast Company, January 26, 2015, https://www.fastcompany.com/1681555/infinite-atlas-a-location-based-visualization-of-a-literary-masterpiece

[8] No discussion of Infinite Jest would be complete without its own set of self-aware footnotes.

Read, Hot, and Digitized: 1947 Partition Archive

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

Increasingly simple and cost-effective digital technologies have made capturing and distributing oral histories a robust and growing field for archivists and for researchers, and, by extension for students and scholars seeking primary source, personal narratives to augment their understandings of history.  One of the most compelling South Asian oral history projects is the 1947 Partition Archive.  The Archive’s mission is to preserve eyewitness accounts from those who lived through the exceptionally turbulent and violent period when the Indian subcontinent gained independence from Britain, divided into the nation-states of India and Pakistan, and millions of people migrated from India to Pakistan, from Pakistan to India, from India and Pakistan to other parts of the world.  The work of the Archive is especially pressing: it has been 72 years since Partition and those still alive and able to directly recount their stories are increasingly rare.  As such, the core of the Archive’s work is to use its digital platform to encourage and motivate more interviews.

Using the power of “the crowd” to create content as well as to fund itself, the 1947 Partition Archive is demonstrably transparent in its methodologies; of particular use to those new to video oral histories is their “Citizen Historian Training Packet” which walks a novice through best practices for interviewing, strategies for good video capture, recommendations for incorporating still images into videos and even how to employ social media to generate interest (and potentially more interviews!).   The Archive has gathered over 5000 interviews so far and uses a very persuasive interactive map (StoryMap) on its front page to document the scale and scope of migration while simultaneously indexing the interviews; on the map itself, try searching a city either in “migrated to” or “migrated from” to generate a list of interviews, many with detailed text summaries that can be easily shared through social media, email, etc.

A handful of video interviews are available on the front page of the Archive’s website and raw, unedited recordings are available upon request.

Recently the Archive has partnered with Stanford University Library to preserve and archive the recordings.  To date, approximately 50 interviews are available through streaming on the site and (contingent on funding) one can hope for more to be available soon.  On the Stanford site, one can navigate by language, author, place & date of recording, but those just beginning to explore the subject may find the “Today’s Story” a good place to start.

The stories bravely shared through the 1947 Partition Archive are simultaneously compelling and devastating in their intimate descriptions of destruction, of violence, of loss.  And yet, they also provide hope: all interviewees survived the ruin that was Partition and the very act of sharing their stories demonstrates a hope for and generosity towards future generations to learn from the past.

The UT Libraries has an extensive collection related to Partition; those new to the topic might begin with a short story by Saadat Hasan Manto, “Toba Tek Singh,”  a novel by Khushwant Singh, Train to Pakistan, or by Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, or Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s curated graphic novel, This Side, That Side.

Stanford University's 1947 Partition website.

Pastorelas: Past and Present

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.

Zayas, Manuel Antonio, El triunfo de Jesús contra la lengua del diablo : pastorela en cuatro actos. 1853.
Zayas, Manuel Antonio, El triunfo de Jesús contra la lengua del diablo : pastorela en cuatro actos. 1853.

As the holiday season quickly approaches, many in the Latinx community are gearing up to celebrate both Christmas as well as Las Posadas. A lesser known celebratory act performed during the holiday season are the plays known as pastorelas. Pastorelas can be traced back to the 16th Century when Franciscan monks leveraged the strong artistic culture of the Mexica people in Tenochtitlan to evangelize them by incorporating Christian ideals into their performance tradition.

Historically, pastorelas have told the story of how Satan attempted to thwart the travels of the shepherds following the Star of Bethlehem in search of the baby Jesus. While pastorelas have maintained the general premise of good vs. evil, the roles of what constitutes both the good and the evil have changed to encompass contemporary issues that have faced the Latinx communities. Immigration, racism, politics, and a plethora of other topics have been incorporated into pastorelas to transmit opinions and ideas to audiences, both religious and secular.

Fragment of Aztec manuscript, 1520, written in Spanish on native paper, is an illustrated account of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés. (G8 Ms.)
Fragment of Aztec manuscript, 1520, written in Spanish on native paper, is an illustrated account of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés. (G8 Ms.)

While pastorelas have typically been an oral tradition, some have been transcribed to paper. A beautiful example of this is Manuel Antono Zayas’ “El triunfo de Jesús contra la lengua del diablo: pastorela en cuatro actoswritten in 1853. This illustrated play, held in the Benson Rare Books and Manuscript Collection, includes multiple hand drawn illustrations of the costumes to be worn during performances, including those of the angel, San Miguel, and even Satan himself.

Please visit the digital exhibit to see the beautiful illustrations in “el Triunfo” as well as some of the other spectacular rare books available to view from the Benson Collection. Also, peruse Zayas’ entire book, which has been digitized and can be viewed at Texas ScholarWorks.

Gilbert Borrego is the Digital Repository Specialist for Texas ScholarWorks, UT’s institutional repository (IR).

Read, Hot, and Digitized: Puerto Rican Citizenship Archives Project

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

The Puerto Rican Citizenship Archives Project (henceforth PRCAP) is a multi-institutional collaboration focused on the often-shifting legal relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico that began with the annexation of Puerto Rico in 1898. The project’s objective is to show this relationship through the lens of U.S. citizenship.

“Ind Naturalization,” PRCAP (PR Citizenship Archives Project), accessed November 27, 2018, https://scholarscollaborative.org/PuertoRico/items/show/108.

The timing for this project is apt on multiple levels. More Puerto Ricans are migrating to the mainland than ever before and the United States’ poor handling of the fallout from Hurricane María further exacerbated that fact. Puerto Rico’s status as a free associated state, which many view as a mere extension of an outdated colonial model, continues to be a hot topic for scholars and citizens alike. Moreover, 2017 marked a century since passing the Jones Act, a legislative act that provided the collective extension of citizenship to a U.S. territory that was not a state. With that being said, the path to U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans has been far from easily defined. Since 1898, changing laws have provided Puerto Ricans with “non-citizen nationality,” a naturalized citizenship (both individual and collective), and “birthright citizenship.” PRCAP does an excellent job in documenting and detailing these legal changes through government documents.

In some ways, this digital project, principally hosted by the University of Connecticut, is a foil to a lot of the digital scholarship permeating the internet these days. Whereas many of the digital humanities projects I find seem to be driven by visuals (i.e. mapping, timelines), PRCAP is a text-heavy site. This is not a slight on the work; rather, as their recent garnering of awards shows, this project is a welcome return to traditional research approaches and suggests the potential for less technologically inclined scholars to follow suit with their own worthwhile projects. Indeed, many of the site’s offerings include yearly governmental bills and acts to follow the trajectory of citizenship for Puerto Ricans. While more visual content could be beneficial, the webpage will be of great use to scholars working on Puerto Rican cultural studies at large, migration studies, political science, and law.

“Glory Flag,” PRCAP (PR Citizenship Archives Project), accessed November 27, 2018, https://scholarscollaborative.org/PuertoRico/items/show/117.

Each bill comes with a plethora of metadata using Dublin Core standards to contextualize the text. Users can readily access the date of the proposal, the citizenship and legislation type, and even the sponsoring political party. One bill that interests me is the “2017 Bill to Recognize Puerto Rico’s Sovereign Nationhood Under Either Independence of Free Association and to Provide for a Transition Process, and for Other Purposes.” This bill gave congress the obligation to resolve Puerto Rico’s status as an associated free state, suggesting that it is “unsustainable” and to empower Puerto Ricans to determine their political destiny going forward. The bill remains in the introductory phase over one year later, but could be instrumental to Puerto Rico’s future as a state or sovereign nation.

Scholars inspired by PRCAP and interested in learning more about the Spanish-American War and its aftermath might consider swinging by the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection to view the Chocolates E. Juncosa Trade Cards, or check out the recent acquisition, Borderline Citizens: The United States, Puerto Rico, and the Politics of Colonial Migration (2018) by Robert McGreevey.