Tag Archives: digital humanities

Read, Hot & Digitized: Art and Revolution

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this new series, librarians from the UT Libraries 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.

Working at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection since I began a career in librarianship, I have been fortunate to witness and sometimes participate in various facets of what goes into making the Benson the premiere Latin American collection in the world. The collection has many incomparable features, and depending on a researcher’s interest, they will know the Benson in unique ways from others. For instance, there are those that know the Benson because we hold the papers of Gloria Anzaldúa and Alicia Gaspar de Alba, two groundbreaking Chicana writers. Others will know it because of the Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), the digital archive that is a gateway to linguistic preservation and revitalization. Others will know it still because of our wonderful circulating collection, which includes journals, new publications, canonical works, children’s literature, etc. At the Benson we always say that if it exists and is tied to Latin American or US Latinx subject matter, we try to collect it.

One unsurprising aspect of the Benson is our dedication to documenting human rights initiatives. This happens across all of the ways that we do collecting, but I’m thinking specifically about the work that my colleague Theresa Polk and the Latin American Digital Initiatives team do on a daily basis, particularly working with post-custodial partners throughout Latin America to document local, often grassroots struggles.

I couldn’t help but think of her work when I saw a noteworthy digital collection from the University of New Mexico’s esteemed Center for Southwest Research. The collection, “Asamblea de Artistas Revolucionarios de Oaxaca Pictorial Collection,” is described as a “collection of prints, posters, and mural stencils…created by a collective of young Mexican artists that formed during the state of Oaxaca’s 2006 teachers strike.” The strike lasted seven months and turned violent after police opened fire on non-violent protestors representing the teachers’ union. Eventually, various groups forced the police out of the city and set up an anarchist community for several months while unsuccessfully calling for the resignation of then-Oaxacan governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. The 127 artworks in this collection reflect this period through themes that include “land rights, political prisoners, government corruption, political violence, police brutality, violence against women, art exhibitions and the nationalization of agriculture and oil.”

The artwork has been digitized and made available on the site using high-resolution scans. One of the strengths of the collection is that users can see a thumbnail and a brief, but useful description of the document, as shown below.

Then, users can click on each individual item for a larger image with richer metadata. Indeed, another strength of the collection is its metadata. While only in English, it contextualizes the image for a deeper understanding.

Another feature of the digital collection is that UNM’s Center for Southwest Research has worked with the Asamblea de Artistas Revolucionas de Oaxaca (ASARO) to archive their blogs and other digital-born materials using Archive-It. Having access to these blogs in a shared digitize space enhances the collection because it preserves ASARO’s voices on the struggle, using their words and their language. Like the metadata, this creates fuller meaning for researchers while fostering a relationship between ASARO and UNM.   

This collection is useful to researchers and classes who are interested in understanding politics and local movements in twenty-first century Mexico. Like the Benson’s Latin American Digital Initiatives, the themes are so varied, making it a useful tool for classes doing interdisciplinary work, and particularly for scholars who are more visually-inclined. In any case, it is a welcome contribution to the study of human rights in Latin America, and a wonderful reminder of the work that libraries do in documenting and preserving historical moments.

Would you like to know more about the teachers’ strike? Check out the following resources we hold at UT Libraries.

La batalla por Oaxaca (2007)

“Women in the Oaxaca Teachers’ Strike and Citizens’ Uprising (2007)

“‘Our Culture’s Not for Sale!’: Music and the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca in Mexico” (2021)

Introducing Rozha: A Tool to Simplify Multilingual Natural Language Processing

In my role as European Studies Liaison, one of my priorities is to assist people in their digital humanities work.  In that work, I have found a glaring gap in tools that support multilingual and  non-English materials, particularly those that focus on natural language processing (NLP).  Much of the work that has been done using NLP has been focused on an Anglocentric model, using English texts in conjunction with tools and computer models that are primarily designed to work with the English language. I wanted to make it easier for people to begin engaging with non-English materials within the context of their NLP and digital humanities work, so I created Rozha.

Rozha, a Python package designed to simplify multilingual natural language processing (NLP) processes and pipelines, was recently released on GitHub and PyPI under the GNU General Public License, allowing users to use and contribute to the tool with minimal limitations. The package includes functions to perform a wide variety of NLP processes using over 70 languages, from stopword removal to sentiment analysis and many more, in addition to visualizations of the analyzed texts. It also allows users to choose from NLTK, spaCy, and Stanza for many of the processes it can perform, allowing for easy comparison of the output from each library. Examples of the code being used can be seen here.

While the project first grew out of the needs of researchers and graduate students working at UT-Austin who were interested in exploring NLP and the digital humanities using non-English languages but who did not have very much prior coding experience, its code also aims to streamline NLP work for those with more technical knowledge by simplifying and shortening the amount of code they need to write to accomplish tasks. Output from the package’s functions can be integrated into more complex and nuanced workflows, allowing users to use the tool to perform standard tasks like word tokenization and then use the response for their other work.

The package is written in Python for a variety of reasons. Python has a wide base of users that makes it easy to share with others, and which helps ensure that it will be used widely. It also helps ensure that people will contribute to the project, building upon its existing code. Fostering contributions for multilingual digital humanities and NLP can help broaden the community of scholars, coders and researchers working with these multilingual materials, which will broaden the community in general while also improving the package. Python is also very commonly used for NLP applications, and the packages integrated into Rozha all have robust communities of their own. This allows for users to connect with other communities as well, and to explore these technologies on their own for applications beyond what this package provides.

The Rozha package ultimately aims to make multilingual digital humanities and natural language processing more accessible and to simplify the work of those already working in the field–and perhaps open up new avenues to explore for newcomers and established NLP practitioners. My hope is that this tool will help encourage diversity in the NLP landscape, and that people who may have felt it too daunting to work with materials in non-English languages may now feel more comfortable through the ease of working with this package.  Beyond that, I hope the package will serve as a conduit for additional contributions and collaboration, and that the code will ultimately help strengthen the field and community of practitioners working with non-English materials.


Read, Hot and Digitized: Disability COVID Chronicles

As the European Studies Librarian for the UT Austin Libraries, I am interested in exploring and encouraging connections between my subject areas and the broader global community. Understanding and advocating for disability is one way that this sense of global community can be fostered, as disability transcends national boundaries and affects people across the world.

Disabled people have consistently been marginalized and excluded from the historical record. Efforts to remedy this–and to reclaim the history and dignity of disabled people–are ongoing, and are burgeoned by digital studies and practice. Of especial interest at the moment is how the global pandemic has affected disabled people, and how their experience of the pandemic may differ from the non-disabled. The Disability Covid Chronicles from NYU aims to explore the stories of disabled people in NYC and let them tell, in their own words, how they experienced the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screenshot of the project's homepage.
The project’s homepage.

While the project is still ongoing, essays and interviews from research-in-progress are available to view on their website. The project team is preparing an edited volume based on its research during the pandemic, and is also “building a publicly-accessible archive to preserve memories, stories, artworks, and other materials in a range of accessible formats” in collaboration with community members. In the words of the project team members, they “are preserving conversations on social media, records of digital public meetings, and photographs of street art and actions that are otherwise ephemeral. [Their] goal is to chronicle not only vulnerabilities, but creative initiatives for survival under these new conditions that are structured by old inequalities.”

Screenshot of the project’s Essays & Interviews page
A couple of essays from the project’s Essays & Interviews page.

In addition to the essays and interviews linked above, the fieldnotes section of the site highlights notable ephemera and other media–from posters and artwork to social media campaigns and more–that the team has encountered during its research. This is a great way to explore the diverse content available on the site, as the content is reloaded in a random order each time the page is refreshed. Notable entries from the page include this post recapping a survey from Special Support Services, an advocacy group for disabled students and their families, this post preserving artwork by Jen White-Johnson created to amplify the #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy hashtag, and this post preserving artwork from Roan Boucher/AORTA: Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance. You can also share your own resources at this link.

Screenshot of a few essays displayed on the project’s Essays & Interviews page.
A few essays displayed on the project’s Essays & Interviews page.

The site was built using WordPress, a popular content management platform. While free and open-source, WordPress does charge for hosting plans through its website, which can be a barrier for access to some. It also offers a large number of plugins that can make constructing a website less of a burden for those with less technical knowledge—such as the Random Post on Refresh plugin, which allows users to accomplish a similar randomizing functionality to the site’s Fieldnotes section. The site makes  use of accessibility features, such as the “alt” tag in HTML, to ensure that those using screen readers or other assistive features can still access the site’s content. WordPress itself also makes a commitment to accessibility in its design and code.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a particularly strong impact on many disabled people, and having a site that documents and amplifies disabled perspectives and experiences is an important step toward creating a supportive and equitable culture for all. The site serves as a valuable resource related to the global pandemic, and its forthcoming edited volume and digital project will, I hope, further amplify and uplift disabled voices.

Related materials in the UT Libraries collection:

The Disability Studies LibGuide from UT Librarian Gina Bastone: https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/disabilitystudies

Albrecht, Gary L., Katherine D. Seelman, and Michael Bury. Handbook of Disability Studies. Sage Publications, 2001.

Disability Studies Quarterly.

Hall, Kim Q. Feminist Disability Studies. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2011.

Kapp, Steven K, ed. Autistic Community and the Neurodiversity Movement: Stories from the Frontline. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.

The Benson’s Summer Texas Roadtrip

BY ALBERT A. PALACIOS, PhD

It was a doozy of a summer for the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office. Thanks to a Department of Education National Resource Center grant, we had the distinct opportunity to share some of the Benson Latin American Collection’s Spanish colonial treasures with a few communities outside of UT Austin. In a traveling exhibit titled A New Spain, 1521–1821, the reproduced materials demonstrated the cultural, social, and political evolution of colonial Mexico.

A New Spain exhibit at the University of Texas at El Paso Library, El Paso, Texas. The C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department also showcased their Spanish colonial holdings in the exhibit.

We were fortunate to continue our longstanding partnership with the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). In collaboration with Claudia Rivers and Abbie Weiser at the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, we put together an exhibit that highlighted Spanish colonial holdings from both libraries, providing both a hemispheric and local perspective. To broaden the impact of the collaborative effort, we also organized an accompanying series of workshops based on the materials for social studies teachers, colonialists, and archival professionals in the El Paso–Las Cruces (NM) region. 

Clockwise from left: 1. Social studies teachers play a loteria game, or Mexican bingo, based on the exhibit’s items; 2. curator’s tour of A New Spain, 1521–1821 (photor: Aide Cardoza); 3. screenshot of online teacher workshop (photo: Tiffany Guridy); 4. Mapping Mexican History exhibit at Horizon High School, Horizon City, Texas (photo: Erika Ruelas).

We kicked off the programming with a two-day intensive training for teachers from El Paso and Clint independent school districts. The workshops started onsite at UTEP’s library with a curator’s tour, a lunchtime loteria game based on the exhibit, and an in-depth look at Indigenous and Spanish maps from a previous traveling exhibition, Mapping Mexican History. By the end of the day, teachers were able to take home the facsimile Mapping items, some of which are on display this fall at Horizon High School.

The second day of workshops went fully online. One of our 2022 Digital Scholarship Fellows, Dr. Diego Luis, shared an interactive simulation he designed based on an inquisitorial case archived at the Benson to teach about Afro-descendant colonial experiences. We then showcased lesson plans we developed with UT Austin’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction on the navigation of gender roles in New Spain. To wrap things up, we provided the teachers with a survey of digital resources at UT Austin and digital humanities tools they can use to teach about colonial Mexico in their class.

Clockwise from left: 1. Payroll of soldiers, 1575, Genaro García Manuscript Collection; 2. depiction of Tlaxcalteca ruler, Xicoténcatl, meeting with Hernan Cortés and Malintzin, circa 1530–1540, Ex-Stendahl Collection; 3. Inquisition case against Ana de Herrera for witchcraft, 1584, Genaro García Manuscript Collection; 4. “Tracing Witchcraft Networks in Veracruz” workshop (photo: Abbie Weiser).

On the final day, we shifted gears and led a series of digital scholarship workshops for local scholars. Students, faculty, and cultural heritage staff from the University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State University Library powered through three sessions that provided them with practical training in the visualization and analysis of Spanish colonial materials using various digital tools. Attendees learned to annotate various colonial texts and images, map the origins of New Spain’s soldiers, and visualize the networks of Afro-descendant hechiceras, or women casting incantations, in Veracruz.

A New Spain exhibit at the Downs-Jones Library, Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas (photo: Katie Ashton).

Upon our return to Austin, another one of our partners, Huston-Tillotson University, graciously agreed to host the traveling exhibit. Thanks to Technical Services & Systems Librarian Katie Ashton, the history of colonial Mexico we put together went up on the walls of the Downs-Jones Library, and will remain there throughout the fall. For those who are not able to visit either installation, you can explore the digital version through our UT Libraries Exhibits platform.

Acknowledgements

This initiative would not have been possible without the support of the following individuals and sponsorships:

C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, The University of Texas at El Paso

  • Claudia Rivers, Head
  • Abbie Weiser, Assistant Head

Huston-Tillotson University

  • Katie Ashton, Technical Services & Systems Librarian, Downs-Jones Library
  • Alaine Hutson, Associate Professor of History

Tufts University

  • Diego Javier Luis, Assistant Professor of History

Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education, UT Austin

  • Michael Joseph, Doctoral student
  • Katie Pekarske, Master’s student
  • Cinthia Salinas, Department Chair & Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusive Excellence

UT Libraries

  • Brittany Centeno, Preservation Librarian
  • Katherine Thornton, Digital Asset Delivery Coordinator

LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections

  • Jac Erengil, Administrative Manager
  • Tiffany Guridy, previous Public Engagement Coordinator (special thanks)
  • Melissa Guy, Director, Benson Latin American Collection
  • Ryan Lynch, Head of Special Collections
  • Jennifer Mailloux, Graphic Designer (special thanks)
  • Adela Pineda Franco, LLILAS Director & Lozano Long Endowed Professor
  • Theresa Polk, Head of Digital Initiatives
  • Megan Scarborough, previous Grants Manager
  • Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator (special thanks)
  • Krissi Trumeter, previous Financial Analyst

Sponsors

  • U.S. Department of Education National Resource Center Title VI Grant
  • LLILAS Benson Collaborative Funds

Latin American Digital Initiatives TEAM Visits Partners in Buenaventura, Colombia

[Español abajo]

Two members of the LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives team recently visited Buenaventura, Colombia, to work with archivists and community leaders at Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), a grassroots collective of organizations founded in 1993 that is working to transform the political, social, economic, and territorial reality of Colombia’s Black, Afro-descendant, Raizal, and Palenquera communities through the defense and revindication of their individual, collective, and ancestral rights.

View of Bahía de Buenaventura from hotel balcony in Buenaventura, Colombia. Photo: Karla Roig.

PCN participates as one of several sister archives with which LLILAS Benson has developed a partnership to support the digitization and description of archival materials. Funded by a succession of grants from the Mellon Foundation, this project emphasizes the post-custodial archiving model.* Digitized materials from PCN’s Colección Dinámicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia archive.

Alex Suarez, Digital Projects Archivist, and Karla Roig, former Post-Custodial and Digital Initiatives Graduate Research Assistant, spent a week in Buenaventura to assist PCN with organizing and processing their physical collection. By processing the physical collection, PCN will be able to digitize and create metadata more efficiently. Below, Suarez (AS) and Roig (KR) answer questions about this meaningful visit.

Please describe what you did while visiting Colombia.

AR: We conducted a series of trainings on archival processing, metadata creation, and digitization. We also had the opportunity to learn about the region as well as the city of Buenaventura. The first few days were spent getting to know the collection and to also understand how PCN works as an organization. 

Digital Projects Archivist Alex Suarez works with team members at PCN in Buenaventura, Colombia. Photo: Karla Roig.

Together with PCN, we brainstormed how to arrange the archive in a way that reflects how PCN operates and how they envisioned using the archive in the future. We also reviewed digitization and metadata best practices so that PCN materials can be accessible worldwide and researchers can learn about the organization and Buenaventura. 

We were also invited to attend throughout the week three talks titled “Diálogos ribereños,” organized by PCN and the Banco de la República, in which community leaders engaged in conversation with the community around topics of burial rites, economic practices and the environment, and the settlement of their rivers.

Diálogos ribereños meeting, Buenaventura, Colombia. Photo: Karla Roig.

Please share some of the highlights of the trip: the setting, activities, and accomplishments.

AR: I was blown away by the closeness of the community and the work they have accomplished over the last 30 years. Everybody knows each other and have been working toward the same goals. It was so interesting to see the community at work. 

One of the biggest accomplishments was PCN creating their archival processing plan and defining their arrangement plan. Some of my favorite moments were spent drinking freshly brewed coffee around [PCN leader] Marta’s dining room table talking about how to arrange the archive and how they envisioned future researchers using the archive. 

PCN leader Marta Inés Cuervo (l) examines archival material with Alex Suarez. Photo: Karla Roig.


Another favorite moment was attending an interactive exhibit titled Río la Verdad, by Bogotá-based artist Leonel Vásquez, who installed a swimming pool where guests could submerge themselves and hear the sound of the rivers and people singing songs about their history. It was a deeply powerful experience and one that I will never forget. 

Río la Verdad exhibit by Leonel Vásquez. Photo: Karla Roig.

KR: About the setting: On Sunday morning, we met with Marta and she showed us around Buenaventura for the first time. Our hotel was in front of the Malecón, their only public park, where people gather early in the morning to wait for the small boats that will connect them to other parts of the Colombian Pacific coast. Walking around the small coastal city, there were many local stores and street vendors displaying their goods—from fruits and vegetables, clothes and shoes, to home essentials. Right away we could sense the tight-knit community bonds. Everyone we passed greeted us with a “Buenos días” and Marta was often stopped by people she knew to have a small conversation.

View from the Faro – Mirador Turístico (lighthouse) at the malecón (pier) in Buenaventura. Photo: Karla Roig.

We stopped at a small coffee shop with the view of the Pacific Ocean to have a refreshing drink, where we talked about geography, how Colombia is divided into different departments, and how Buenaventura is the biggest municipality in the Valle del Cauca department. We were staying in the urban center of the municipality, which is where one of the major ports in the country that brings in a large percentage of imported goods is located. Seeing the large yellow container cranes was impressive, they spotted the skyline from our hotel view to the right, and to the left, on a clear day, we could see the mountains at a distance. 

One of my favorite memories from our visit was the cultural exchange that happened between us and the PCN team. They taught us about their colloquialisms and their native fruits such as maracuyá and borojó (we tried them too!) and we shared our own vernacular from Puerto Rican and Cuban Spanish. It was exciting to find the similarities between our cultures as well as learning about the uniqueness of their own: how their communities are based around their rivers and also how the marimba is one of their traditional music instruments. Definitely the highlight of the entire visit for me was how welcoming and friendly the PCN team was, and how excited they were to engage with us at a professional and personal level. Toward the end of the week, we had a team dinner to celebrate what we had accomplished and to thank them for hosting us. That night we talked at length about the week, and we all shared what we had learned and were grateful for. It was a beautiful moment interspersed with conversation centered on the archive, but also with laughter and familiarity. 

Farewell dinner with members of PCN. Photo: Karla Roig.

Any ongoing goals?

The main ongoing goal for LLILAS Benson’s Mellon-funded collaboration with PCN is to continue working on the physical archive and to arrange the materials in a way that reflects the organization. 

Note: Post-custodial archiving is a process whereby sometimes vulnerable archives are preserved digitally and the digital versions made accessible worldwide, thus increasing access to the materials while ensuring they remain in the custody and care of their community of origin.


Lea este artículo en español:

Equipo de Iniciativas Digitales visita socios en Buenaventura, Colombia

Dos miembros del equipo de Iniciativas Digitales de LLILAS Benson viajaron recientemente a Buenaventura, Colombia, para trabajar con archivistas y líderes comunitarios de Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), una colectiva de organizaciones fundada en 1993 que trabaja para transformar la realidad política, social, económica y territorial de las comunidades negras, afro-descendientes, raizal y palenqueras colombianas a través de la defensa y reivindicación de sus derechos individuales, colectivas y ancestrales.

Como archivo, PCN participa en una colaboración con LLILAS Benson para apoyar la digitalización y descripción de la Colección Dinámicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia. El proyecto, se está realizando a través del modelo de archivos pos-custodiales* y es apoyado por la Fundación Mellon.

Vista de la Bahía de Buenaventura desde el balcón del hotel enn Buenaventura, Colombia. Foto: Karla Roig.

Alex Suarez, Archivista para Proyectos Digitales, y Karla Roig, Asistente Posgrado de Investigaciones para Iniciativas Digitales, pasaron una semana en Buenaventura para ayudar a PCN a organizar y procesar su colección física. Al procesar la colección física, podrían digitalizar y crear metadatos de una manera más eficiente. Abajo, Suarez (AS) y Roig (KR) contestan algunas preguntas sobre la visita.

Expliquen, por favor, las actividades que realizaron durante su visita.

AS: Llevamos a cabo una serie de capacitaciones sobre el procesamiento de archivos, la creación de metadatos y la digitalización. También tuvimos la oportunidad de conocer sobre la región, así como la ciudad de Buenaventura. Los primeros días fueron dedicados a conocer la colección y también a comprender cómo funciona PCN como organización.

Junto con PCN, aportamos ideas sobre cómo organizar el archivo de una manera que reflejara cómo opera PCN y cómo imaginaban usar el archivo en el futuro. También revisamos las mejores prácticas de digitalización y metadatos para que los materiales de PCN puedan ser accesibles en todo el mundo y los investigadores puedan aprender sobre la organización y sobre Buenaventura.

Archivista para Proyectos Digitales Alex Suarez trabaja con miembros del equipo de PCN en Buenaventura, Colombia. Foto: Karla Roig.

También fuimos invitadas a asistir a lo largo de la semana a tres charlas tituladas “Diálogos ribereños”, organizadas por PCN y el Banco de la República, en las que líderes comunitarios conversaron con la comunidad en torno a temas de ritos fúnebres, prácticas económicas y medio ambiente, y del poblamiento de sus ríos.

Reunión “Diálogos ribereños” . Foto: Karla Roig.

¿Cuáles fueron los eventos más destacados del viaje en términos del lugar, las actividades, los logros?

AS: Quedé asombrada por la cercanía de la comunidad y el trabajo que han realizado durante los últimos 30 años. Todos se conocen unos a otros y han estado trabajando hacia unas metas en común y fue muy interesante ver a la comunidad haciendo ese trabajo.

Uno de los mayores logros fue PCN creando su plan de procesamiento de archivos y definiendo su plan de organización. Algunos de mis momentos favoritos fueron bebiendo café recién colado alrededor de la mesa del comedor de Marta hablando sobre cómo organizar el archivo y cómo imaginaban que los futuros investigadores usarían el archivo.

Marta Inés Cuervo (i) examina documentos con Alex Suarez. Foto: Karla Roig.

Otro de mis momentos favoritos fue asistir a una exhibición interactiva que fue instalada en el parque principal durante nuestra estadía. La exposición se tituló Río la Verdad del artista bogotano Leonel Vásquez, quien instaló una piscina donde los invitados podían sumergirse y escuchar el sonido de los ríos y la gente cantando canciones sobre su historia. Fue una experiencia profundamente poderosa y una que nunca olvidaré.

Exhibición Río la Verdad por Leonel Vásquez. Foto: Karla Roig.

KR: Sobre el lugar: El domingo por la mañana nos reunimos con Marta [una líder de PCN] y ella nos caminó por Buenaventura por primera vez. Nuestro hotel estaba frente al Malecón, el único parque público de la ciudad, donde la gente se reúne temprano en la mañana para esperar las pequeñas embarcaciones que los conectarán con otras partes de la costa pacífica colombiana. Caminando por la pequeña ciudad costera, había muchas tiendas locales y vendedores en la calle que mostraban sus productos, desde frutas y verduras, ropa y zapatos, hasta artículos para el hogar. Inmediatamente pudimos ver la cercanía de la comunidad, a todo el que pasábamos nos saludaba con un “Buenos días”, y Marta a menudo paraba a hablar con algún conocido u otro para tener una pequeña conversación.

Nos detuvimos en una pequeña cafetería con vistas al Océano Pacífico para tomar una bebida refrescante en donde conversamos sobre la geografía, cómo Colombia está dividido en diferentes departamentos, y cómo Buenaventura es el municipio más grande del departamento del Valle del Cauca. Nos estábamos quedando en el centro urbano del municipio, que es dónde se encuentra uno de los puertos más importantes del país que trae un gran porcentaje de mercancías importadas. Ver las grandes grúas amarillas de contenedores fue impresionante, se percibían hacia la derecha del horizonte desde la vista de nuestro hotel, y a la izquierda, en un día claro, podíamos ver las montañas a lo lejos.

Vista del Faro – Mirador Turístico en el Malecón. Buenaventura, Colombia. Foto: Karla Roig.

Uno de mis mejores recuerdos de nuestra visita fue el intercambio cultural que ocurrió entre nosotros y el equipo de PCN. Ellos nos enseñaron sobre sus coloquialismos y sus frutas nativas como el maracuyá y el borojó (¡también los probamos!) y compartimos nuestro vernáculo del español puertorriqueño y cubano. Fue emocionante encontrar las similitudes entre nuestras culturas, así como aprender sobre la singularidad de la de ellos: cómo sus comunidades se basan en sus ríos y también cómo la marimba es uno de sus instrumentos musicales tradicionales.

Definitivamente, lo que más se destacó de toda la visita para mí fue lo acogedor y amable que fue el equipo de PCN, y lo emocionados que estaban de interactuar con nosotros a nivel profesional y personal. Hacia el final de la semana, tuvimos una cena de equipo para celebrar lo que habíamos logrado y agradecerles por recibirnos. Esa noche hablamos sobre la semana y todos compartimos lo que habíamos aprendido y por lo que estábamos agradecidos. Fue un hermoso momento intercalado con conversación enfocada en el archivo, pero también con risas y familiaridad.

Cena de despedida con miembros de PCN. Foto: Karla Roig.

¿Objetivos para el futuro?

El principal objetivo de la subvención Mellon es continuar trabajando en el acervo físico y organizar los materiales de una manera que refleje la organización.


Nota: La práctica de archivos pos-custodiales tiene que ver con la preservación de archivos vulnerables en su lugar de origen, mientras se crea una versión digital del material para hacerlo disponible a nivel global.

Latin Americanists Worldwide Unite to Decipher the Benson’s Spanish Colonial Archive

By Albert. A. Palacios, PhD

It is no secret that the Benson Latin American Collection preserves one of the most important Spanish colonial archives in the United States. Within the pages of hundreds of volumes and archival boxes in its stacks are countless historical gems documenting the lived experience of colonized people, colonizers, and everyone in between. However, these perspectives are largely inaccessible: archaic penmanship and obscure writing conventions encode these histories on brittle paper.

Detail of a document listing the instances in which Mixquiahuala’s corregidor, the district’s royal administrator and judge, defrauded the Tepatepec Pueblo, circa 1570–1572, Genaro García Manuscript Collection.

For years, the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office has been experimenting with digital technologies to transform this “unreadable” Spanish colonial archive into accessible humanities data for scholars. However, we tried something new this past year and reversed the equation: We convened colonial Latin Americanists online to transform handwritten words on pages into digital text that they could then use to make the digital humanities (DH) more accessible. This resulted in the “Spanish Paleography and Digital Humanities Institute,” a free online program that provided scholars with practical training in the reading and visualization of 16th- to 18th-century manuscripts in Spanish. The program’s syllabus and logistics were designed by Abisai Pérez Zamarripa, LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship graduate research assistant and doctoral candidate in history, and myself. Anyone with advanced Spanish-reading proficiency was invited to apply.

“I found this institute thoughtful, generative, and inspiring. The coordinators made every effort to show the participants relevant tools and encourage our progress. It was uniquely helpful to identify DH methods and tools that would make sense in an early modern context and to discuss questions that relate to our field.”Fall 2021 participant

Geographic distribution of 2021–2022 institute participants

Colonial Latin Americanists from all over the world applied. While we were only planning to lead one institute, the overwhelming response to our call for applications prompted us to offer two, one in the fall (November–December 2021) and another in the spring (January–March 2022). In all, we accepted 60 participants, including 35 graduate students, eight junior faculty, eight tenured professors, five archive and library professionals, and four independent researchers. By the end of the academic year, we had trained scholars in 11 countries and 18 U.S. states who had varying experience in Spanish paleography and the digital humanities.

“The facilitators were very supportive, and the workshop itself was an invaluable opportunity to meet scholars from across the U.S. and Latin America despite not being able to travel, and to experience a variety of digital humanities tools relevant to our work.”Dr. Mallory E. Matsumoto, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, The University of Texas at Austin

Various Early Modern Spanish handwriting styles represented in the Benson Latin American Collection

One of our main objectives was to help participants obtain and hone Spanish paleography skills. We invited experts from Germany, Portugal, France, and Mexico to provide introductions on specific colonial institutions and their records to expose students to specialized writing conventions and abbreviations. Each Friday, we would break the cohort into groups so that they could collaboratively read and transcribe the week’s case study in a shared Google Doc, which enabled us to give them live feedback and corrections on their transcriptions.

“The group transcription sessions every Friday were invaluable as they allowed us to decipher and discuss doubts with colleagues throughout the [transcription] process, while learning from those with greater knowledge.” — Spring 2022 participant

The spirit of collegiality during these sessions was truly inspiring. We witnessed how scholars, especially those with advanced Spanish paleography skills, actively supported each other in deciphering the texts. After the institute ended, some commented that they considered this group work as “one of the most enriching experiences from the institute.”

A corrected document transcription in FromThePage

After the collaborative transcription sessions, participants continued to hone their paleography skills through assigned weekly homework. Each scholar transcribed two to four pages in various handwriting styles using the University of Texas Libraries’ instance of FromThePage, a platform that enables collaborative transcription work and version tracking. Once they were done with a page, Abisai and I reviewed and corrected the transcriptions, which FromThePage documented and showed, as seen above, to further the students’ understanding of the scripts and abbreviations. 

Published institute transcriptions in the Texas Data Repository

Besides learning how to read the archaic penmanship, scholars were simultaneously helping us enhance the accessibility of the Spanish colonial collection. One the one hand, the cohorts transcribed, and consequently made intellectually accessible, over 90 documents (1,000+ pages) preserved in the Benson Latin American Collection. We are currently publishing them in the Texas Data Repository and will soon ingest them in the University of Texas Libraries’ Collections portal with the images of the original materials to broaden access.

Training of a handwritten text recognition model for a Spanish colonial handwriting style in Transkribus

On the other hand, participants also helped us leverage machine-learning technologies to automate this work in the future. As part of the “Unlocking the Colonial Archive” NEH-AHRC grant project, we are reusing these transcriptions to train handwritten text recognition (HTR) models for each of the handwriting styles we commonly find in Spanish colonial documentation. We are then running these models on untranscribed materials at the Benson and in other digital archives to obtain usable automatic transcriptions. To see a list of participants who made a significant contribution to this effort, visit the project website.

Annotation of the “Genealogy of the descendants of Nezahualcóyotl,” circa 1550–1580, Ex-Stendahl Collection, in Recogito (https://recogito.pelagios.org/document/yere0vydklv9s4/part/1/edit)

With transcriptions in hand, students then used them to learn several free and open-source digital humanities tools. Each Monday, we demonstrated how to extract, visualize, and analyze data from these transcribed texts in different platforms, including Recogito, Voyant-Tools, ArcGIS, and Onodo. As a capstone experience, we asked participants to develop and present a pilot digital humanities project using these tools and texts relevant to their research.

“I honestly did not know what to expect going into this institute. My focus was to improve my paleography skills with the digital programs as a benefit. Now, not only am I more confident in my paleography skills, but I have a plethora of digital tools to use for my projects.”Spring 2022 participant

Network visualization developed by a spring cohort member, Francisco Javier Fernández Rivera, Universidad Iberomexicana de Hidalgo, who considered the DH workshops “a great opportunity to learn about our documentary past through technological advances.”

Given the positive reception and subsequent demand for such training, we will be leading another round of institutes this fall, August 15–September 30, 2022, and next spring, January 23–March 10, 2023. So if you are interested, check out the call for applications and join the collaborative “unlocking” of the Spanish colonial archive!

“I think it is a very complete and ambitious program. You taught me many tools that changed my way of doing history, of thinking about the social sciences and the humanities. I am very grateful to you. I hope you continue to be very successful and that this project continues to grow.”Fall 2021 participant

These institutes would not have been possible without the support of these individuals:

  • Dr. Manuel Bastias Saavedra, Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory and Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Latin American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin (Germany)
  • Dr. Berenise Bravo Rubio, Researcher-Professor at the National School of Anthropology and History (Mexico)
  • Brittany Centeno, Preservation Librarian, UT Libraries
  • Dr. Guillaume Gaudin, Researcher-Professor at the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (France)
  • Dr. Lidia Gómez García, Researcher-Professor at the Meritorious Autonomous University of Puebla (Mexico)
  • Ryan Lynch, Head of Special Collections, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
  • Dr. Kelly McDonough, Associate Professor at the Spanish and Portuguese Department, The University of Texas at Austin (United States of America)
  • Dr. Patricia Murrieta-Flores, Professor in Digital Humanities and Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Centre at Lancaster University  (United Kingdom)
  • Dr. Javier Pereda, Senior Researcher at the Arts & Humanities Research Council and Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration at Liverpool John Moores University (United Kingdom)
  • Theresa Polk, Head of Digital Initiatives, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
  • Dr. Miguel Rodrigues Lourenço, Researcher at the Center of the Humanities, Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Portugal)
  • Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
  • Katherine Thornton, Digital Asset Delivery Coordinator, UT Libraries (United States of America)
  • Krissi Trumeter, Financial Analyst, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)

This initiative was generously sponsored by:

  • National Endowment for the Humanities (United States of America)
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (United Kingdom)
  • LLILAS Excellence Fund for Technology and Development in Latin America

Albert A. Palacios, PhD, is the Digital Scholarship Coordinator at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, The University of Texas at Austin.

Read, Hot, and Digitized: Adventures in Data-Sitting

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the UT Libraries 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.

It will come as no surprise that I, the English Literature Librarian, was a nerdy little bookworm as a child. I actively participated in the Book It! reading program, a literacy initiative sponsored by Pizza Hut. The premise of Book It! was simple: After completing five books and getting the sign-off from my teacher, I would “earn” a coupon for a personal pan pizza. When I was in 5th grade, I read enough Baby-Sitters Club (BSC) books in a single week to earn three pizzas. I felt a tinge of guilt because I had skipped early chapters in each book where the text was reused, word-for-word, from previous books in the series. It was always Chapter 2!

Every devoted Baby-Sitters Club fan knows the text was reused to introduce the characters and the premise of the series. There were over 200 books published in the span of 13 years – of course some of it would be repetitive! But let’s take it a step further. What if we could quantifiably demonstrate the reuse of Chapter 2 text, while also comparing stylistic and narrative changes across multiple ghostwriters and cultural trends? And how would you do this kind of analysis of 200+ novels, spin-offs, and graphic novel adaptations? Well, a feminist collective of scholars called the Data-Sitters Club (DSC) is attempting to do just that. 

Cover art for the Data-Sitters Club, by artist Claire Chenette

The Data-Sitters Club describe their project as “a fun way to learn about computational text analysis for digital humanities”. They created a corpus of Ann M. Martin’s influential young adult series and have analyzed it using a variety of DH methods and tools (Python, R, TEI, Voyant, just to name a few). The Baby-Sitters Club has had a long pop culture shelf-life for Gen X and Millennial readers, with the recent Netflix reboot (which was sadly canceled after two seasons) and the podcasts Stuck in Stonybrook and the Baby-Sitters Club Club. According to the publisher Scholastic, the series has been in print since 1986 and has sold more than 190 million copies. Given the series’ immense popularity and continued pop culture influence, the books are a gold mine for researchers interested in gender, race, class, and sexuality, but, like much of girl culture, the books haven’t been the subject of serious research.

So the Data-Sitters Club saw opportunity for new research, while also making DH more accessible, especially to women and other marginalized groups often sidelined in DH projects. The DSC does this through a series of 16 blog posts on their GitHub site, written to mimic the narrative style of the book series, including titles that riff off the originals. Each blog post covers a use case for the BSC corpus and features a different tool, coding language or technique. Two of my favorites are DSC #2: Katia and the Phantom Corpus and DSC #5: The DSC and the Impossible TEI Quandaries. (A running joke throughout the blog is that later posts refer the reader back to “Chapter 2” to explain the corpus and how it was created, an intentional reference to the Chapter 2 in the original series that reused text to explain the series’ premise.)

Cover art for DSC #2: Katia and the Phantom Corpus, which parodies an original Baby-Sitters Club book cover that I’m pretty sure I read in 3rd or 4th grade. Image courtesy of the Data-Sitters Club

One thing you won’t find on the DSC GitHub site is the corpus itself. The team scanned print books to create a legal corpus, but as of right now, it’s not available publicly online. The DSC has used the project as an advocacy tool to promote the loosening of ebook copyright restrictions to build literary corpra for private research. In partnership with the non-profit Authors Alliance, they wrote to the Librarian of Congress asking for exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 to access the full BSC corpus. Of all the DSC blog posts, I found DSC #7: The DSC and the Mean Copyright Law to be the most fascinating – and frustrating.

I would recommend the Data-Sitters Club blog to any emerging DH scholar or librarian looking to try a new tool or method. Much of the content is highly technical, but the fun, approachable tone of each blog post makes the content accessible. I hope they are able to get legal access to the full ebook corpus so we can see more research on the Baby-Sitters Club books and better understand their cultural impact on a generation of women and girls.

You can find print copies of the original Baby-Sitters Club series in the PCL Youth Collection, and I highly recommend the recent essay collection We Are the Baby-Sitters Club: Essays and Artwork from Grown-up Readers, available at the PCL.  

Read, Hot and Digitized: The Texas Freedom Colonies Project

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the UT Libraries 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 Texas Freedom Colonies Project (TFCP) was founded in 2014 by Dr. Andrea Roberts as a multimodal research and social justice initiative to document and preserve Texas’ historic Black settlements. Affiliated with Texas A&M University, the TFCP is a unique digital scholarship project that highlights the resiliency of Black communities in Texas through GIS mapping, archival research and community outreach.

Settlements founded by formerly enslaved people after the Civil War up until the 1930s were known as “Freedom Colonies” in Texas. These rural communities were established by Black Texans as self-sufficient colonies and offered refuge from the treacherous systems of debt bondage and sharecropping in the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. Although 557 Freedom Colonies are known to have existed, the project notes that “Freedom Colony descendants’ lack of access to technical assistance, ecological and economic vulnerability, and invisibility in public records has quickened the disappearance of these historic Texas communities.” [1]

That’s where the Texas Freedom Colonies Project’s Atlas comes in. The project’s interactive map displays Freedom Colonies’ physical locations alongside records of the settlement’s history documented in primary and secondary sources, community websites and other media. So far, the project has mapped the points of 357 colonies in Texas and has documented all known 557 colonies in its Atlas database.

Screenshot showing newspaper coverage attached to the mapped record of the South Toledo Bend settlement.
Screenshot showing newspaper coverage attached to the mapped record of the South Toledo Bend settlement.

Built with ArcGIS StoryMap, the atlas utilizes dynamic GIS layers to show current development and ecological threats to surviving communities. The project’s use of external datasets as custom map layers distinctly illuminates the power and significance of this digital mapping project by revealing the interconnected history and present of Texas Freedom Colonies. 

For example, the “Texas Harvey Affected Counties” layer shows Texas counties that were affected by hurricane Harvey in 2018. The TFCP notes that 64% of Freedom Colonies were located on land that FEMA designated as disaster areas (!). Viewing the Atlas with this particular layer is a striking visual reminder of how vulnerable these communities are as they were often founded on land prone to natural disasters.

Screenshot showing the Harvey Affected Counties layer filtered on top of Freedom Colonies mapped points 
Screenshot showing the Harvey Affected Counties layer filtered on top of Freedom Colonies mapped points 

The TFCP is also a testament to the power of grassroot activism, harnessing the knowledge of living communities, descendants and volunteers. One way the public can be active participants in the preservation of Freedom Colonies is through community mapping. “Community mapping” or “participatory mapping,” is an application of critical cartography that emphasizes the importance of community knowledge as markers of place and belonging. Users can submit details of Freedom Colonies like locations and photos of cemeteries, churches and schools through a crowdsourcing form built on ArcGIS Survey123. This documentation helps preserve communities that may not be physically apparent on a map and actively counters presumptions by the state of what history is worth preserving.

Screenshots of figures showing user contributions to the TFCU Atlas.[2] 

Figure 54 shows a screenshot of Camptown Cemetery Polygon put on the map by a user.

Figure 55 shows a screenshot of the pop-up window for Camptown Cemetery showing information, documents, pictures uploaded by a user.
Screenshots of figures showing user contributions to the TFCU Atlas.[2] 

The Atlas is an impressive showcase of the combined efforts of volunteers, scholars and living communities to assert the history and resilience of communities that have not often been recognized and financially supported. You may notice that the project logo depicts a Sankofa, a bird frequented in traditional Akan art that symbolizes the importance of reflecting on and reclaiming the past to build a better future. And that is exactly what the Texas Freedom Colonies Project project is doing.

See More

Saving Texas Freedom Colonies

Shankleville Community Oral History Collection

Texas Freedom Colonies: A Bibliography

Interested in volunteering for the Texas Freedom Colonies Project? Click here to learn more about the research community of practice dedicated to locating freedom colonies and information about freedom colonies.

Pruitt, Bernadette. The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900-1941. Texas A&M University Press, 2013.

Roberts, Andrea R. “Documenting and Preserving Texas Freedom Colonies.” Texas Heritage 2 (2017): 14–19.

Sitton, Thad, and James H. Conrad. Freedom Colonies : Independent Black Texans in the Time of Jim Crow. Jack and Doris Smothers Series in Texas History, Life, and Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.


[1] “What Are Freedom Colonies?,” The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, 2020, https://www.thetexasfreedomcoloniesproject.com/what-are-freedom-colonies.

[2] Biazar, MJ, “Participatory Mapping GIS Tools for Making Hidden Places Visible: A Case Study of the Texas Freedom Colonies Atlas” (Master’s Report, Texas A&M University, 2019), https://oaktrust.library.tamu.edu/bitstream/handle/1969.1/177491/MJBiazar_Masters_Final_Paper_Report.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

Read, Hot & Digitized: Land and Belonging

BY DANIEL ARBINO

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the UT Libraries 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.

At a recent talk I gave, an audience member asked me, “What are the strengths of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection?”

It’s a question I receive often, though I don’t know if I’ve ever given a satisfactory answer. I often point to our historical Mexican archival collections, our collections of women writers and artists, and our US Latinx collections pertaining to civil rights. The truth is that I think the Benson does everything well. We have outstanding Brazilian collections, unique and important Caribbean materials, and strong representation in the Southern Cone. We know we can’t collect everything, but we sure try to anyway.

Some of our most recognizable materials are the Relaciones Geográficas, late-sixteenth-century surveys with maps that came with the Joaquin Garcia Icazbalceta purchase in 1937. The aim was for the Spanish crown to have a deeper understanding of the provinces surrounding what is today Mexico City. Were there waterways to transport goods? Mines to excavate precious gold and silver? The Relaciones have been the subject of books and digital projects, confirming their relevance for posterity.

Relación de Cuzcatlán (1580), located in present-day Tlaxcala. Benson Latin American Collection.

I mention the RGs, as we affectionately call them, because they came to mind when I recently viewed a 1614 painting of a Bogotá savanna in Colombia titled La Pintura de las tierras pantanos y anegadizos del pueblo de Bogotá. Like the Relaciones Geográficas, art and cartography combine in this stunning piece, which was used as evidence in a trial to determine if landowner Francisco Maldonado y Mendoza had defrauded the Spanish crown on his way to accruing vast tracts of land at cheap prices.

La Pintura de las tierras pantanos y anegadizos del pueblo de Bogotá (1614) blends cartography and art to help settle a legal dispute.

This map became the focus of a digital project called Colonial Landscapes: Redrawing Andean Territories in the Seventeenth Century, in which Dr. Santiago Muñoz Arbelaez led a team from across the Americas, including the University of Connecticut, la Universidad de los Andes, Neogranadina, and la Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia, to explore the social and political environment of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Colombia while considering land rights and Indigeneity. The project, which is available in Spanish and English, goes well beyond the digitization of one piece. In the “tour” section of the site, context is provided with the use of stunning rare materials. A portrait of Maldonado y Mendoza allows us to visualize the land baron. Other primary sources, both 2D and 3D, such as early textual and cartographic descriptions of cities and towns provided by Colombia’s national archive, are utilized to delve deeper. In the “Explore” section of the site, users can engage with different aspects of the main map in question.

1758 Map of Sopó, Colombia

However, the highlight of this project is taking a map that discusses landownership between two European entities (Maldonado y Mendoza and the Spanish crown) and inserting Indigenous rights and notions of belonging into the matter. The Muisca are considered at length in this project as the rightful inheritors of the land. The Muisca Confederation was a group of loosely affiliated sovereign regions that made up nearly 10,000 square miles in Colombia when the Spaniards arrived.in 1499.  They had the knowledge to cultivate crops in the savanna and to understand the region’s flora and fauna as well as extensive knowledge of metalworking and salt-mining. Images of Muisca ceramic figures demonstrate a rich culture whose trajectory was upended with the arrival of European colonizers. To that end, the exhibit also shows how Europeans created negative representations of the Muisca to justify the violent imposition of a new order. As land acknowledgements are negotiated and spoken in conversations emanating from sites of power, it is precisely this portion of the project that makes it so timely and necessary. Projects like Colonial Landscapes propose interesting pathways toward digital repatriation while contextualizing our understanding of the past and present. 

Muisca votive figure (600-1600), currently housed in Colombia’s Museo del Oro

Feature image: Relación de Atengo y Misquiahuala, 1579. Benson Latin American Collection.


Daniel Arbino is head of collection development at the Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.

Read, Hot and Digitized: “The Death of Ivan Ilich”: An Electronic Study Edition of the Russian Text

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this new 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 project “The Death of Ivan Ilich”: An Electronic Study Edition of the Russian Text, based at the University of Minnesota Libraries, is an openly published resource highlighting how digital media can supplement and enhance the close reading of literature. The project contains the text of Lev Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilich in multiple formats, including the original Russian with an English translation side-by-side, versions with hyperlinked  explanatory and interpretive annotations, contextual introductory remarks by the project’s author, and an extensive bibliography. This is an important resource for any serious study of Tolstoy’s work, and it being made available in an open and remixable format is a boon for students and instructors alike.

The project’s homepage, featuring a brief description, license information, and links to read and download the book.

Tolstoy’s novella is a seminal work of world literature, and is studied broadly both in translation and the original Russian. Useful as a tool for students both of the Russian language and of Russian literature, this bilingual edition bridges the gap between language pedagogy and general literary study. The original Russian text–published in 1886–is in the public domain, as is the English translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude. The introduction, annotations and selected bibliography by Gary R. Jahn, Professor of Russian Language and Literature at the University of Minnesota, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license. This license allows users to share and adapt the text–that is, “copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format” and “remix, transform, and build upon the material” as long as the license terms are followed.

The main interface for the project was built in Pressbooks, a platform that allows users to create and share openly published digital editions of  books that can also be downloaded as PDFs. The edition includes its own identifying ISBN, allowing for easy citation, and is highly interactive. For example, the glossed version of the text, includes linked annotations that can be clicked on to read as you go through the text. Some of these annotations also include images illustrating elements of the text that may be opaque to contemporary readers; one, for example, includes an image of a funeral announcement from 19th-century Russia. These very helpful annotations can be viewed in both the English and the Russian versions of the text.

A portion of the book showing Russian and English text side by side.

This edition is an important contribution both to open scholarship and the study of Russian literature. Allowing students and researchers to easily compare and contrast the original Russian with the translation in an accessible digital format is very helpful, as are the many explanatory notes and annotations included in the project. Furthermore, the bibliographies of both primary and secondary sources in multiple categories allows both the casual reader and the more dedicated student or scholar to explore further. In short, this online edition is a valuable example of the extensive and interoperatible possibilities of digital scholarship and open publishing.

For more information, please consult the UTL resources below:

Danaher, David S. “A Cognitive Approach to Metaphor in Prose: Truth and Falsehood in Leo Tolstoy’s ‘The Death of Ivan Il’ich.’” Poetics today 24, no. 3 (2003): 439–469.

Jackson, Robert Louis., and Horst-Jürgen Gerigk. Close Encounters Essays on Russian Literature / Robert Louis Jackson. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2013.

Jahn, Gary R. Tolstoy’s the Death of Ivan Ilʹich : a Critical Companion / Edited by Gary R. Jahn. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 1999.

Tolstoy, Leo, and Michael R. Katz. Tolstoy’s Short Fiction : Revised Translations, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism / Edited and with Revised Translations by Michael R.  Katz. 2nd ed. New York: Norton & Co., 2008.