Tag Archives: Digital Scholarship

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: 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 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.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Mapping Emotions in Victorian London

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.

As readers, we often subconsciously craft physical spaces – whether real or imagined – in our minds in an effort to find meaning within or forge a connection with the text. The same can be said of the real-world cities in which different works of fiction take place. London, replete with a rich history of representation throughout the arts, is a standout example of one such city that writers return to time and again to inspire adaptations, reimaginings and original content. One need look no further than recent shows like Sherlock or Penny Dreadful to evince this. Keeping with this interest, researchers have created a tool that allows people to quickly and easily look back at those original texts that helped shape popular conception of London in the form of an interactive map of specific sites.

Mapping Emotions in Victorian London is a digital project created at Stanford University that uses literary excerpts from 18th and 19th century novels to map the emotions associated with different public spaces throughout London. The interactive map, hosted on History Pin, allows users to geospatially visualize data from those passages and read the excerpted passages in one streamlined interface. The map itself was created using Google Maps but features multiple levels of overlaid antique, illustrated maps, which shift depending on the scale selected, lending a visually pleasing touch to the tool without sacrificing utility or data integrity. Using it is as simple as selecting a date range and then clicking through numbered hubs on the map until you arrive at a particular site and the corresponding text.

Click on the color coded local “hubs” to zoom in and view specific sites on the map.
Once a user has selected a particular pin (indicated in pink, above left), the corresponding text selection will appear alongside the map.

Originally conceived as a small-scale project using topic modelling to extract geographical information from nineteenth century novels, “Mapping London” later expanded to encompass a collaborative effort between the Stanford Literary Lab, the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), and the Mellon Foundation. Building upon the success of their preliminary efforts (documented in a 2016 pamphlet), the site developers received a grant tied to crowdsourcing that pushed the project to new depths. Anonymous volunteers used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk marketplace to crowdsource the project by assigning emotions to the thousands of excerpted passages. The crowdsourcing aspect of the project is what took it to another level by allowing researchers to expand both the quantitative and qualitative methods used. Not only were they able to process vastly more information and include more sites and passages in the data set, but humans (rather than bots or AI) were able to accurately ascribe emotions to the text.

While the ultimate goal of the project was to expand possibilities for both close and distant reading research in the humanities, what stood out to me was how accessible and interesting the map would be to everyday readers including those outside of academia. For people new to or unfamiliar with digital projects, this is a very accessible and easy to understand collection. Furthermore, anyone pursuing a personal interest in specific sites in London, a particular author represented in the data set, or just intrigued by the concept of literary geography would have something to gain by exploring the map. It functions as a historical city tour through the eyes of different narrators, and might even introduce you to your new favorite author.

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Explore further with UT Libraries!

Learn more about the concept of topic models in Ch. 9 of Foundations of Data Science.

Blum, Avrim, John E. Hopcroft, and Ravindran Kannan. Foundations of Data Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/be14ds/alma991058049444506011

Trace the connections between social production and London-focused literature and discover how the Bloomsbury district of London developed in relation to the city’s literary output.

Ingleby, Matthew. Nineteenth-Century Fiction and the Production of Bloomsbury : Novel Grounds. London, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/apl7st/cdi_askewsholts_vlebooks_9781137546005

Take an in-depth dive into the world of literary spatial studies with Lisbeth Larsson’s investigation of London through the lens of Virginia Woolf’s oeuvre.

Larsson, Lisbeth. Walking Virginia Woolf’s London: An Investigation in Literary Geography. Cham: Springer International Publishing AG, 2017.

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/apl7st/cdi_swepub_primary_oai_gup_ub_gu_se_260720

Experience historic London firsthand through descriptions compiled in this fully digitized guide book from 1902, courtesy of UTL’s “Travel at the Turn of the 20th Century” digital collection.

Karl Baedeker (Firm). London and its environs. 1902. “London and its environs – Collections”. University of Texas Libraries Collections.

https://collections.lib.utexas.edu/catalog/utlmisc:40a94727-537b-46b1-b688-fe6b440bd2d8

If old books are more your cup of tea, check out the Harry Ransom Center’s extensive eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collections with works from many London-based authors, including Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Lewis Carroll, and many more.

Read, Hot and Digitized: The Texas Archive of the Moving Image

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.

Preserving audio visual materials is one of the biggest challenges for archivists and preservationists. The Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) has approached the preservation of Texas’ film history in innovative and unprecedented ways for the last 20 years. The non-profit organization solicits any kind of film – home movies, advertisements, local television programs, corporate productions, amateur films and even professional movie productions, and offers to digitize them in exchange for a donation of the digital copy. As a result, TAMI has a digital archive of over 50,000 films by Texans or about Texas. Created by Caroline Frick, currently the Associate Chair of Media Studies in the Radio, Television and Film department at UT Austin, TAMI’s stated goals are to “discover, preserve, provide access to, and educate the community about Texas’ film heritage.” Not only are they preserved for long-term historical and research purposes, but a huge number of those films are accessible online through TAMI’s website.

The casual user can enjoy this site by simply watching videos highlighted on their homepage. They feature a rotating selection of interesting films, with a ‘watch next’ feature and a ‘random video’ selector. I will admit to having fun reminiscing about places I’ve visited and lived in Texas, as well as getting sucked into the fascinating, the weird, and the sometimes inexplicable videos on the site (take, for instance, this baffling 1978 corporate wine industry video from Dallas).

More importantly, TAMI takes their educational mission seriously, with multiple sections that place films within their geographical, historical and social contexts. An education page provides lesson plans on topics from a Texas perspective such as The Cold War, The Dust Bowl and the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Each lesson plan includes a curated selection of films accompanied by class conversation prompts, assignment ideas and how the themes fit within Texas’ TEKS and STAAR standardized testing requirements. 

The Education and Web Exhibits pages bring together digital technologies in creative ways to teach new understandings of Texas history. The Webs Exhibits section looks at different aspects of Texas. For instance, ‘La Frontera Fluida – The Fluid Border’ explores films of the Texas-Mexico borderlands. On the site you can view films depicting historical events from a historical chronology page, a subject page, and even geographically from a map of the border. These value-added aspects are great examples of a digital-humanities approach, but TAMI also makes these films available for researchers to use in their own projects. Each film has code that allows you to embed the film on your own page. This makes the content of the archive ripe for myriad digital humanities projects exploring every aspect of Texas.

The University of Texas Libraries owns or subscribes to an enormous collection of audio-visual materials originating from every corner of the globe. A simple search in the library catalog for video/film turns up over 75,000 results. While the majority of this material is not necessarily focused on Texas, the library  does have incredible collections of audio-visual materials that originate in the state.

At the Benson Latin American Collection, for instance, we have significant collections of film focused on the history and culture of Latinas/os in Texas, especially focusing on Mexican Americans and the Chicano movement. This includes large numbers of interviews with prominent activists,  documentaries and archival collections such as the Cine las Americas video collection and a collection of their festival materials, the Robert P. and Sugar C. Rodriguez collection of Tejano Music videos, and the Los del Valle project. All of these materials can be crucial primary and secondary source materials for research projects. Taken together with the materials found in TAMI, I can almost always find something useful for students doing research on Texas Latinas/os when they are looking for audio visual materials. No other state has a statewide digital film archive like TAMI, and we are privileged to have such as amazing resource at our fingertips.

All images from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image website and Instagram site.

Further resources:

Frick, Caroline. “An Interview With Caroline Frick of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and the University of Texas at Austin Department of Radio-Television-Film” The Velvet light trap: 2013, Vol. 71 (1), p. 42-6.

National Film Preservation Foundation https://www.filmpreservation.org/.

Library of Congress Moving Image Research Center. Digital Moving Image Collections. https://www.loc.gov/rr/mopic/ndlmps.html

plenty of fish in the sea: using dutch art to study historic biodiversity

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.

Fishing in the past” encourages us to explore the connections between artistic expression, scientific identification, and commercial practices. A crowdsourced metadata project, “Fishing in the past” asks volunteers to identify fish species represented in Dutch still life paintings from the early modern period to learn more about historical aquatic biodiversity and commercial uses of fish in Europe. The campaign is part of “A new history of fishes,” a project funded by the Dutch Research Council that includes researchers from Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society and Naturalis Biodiversity Centre. The artwork included in the “Fishing in the past” campaign comes from the Rijksmuseum and the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History. The project was designed using Zooniverse, “the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research.”[1] This crowdsourced approach to research has been termed “citizen science.”[2]

I discovered “Fishing in the past” while evaluating Zooniverse for possible use in the creation of a crowdsourced metadata campaign for photographs from the “Sajjad Zaheer Digital Archive.” I was intrigued by the project’s use of art to support scientific research. This is just one example of how digital scholarship tools and methods can facilitate interdisciplinary projects that propose creative solutions to existing research problems. “A new history of fishes” examines the relationship between ichthyology (the study of fish) and European history and culture, an area of inquiry that “has always been underexposed.”[3] Though quite different in subject matter, the “Sajjad Zaheer Photo Archive” and “Fishing in the past” share the objective of identifying beings (human and aquatic, respectively) in images, a belief in the value of opening up research projects to the general public, and a commitment to open access data and information. As such, “Fishing in the past” was a helpful model for my own project.

“Fishing in the past” asks members of the public to identify the species for every fish in an image. The research team provides tools to help, such as a list of common species that includes images and identifying features to assist classification. The species list can filtered by characteristic, such as color or pattern. After identifying the species, contributors are instructed to classify the commercial use of the fish, such as traded at a market or consumed on plate. They finally record the number of fish for a single species in the image. The process is repeated for each species pictured.

The “Fishing in the past” team has already shared some initial results and plans to publish further findings in an open access journal. Through crowdsourcing, this project has generated more data in a shorter period of time than could be achieved by the research team alone. Benefits for volunteers include engaging in their interests, interacting with artistic and scientific materials in new ways, and knowing that they are making a contribution to something bigger than themselves. For future researchers, crowdsourcing campaigns provide valuable data, including the ability to “read” materials with accessibility technologies.

All Zooniverse campaigns can be found here. Those interested in crowdsourced transcription work might also enjoy participating in FromThePage projects from University of Texas Libraries.

The Fine Arts Library holds catalogs that accompanied past Dutch and Flemish still life exhibitions.

Those interested in marine science should start with this LibGuide.

[1] https://www.zooniverse.org/about

[2] For an in-depth look at citizen science: Hecker, S., Haklay, M., Bowser, A., Makuch, Z., Vogel, J., & Bonn, A. (2018). Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy. University College London.

[3] https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/research/research-projects/humanities/new-history-of-fishes

Madeline Goebel is the Global Studies Digital Projects GRA at Perry-Castañeda Library and a current graduate student at the School of Information.

“IT IS DULL, SON OF ADAM, TO DRINK WITHOUT EATING:” ENGAGING A TURKISH DIGITAL TOOL FOR THE STUDY OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT


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.

Over the years of my involvement in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (MEIS), I have become something of an advocate for learning modern Turkish. The necessity of facility with Turkish in order to conduct research in MEIS, and more importantly, to carry on scholarly communication in MEIS, grows clearer every year. I would not hesitate to argue that non-Turkish scholars ignore Turkish scholarship at their own peril—it is that central, plentiful, and informative. An excellent example of a scholarly development out of Turkish academe that would be quite useful for MEIS pedagogy and research is İslam Düşünce Atlası, or The Atlas of Islamic Thought. It also happens to be an incredible digital Islamic Studies scholarship initiative.

İslam Düşünce Atlası (İDA) is a project of the İlim Etüdler Derneği (İLEM)/Scientific Studies Association with the support of the Konya Metropolitan Municipality Culture Office. It is coordinated by İbrahim Halil Üçer, with the support of over a hundred researchers, design experts, software developers, and GIS/map experts. The goal of the project is to make the academic study of the history of Islamic thought easily accessible to scholars and laypeople alike through new (digital) techniques and within the logic of network relations. İDA has been conceived as an open-access website with interactive programs for a range of applications. Its developers intend it to contribute a digital perspective to historical writing on Islam: a reading of the history of Islamic thought from a digitally-visualized time-spatial perspective and context.

İDA features three conceptual maps that aim to visualize complex relationships and to establish a historical backbone for the larger project of the atlas: the Timeline (literally time “map,” which is a more signifying term for the tool, Zaman Haritası), the Books Map (Kitaplar Haritası), and the Person Map (Kişiler Haritası). It also proposes a new understanding of the periodization of Islamic history based on the development of schools of thought (broadly defined) and their geographic spread. İDA endeavors to answer several questions through these tools: by whom, when, where, how, in relation to which school traditions, through what kinds of interactions, and through which textual traditions was Islamic thought produced? Many of these questions can be summed up under the umbrella of prosopography, and in that arena, İDA has a few notable peer projects: the Mamluk Prosopography Project, Prosopographical Database for Indic Texts (PANDiT), and the Jerusalem Prosopography Project (with a focus on the period of Mongol rule), among others.

One of my favorite aspects of İDA is the book map and its accompanying introduction. The researchers behind İDA do their audience the great service of explaining the development and establishment of the various genres of writing in the Islamic sciences. Importantly, they also link the development of these genres to the periodization of Islamic history that they propose. The eight stages of genre development that are identified—collation/organization, translation, structured prose, commentary, gloss, annotation, evaluative or dialogic commentary, and excerpts/summaries—share with the larger İDA project their origin in scholarly networking and relationship building. By visualizing the networks of Muslim scholars, as well as the relationships among their scholarly production and the non-linear, multi-faceted time “map” of Islamic thought, İDA weaves together the disparate facets of a complex and oft willfully misunderstood intellectual tradition

I encourage readers not only to learn some modern Turkish in order to make full use of İDA (although Google translate will work in a pinch!), but also to explore threads throughout all of the visualizations: for example, trace al-Ghazālī’s scholarly network, and then look at that of his works. What similarities and differences do you notice? Is there a pattern to the links among works and scholars? Readers who are interested in the intellectual history of Islam should check out my Islamic Studies LibGuide, as well as searches in the UT Libraries’ catalog for some of their favorite authors (see here for al-Ghazālī/Ghazzālī, Ibn Sina/Avicenna, and Ibn al-Arabi).

Hidden in Plain Sight: Seeking Out Forgotten Treasures with The Public Domain Review

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.

As we enter a more digital workspace, the copyright of content we reuse in presentations or projects has become a more pressing question in our public facing work. While there are ways to search for resources by their Creative Commons licenses or by digging through the public domain, the results are not always satisfying. Enter The Public Domain Review, an online journal of scholarly essays and curated collections of material from the public domain.

Front page of The Public Domain Review.

The public domain refers to creative content in the United States that is no longer protected under copyright law. Every January 1st, works published before a certain year are released from copyright protection. 2021 welcomed material published in 1925 into the public domain. The first day of 2021 also saw The Public Domain Review celebrate its 10th anniversary of curating and publicizing interesting and obscured content from the public domain, related to history, art and literature. The digitized items and collections are gathered from 134 cultural heritage institutions and platforms across the internet, including the Smithsonian, Wikimedia and the Library of Congress. What separates The Public Domain Review from just another list of curious findings on the internet is the academic commentary on the relics by scholars, archivists and creatives in its Essays section. The collections on the site are mostly western-centric with a few global works included and are organized by theme, time period and medium. The pieces featured in the Review are not just images but also include film, books and audio. The level of organization and tagging make the unique compilations and essays easy to delve into on the site through its Explore page.

The project was developed ten years ago by history scholars and archives enthusiasts Adam Green and Jonathan Grey. The goal of The Public Domain Review has been to inform and highlight relics often forgotten or buried so deep that it would be difficult to come across serendipitously. The projects’ keen eye for the intriguing, supplemented by its expert commentary are what keeps me coming back to the site, either through the Review’s monthly mailing list or when I need an image for a presentation. The project’s editorial board selects collections and welcomes contributors to submit proposals that feature hidden cultural heritage materials.

The Public Domain Review is teeming with potential for digital scholarship endeavors and while there is no active portion of the project engaging with those scholarly methods, there are traces. The project site itself was built by UT Austin graduate, Brian Jones, a historian and web developer. In the retired series, Curator’s Choice, a guest writer from the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives, museums), would spotlight digital collections or digital scholarship projects from their own institutions. See notable digital humanist, Miriam Posner on anatomical filmmaking here and read how scholars at The British Library are using digital technology to recreate a medieval Italian illuminated manuscript from fragments here.

The site also encourages reuse and remixing through its PD Remix section, holding caption competitions or gif creation challenges using works from their public domain highlights. Although a not-for-profit, they do have a Shop, selling prints, mugs, bound collections of Selected Essays, with the profits used to keep the lights on in this scholastic and engaging corner of the internet.

The public domain itself is a treasure trove of cultural artefacts often hidden by the complexities and rules in copyright law. Luckily, The Public Domain Review exists to spotlight these relics and even shows you how to find your own out-of-copyright gems. Below are some of my favorite exhibits and essays from The Public Domain Review.

Collection: Japanese Depictions of North Americans (1860s).

Collection: W. E. B. Du Bois’ Hand-Drawn Infographics of African-American Life (1900).

Collection: Hopi Drawings of Kachinas (1903).

Essays: Emma Willard’s Maps of Time.

Collections: The Surreal Art of Alchemical Diagrams.

Find out more about the public domain in UT Libraries collections and guides:

-Still not sure what the public domain is or want to know more about copyright and fair use? See the library’s Copyright Crash Course guide.

-Take a look at the list of works that entered the public domain in 2021 on UT Austin’s Open Access blog here.  

-Fire insurance has never been more exciting than when depicted in the colorful, aesthetically pleasing Sanborn Fire Maps from the PCL Map Collection.

The Royal Inspection through a Digital Lens: Interactive Exhibit Examines Spanish Colonial Bureaucracy

By BRITTANY ERWIN

For almost three hundred years, the Spanish monarchs ruled over an expansive empire stretching from the Caribbean to the southernmost tip of South America. World history narratives situate Spain within a centuries-long clash between major powers over territory, resources, and authority in the Americas that ended with the wars of independence. However, these histories tend to devote less attention to the day-to-day processes that sustained imperial rule. My dissertation explores this question through an analysis of the underlying mechanisms that bound the people to their faraway king. A LLILAS Benson Digital Humanities Summer Fellowship helped me to create an online exhibition that demonstrates what the bureaucracy of empire looked like on the ground. (Visit the Spanish version of the exhibition.)

This interactive website serves as an interface with a section of the vast holdings of the Benson Latin American Collection: the Genaro García Collection. Through the exhibition, teachers, students, and community members can explore the events that unfolded when the king ordered a visita—or royal inspection—for New Spain (roughly, modern Mexico) in 1765. The inspection allowed the monarch to keep up to date on local happenings while also identifying areas that could be reorganized. This visita involved approximately seven years of examinations and reforms carried out through a cooperation between the monarch’s appointed visitador—or inspector—and local government workers.

Cover page for this collection of visita documents. G206-01.

The website offers high-resolution images of the thirty documents from the Genaro García Collection that pertain to this procedure, in addition to brief content descriptions, full transcriptions, information on the individuals involved, and maps of prominent regions mentioned in the sources. All of this information appears in an interactive timeline so that users can experience the process of bureaucracy at work.

The TimelineJS chronology features high-resolution images of the documents included for each date.

This project benefited from the use of several digital humanities tools, including TimelineJS, FromthePage, and Transkribus. TimelineJS allowed for the creation of an interactive chronology containing the step-by-step process that the visitador followed as he inspected and reorganized the government of New Spain. For users looking to examine the documents beyond the site’s overviews, FromthePage and Transkribus generated full transcriptions of the sources.

This screen shot illustrates the transcription process in Transkribus.

These texts provide opportunities for further exploration, such as data analysis. For example, by feeding the transcriptions into the Voyant Tools website, I was able to generate a word cloud of the most commonly appearing words and phrases in the documents.

Voyant Tools allows for the creation of word clouds, like the one featured above.

The Benson Latin American Collection holds documents covering many regions of the Spanish world across the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries. During this time, Spain’s hold over its American territories required the constant interaction between royal officials and local populations, and that crossover was often messy. The 1765 visita of New Spain sheds light on the complexities of this process. My hope is that this online exhibition will expand the ways in which people can interact with these sources without having to visit the University of Texas campus in person, and learn from them about the day-to-day experience of imperial management.


Brittany Erwin is a PhD candidate in history. She was a LLILAS Benson Digital Humanities Summer Fellow in 2020.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Braceros Tell Their Stories

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.

A twenty-two-year program that began during World War II and is still relevant nearly sixty years after its conclusion in 1964, the Bracero Program was an agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments to permit short-term Mexican laborers to work in the United States.

In an effort to stem labor shortages during and after the war years, an estimated 4.6 million workers came to the USA with the promise of thirty cents per hour and “humane treatment.” Of course, we know that loosely defined terms like “humane treatment” present a slippery slope that can erase and omit stories. Fortunately, through the collaborative efforts of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Brown University, and the University of Texas at El Paso’s Institute of Oral History, many of those once-hidden stories have been preserved and made accessible through the Bracero History Archive (BHA).  

The BHA offers a variety of materials, most notably over 700 oral histories recorded in English and Spanish. While the metadata fields for each oral history could be more robust, the ability to hear first-hand accounts and inter-generational stories is a dream come true for primary source-seekers. All audio is available to download in mp3 format for future use.  

Apart from oral histories, other resources are also available. Images, such as photographs and postcards, provide visuals of the varied environments that hosted the Braceros as well as portraits of the Braceros themselves.  

Again, further detail on these resources would benefit the archive. For example, the photograph above, titled “Two Men,” demonstrates a lack of context needed for a more profound understanding while also acknowledging the potentially constant transient nature of Bracero work. In fact, the very word bracero, derived from the Spanish word for “arm,” is indicative of the commodification and dehumanization of the human body for labor. Workers lived in subpar work camps, received threats of deportation, and lacked proper nourishment, especially given the arduous work conditions.  

Additional BHA resources include a “documents” section in which offspring share anecdotes about the Bracero Program and track down information about loved ones. Finally, the site offers resources for middle school and high school teachers to use in their curriculum. Here again is an opportunity to further build out the site for university-level instruction.  

The digital objects in the BHA are worthwhile for those looking to recover an often-overlooked subject in American history that still resonates with themes relating to immigration today. Indeed, farmworkers continue to be exploited and underappreciated despite their contributions to society. This has led to a number of movements, marches, and boycotts in efforts to improve living conditions and wages. 

For those interested in oral history collections at the University of Texas Libraries, look no further than the Voces Oral History Project and Los del Valle Oral History Project, both housed at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Similarly, collections related to farmworkers, and undoubtedly influenced by the legacies of the Bracero Program, include the Texas Farm Workers Union Collection and the María G. Flores Papers.