Tag Archives: history

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.

Read, Hot, and Digitized: 1947 Partition Archive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanford University's 1947 Partition website.

Collections Highlight: The Memoirs of Santa Anna

Antonio López de Santa Anna. “Mis memorias, escritas de mi puño y letra sin ayuda de nadie,en mi último destierro,” 1872. Paper, 12 x 7 in. Genaro Garcìa Collection, Benson Latin American Collection.
Antonio López de Santa Anna. “Mis memorias, escritas de mi puño y letra sin ayuda de nadie,en mi último destierro,” 1872. Paper. 12 x 7 in. Genaro Garcìa Collection,
Benson Latin American Collection.

Mexican politician and general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna wrote these memoirs during his final exile in Havana in 1872.

Sometimes referred to as “the Napolean of the West,” Santa Anna — who served as president of Mexico in multiple, non-consecutive terms — is infamous for losing control of Texas and the extensive territories of the U.S. Southwest in 1836.

The Trail That Made Texas

When Alonso de Léon took his troops from the Rio Grande to the Guadalupe river – and later to the Neches – in search of French settlements, he probably had no idea that his tracks would pave the way for the creation of the state of Texas.

The Benson Latin American Collection is hosting an exhibition of photographs by Christopher Talbot from the National Historic Trail formed by de Léon’s expedition.

El Camino Real de los Tejas is on display at the Benson through the end of the month, and a reception with Talbot in attendance takes place tomorrow, Wednesday, September 21, from 5-7pm.

You can RSVP to the Benson’s Facebook event page.

“The Past is Never Dead.”

Here’s some great news from our colleagues across campus.

The History Department has just launched an informative, interactive history web site. Not Even Past provides current historical writing for a popular audience. For history buffs who want reading recommendations and short, interesting, digestible stories every day, the website offers text, audio, and video histories on subjects that span the globe. The site is designed for anyone who is interested in history, from an avid reader of history to a history film aficionado.

The content and “picks” are written by the department’s 60-person faculty with additional input from the graduate students. Notevenpast.org is rich with book and film recommendations, video interviews, podcasts, online commentary, and even virtual classes (free) every semester.

The History Department’s new site is one-of-a-kind – no other university or institution offers a similar resource. Not Even Past will be identified with the individuals in the History Department at UT, giving readers a personalized experience of great history writing as well as promoting the strengths of the department and the University of Texas. Not Even Past also differs from other History department sites in its stylish visual design and its cutting-edge user-friendly functionality.

And just in case you want to follow up on the current reading recommendations from Not Even Past, they’re all part of the collections at PCL (and currently available).

American slavery, American freedom : the ordeal of colonial Virginia / Edmund S. Morgan.

Disowning slavery : gradual emancipation and “race” in New England, 1780-1860 / Joanne Pope Melish.

Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave / written by himself with related documents ; edited with an introduction by David W. Blight.

Editors discuss new book on Latino expericence during World War II

texlibris_beyondthelatinoThe Center for Mexican American Studies hosts a discussion of Beyond the Latino World War II Hero: The Social and Political Legacy of a Generation (University of Texas Press, 2009) with editors Maggie Rivas-Rodríguez and Emilio Zamora today at 4 p.m. at El Mercado Uptown,  1702 Lavaca St.

Beyond the Latino World War II Hero extends on the work of the U.S. Latino & Latina World War II Oral History Project which was founded by Rivas-Rodriguez. The project has interviewed more than 650 men and women of the World War II generation and has multiple components, including a photographic exhibit, a play, three books, and a website which was developed with and hosted by the University of Texas Libraries.

Maggie Rivas-Rodríguez is Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and in 1999 founded the U.S. Latino & Latina World War II Oral History Project. Emilio Zamora is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of The World of the Mexican Worker in Texas.