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.
Art historian Dr. Virginia E. Miller, a UT Austin alumna, has generously included support for LLILAS Benson in her estate. The bequest designates the creation of two program endowments: Virginia E. Miller Endowed Excellence Fund in Latin American Art Studies, to support the study of Latin American Art via LLILAS, and Virginia E. Miller Endowed Excellence Fund for the Benson Library, to support any function of the Benson Latin American Collection.
Dr. Miller completed her master’s in Latin American Studies from LLILAS (at the time, ILAS) in 1973, and earned her doctorate in Art History, also from UT, in 1981. An art historian who specializes in ancient Maya art, she is Associate Professor Emerita of Pre-Columbian and Native American Art in the Department of Art History at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Recently, Dr. Miller spoke to LLILAS Benson Communications Coordinator Susanna Sharpe, explaining how a young woman born in London, Ontario, Canada, made her way to Austin, Texas, to study Latin America.
“I was a French major [in college], but nobody was offering me a glamorous job in Paris when I graduated. But I got a chance to work for the YWCA in Mexico City, so I took it,” recalled Miller. “I had already spent a summer in South America by then.”
Driven by her interest in learning more about Latin America, her fluency in Spanish, and her desire to study and live someplace warm, Miller applied to a handful of master’s programs in the U.S. She knew very little about the programs she applied to. “Remember, this is before the internet.” A Latin American history professor she knew told her to choose UT Austin if she got in, so she did, although she admits the decision was rather random. “I hadn’t looked at a map,” Miller laughed, “I didn’t know where Austin was; I just knew it was in Texas. I couldn’t understand anybody at all for the first few days!”
It was during an art history seminar during her first semester that Miller began to develop an interest in the field that would become the focus of her career. Once she began the PhD program in art history, things gradually began to fall into place and her focus zeroed in on pre-Columbian and then specifically ancient Maya art.
Miller remarked on witnessing her own students’ reactions to this material. “A lot of my students were just astonished to learn about [pre-Columbian art]. Even the art history majors. I got a lot of converts from modern and Renaissance art, especially at the master’s level. The best part of teaching was the students’ discovery of these cultures.”
Although she spent most of her career teaching at UIC, Miller also taught at Oberlin College and Northwestern University. As a Fulbright scholar, she taught in both Guatemala and Mexico. She also took a brief break from teaching to join the Foreign Service, working in the consular office of the American embassy in Madrid.
Miller’s memories of UT and of Austin are joyful and positive, and it is clear that the Institute of Latin American Studies and the Benson Collection were a hub for much of her engagement here.
“UT was really foundational to me—to my professional career, but also to me personally. I really enjoyed my time in Austin. It was wonderful having that fantastic library. There were so many events that had a Latin American focus. There were so many faculty, even in areas I didn’t do, like geography and history, that you had this wonderful climate.”
Recalling the Benson, she said, “I loved the library. It had every publication. It was amazing. I mean, I would be researching pre-Columbian art in say, Bolivia, and I would find a journal that had two issues published in La Paz in the twenties [laughs] and it would be in the library! I was completely spoiled. Even Dumbarton Oaks in Washington does not match it. I was in the library a lot. Partly to work, partly to hang out with my friends, and partly because back then you browsed the stacks a lot. . . . I would browse the stacks endlessly to find interesting material on a wide range of subjects. It was the amplitude of the library and the accessibility of the material . . . it was just a very good atmosphere there.”
The inevitable question arose: Did she cross paths with the revered (and sometimes feared) head librarian Nettie Lee Benson? “Oh yeah. She terrified me! [laughs] She was in charge! I also knew Laura Gutiérrez-Witt, and David Block was a close friend of mine in graduate school.” (The beloved Gutiérrez-Witt and the late Block are former head librarians at the Benson.)
The Latin American Studies master’s degree offered Miller the freedom she needed to explore a wide and diverse field. “I was fascinated that when I arrived, I went to see my adviser because I didn’t know what to take, and he told me I could take anything,” she said.
It is clear that Dr. Miller’s gift is her way of giving back to a place that helped shape her and enriched her life.
“I had a lot of fun there. I know that’s not academic, but I really enjoyed my time. Austin is a wonderful memory to me.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
¿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.
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.
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.
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.
¿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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
LLILAS Benson mourns the passing of friend, scholar, and former colleague David Block III, on June 15, 2021. Block was head of the Benson Latin American Collection from 2009 until his retirement in 2014.
Born in San Diego, California, in 1945, Block grew up in Arkansas, where he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas. He served for three years in the Peace Corps in Bolivia, igniting his lifelong interest in Latin America. He earned his PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied with historian Nettie Lee Benson. During his thirty-year career as a Latin American librarian, Block worked at Cornell University and at UT’s Benson Collection. He also served as president of the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM). Read Block’s obituary.
Block was a sought-after expert on the Andean region and the author of the book Mission Culture on the Upper Amazon (1994), which won the Conference of Latin American History’s Howard Cline Memorial Prize and was included in Obras de la biblioteca del bicentenario de Bolivia. He also penned the introduction to A Library for the Americas (2018), a contributed volume that showcases the Benson’s history with essays and rich illustrations.
Upon his retirement from the Benson in 2014, Block spoke about his time at the Benson as “the high point of my 35-year career.” One of the most significant events during his tenure was the establishment of the LLILAS Benson partnership in 2011, in which Block played a key collaborative role. “David’s accomplishments during his relatively short time at the Benson are too many to list,” says Benson director Melissa Guy. “He was a master bibliographer and scholar, and traveled throughout Latin America to secure materials for the collection. Most significantly, he was instrumental in launching and nurturing the LLILAS Benson partnership, now in its tenth year, working alongside LLILAS Benson director Charlie Hale to find new ways to link the world-class collections of the Benson to the top-tier scholarship and teaching of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. That, in and of itself, is quite a legacy.”
Prior to his colleague’s retirement, Hale reflected on Block’s personal qualities: “David cares deeply about others: he is gentle, compassionate, and kind, whether with a co-worker of many years or a stranger who happens into the Benson; he is scrupulously conscientious: holding himself to bedrock ethics and values, with no sense that this gives license to judge others; and his manner exudes an egalitarian ethos, always willing to step up to assure that collective goals are met, inspiring others by his example, and by the sheer pleasure of working at his side.”
The LLILAS Benson family extends our deepest condolences to David’s family. He left an indelible mark on many of us as both a scholar-librarian and a human being, and we are so grateful.
Honoring David Block
It is David’s family’s request that those wishing to honor him consider a donation to the Nettie Lee Benson Collection, Benson Centennial Endowment: bit.ly/Benson100. Check donations may be sent to TEXAS Development, PO Box 7458, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78713. Please make check payable to: The University of Texas at Austin and specify in memo: UT Libraries – Benson Centennial Endowment.
LLILAS Benson is thrilled to announce the return of the ¡A Viva Voz! Celebration of Latina/o Arts and Culture. The annual event, usually one of the highlights of the spring semester, was canceled in 2020 due to the recent campus closure for Covid-19.
Now that we’ve got an advanced degree in Zoom, we are pleased to announce Scene Onscreen: An Evening with JoAnn and Rupert Reyes, Founders of Teatro Vivo. This virtual event will be held on Thursday, April 1, 2021, at 7pm CDT. To register for the event and receive a link, visit Attend.com/AVV2021.
During the evening, hosted by Roxanne Schroeder-Arce of the Department of Theatre and Dance, the audience will be treated to recorded scenes from some of Rupert Reyes’s iconic achievements as a playwright, interspersed with conversation about the history of Teatro Vivo, the bilingual theater company that Rupert and JoAnn founded in 2000 and led for many years.
Scenes from Petra’s Pecado, Petra’s Cuento, and Petra’s Sueño;Crossing the Río, Cuento Navideño, Cenicienta, and the forthcoming film Vecinos will bring some levity to everyone’s evening, and it is our hope that the shared experience of laughter while enjoying these scenes will make the virtual a little more personal.
The JoAnn and Rupert Reyes Collection
The Benson Latin American Collection is the repository of the papers of JoAnn and Rupert Reyes, which contains a rich assortment of materials from their decades working with Teatro Vivo and other theater companies. According to the archival notes, “Teatro Vivo has garnered numerous nominations for acting, writing, and design from local theater award councils, including the B. Iden Payne Awards and the Austin Critics Table Awards, and the company continues to serve as an active contributor to the arts community in Austin. JoAnn and Rupert led the company as the executive director and artistic director, respectively, until they stepped down in 2016.” Both of the Reyes have received accolades for their work, including the Community Leadership Award from the University of Texas at Austin (their alma mater) in 2008 and the Partners in the Arts and Humanities award by the Austin City Council in 2011. They continue to serve as advisors to Teatro Vivo and remain significant cultural ambassadors for Latino theater in the United States.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 & 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.
LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections is pleased to announce the publication of Portal magazine’s Benson Centennial edition, available online at llilasbensonmagazine.org.
In anticipation of the centennial of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection in 2021, this issue features articles by faculty, students, scholars, and staff that highlight a wide array of collections in areas as diverse as art history, feminist theory, Black diaspora, Indigenous studies, Mexican film, and more. A special selection of Staff Picks surveys items in the collection chosen and written about by staff in short feature pieces. Truly, this issue has something for everyone, including information on how to support the Benson Centennial Endowment.
Annotated contents of Portal‘s Benson Centennial issue follow below.
Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Decolonial Feminists Unite! Dorothy Schons and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz—Award-winning Chicana feminist author Alicia Gaspar de Alba explores the fascinating yet tragic story of UT scholar Dorothy Schons (1890–1961), whose groundbreaking research on the Mexican poet, intellectual, and nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648–1695) was dismissed by her colleagues at the time.
Voices of Black Brazilian Feminism: Conversations with Rosana Paulino and Sueli Carneiro—Rosana Paulino is a visual artist and Black Brazilian feminist; Sueli Carneiro is an author and one of the foremost feminist intellectuals in Brazil. Both were keynote speakers at the February 2020 Lozano Long Conference on Black women’s intellectual contributions to the Americas. Interviewed here by UT faculty members Christen A. Smith (Anthropology, AADS, LLILAS, dir. of Center for Women’s and Gender Studies) and Lorraine Leu (LLILAS / Spanish & Portuguese).
Daniel Arbino, (Self)Love in the Time of COVID—Reflections from Benson head of special collections on themes of self-care and solitude in the Benson’s Latino zine collection.
David A. Bliss, Selections from the LADI Repository—Bliss, digital processing archivist at the Benson, highlights collections in the Latin American Digital Initiatives repository. These are vulnerable archival collections that are now available online due to Mellon grant–funded collaborations between LLILAS Benson and Latin American archival partners.
Albert A. Palacios, Student Activism in the Archives, 1969, 1970. Items from Texas and Uruguay are but two of the many examples of student activism in the Benson’s archives.
Dylan Joy, Ernesto Cardenal in Solentiname, 1970s, explores the spiritual artists’ community of Solentiname founded by the lateNicaraguan poet, priest, and politician Ernesto Cardenal (1925–2020), whose archive is at the Benson.
Zaria El-Fil, Black Freedom Struggle and the University, 1977, focused on the John L. Warfield Papers and written by fourth-year student Zaria El-Fil, the 2019–20 AKA Scholars Black Diaspora Archive intern.
Ryan Lynch, Manifesto ao povo nordestino, 1982, discusses a Brazilian political archive and showcases how political themes are discussed in cordel literature, cheap chapbooks popular in Brazil.
Susanna Sharpe, Camas para Sueños by Carmen Lomas Garza, 1985. The Benson is the repository for the archive of artist Carmen Lomas Garza, a native of Kingsville, Texas, whose highly popular and well-known artworks evoke many aspects of Chicano life and culture in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere.
It was the Summer of Zoom. Anyone whose job quickly morphed from being in-person to being entirely online can relate to (a) isolation, (b) feeling overwhelmed, (c) video-conference overload, or (d) some or all of the above. Yet the ability to engage with other people on platforms such as Zoom has allowed some important work to move forward. Such was the case with the recent workshop series conducted with archival partners in Latin America by the LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives team (LBDI).
The workshops were originally planned to occur in person during a week-long retreat in Antigua, Guatemala, with a group of Latin American partner archives. As an essential activity of the two-year Mellon Foundation grant titled Cultivating a Latin American Post-Custodial Archiving Community, the week would provide an opportunity for partners from Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, and Brazil to come together for training, share resources and knowledge, exchange ideas, and discuss challenges they face in their work.
The Mellon grant, covering work between January 2020 and June 2022, provides funding to support post-custodial* archival work with five partner archives, some of whom are already represented in the Latin American Digital Initiatives repository, which emphasizes collections documenting human rights issues and underrepresented communities.
The Covid-19 pandemic demanded that the digital initiatives team quickly pivot in order to keep the project moving forward on the grant timeline. For the resulting workshop series, offered via Zoom, members of the LBDI team prepared extensive training videos, designed Q&A sessions, and arranged for sessions with guest experts. Topics included grant writing, budgeting, archival processing, metadata, equipment selection, digital preservation, and digital scholarship, among others.
Over the course of five weeks this past summer, workshop participants met twice a week with LBDI staff members Theresa Polk, David Bliss, Itza Carbajal, Albert Palacios, and Karla Roig, as well as LLILAS Benson grants manager Megan Scarborough. All sessions were conducted in Spanish with closed-caption translations into Portuguese (or vice versa) provided by Susanna Sharpe, the LLILAS Benson communications coordinator. Additional presenters included Carla Alvarez, the U.S. Latinx archivist at the Benson Latin American Collection, and photo preservation experts Diana Díaz (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and María Estibaliz Guzmán (Escuela Nacional de Conservación, Restauración y Museografía, ENCRyM, Mexico).
Despite the physical distance, workshop participants clearly valued the opportunity to come together and learn from one another, especially during the pandemic, which has had such profound effects on daily life as well as work. The increased isolation, repression, and attacks against communities that have accompanied the pandemic also underscored for partners the urgency of preserving their communities’ documentation to support current struggles for recognition and respect of basic human rights, and to prevent future efforts to erase or deny ongoing violence and injustice. This shared commitment fostered a sense of solidarity and mutual support among participants.
“For our team, it was an enriching experience that allowed us to reflect, as part of a multinational group, on the achievements and expectations of the LLILAS Benson Mellon project,” reported Carlos Henríquez Consalvi (aka Santiago) of MUPI, who also remarked on the opportunity to get to know the work of partner archives, “and to learn of their challenges with conservation and diffusion of their respective collections.”
Carolina Rendón, one of two participants from ODHAG’s Centro de la Memoria Monseñor Juan Gerardi, expressed how the day-to-day burdens of the pandemic were lightened by the opportunity to meet with others: “It was very good to be in spaces with others who work in different archives across Latin America. The pandemic has been heavy. During the course of the workshops, we passed through several stages—lockdown, fear, horror at the deaths, . . . . I appreciate getting to know, even virtually, people who work in archives in other countries.”
For the LLILAS Benson team, the positive comments, and the general feeling of gratitude for the solidarity of online gatherings, offset the heavy lifting of preparing multiple training videos per week in Spanish, with texts quickly and expertly translated to Portuguese by collaborator Tereza Braga. In words of David A. Bliss, digital processing archivist, “The biggest challenge was distilling a huge amount of technical information down to its most important elements and communicating these as clearly as possible in Spanish.”
Bliss also alluded to the fact that the partners themselves are a diverse group with different backgrounds, needs, and types of archives: “Some of our partners have been running digitization programs for years, but for others the information was all new, so I worked hard to strike a balance between the two using visual aids and clear definitions for technical terms.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of the workshop series was knowing that archivists and activists who work to preserve important records of memory in the area of human rights were able to come together, albeit virtually, to share their work and their perspectives with one another. As Bliss put it, “Ordinarily, we work individually with each partner organization to help them manage their digitization project, with the goal of gathering all of their collections together in LADI. But many of our partners don’t just hold collections of historical documents; they’re engaged in ongoing struggles for their communities. They’re far more equipped to help one another strategize and succeed in that work than we are, so giving them the space to form those direct connections with one another is really important. It’s also very validating for us, because it’s been one of our goals for years now: we want to be just one part of a network of partners, not at the center of it.”
* 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. LLILAS Benson is a pioneer in this practice.