Tag Archives: Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastorelas: Past and Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Parents’ Survival Guide for Finals

Photo courtesy UT Division of Student Affairs.
Photo courtesy UT Division of Student Affairs.

Imagine this — your student just returned to campus from Thanksgiving Break and realized that finals are just around the corner.  What do they do?  Panic?  Eat more mashed potatoes or pie and try to forget about it?  I’ll never argue with more pie, but when your student calls to talk about this stressful time, tell them that instead of panicking or eating their feelings, they can take advantage of services offered within the libraries.

University Writing Center at PCL.
University Writing Center at PCL.

PCL houses several partner organizations who offer great services to students:

  • The Writing Center (in PCL) offers help at any point in the writing process.  Tell your student that good writers seek feedback!  Appointments here
  • The Sanger Center’s Public Speaking Center is now open in PCL – their consultants can offer suggestions on any presentation or speech assignment.  Appointments here  
  • Tutoring for intro-level Calculus, Biology, and Chemistry courses is now available in PCL’s UFCU room.  See the schedule

Help at the desk.

The UT Libraries house many new services for students, but librarians have always been available to help with research.  Students can ask us questions about finding sources of information, about choosing or narrowing a topic, about when and how to cite sources, and about which sources of information are credible.  We are available to help in several ways.  Your student can:

If your student has an assignment that involves technology, we can help with that too!  They can:  

We know that finals are stressful, so we want to help with your student’s work AND help them de-stress.  With dogs!  We have therapy dog study breaks a few times at the end of the semester:

Kona from Austin Dog Alliance.

Speak Clearly, For Science’s Sake

Science, not in plain English.
Science, not in plain English.

Even if it is rocket science, it certainly helps to be able to explain it.

Grant funding has become increasingly competitive in a world driven toward the next great innovation or discovery, so researchers are seeking to find ways to present complicated ideas in terms that are easily understandable, even to non-experts, in order to generate interest in their areas of work.

To introduce the campus community to this strategy for professional success, UT Science Communication Interest Group is hosting a contest to challenge student researchers to present complex ideas to general audiences.

Science in Plain English will test participants’ ability to distill their often obscure technical knowledge into prose that can be comprehended by non-scientists in non-academic environs. Contestants will have to rely solely on their ability to communicate verbally — there is a prohibition on props, visual presentations, audio or video — and on their talent for connecting with an audience.

Presentations will be limited to 3 minutes, with judges assessing performances on brevity, clarity, speaking style and a meticulous avoidance of jargon and/or technical terminology.

The winner will be awarded a trip to the 2017 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, February 16-20, in Boston. Contest winner’s registration, travel, and accommodations will be paid for, up to a maximum value of $2,500.

The contest will be held on Wednesday, October 19 at 4:30 p.m. in the Student Activity Center Auditorium. The competition is already filled, but the contest is open to the public and audience participation will help determine the winner.

Supported in part by the Austin Radiological Association.

Hear a piece by Houston Public Media on a similar science communication competition. 

Scholars Commons Opens in PCL

Data Lab in the new Scholars Commons at PCL.
Data Lab in the new Scholars Commons at PCL.

The Scholars Commons, a UT Libraries pilot initiative introducing new spaces and approaches to research and data lifecycle support at UT Austin, opens on Wednesday, January 20 at noon. Located on entry level of the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL), it features space for silent study, a Data Lab, an exhibit area and a Graduate Landing Spot with a suite of study rooms exclusively for graduate student use.

Aesthetically compelling and functional in design, the Scholars Commons is a dynamic intellectual environment for scholars at all levels engaged in serious study.  It is a gateway to a suite of services provided by the UT Libraries and campus partners to facilitate academic inquiry and scholarship, connecting scholars with librarians and with each other.  UT Libraries subject librarians are available by appointment to consult on resources, scholarly publishing, research data management, and digital scholarship, and will provide workshops along with other experts from Learning Sciences and the University Writing Center.

Scholars Commons.
Group Study Room in the Scholars Commons.

Last spring, UTL librarians conducted focus groups with graduate students and faculty to learn more about their research and writing needs, and received survey input from over 1,100 graduate students and faculty.  The Scholars Commons bring to life the spaces and services informed by these members of the UT Austin research enterprise.

The silent study area of the Scholars Commons offers a tranquil place for scholars to focus fully and reflect on their work without distractions. Researchers will be close to UTL’s robust collections and the expertise of service providers at the Research Help & Check Out desk.  Study tables, comfortable chairs, and abundant outlets make it easy to drop in for a few minutes or stay for an entire afternoon of productive work. This area will be a unique UTL space on campus in that it is designated as a completely silent study area.

Scholars Commons.
Group Study Room in the Scholars Commons.

Graduate students wanted a place for networking with their colleagues that would be flexible for a variety of needs and the Graduate Landing Spot in the Scholars Commons is a home for graduate students within PCL. Students can swipe their UT ID cards to enter a suite adjacent to the silent study area comprised of four technology-equipped group study rooms that may be reserved online, a lounge for heating and enjoying meals, and a general purpose study and networking area. This space is open to graduate students of all disciplines.

Part of the pilot will include an increased focus on digital scholarship and the digital humanities. A Data Lab with 15 dual-boot iMacs allows UTL to offer access to high-end statistical analysis software, like SPSS and SAS, for the first time. The Lab can accommodate small classes and library workshops. Faculty interested in bringing a class to the lab to use the software can contact scholarscommons@austin.utexas.edu.

Scholars Commons.
Graduate Landing Spot in the Scholars Commons.

The Scholars Commons initiative will also highlight and promote UT scholarship in the form of events and rotating exhibits. The first exhibit in the space, Crafting Art and Geology: The Publications of Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), was curated by Dr. Janice Leoshko from the Department of Art and Art History and Department of Asian Studies. The Scholars Commons will also host lectures and seminars to share the world-class research that is being done at UT.

The Scholars Commons is a pilot project. Librarians and UTL staff will be soliciting feedback from users and taking note of the ways that scholars use the space, including what works and what doesn’t. Come by PCL for the opening event or to investigate the Scholars Commons to find your place for exploration and innovation within the Libraries.

Data Lab Coming to PCL

Conceptual Gears.

A new lab is coming to PCL as part of the Scholars Commons, opening in January 2016. The Data Lab will have 15 dual-boot iMacs capable of running Windows and Mac OS. Based on the results of a campus-wide survey of graduate students and faculty conducted last spring, the pilot lab will have software for statistical analysis, data visualization, and text encoding. Users will also have access to a UT Libraries-installed instance of Omeka and other web-based tools for digital scholarship. In addition to the new types of software, look for workshops on digital scholarship tools and methods throughout the spring semester.

The Data Lab will be a pilot space. We’re especially interested in your feedback about what works and what doesn’t so that we can provide the software that you need.

Software available in the Data Lab will include:

  • Adobe Creative Suite 6
  • Autodesk Design Suite (free educational version)
  • NVivo
  • Omeka
  • Oxygen XML
  • R
  • SAS
  • SPSS
  • Stata/MP
  • Sublime Text
  • Tableau Public

The lab will also offer standard office productivity apps.

The Scholars Commons, located on the entry of level of PCL, will offer silent study space to facilitate studying, space exclusively for graduate students to take a break, refresh, or meet with a group of colleagues and a Data Lab.

Have a project or idea that you think might be a perfect match for the Data Lab? Let us know! Contact Jenifer Flaxbart.

Calling the Hive: Rename the Repository Contest

Hello, My Name Is...

The University of Texas Digital Repository (UTDR) is changing its name, and is looking to the hive mind for some help.

The repository is undergoing an upgrade, so the Libraries are holding a naming contest now through June 12, 2015, to upgrade the resource’s name, as well. Anyone can enter, but only one will win and there’s a grand prize for the winner, but also opportunities to win for other entrants. See the Libraries’ Open Access blog for complete details.

For those unfamiliar with the repository, UTDR is the open access gateway to The University of Texas at Austin’s research and scholarship and a digital archive for the preservation of these works for future generations. It links together and preserves both historical and contemporary data generated by the intellectual and academic community of university, providing a central internet access point and interactive multimedia tools for interacting with these resources.

As well as preserving selected works of research and scholarship, UTDR also holds materials that reflect the intellectual and service environment of our campus community.

To date, the repository has taken in over 28,000 items, including theses and dissertations, faculty research, conference proceedings, journals and papers, representing 1.6 terabytes of data that was downloaded more that 3.5 million times last year.

Help us do this great free resource justice by giving it a name that conveys its extraordinary contribution to the universe of information.

On the Front Lines – Dr. E.L. Koschmieder

"The Inca Kingdom," by E. L. Koschmieder

Susan Ardis, head librarian at the McKinney Engineering Library, reflects on the relationship between librarian and scholar.

Thinking…really thinking…about problems sums up Dr. E.L. Koschmieder.

Dr. Koschmieder received his from Ph.D. from the University Of Bonn in 1963 and came to the University of Texas after having post docs at Harvard and the University of Chicago. He is now an emeritus faculty member in the  Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering. While at UT,  his technical interests included convection, hydrodynamic instability and turbulence. He is also well known for his fluid mechanics photographs—so well known that even after he retired we got questions about how to contact him for permission to use one of his photographs. I note that he always gave permission.

What has always set Lothar apart from others is not only his abiding interest in fluid mechanics but is his interests  in culture, photography, political science and education. Lothar is from the old school—an educated man who believes in education and is always trying to solve what he calls “my little problems.” Once he retired, he did not stop thinking of nor stop trying to solve his little problems. These “little problems” could be found anywhere but one in particular he discovered when he and his wife Kate traveled to Peru, Ecuador and specifically the Machu Picchu area, where he took literally thousands of photographs.

This  physicist/engineer was fascinated by the building techniques used and he wanted to know more. He examined and thought about the knobs or bosses on the stones found in walls at Cuzco—what purpose did they serve? So began another of his research projects. He borrowed books from all over the world, particularly those with early descriptions, drawings and photographs of Inca buildings, art and textiles.  He talked with experts and he read, read, read. The result of all of this effort and thought is a truly remarkable book  The Inca Kingdom (Xlibris, 2012).

As always when a librarian is acknowledged for her help—I was tickled pink to be honored for my help in his book.

Breaking Down Tools

Our First-year Experience Librarian, Cindy Fisher, is a guest blogger over at the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s ProfHacker site. In her post, she lauds LibX, a pretty complex, library-specific browser extension from a couple of innovators at VaTech that makes finding and accessing available resources in your library exponentially simpler.

Like I said, it’s pretty complex, so I’ll let Cindy explain it to you.

 

Be a Fellow

Calling all scholars! The Harry Ransom Center has opened their annual Fellowship application period for 2012-13.

Who wouldn’t want to get their paws dirty digging through the personal papers of such luminary writers as Graham Greene, Anne Sexton, Norman Mailer and David Foster Wallace? Or wile away the time wading through ephemera from Gone With The Wind, Spellbound, The Third Man or any number of other David O. Selznick productions? Or just bask in contemplative imagery from the massive Gernsheim photography archive? With more than 50 fellowships available annually, there’s no reason not to apply.

And the Libraries’ 9 million+ volumes and vast digital resources and special collections are here to support your work…as if you needed more motivation to follow the link below.

More information.