Written by Hayley Morgenstern, Graduate Research Assistant/Ask a Librarian Intern
The creation of the Black Queer Studies Collection (BQSC) by former librarian Kristen Hogan in collaboration with faculty member Dr. Matt Richardson responds to the need to make content that is marginalized within classification systems more accessible for scholarship.
One of the first special collections of its kind in the U.S. South, the BQSC is a designated virtual collection that seeks to address discoverability issues surrounding holdings in the area of African and African Diasporic Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Studies. Since standard Library of Congress subject headings are limited in addressing gender and sexual identity, adding a local note to items in the catalog allows materials addressing black queer content to become accessible through a keyword search. The creation of the collection to meet a research need of students and faculty exemplifies the vision of the library as a research ecosystem created through user-focused innovation, collaboration, and expertise.
Over 750 items exist in the collection that spans multiple branches of the library system from the Perry-Castañeda Library, the Benson Latin American Collection, and the Fine Arts Library as well as digital materials like the steaming film Miss Major! (a documentary about Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a formerly incarcerated Black transgender elder and activist who has been fighting for the rights of trans women of color for over 40 years). The content in the collection spans fiction, science-fiction, memoir and biography, critical theory, fine art, music, poetry theater, and film.
An exhibit featuring selections from the BQSC is now on display in the Scholars Commons at the PCL.
“Comprehensiveness” is not ultimately the goal for this nationally distinctive collection, in part because the material itself is ephemeral and passes out of print quickly. In fact, the very fleeting nature of the material, particularly that published in serial formats and on low-quality “pulp” paper, is what makes collecting it so imperative. Private collectors often don’t see the value in its popular content—it isn’t “high brow” nor particularly literary, some of it is geared towards women, while others are purely entertainment-oriented. Public libraries (both in South Asia and abroad) might seem well situated for the content, yet they often aren’t equipped nor charged to preserve such fragile but highly used material. As a result, in gathering this material at our research library, even if only at a representative level, we are assuring both current and future researchers a corpus of material within which to explore literary conventions as well as alternative uses of South Asian languages (particularly that not in high registers), to contemplate social norms and anxieties as represented in fictional accounts and graphic design at a particular moment in time, and to question the consumptive practices of publishing and distribution. In order to be as broadly representative as possible with the collection, I am seeking to include multiple languages and different types and periods of publication.
Building upon earlier efforts in Telugu and Urdu already in the collection, on this trip I sought to acquire materials in Hindi, Malayalam, and Tamil.
In Delhi, and with the gracious help of Asian Studies PhD Student Aaron Sherraden and former SAI Outreach Coordinator Neha Mohan, I was able to acquire the works of authors such as Anil Mohan and Surendra Mohan Pathak.
In Trivandrum, and following advice and guidance from Asian Studies Malayalam Lecturer, Dr. Darsana, I was able to acquire the works of authors such as Kottayam Puspanath, Ettumanur Sivakumar, and Meluveli Babuji.
In Chennai, I was able to acquire materials in different publishing formats by authors such as Rajeshkumar, Suba, Uma Balakumar, and Indira Soundarajan.
I continue to be struck by how different the quality of publications is between languages as well as the places of distribution. Malayalam print production seems best, even for lesser known and more “low-brow” content, while Tamil publications get rebranded and reissued at multiple price points and quality levels. Train platforms of course continue to be active sites for purchasing this material but sellers there lament a decline, one they explain either by reduced readership overall and/or by the dominance of smart phones rather than books for “time-pass.” Highly graphic covers dominate the pedestrian markets while less controversial covers of the same content find home in proper bookshops.
As we continue to acquire more and more of these materials, the Library is also in the process of digitizing the covers as they are compelling and research worthy themselves. An online exhibit is expected to be released in mid-2017. If you have any suggestions for, questions about or just want to see these materials—I’m happy for all input and eager for the collection to be used!
Before his death in 2006, club owner and Austin music scene icon Clifford Antone brought his vast knowledge of music — more specifically the blues and rock and roll — to the Forty Acres for a lecture series hosted by the Department of Sociology called “The History of the Blues According to Clifford Antone.”
Antone’s affable style and enthusiasm for the subject matter easily won over students of the 12-week guest spot in Dr. Lester Kurtz’s course, “Blues, Race and Social Change” (SOC 308).
Antone was the founder of his namesake club Antone’s, a legendary blues club that launched the careers of Texas music artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Charlie Sexton, and helped Austin to become “The Live Music Capital of the World.”
This is a series of lectures was recorded and resides both in the collection of the Fine Arts Library and online at the university’s digital repository, Texas ScholarWorks.
Houston architect Karl Kamrath had an opportunity to meet Frank Lloyd Wright when he visited Taliesin in June of 1946. The encounter had a profound effect on Kamrath’s architectural designs as he began creating Organic architecture, integrating human habitation with the natural environment.
The archive provides insight into the prolific Texan’s work, much of whose modernist design aesthetic paid homage to Wright, and includes some of Kamrath’s award-winning projects such as the Kamrath residence of 1939, Temple Emanu-El in Houston, the Houston Fire Alarm Building, M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute, and the Contemporary Arts Association in Houston. The archive also includes a number of volumes from Kamrath’s personal library that shed further light on his influences.
Karl Kamrath grew up in Austin and earned his bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas. In 1934, he moved to Chicago, where he worked for the architectural firm Pereira and Pereira, the Interior Studios of Marshall Field and Co. and the Architectural Decorating Company.
In 1937, he and another former graduate of the university, Frederick James MacKie Jr. opened their own architectural firm, MacKie and Kamrath in Houston, Texas. MacKie and Kamrath were among the first Houston architects to follow a modernist approach to design for which they received national recognition.
Kamrath left the firm from 1942 to 1945 to serve as a captain in the Army Corps of Engineers. Shortly after his return in 1946, Kamrath met Wright and immediately became an advocate of Wright’s Usonian architecture style.
Kamrath became a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1939 and was elected to fellowship in the institute in 1955, and at various times served in an adjunct capacity at the University of Oklahoma, The University of Texas, Texas A&M University and the University of Oregon. He was also a founder and served on the board of the Contemporary Arts Museum from 1948 to 1952.
A year ago, Rachel E. Winston joined the staff of the Benson Latin American Collection, taking on an entirely new post with the library as its Black Diaspora Archivist. The position is still one of few of its kind in the world, representing heightened attention in academia on diversity area studies, and a desire to collect the cultural history of an underserved population.
As African & African American Studies has joined the predominant fields at the university, the need for bibliographer support from the Libraries became increasingly clear. Winston’s work will involve enhancing existing resources at the Benson related to the African Diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean, but will also push her to work with campus faculty and researchers to develop new collections in support of scholarly currents.
“I think in our present moment, black scholarship and the term ‘Black Diaspora’ has gained a lot of prominence mainly because we’ve reached a point where it can’t be ignored anymore,” says Winston. “So, the presence of black people, the contributions of black people, the impact of black people and black labor in societies worldwide has been there, has happened, but has been erased, has been ignored, has been forgotten and has been left out — intentionally and unintentionally — and so I think we’ve reached a point where the silence has become loud. People see the gaps and see the voids and there’s been more of a concerted effort to address that and to fill it.”
Winston’s initial focus has been on the work of processing a large set of materials given to the university by Dr. Edmund W. Gordon and Dr. Susan Gordon, which arrived at the university around the same time she joined the Libraries. “Black intellectuals are underrepresented in archives. This project says that we value the contributions of Black intellectuals, professionals, and artists, and that we will promote their use. I can’t think of a better fit for our first Black diaspora collection.”
Through almost a century of collecting in Latin American, the Benson naturally amassed materials related to the Black Diaspora, but Winston’s presence will allow for the development of a more cohesive approach to building upon those existing resources and the research that has already sprung from them.
“I think as time goes on, we’ll begin to see Black Studies integrated much more throughout different disciplines. Black Studies itself will continue to be necessary. There’s such important work that’s being done. But I do think that the black presence throughout different disciplines will become more recognized and more commonplace. We’ll be able to really take the conversation further in a lot of places. It will be accepted, and we can go from there.”
Winston isn’t taking the work for granted. Taking on a nascent area of study that has been historically marginalized presents challenges in a variety of areas, including the development of a collections strategy, targeting and locating relevant materials and finding the financial support to build an archive.
The Black Diaspora archive recently received a boost in the form of an endowment provided by civic-minded Austinites Darrick and Chiquita Eugene. Their support will aid Winston at a time when budgets might not favor new initiatives, but she feels the significance of the task ahead of her.
“It’s hard work. It’s important work. But I foresee that the impact of black people and the contributions of black people will be much better known.”
Choreographer, dancer, artist and teacher Yacov Sharir recently donated his archive to the Fine Arts Library. Sharir moved to Austin in 1978 where he founded the American Deaf Dance Company and was hired on as faculty at UT shortly thereafter. He developed a dance program that has become a model for universities across the country, founding the university’s professional company-in-residence, the Sharir Dance Company, in 1982, which became Sharir+Bustamante Danceworks (SBDW) in 1998.
The lengthy project of processing the collection of materials from Sharir’s professional career required the persistence of graduate researcher Katie Van Winkle, an advanced degree candidate in the College of Fine Arts.
Van Winkle took time to answer some questions about the project and her impressions of the experience.
Tex Libris: How did you get involved in processing the Sharir archive?
Katie Van Winkle: I’m a Ph.D. candidate in Performance as Public Practice (PPP), a program in the Department of Theatre & Dance. When I began my studies in the fall 2013, a fellow PPP student named Cassidy Browning was working with Dr. Sharir as a research assistant. Cassidy moved on to dissertation work, and recommended me as a replacement, just as Beth Kerr (Theatre & Dance Librarian in the Fine Arts Library) and Dr. Sharir established the archive project.
I have found always physical and digital archives invaluable in my work both as a scholar and as an artist–but I have almost zero training in archival work. At UT, I participated in a one-day workshop with the American Theatre Archive Project (ATAP), and a theory-based course on “Archive and Ephemera.” Instead, I have some experience in inventing and implementing technological solutions for arts management: for example, as a Dramaturgy Fellow at Center Stage in Baltimore I developed an early prototype of the National New Play Network’s New Play Exchange (http://nnpn.org/programs/new-play-exchange) through a Dramaturgy-Driven Grant from the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas.
What did the process consist of? What was the scope, and how much in terms of materials and types of materials were there?
KVW:The Sharir/Sharir+Bustamante Dance Collection is a gift archive from Dr. Sharir to UT’s Fine Arts Library. It consists of video documentation of many hundreds of dances between 1977 and 2015, as well as paper documentation (programs, photographs, press clippings, etc.) of the work of the American Deaf Dance Company, the Sharir Dance Company, and Sharir+Bustamante Danceworks. A large selection of this archive has been digitized by Anna Lamphear and Katie Thornton and other staff members of UT Libraries’ Preservation and Digitization Services. The digitized collection is hosted on Texas ScholarWorks.
This symposium celebrates the public launch of the first phase of the digitization process: the videos! The paper archive will be digitized in 2017 as phase two of the project.
Dr. Sharir’s office contained 671 individual video objects. Since the earliest was dated 1977, and the latest 2015, these objects embody four decades of video technology: U-matic (3/4″), VHS, Hi8, Betacam, Digital Video Cassette and Mini DV, DVD, and born-digital files stored only on hard drives: .mov and .mp4.
Some of these 671 objects were labeled with titles and dates and choreographers and other pertinent information; some were not labeled at all. Some of the objects documented multiple dances, some from multiple events with multiple choreographers or dance companies participating; others documented a single dance.
The major challenge we faced was how to balance efficiency and depth of coverage. We wanted to ensure that the digital collection represented as many unique dance works as possible, without wasting time digitizing duplicate tapes, but the inconsistency of visible information made this difficult. Also challenging: there was no way to tell if the physical object had degraded beyond use without playing/digitizing it at the PCL.
Here’s the sequence of my work:
In the fall of 2013, I created an inventory of most of the video items (we discovered more later on). I ordered the items chronologically (as far as possible), gave each a unique number (0001-0671), and made a spreadsheet detailing all “metadata” available at that point. Depending on the item, this could include: unique number, date, item format and brand, event title, individual dance titles, event type (rehearsal or performance), run time, dance companies, choreographers, venues and sites, videographers and their notes, performers, designers, musicians, composers, other collaborators, and notes.
Sharir and I then began selecting “batches” of video items to send to the PCL, 20 at a time. We prioritized based on questions like “how old is this tape?” (older objects got priority); “how significant is this event/dance?” (Dr. Sharir, of course, was the expert of this); and “have we digitized any version of this event/dance before?” (new/unique pieces got priority).
In January 2014, I delivered the first batch of 20 tapes to Anna and Katie in the PCL, where they worked their magic using lots of devices that I do not recognize or understand! I continued to deliver and pick up batches of tapes through the summer of 2016.
Anna and Katie digitized 398 video objects between January 2014 and September 2016. WOW.
After they uploaded each batch to the libraries server as .mp4 files, Dr. Sharir and I watched each digitized video. While he watched the dances closely, reminiscing about his fellow artists and considering the quality of the videography and lighting, I filled in the blanks of my spreadsheet, based sometimes on in-video credits and sometimes on Dr. Sharir’s recollections.
Once he watched the video through, Dr. Sharir decided whether or not to accession it into the digital collection. He based this decision on the significance of the dances represented, the quality of the video (for instance, some videos lacked audio, and some had degraded over time), and whether we had coverage of the event in the collection already. We generally chose to accession subsequent nights of the same dance program, a collection-level acknowledgement that live performance changes in every reiteration.
About halfway through the watching process, Dr. Sharir’s co-artistic director José Luis Bustamante delivered three crates filled with beautifully organized files of programs, press clippings, and season announcements. I am so grateful for this gift! Matched with Dr. Sharir’s files, it has allowed me to create a four-decade production history, and provide extensive credits and notes for almost every item in the digital collection.
Once an item is chosen for the digital collection, I upload its .mp4 file to TexasScholarWorks, and add in all its metadata. On TexasScholarWorks, UT folk and the general public alike can search and browse the collection, view streaming video, and download the videos to their own drives. Each video is protected by a Creative Commons license (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States).
I take the digitized tapes to Beth Kerr at FAL, and she adds them to the physical Sharir collection located in off-site storage. This physical collection contains all digitized video objects, whether accessioned or not into the digital collection. It also contains all the video objects we decided not to digitize (usually because they were clearly duplicates of something we already had accepted).
You worked closely with Dr. Sharir on this project; did he provide any impressions about the digitization/digital preservation of his work?
KVW: I don’t want to speak for Yacov, but I know he is tremendously grateful for the opportunity to share his work with the global public and with future generations. (He is also grateful to regain all that shelf space in his office!)
He has found great joy in “re-view”ing his choreography and dancing over the decades, and in responding again to the work of the many extraordinary artists he worked with and presented/produced here in Austin and elsewhere.
He shared many jokes and memories with me. Certainly the most poignant and somber touched on the lives of his artist colleagues who had died between the filming of the dance in the 1980s or 1990s, and the day we watched it again in 2015 or 2016. The Sharir Dance Company, like so many arts organizations, lost beloved members to the AIDS epidemic. We felt sometimes that we were watching ghosts dance.
How long did the project take?
KVW: 3 years and 2 months since I began my work as (part-time) archivist. (But the project isn’t done yet—we have phase 2 still to complete). Add in more time before that (I don’t know how much) for Beth and Yacov’s work getting the project up and running and funded.
Did you discover anything in the process that was either unexpected (either in the materials or cataloging), and can you reflect on the accomplishment and its value to the broader world?
KVW: My favorite moment in the inventory process was discovering a VHS tape with no labels except two sticky notes reading: “This is the one you’ve been waiting for. UNCUT UNRULY UNHOLY.”
Having never participated in a archival process of this scope, I had no idea just how much time this work takes. It’s a major undertaking.
Yacov is a treasure: of the dance world, of Austin and the UT faculty, of the Department of Theatre & Dance. His career has been hugely significant and influential, from his pioneering, inclusive work with Deaf and hearing dancers; to his artistic and production collaborations with artists like Merce Cunningham, Bill T. Jones, Deborah Hay, David Dorfman, Doug Varone, Margaret Jenkins, Tina Marsh, Allison Orr…the list goes on.
Documenting and preserving dance has always been difficult. Yacov’s work is perhaps particularly suited to a digital life because he was a pioneer of the integration of digital media and live performance, beginning in the early 1990s and continuing in his collaborations with dancers, musicians, computer programmers, and biomedical and wearable-tech engineers today. (Check out [3D Embodied] and AdMortuos for the most recent examples in the collection):
It has been a privilege—and a real pleasure—to help make this important piece of dance history available to the public. I grew up and discovered theatre and dance here in Austin, and I’m proud to contribute to the preservation of the city’s cultural history.
The UT Libraries has been busy working on our role in national collaborations for deepening and diversifying South Asian collections while simultaneously making them more accessible. One of these efforts exemplifies our multi-pronged approach, namely the growing — albeit idiosyncratic — niche collection in popular and pulp fiction in regional South Asian languages. The various projects associated with this collection have harmoniously united to form a synergy of resources for scholars of South India.
On a brief acquisitions trip to South India last year, Mary Rader, the South Asia Librarian and Global Studies coordinator, obtained a treasure trove of popular and pulp fiction novels to jumpstart our efforts. These novels were primarily in Telugu, the chief language of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and third most spoken language in India.
Popular and pulp fiction literature gained popularity across India during the 1950s and 1960s — a time of tremendous social activism in the subcontinent. For example, after India gained independence in 1947, many social reformists and their movements sought to encourage women to learn to read and write. As a result of these efforts, women writers across the socioeconomic spectrum took advantage of the medium of popular and pulp fiction to address contemporary societal dilemmas. The issues these women wrote about included problems they faced personally as well as those issues that permeated throughout Indian culture. Thanks to these movements, the 1960s were dominated by female writers who wrote fiction that subtly critiqued social issues while piquing the interest of the common reader with imaginative storylines and exuberant characters. In this vein, pulp and popular fiction presented a very raw and realistic take on life, which allowed the middle class to see elements of their lived experiences within the confines of these beautifully illustrated, modest books.
These popular and pulp fiction authors also had close connections with the movie industry, aside from writing for popular cinema magazines. Another one of the authors whose works we have acquired — Yaddanapūḍi Sulōcanārāṇi — wrote sought-after fiction that was frequently used as the plot of many successful Telugu movies. Her love stories and dramas were popular for younger generations and directors such as K. Viswanath adapted her stories into extremely popular films that addressed a wide array of social issues.
Another set of contemporaneous novelists replicated the detective novel literature that was popular in the U.S. during the 1930s and 1940s. Proliferous authors like Sāmbaśivarāvu Kommūri, Madhubābu, and Rāmmōhanarāvu Sūryadēvara produced dozens of novels providing quick entertainment while still addressing contemporary social issues in a more informal context.
As we continue to develop this distinctive niche collection, we are also working to make our Telugu materials more accessible. As part of the South Asian Language Journals Cooperative Table of Contents Project (SALToC), we have been annotating Telugu journals within the Libraries’ collection. As we worked on the annotations, unique parallels with our pulp and popular fiction emerged. Our first contribution to SALToC was the creation of a table of contents for Āndhrasacitra vārapatrika, a 200+ issue weekly cinema magazine that included short stories by amateur authors. In the early 1960s, weekly and monthly journals like Āndhrasacitra vārapatrika flooded the market with editors who eagerly encouraged women to write. Many of the short stories written by these women gained critical acclaim. In particular, a short story called “Sampenga Podalu” or Tuberose Vines, written by C. Ananda Ramam in Āndhrasacitra vārapatrika, jumpstarted her career as a successful popular fiction novelist. Similarly, another of the authors whose works we have acquired – Dvivēdula Viśālākṣi – had the beginning of her career founded in a short story she wrote for another one of these popular journals.
We have a lot more annotating, researching, and acquiring to do and we have started work in other regional languages like Tamil and Malayalam. In the meantime, check out the amazing resources we are compiling.
Written by Sricharan Navuluri — South Asia Library Assistant working with Global Studies Coordinator Mary Rader.