Jackie Barnitz in her slide collection. Photo: Mike Wellen.

Legacy of Art Historian Jacqueline Barnitz to Be Celebrated with Remembrance and Archive Exhibit

The Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce the acquisition of the archive of Jacqueline Barnitz (1923–2017). The life and collection of the late art historian and professor emeritus will be celebrated in the Benson’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room on Tuesday, March 27, at 3 p.m. Selected materials from the archive will be on view in an exhibition titled The Legacy of Jacqueline Barnitz.

Jackie Barnitz in her slide collection. Photo: Mike Wellen.
Jackie Barnitz in her slide collection. Photo: Mike Wellen.

The exhibit provides a glimpse into the archive of the world-renowned modern Latin American art historian who taught at The University of Texas at Austin from 1981 until her retirement in 2007. Barnitz donated the archive to the Benson shortly before her death, and its contents include correspondence, research notes, teaching materials, art slides, notebooks, rare art and art history publications, and an exceptional array of exhibition catalogs from Latin America spanning much of the twentieth century.

A young Jacqueline Barnitz.
A young Jacqueline Barnitz.

An artist in her own right, Jackie Barnitz made a living during her early professional career as a portrait painter and eventually turned to abstract expressionism. In 1962, she traveled to Argentina, where she became enthralled with the dynamic arts culture of Buenos Aires. Upon returning to her home in New York City, she wrote about Latin American art for multiple publications, bringing crucial exposure for Latin American artists in the 1960s and 70s, especially those who had left their home countries for New York in the wake of political unrest. She continued to travel to Mexico and South America throughout her career. Barnitz earned her PhD in art history from the City University of New York after having taught courses on Latin American art at the college level.

Barnitz joined the art history faculty of UT Austin as the first professor to hold a university tenure-track position in modern Latin American art. She was a dedicated mentor and teacher whose students have moved on to research, teaching, and curatorial positions in major institutions around the world. Her textbook, Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America, published by University of Texas Press in 2001, with a second, expanded edition in collaboration with Patrick Frank issued in 2015, is the textbook of choice for most university courses on modern Latin American art.

Barnitz with Patrick Frank, co-author of second edition of "Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America." Photo: Gayanne DeVry
Barnitz with Patrick Frank, co-author of second edition of “Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America.” Photo: Gayanne DeVry

Barnitz’s contribution to the field of Latin American art history in Austin and beyond is emphasized by Beverly Adams, curator of Latin American art at the Blanton Museum. “Jackie was a true innovator, pioneer, and steward of the field of Latin American art history. From her salons in New York City to her far-ranging travel and research, she constantly sought meaningful connections with artists and intellectuals throughout the Americas. In the Art History department, she helped form a generation of scholars. At the Benson, her archive and library will surely continue to inspire new generations of students.”

Barnitz with students during a lecture. Photo courtesy Mike Wellan.
Barnitz with students during a lecture. Photo courtesy Mike Wellan.

The Blanton Museum of Art was the beneficiary of several remarkable gifts from Barnitz over the years, ranging from thoughtful catalogue essays, class tours of the collection, and her frequent donations of art. According to curator Adams, Barnitz made her most recent gift to the Blanton last year, “a number of fascinating works on paper of important artists such as María Luisa Pacheco, Cildo Meireles, Paulo Bruscky, Regina Silveira, and Leandro Katz,” which will soon be seen in the museum’s galleries.

According to Melissa Guy, director of the Benson Latin American Collection, the acquisition of Barnitz’s collection further strengthens the Benson’s holdings in Latin American art and art history, which also include the José Gómez Sicre Papers, the Barbara Doyle Duncan Papers, and the Stanton Loomis Catlin Papers. “Jacqueline’s collection brings incredible richness and depth to the Benson’s art and art history holdings, and reflects her stature as the preeminent scholar of modern Latin American art history. The exhibition catalogs alone, covering nearly the entire region from the 1960s into the twenty-first century, warrant special attention by students and researchers,” said Guy.

Barnitz in her early teens.
Barnitz in her early teens.


Attend The Event

RSVP requested: attend.com/barnitz

This event is co-hosted by the University of Texas Libraries and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, who gratefully acknowledge the following co-sponsors: Blanton Museum of Art, Center for Latin American Visual Studies, Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts.

About the Benson Latin American Collection

The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is one of the foremost collections of library materials on Latin America worldwide. Established in 1921 as the Latin American Library, the Benson is approaching its centennial. Through its partnership established with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies in 2011, the Benson continues to be at the forefront of Latin American and U.S. Latina/o librarianship through its collections and digital initiatives.


Benefits of Creating an OER for Turkish-language Learning

March 5-9 is Open Education Week Throughout the week, guest contributors will present their perspectives on the value of open education to research, teaching and learning at The University of Texas at Austin. Today’s installment is provided byJeannette Okur, Lecturer, Middle Eastern Studies. 

Jeannette Okur
Jeannette Okur

For a year and a half now, I have been designing and piloting an OER textbook and online curricular materials designed to bring adult learners of modern Turkish from the Intermediate-Mid/High to the Advanced Mid proficiency level.  The textbook, titled Her Şey Bir Merhaba İle Başlar (Everything Begins With A Hello), will – hopefully – be available on the UT Center for Open Education Resources and Language Learning (COERLL) website in Fall 2019; and the complementary series of primarily auto-correct listening, viewing, reading and grammar exercises and quizzes will be made available on a public Canvas course site.  This new set of OER materials is aligned with the ACTFL standards for Intermediate- and Advanced-level communicative skills and intercultural proficiency descriptors, and also reflects my department’s (and my personal) commitment to blended instruction and the flipped classroom model.  I’ve now designed five thematic units that promote the following pedagogical goals:

  • Introduce the learner to culturally and socially significant phenomena in Turkey today.
  • Introduce the learner to various print, audio and audio-visual text types aimed at native Turkish audiences and guide them to use (and reflect on) the reading, listening and viewing comprehension strategies needed to understand these Advanced-level texts.
  • Engage the learner in active recognition and repeated practice of new vocabulary and grammar items.
  • Guide the learner through practice of oral and written discursive strategies specific to the Advanced proficiency level.
  • Balance the four communicative skills.
  • Balance seriousness and fun!

I’m excited about OER’s potential to transform students’ and teachers’ experiences with Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL) like Turkish.  A readily accessible and modifiable OER for this level of Turkish language instruction, in particular, makes a whole lot of sense, because the for-profit textbook model is a non-starter!  In other words, because no one can make a profit off of Turkish language teaching materials outside of Turkey; few of the teaching materials that U.S.-based Turkish language instructors design ever get published or shared. In fact, creating an OER for Turkish-language learning has made sharing my ideas, teaching materials and methodology possible!

I believe wholeheartedly that being able to share and modify OER teaching/learning materials via online platforms leads to collaboration among educators and eventually to better educational products and practices.   I hope that other Turkish language educators, upon engaging with my OER materials, will learn a few small but important lessons from me, namely:

  • Adults learning Turkish need help practicing and learning vocabulary, not just grammar.
  • Identifying and discussing cultural differences/commonalities on the basis of actual socio-cultural phenomena captured in texts aimed at target culture audiences is key to increasing learners’ cultural proficiency, especially when those learners are not learning in the target culture.
  • The blended instruction/flipped classroom model really works because engagement with reading, listening and grammar materials at home gives learners more time to practice SPEAKING in class (or with a tutor).

I also look forward to learning from the colleagues and learners who engage with my materials in varied settings beyond the University of Texas at Austin.


Excessive Noise Turns Six with “Green Paw”

Excessive Noise is an occasional concert series hosted by the Fine Arts Library.  Organized by Russell Podgorsek — who earned his doctorate at the Butler School of Music and is an employee of the Fine Arts Library — the series provides students with an opportunity to perform chamber and solo works beyond those required by their degree programs.  It also provides an opportunity for the premier of original works beyond the classroom.  While generally in the classical vein, Excessive Noise features work from a variety of traditions and perspectives.

The newest installment of “Excessive Noise: Not Just the Notes” takes place this Friday, March 8 in the Fine Arts Library, just in time to warm up for SXSW. The show is free and starts at 6 p.m.

Podgorsek and his co-curator for the concert, Jessy Eubanks, took a moment to answer a few questions about the series and Not Just the Notes.

So, how did you come up with the concept for Excessive Noise, and what were your goals for the program?

Russell Podgorsek.
Russell Podgorsek.

Russell Podgorsek: I started Excessive Noise back when I was a doctoral student in music and a GRA at the Fine Arts Library (FAL). Recently retired music librarian David Hunter mentioned that they’d previously had a concert series there and strongly suggested I start it up again. At first, it was just a nice vehicle to have some other performance opportunities for student performers and composers, and capitalize on the surprisingly good acoustic in the FAL, but as the semesters went on we had more alumni, Austin music community members, and even a few guests from out of town perform. We’ve had programs with speakers from Asian Studies, a feature with the Maps Collection, and more recently featured ensembles like invoke and Hear No Evil, allowing them to program the entire event. In other words, I think it’s come to be more a celebration of the library as a community hub, as a place where you come to share and explore ideas. I should add that UT Libraries has been consistently supportive of the series and not only do we appreciate it, but patrons also tell me after every concert what a nice tradition it’s become for them.

Musicians from NationalAcademy of PerformingArts, Karachi.
Musicians from National Academy of Performing Arts, Karachi.

You’ve really engaged the community with the series by presenting programming that might otherwise be familiar almost exclusively to people associated with the Butler School or the College of Fine Arts. Can you explain how you settle on themes for the individual events? Is that your own conceptualization, or are you co-curating with the performers?

RP: At first there were no themes really; I was just asking whoever was around and interested in playing to play, and of course I programmed one of my own pieces on each concert. But once the series was had been around for a year or two and the old reference stacks were replaced with shorter, newer ones, the place attracted more interested performers. In some cases, like with the collaboration with the Maps Collection back in 2014, the materials we wanted to showcase dictated the “theme”. For that concert we even had five pieces newly written based on maps of Chicago from the collection. The Orient-Occident performance was a more generalized “East meets West” theme that came out of my own interaction with Japanese culture. We had a DMA composer at that point from China and several grad students from Pakistan at BSOM so the pieces just fell into place. More recently, I’ve had ensembles provide their own programs, although the last concert was a joint programming venture with Hear No Evil (we did two of my pieces with them and they supplied the rest). So, I guess the short answer is we’ve done it almost every way one could. This time around I’ve handed the programming off to the not just the notes collective. The director is one of my students and the co-directors former students of mine, so I’m more of an advisor for the time being.


What’s the story with Not Just the Notes? This seems like an extension of the ensemble programming, but perhaps in a new way.

Jessy Eubanks.
Jessy Eubanks.

Jessy Eubanks: Not Just The Notes is more of a concert series than an ensemble. We program new music written by UT composers, and focus on non-musical themes and collaboration. For example, this concert program consists of pieces about how humans interact with the environment, and current environmental issues. We needed a venue for our first concert, and Russell was very kind in letting us use the Excessive Noise series as a host.


One of the great things about the Excessive Noise series is that it gives campus composers the chance to share new material and to experiment in a performance space. Not Just the Notes seems to be a great fit for the series because of that. Can you talk a little about the nature of collaboration in the program, and maybe offer a peak into what folks can expect from the performances? 

JE: Our first collaboration will include the Campus Environmental Center. We’ve worked with by inviting them to our event, and they’ll have a table set up at the concert to answer questions and share some about the work they do around UT. It’s been really cool to make that connection. As for the performances themselves, each piece deals with a different aspect of how people are interacting with nature and the environment, things like that, and some send very strong messages about current issues such as deforestation or over-consumption.

Shih-Wen Fan.
Shih-Wen Fan.

The program is titled “Green Paw.” Can you talk about that and who will be performing?

JE: All of the performers are UT students, but a number of pieces have no performers at all- they are solely electronic or fixed media. Other pieces are a combination and feature live players with electronics.

The title Green Paw is a reference to the environmental theme of the concert, we thought it sounded cool and wanted a way to differentiate between this concert and (hopefully) future concerts.

Chad Ibison.

What are you planning for the future programming of Not Just the Notes? And what can we expect in the future from the Excessive Noise series?

JE: For Not Just the Notes, one area we’re hoping to explore is working with other students in the arts, such as dance or visual arts. There’s already so much potential in the College of Fine Arts alone, but we don’t want to limit ourselves. For example, there are also many music students involved in computer science, and it’d be very interesting to work creatively with them. There’s tons of options, and we’re also open to anyone coming to us with ideas for collaboration!

RP: I’ve got a couple of potential programs in mind for the future of Excessive Noise: a revival of a really successful project called “Sehr Flash” that we mounted back in 2016 at BSOM and the Texas Book Festival in conjunction with lit-mag NANOFiction, and a “new common practice” concert for which we’ll have several new pieces written all with the same stylistic constraints (the OULIPO groups does this kind of thing in the world of literature). Also, depending on how things shape up in terms of scheduling soloists, we may have a steel drum feature sometime soon.

Event Poster




OER for a Common Goal – Meeting the Needs of Spanish Heritage Learners

March 5-9 is Open Education Week Throughout the week, guest contributors will present their perspectives on the value of open education to research, teaching and learning at The University of Texas at Austin. Today’s installment is provided by Jocelly Meiners, Lecturer, Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

Jocelly Meiners
Jocelly Meiners

In recent years, the development of Spanish language courses designed specifically for heritage language learners has gained much attention throughout K-12 and post-secondary education in the US. Heritage language learners are students who were exposed to Spanish at home while growing up. These students usually have a broad knowledge about their cultural heritage, and varying degrees of language dominance. Over the years, it has been found that these learners have different pedagogical needs than second language learners, and that they benefit greatly from language instruction that is catered to their specific needs. Throughout the country, as more institutions realize these needs, Spanish instructors at all levels are forming programs and creating materials to serve this student population. It seems that we all have some common goals: to help heritage Spanish speakers develop their bilingual skills, to empower them to apply those skills in academic and professional settings, and to feel proud of their cultural and linguistic heritage. So if we all have similar goals in mind and are all working on creating programs and materials to serve these students, why not share all the work we are doing?

I have been teaching courses for heritage Spanish learners here at UT for over 4 years, and about a year and a half ago I started working as the community moderator for the Heritage Spanish Community (https://heritagespanish.coerll.utexas.edu). This web-based community, which is hosted by COERLL (The Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning), serves as a space for Spanish instructors to collaborate, share and communicate with others about the teaching and learning of Spanish as a heritage language. We encourage instructors at all levels to ask questions on our online forum, to help other instructors, and to share the materials they are working on. Open Educational Resources are an excellent way to share these types of materials, since they can easily be adapted to the specific needs of each instructor’s particular student population.

As community moderator, I add useful content to our website, create interesting questions for discussion, and encourage others to explore our website and share their work. I have also been able to share my own materials as OER, and it has been very rewarding to hear form people in other parts of the country who have found my resources useful and are adapting them for their own heritage Spanish programs. I believe that if we all collaborate and share our resources openly, we will be much more successful in attaining both our personal and common goals.


Open Education Week Promotion of Open Access

March 5-9 is Open Education Week Throughout the week, guest contributors will present their perspectives on the value of open education to research, teaching and learning at The University of Texas at Austin. Today’s installment is provided by Orlando R. Kelm, Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Orlando R. Kelm
Orlando R. Kelm

Open Access seems to be at the core of materials development for those of us who teach what is called LCTLs (less-commonly taught languages).  In academic settings, publishing companies are less likely to take a chance on publishing materials where the market is small. There have been multiple occasions when I have been told by publishing companies something similar to, “If you could do this project for us in Spanish we would be interested, but unfortunately the market in Portuguese is not big enough to take on such a project.”  Although it has been discouraging to hear such replies, it was also understandable.

However, it today’s world of innovative technologies, online, electronic, digital, social media, video and podcasts, Open Access pedagogical materials in foreign language, especially for the less-commonly taught languages, have provided a boon of opportunities.  Here at the University of Texas at Austin, for example, the College of Liberal Arts (LAITS), the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL) and the Center for Global Business have all been supportive of our development of online and open access materials for those who want to learn Portuguese.  COERLL helps maintain our BrazilPod site, where all our Portuguese materials are available for everyone, anytime, Open Access, and with Creative Commons license.  Here’s the URL: https://coerll.utexas.edu/brazilpod/index.php

This site contains a number of videos, podcasts, exercises, transcripts, translations, and a number of other materials.  We have seen how users, both teachers and private learners, have integrated, modified and added these materials to the study of Portuguese.  Some access the materials online, others embed content into exercises and quizzes, others create ancillary activities for organized courses. Open Access has revolutionized the way that learners of LCTLs share materials and expose learners to content.

It also seems a bit ironic when we think of the initial rejection from publishing companies.  If they were to approach us today to publish in traditional formats, chances are that we would react by saying, “Thanks, but our ability to share with Open Access works for us better than the traditional publication methods.”

"Typvs Cosmographicvs Vniversalis in Novvs Orbis Regionvm ac insvlarvm veteribvs incognitarvm"
Attributed to Sebastian Münster, cartographer, and Hans Holbein the Younger
print and wash on paper
15 x 22 in.

Collections Highlight: Typus Cosmographicus Universalis

In this important world map, the extent of North America and the distance across the Pacific Ocean are hardly understood while the outline of South America is better represented.

The cartography is attributed to a collaboration between celebrated German mapmaker Sebastian Munster, and a renowned Northern Renaissance artist Hans Holbein, contributed the rich ornamentation at the map’s border.

Holbein’s additional embellishments — including realistic renderings of flora and fauna, as well as fantastic and frightening sea beasts — makes this a superlative example of cartography from the period.

"Typvs Cosmographicvs Vniversalis in Novvs Orbis Regionvm ac insvlarvm veteribvs incognitarvm" Attributed to Sebastian Münster, cartographer, and Hans Holbein the Younger 1537 print and wash on paper 15 x 22 in.
“Typvs Cosmographicvs Vniversalis in Novvs Orbis Regionvm ac insvlarvm veteribvs incognitarvm”
Attributed to Sebastian Münster, cartographer, and Hans Holbein the Younger
print and wash on paper
15 x 22 in.
Benson Latin American Collection.



María Luisa Puga Papers. Benson Latin American Collection.

Scholar Takes an Intimate Look at Mexican Author María Luisa Puga

On February 15, LLILAS Benson celebrated the opening of the literary archive of Mexican author María Luisa Puga (1944–2004). This unusual archive is replete with the author’s voice and vision, consisting in large part of some 327 diaries that span the years 1972 through 2004. In honor of the occasion, Irma López of Western Michigan University delivered a lecture titled “Escritura y autofiguración el los diarios de María Luisa Puga.”

María Luisa Puga, undated. Benson Latin American Collection.
María Luisa Puga, undated. Benson Latin American Collection.

A novelist and short-story writer, Puga was the winner of numerous prestigious literary awards and highly esteemed by her peers, yet she largely eschewed the limelight. Her complex attitude about her identity as a writer is on display in the diaries, which Mexican Studies Librarian José Montelongo refers to as “a truly remarkable document of struggles both personal and artistic.” Puga’s diaries were donated to the Benson Latin American Collection by her sister, Patricia Puga, who attended the opening lecture and reception along with her husband, son, and other family members.

The author's sister, Patricia Puga, at the Benson Collection. Photo: Travis Willmann.
The author’s sister, Patricia Puga, at the Benson Collection. Photo: Travis Willmann.

Written in a beautiful hand, with occasional doodle-like illustrations, the notebooks contain the entire trajectory of Puga’s celebrated literary works and thus are of enormous research value. The pages also carry within them a poignant emotional charge: the author was someone for whom putting pen to paper was a vital activity in her art and thought, and her diaries are an almost visceral expression of her self.

Visiting scholar Irma López discusses the Puga diaries. Photo: Travis Willmann.
Visiting scholar Irma López discusses the Puga diaries. Photo: Travis Willmann.

If the collection of diaries itself is remarkable, the lecture by literary scholar Irma López was similarly compelling. She spoke with both erudition and affection about Puga, her writing, and the intimate access afforded by the diaries to a writer for whom self-examination was essential. López concluded her talk speaking directly to the members of the author’s family, reading to them from a tender diary passage by the late author. (López, a leading authority on Puga, is author of Historia, escritura e identidad: La novelística de María Luisa Puga.)

From María Luisa Puga Papers. Benson Latin American Collection.
From María Luisa Puga Papers. Benson Latin American Collection.


During their visit, the Puga family was able to see five display cases containing select materials from the archive in the Benson’s main reading room. This exhibition, on display through April 2, 2018, and titled María Luisa Puga: A Life in Diaries, was curated by graduate research assistant Emma Whittington. Read José Montelongo’s Spanish-language article on Puga, “Una vida en 327 cuadernos.”

Lucile Halsell Conservatory Palm House  San Antonio/ Emilio Ambasz, architect, undated

Alexander Archive Acquires Buildings of Texas Collection

The Alexander Architectural Archives at the Architecture and Planning Library has acquired source materials for a publication that provides a comprehensive survey of architecture in the Lone Star State.

“The Buildings of Texas” (University of Virginia Press) — part of the Society of Architectural Historians’ “Buildings of the United States” series — is a two-volume publication by Gerald Moorhead (with James W. Steely, W. Dwayne Jones, Anna Mod, John C. Ferguson, Cheryl Caldwell Ferguson, Mario L. Sánchez and Stephen Fox), that catalogs the state’s built environment with architectural profiles of its major cities and the landmark structures that pepper the landscape.

The collection features the archives of editor Moorhead (FAIA) and contributor Mario L. Sanchez (UT, 1982), including documentation with research material, administrative records and over 12,000 photos. Only a small portion of buildings are represented in the final publication, providing incredible opportunities for further research.

The first volume was published in 2013, and the donation of these materials marks the project’s completion, with the second volume slated for publication later this year.

Processing of the collection will begin this spring.

Moorhead is an architectural lecturer at the Rice School of Architecture and an award-winning Houston architect with over 40 years of experience. He is a former contributing editor to “Architectural Record” and “Texas Architect” and the architect laureate of Kazakhstan.

Alicia Gaspar de Alba Donates Archive to the Benson Collection

Alicia Gaspar de Alba
Alicia Gaspar de Alba


The Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba Papers. Contents include drafts of creative works such as Calligraphy of the Witch (2007), La Llorona on the Longfellow Bridge (2003), and Sor Juana’s Second Dream (1999) as well as notable academic publications like [Un]framing the “Bad Woman” (UT Press, 2014), Our Lady of Controversy (UT Press, 2011), and Making a Killing (UT Press, 2010). Moreover, researchers will have access to Gaspar de Alba’s conference ephemera and early teaching files. In total, the scholar generously donated 40 bankers’ boxes that span her academic and literary career through 2017.

A native of El Paso/Juárez, Gaspar de Alba is no stranger to academia. As professor in the departments of Chicana/o Studies, English, and Gender Studies and Chair of LGBTQ Studies at UCLA, she has been a monumental figure on the California campus since 1994. During that time, she has published five academic books, three novels, and three collections of poetry and short story, establishing herself as one of the leading scholars and writers on Chicana feminism and lesbian literature.

As seamless as Gaspar de Alba’s relationship with academia might seem, tension marked its beginning. After graduating with a bachelor’s and then a master’s from the University of Texas–El Paso, Gaspar de Alba had a brief stop at the University of Iowa in the 1980s that ended with her leaving the PhD program in American Studies. She also taught English composition and ESL courses part-time at UMass Boston. Her career took off in 1986, however, with a purchase and a decision: the purchase was a used IBM Selectric typewriter for $600; the decision, to write every morning for four years.

1994 Correspondence between Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Avon Books
1994 Correspondence between Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Avon Books

Gaspar de Alba returned to her doctoral studies in 1990 at the University of New Mexico, receiving her PhD in 1994. She has lived in California ever since, now with her wife, artist Alma López. Yet the author keeps strong ties to the borderlands of her early years. In fact, Desert Blood (2005), winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery Novel, demonstrates how her home and her career as both researcher and writer all inform one another. The novel, which came about after years of research, is a fictional account of the femicides in Ciudad Juárez told through the eyes of a lesbian graduate student.

Those unfamiliar with Gaspar de Alba’s writing will find a focus on putting forth a Chicana lesbian identity through popular culture while questioning traditional Mexican and Chicana/o discourse. Her prolific and varied writing career has led her peers to refer to her as “the quintessential bilingual/bicultural writer” and “one of the most eloquent exponents of a lesbian esthetic and promoters of the empowerment of women.” The fact that this “do-it-all” writer has donated the collection speaks to her charitable desire to make her materials accessible to students and scholars around the world. It will certainly be the purpose of many visits to the Rare Books Reading Room and pairs nicely with the Benson’s current holdings, namely the papers of other Chicana writers from Texas, such as Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Carmen Tafolla, and Estela Portillo Trambley.

Excerpt from Gaspar de Alba’s manuscript Sor Juana’s Second Dream
Excerpt from Gaspar de Alba’s manuscript Sor Juana’s Second Dream

The Gaspar de Alba acquisition is a noteworthy addition to the U.S. Latina/o Collection at the Benson, which began in 1974 as the Mexican American Library Program. The collection has since evolved as one of the most inclusive and most comprehensive in the world, with a special attention given to distinctive voices that document the cultural, political, and economic impact of Latina/o and Hispanic populations in Texas and the United States. Its mission is to support the educational needs of students as well as to facilitate the scholarly activity of the faculty of the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies.

Please stay tuned for future information and events to celebrate this exceptional collection.


Daniel Arbino is Librarian for U.S. Latina/o Studies at the Benson Latin American Collection.

Working with documents at the AHPN. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.

21 Years of Peace, 21 Million Documents: Revisiting the Digital Portal to the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional

Working with documents at the AHPN. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.
Working with documents at the AHPN. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.


How can we process 80 million pages of historical documents?

The question is a philosophical one, about the ability of our minds to conceive of such a large number of documents. The Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive, AHPN) in Guatemala City contains about eighty million documents, or about 135 years of records from the National Police of Guatemala.

According to one estimate, that means the collection requires about three-quarters of a mile worth of shelf space. In comparison, the Gabriel García Márquez collection at the Harry Ransom Center takes up about 33.18 feet of shelf space. The Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers at the Benson Latin American Collection take up about 125 feet.

The question is also a technical one, about the difficulty of gathering, organizing, and providing access to an inconceivably large collection. For over a decade, archivists at the AHPN have been racing to clean, organize, and catalogue these historical records. In 2010, the University of Texas at Austin partnered with the AHPN to build an online portal to a digital version of the archive.

Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.
Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.

As the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in data curation and Latin American studies at LLILAS Benson, I have been tasked with the challenge of figuring out how best to support this ongoing partnership.

I visited the AHPN last November, just before Guatemala celebrated the twenty-first anniversary of the signing of the peace accords that ended the country’s decades-long armed conflict (1960–1996). Together with Theresa Polk, the post-custodial archivist at LLILAS Benson, I went to Guatemala to learn about the digitization efforts at the AHPN, and to celebrate a major milestone: when we arrived, the archive had just finished digitizing 21 million documents.

Many of the documents in the archive are in fragile condition. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.
Many of the documents in the archive are in fragile condition. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.

Digital Access to Historical Memory

The AHPN hard drives may fit in a carry-on, but hosting and providing access to the 21 million digital documents they contain is not a trivial task. When the University of Texas launched the digital portal to the archive in 2011, it was a bare-bones service with minimal browsing or search capabilities. Since then, the collection has doubled in size and grown exponentially in complexity. Our challenge—and the reason we were in Guatemala City—is to figure out how to represent that complexity online.

According to the web analytics, the majority of visitors to the website are based in Guatemala. These users are largely looking for two kinds of information. Some are members of human rights organizations conducting research related to police violence spanning over three decades of internal conflict in Guatemala. The rest are people trying to find out what happened to their loved ones, victims of violence during that same period. That’s why the anniversary of the peace accords matters to the collection. Organizing these records and making them available to the public has been one of the many ways that Guatemalans are reckoning with their country’s past.

There is an urgency to serving these research communities, and our top priority is to provide easy access to information. Easy searching of the archive, however, remains elusive. The archival documents are organized according to the baroque structure of the police bureaucracy. To find documents requires an intimate knowledge of that organizational structure.

Searching would be easier with richer descriptive metadata. If we could extract names, locations, and dates from the archival materials, it would make it easier for a person to search for their loved one, or a researcher to learn about specific neighborhoods or historical events. But extracting information from 21 million documents is a resource-intensive task, and the technologies for automating those processes remain imperfect.

Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.
Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.

Search is not our only priority, however. As I learned firsthand, to visit the AHPN is to be immersed in the context of its construction and its size. The dark, narrow corridors, concrete walls, and grated windows are a testament to the building’s history as a police prison. The violence of the archive is always close at hand, despite the hope it represents. One of our challenges is to recreate that experience for users of the digital archive.

Furthermore, as I learned from talking to the head of the Access to Information unit, the process of searching for information at the AHPN has been designed in a way that allows the archivists to bear witness to the memories of the researchers. Each visit begins with a question: Tell us what happened to your loved one.

The question has a practical purpose. It allows the archivists to glean the information that will make it possible to locate the necessary records from among the millions of files. But in answering this question, families are also sharing an intimate story with an archivist, an act of strength and also, often, of courage. Can a digital archive create similar opportunities for those who are unable to make the visit in person?

Imagining Digital Futures

The partnership between the University of Texas and the AHPN is an extraordinary opportunity for our institution to create new paths to historical research, and to support the international preservation of historical records. It allows us to honor and support the vital work of the archivists at the AHPN, while working at the forefront of digital collecting.

A scanned document appears on the screen as part of the digitization process. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.
A scanned document appears on the screen as part of the digitization process. Photo courtesy Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, Guatemala.

This partnership has also encouraged us to rethink our assumptions about digital archives. We often imagine a digital archive as a simple reflection of a material collection. But 21 million digital pages have very different infrastructure and support requirements than their material counterparts. The needs and expectations of online users are different, too.

In many ways, in imagining the future of the AHPN portal, we are imagining the future for digital collections at the University of Texas more broadly. The size and complexity of collections like the AHPN push the limits of our understanding of the role of libraries, and librarianship, in the digital age. They draw us into a future where scholarship, community-building, and access to information are inextricably linked.


Hannah Alpert-Abrams is a CLIR postdoctoral fellow in data curation at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at The University of Texas at Austin.