Category Archives: Collections

Alicia Gaspar de Alba Donates Archive to the Benson Collection

Alicia Gaspar de Alba
Alicia Gaspar de Alba

BY DANIEL ARBINO

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.

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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.

BY HANNAH ALPERT-ABRAMS

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.

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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.

AILLA

Indigenous Language Archive Unveils New Tool

The staff of the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America unveiled its new self-deposit tool at the first AILLA Archive-a-thon, a two-part event that was held on Friday, October 27, and Sunday, October 29, in conjunction with the eighth Conference on Indigenous Languages of Latin America (CILLA VIII).* The Archive-a-thon was led by Susan Kung and Ryan Sullivant, AILLA’s manager and curator, respectively, and it was attended by a group of language documentation researchers made up of 25 professors and graduate students from the US, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, Argentina, Switzerland, and France.

AILLA

These researchers work to document some of the 800 or so indigenous languages spoken in Latin America, from the US–Mexico borderlands to Tierra del Fuego in the southern tip of South America. Language documentation and conservation is a field that has emerged in the last 25 years in response to the worldwide language endangerment crisis that began in the late 19th century and became evident in the later part of the 20th century.

AILLA Archive-a-thon

Language documentation researchers work alone or in teams to collect and preserve audio, video, textual, and photographic records about endangered, understudied, and under-resourced languages and their related cultures. Most language documentation projects seek to record as many different speech genres as possible (e.g., conversation, oral history, myths and traditional stories, prayers, recipes, jokes and riddles, speeches and other oratory events, etc.), while other projects target very specific aspects of language (e.g., how location and direction are expressed in a language). Some language documentation projects include a language revitalization component, in which the data that are collected are used to further support the transmission of the language from one generation to the next through language learning programs for both children and adults; these programs might include classroom education, summer camps, mentor-mentee partnerships, or language nests. Language documentation work is often done under critical time constraints as many of these languages are highly endangered, having only a few elderly speakers left (and in some cases only one or two), and children are no longer learning them in either the home, community, or school environments.

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Dr. Carlos Castañeda

Collection Highlight: The Carlos Eduardo Castañeda Papers

Historian, archivist, educator Carlos E. Castañeda was born November 11, 1896, in Camargo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. His father was a professor of French and government at the College of San Juan in Matamoros, but the family moved to Brownsville around 1910. Castañeda’s parents both died before he was 15, leaving him with 3 sisters and 3 brothers.

Though he began his college career as an engineering major, Castañeda switched to his major to history (under the influence of E.C. Barker), and graduated with a BA from The University of Texas in 1921, having been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He was married in 1922, and his first daughter, Gloria, was born in 1923, the same year that he obtained his MA from The University of Texas and began teaching Spanish for the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

From the Carlos E. Castañeda Papers.
From the Carlos E. Castañeda Papers.

In 1927, Castañeda was asked to return to The University of Texas, to take control of the newly acquired Genaro García collection, which served as the foundation for Latin American collections — and specifically, the Benson Latin American Collection — at UT. While acting as librarian for this collection, Castañeda began work on his PhD, producing more articles on the early history of Texas. Castañeda also collaborated with Texas State Library archivist Winnie Allen to launch the Mexican Photo Print Company, in an effort to recover copies of documents he had discovered in Mexico, a project that faced an unfortunate end with the advent of the Great Depression.

Castañeda completed his doctorate in 1932, his dissertation being a translation of the famous Morfi’s History of Texas.  He re-discovered the text — at the time believed lost — while searching through the records of a Fransiscan monastery. Later that year, Castañeda’s second daughter, Consuela, was born.

Castañeda did not begin his career as a full professor for The University of Texas until 1940, after some protracted debate in the 1930s concerning his salary and teaching responsibilities (Castañeda felt that his salary had been reduced because of his ethnicity). It was these issues that led to his leaving in 1933 to become the Superintendent of the San Felipe School District in Del Rio, Texas, where he met with resistance from white families due to his ethnicity. He remained in that position for only a year.

Photo by Bill Monroe.
Photo by Bill Monroe.

After returning to The University of Texas for the 1935 school year, Castañeda resumed his career as a professor, and continued work on Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, a massive seven-volume life-spanning work on the early history of Texas, the last volume of which was not published until just prior to Castañeda’s death. Shortly after his return to the university, Castañeda was knighted by the Catholic Church as a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, and in 1951 became a Knight Commander in the Order of Isabel the Catholic of Spain. These honors were granted on the basis of Castañeda’s long-time work with the Catholic community and Catholic history more generally.

Being concerned with the plight of minorities in Texas, Castañeda took another leave of absence in 1943 to work for the Fair Employment Practice Commission (FEPC), an agency that was concerned with helping minorities to obtain the same working conditions and jobs that whites were granted in the 1940s. Though the commission ended prematurely with the onset of World War II, Castañeda continued to actively work against discrimination, and became involved with the Pan American Union, and on its behalf, gave an internationally broadcast radio address in 1948.

In the 1950s Castañeda’s health failed, and he suffered three heart attacks during the decade, severely limiting his ability to write, teach and stay active in his many causes. The author of twelve books and over eighty articles, and recipient of many honors, Castañeda died on April 3, 1958, at the age of 62.

Along with first African American faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin Dr. Ervin Perry (engineering), Castañeda’s legacy was recognized in 1974 with the approval by the University of Texas Board of Regents to name the university’s new central library in his honor. The Perry-Castañeda Library opened in 1977, and remains the flagship library at the university to the current day.

The Carlos E. Castañeda Papers feature includes articles, speeches and drafts of books, notably Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (commissioned by the Knights of Columbus) and Castañeda’s translation of Morfi’s, History of Texas, along with transcriptions, translations and notes.   The collection also documents Castañeda’s involvement with The University of Texas — including records of his faculty appointment and restricted student records —the Catholic Church and his international activities and various projects he took on over the years. Materials from his time in Del Rio, his service with FEPC, his work in many voluntary organizations, his teaching and departmental activities and his library and acquisitions work reflect the extent of his professional activities. The papers also feature a collection of historical documents dating from the late 15th century to the early 20th century, as well as a large selection of photographs, 8mm movies, phonodiscs, maps and book illustrations.

Benson staff are hosting a workshop on tracking relationships in research with network visualization and analysis tools using the Castañeda Papers on Wednesday, October 25. More information here

 

 

 

Collections Highlight: The Tobin International Geological Map Collection

Detail of map from the Tobin Collection.
Detail of map from the Tobin Collection.

The Tobin International Geological Map Collection provides map materials in support of teaching and research within the Jackson School of Geosciences, its programs and related disciplines. As graphic summaries of earth and planetary data, maps are an integral part of geologic and geographic study as well as an important information source in various aspects of research in such fields as energy,  engineering, land use planning, oceanography, physical and space sciences, environmental studies and the life sciences. To serve these disciplines, geologic, tectonic, stratigraphic, physiographic, geodetic, seismographic, outline, topical (such as soil and water survey), geophysical, structural, cross section, and index maps are required.

Located in the Walter Geology Library, the collection contains more than 50,000 maps and map texts that are arranged geographically. It functions as a working research collection that is more concerned with the utility of its maps for research rather than with their rarity as objects.

Tobin Surveys, Inc. of San Antonio endowed the Tobin collection in 1980 when it established the Tobin International Geological Library Fund to enable cartographic acquisitions. The collection aims for worldwide coverage of maps on geology and related subjects, but it is particularly dense in maps of Texas and select U.S. and foreign areas of geologic interest. The resources provide thorough coverage for North America (especially Texas and the Southwest), Mexico, Britain, Italy, Australia, Brazil and Turkey, with moderate coverage for the rest of the world.

The geologic map collection portrays surface and subsurface features, ages, and rock types at a variety of scales. Such maps are used for research in hydrocarbon and mineral exploration, hydrology, geomorphology and paleontology, archeology, and some engineering and architectural applications. The collection also includes some topographic or surface feature maps. Geologic and topographic maps largely are produced by and for governments around the world; however, some commercial maps are included in the collection.

The Tobin collection, in partnership with the Perry-Castañeda collection, serves as a federal depository for the maps of the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Through that arrangement, the collection maintains an almost complete set of the map series published by the USGS, including maps of various scales that provide users the ability to examine a continent, country, or more local geographic regions.

A large collection of geological maps of Greece and Italy, which are of special interest to archaeology and classics researchers, also are held in the collection. Overall, the resources of the Tobin Map Collection serve not only researchers within the geology, architecture, classics, archaeology, engineering, and geography departments, but also the general public.


Includes excerpts from The Collections, now available digitally and in print.

Zine Fest Success with the Libraries

Gina Bastone reps the Libraries at the first annual Lone Star Zine Fest.
Gina Bastone reps the Libraries at the first annual Lone Star Zine Fest.

The Fine Arts Library has a collection of over 500 zines focused on art, music, performance, as well as zines created by regional and local authors. Zines are typically described as self-published or DIY works that have limited editions. Zines are often made of 8 ½ by 11  sheets of paper folded in half and stapled together. Early zines emerged from science fiction fandom, though over time different social and counter-cultural movements adopted the medium as a way to disseminate information and share ideas. More recently, artists also adopted zines as a creative medium and method to distribute work outside mainstream channels within the art world. Many cities around the country and world, including our Texas neighbors in Houston and Dallas, have zine or independent publishing festivals.

Back in January, a group of Austin librarians and zine makers gathered to discuss the possibility of creating a new festival called Lone Star Zine Fest (LSZF). LSZF took place on June 11th at Cheer Up Charlies and was co-sponsored by UT Libraries, Sherwood Forest Library, Town Talk Library, and artist Josh Ronsen. The goal for this festival was to create a space for Austin’s artists, poets, zinesters, and zine-lovers to come together as a community to celebrate and share work. LSZF had close to 30 exhibitors participate and over 375 attendees during the Sunday afternoon event.

Longhorns were well represented at LSZF as exhibitors and attendees. Several graduate students, undergraduate students and staff shared their zines or small presses.  The UT Libraries also had a table where Gina Bastone, English Librarian, and I highlighted the Zine Collection at Fine Arts Library and UT Poetry Center at the Perry-Castañeda Library.

Gina and I also created a zine to use as an outreach tool that playfully describes the two complementary collections to readers. Members of the public along with UT students, faculty, and staff who stopped by our table expressed surprise to hear these two collections were present within the libraries. The library zine proved to be a fun outreach tool that we plan to continue using with our respective departments.

In addition to working with Gina to promote our collections, I also represented UTL on the planning committee for the festival. Serving as a co-sponsor of this event, shows Longhorns and Austinites alike the value UTL places on supporting creativity on campus and within our city.  As the liaison to the Art and Art History department, it is important to me to help create spaces on campus and within the greater Austin community that celebrate makers and their creative output. One of my favorite moments of the day was an exchange with an Art History student.  Upon checking in to exhibit at the festival, the student remarked that I am their librarian. The student expressed excitement that UTL helped put on an event like LSZF. This was one of the many positive remarks heard from Longhorns throughout the day, demonstrating the importance events like this have to our community.

Stop by the Fine Arts Library or UT Poetry Center to see new zines and chapbooks acquired at the festival.

UT Treasures at LBJ

Paul Cret's campus master plan. Alexander Architectural Archives.
Paul Cret’s campus master plan. Alexander Architectural Archives.

Great universities have great libraries, and great libraries have great collections, so it follows that great universities have great collections. In the case of The University of Texas at Austin, those collections extend far beyond the walls of the Libraries, a fact made plain by the publication of the significant tome “The Collections” in 2015 by the UT Press, and more recently by the opening of a new exhibition at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum.

Deep in the Vaults of Texas” brings together rarely presented artifacts from archives, museums and repositories across the university representing a cross-section of areas of scholarship at UT in a modest but wide-ranging exhibit on the entry level of the presidential library. Collections as disparate as the Blanton Museum of Art and the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sport commingle in a fascinating juxtaposition that provides the public with a sampling of what lies hidden on shelves and in drawers mostly behind closed doors — though largely accessible — in collections that serve a distinct research and learning purpose for the UT community.

letter from F.Scott Fitzgerald to Blanche Knopf in which he lists all the tenses of a made-up verb "to cocktail." Harry Ransom Center.
 Letter from F.Scott Fitzgerald to Blanche Knopf in which he lists all the tenses of a made-up verb “to cocktail.” Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Jay Godwin.

Featured highlights of the exhibit include journalist/writer Dominick Dunne’s notes from O. J. Simpson trial (Briscoe Center for American History), Tom Landry’s iconic fedora (Stark Center) and painter Peter Dean’s 1982 interpretation of the Oswald assassination, “Dallas Chaos II” (Blanton Museum) and crayon drawings by Caroline and John Kennedy, Jr. (LBJ Presidential Library). “Deep in the Vaults” also includes samples from our own holdings in the Fine Arts Library (A Brief History of the Ukulele, housed within an old soprano ukulele

A Brief History of the Ukulele. Fine Arts Library. Photo by Jay Godwin.
A Brief History of the Ukulele. Fine Arts Library. Photo by Jay Godwin.

(“A Brief History of the Ukulele,” housed within an old soprano ukulele), the Alexander Architectural Archives (Paul Cret’s masterful architectural drawing of UT’s Tower clock) and the Benson Latin American Collection (Santa Anna’s memoirs from exile, which partners nicely with the Briscoe’s Secret Treaty of Velasco).

Visitors can view these and other items from the aforementioned collections as well as the Harry Ransom Center, the John L. Warfield Center for African & African American Studies, the Tarlton Law Library and th eTexas Archeological Research Laboratory.

The exhibit runs through September 6 and is included with admission to the LBJ.

See more images from “Deep in the Vaults” on the LBJ’s Flickr page

Exhibit Features Black Queer Studies Collection

Exhibit of items from the Black Queer Studies Collection.
Exhibit of items from the Black Queer Studies Collection.

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.

Return to India

With the generous support of both the South Asia Institute and the UT Libraries, I had the good fortune to travel again to India in January 2017.  The primary focus of my travel was to continue the active development of the Libraries’ “South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Collection.”

“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.

Mary Rader in Delhi with Aaron Sherraden and  Neha Mohan.

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.

Mary Rader at a bookstall in Trivandrum.

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.

Mary Rader at the Chennai Book Fair.

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!

Collection Highlight: The Clifford Antone Lectures

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.