Category Archives: Collections

The Birthday, Sterling County, Texas. © Hester + Hardaway Photographers

The Dean of Texas Architecture*

“Now, when a young architect tells me about a project he’s proud of, I say, ‘Get photographs!’” — Frank Welch, On Becoming an Architect

Texas architect Frank Welch developed this outlook after one of his seminal creations – The Birthday in Sterling County, Texas – was plastered over in a renovation by a new owner, against the entreaties of Welch himself.

The Birthday was especially personal to Frank Welch as it was the first project for which he’d been given virtual carte blanche to design a building. So when he learned in 1997 – on the eve of receiving a major award for his work – that the current owner of the iconic building was planning to encircle Welch’s creation with a renovation of the original structure, he felt a profound sense of loss.

“I think the appropriate longhair word for what happened to the Birthday would be transmogrified. That was when I began to realize that nothing does endure,” recounts Welch in On Becoming an Architect.

This recognition of the temporal nature of things probably influenced the decision to place his papers at the Alexander Architectural Archives, where they are safely preserved for use by students, scholars and researchers for the foreseeable future.

Frank D. Welch was born in Sherman, Texas in 1927. An early affinity for drawing led him to art classes, where he honed his artistic abilities and developed a love for photography and architecture. By the time he graduated high school, he’d begun to think about becoming an architect.

In 1944, Welch enrolled at Texas A&M as a liberal arts major, but joined the Merchant Marine in order to avoid the draft, but after a 6 month stint and subsequent resignation, he was called up for Selective Service anyway. He served 18 months, then returned to College Station and enrolled in the architecture program.

Though recognized primarily for other strengths, A&M was a little-known bastion for modernist architecture. Welch posited that it was the prevailing aesthetic that made the area a natural fit for the school: “Architecture, coupled with technology, could improve people’s lives. Modernist design might have been urbane and sophisticated, but it appealed to the practical bent of an agricultural and engineering school.”

Welch earned his bachelors in 1951 and after accepting a one-year Fulbright Scholarship to France, returned to Texas to work at the firms of noted architects O’Neil Ford and Richard Colley, both of whose papers are also included in the Alexander Archives; Welch’s time with the two had a significant influence on his style, but it was Ford who brought him to the firm, and who made the greater impression on him. “Most important to me,” says Welch, “I would, from the exposure to Ford, become an architect with a template: a model that guided me. From him I learned how to put building parts together in a direct, logical manner. Throughout my career, I would repeatedly think to myself, ‘How would Neil do it?’”

In 1959, Welch opened his own firm – Frank Welch & Associates – in Odessa in the basement of his brother-in-law’s clothing store, and a year later moved the practice to Midland, where it operated until the mid-1980s. Welch moved the firm to Dallas in 1985, and continued designing buildings until his death in 2017. The firm primarily designed residences but was also active in commercial and public projects, with notable projects like the Midland Episcopal School (1963), the Forrest Oil Building (1974), the Blakemore Planetarium (1972), the Purnell House in Dallas (1981), and the Nasher-Haemisegger House in Dallas (1997).

But it was the hunting cabin at Sterling City that Welch designed for John and BLee Dorn that was his masterwork. The Birthday was taught in classes and the building quickly came to be seen as an icon of regional architecture. When TSA decided to present Welch with the organization’s distinguished 25-Year Award in 1997, they did so for the first time in tandem with another remarkable feat of Texas architecture, the Kimbell Museum – the only time that it has been given to two built works.

Above his work in the field, Welch’s interest and background in writing and literature led him to pen multiple volumes and contribute to several others, including On Becoming an Architect: A Memoir (2014), Thirty Houses, 1960-2012: Selected Residential Works of Architect Frank Welch (2015), and his essential work on another iconic American architect, Philip Johnson & Texas (2000). He also served as adjunct faculty at various institutions  –  Rice University, University of Houston, University of Texas at Arlington and University of North Texas –  and received accolades throughout his career, including the John Flowers Award in recognition of his writing and the Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Texas Society of Architects, and Welch was the first recipient of the O’Neil Ford Medal for Design Achievement.

The Frank Welch Architectural Collection at the Alexander Architectural Archive presents the history of Welch’s firm spanning a period of over 50 years of practice (1959-2012). The university received the initial donation of materials for the archive in November 2011, consisting of research and reference materials (manuscript and photographic) and oral interviews pertaining to Welch’s book Philip Johnson & Texas (2000). Another, considerably larger donation was received in May 2012.

Currently processed materials indicate that the collection includes 150 linear feet of manuscript and photographic materials, 649 rolls or drawings (approximately 29,000 sheets) and approximately 10,000 slides of architectural projects. Most of the manuscript materials (ca. 1960-2010) are project files – or client files – and specifications. Professional papers include original research and writings, correspondence, clippings, association and committee papers, jurying and teaching materials and award entries. Office records are represented by business correspondence, phone message and work order books, and reference files. These include information on other architects and firms as well as architectural, landscape, and decorative resources. Personal papers are limited almost exclusively to correspondence.

*Along with his mentor, O’Neil Ford

 

Alicia Gaspar de Alba

Chicana Feminist Scholar and Writer Alicia Gaspar de Alba to Read at Archive Exhibit

BY DANIEL ARBINO

White, heterosexual men have long dominated archival records. However, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection has a new archival exhibition that indicates the times are changing.

The Benson Collection is pleased to commemorate the acquisition of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba Papers in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room on Thursday, May 2, at 4 p.m., with a visit from the author herself. During the presentation, Gaspar de Alba will read from her published creative writings as well as participate in a discussion with Mexican American and Latina/o Studies faculty member and community activist Lilia Rosas. Additionally, a selection of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba papers will be on view in an exhibition titled “This is about resistance”: The Feminist Revisions of Alicia Gaspar de Alba. The Benson acquired these papers in fall of 2017 through a generous donation from the notable Chicana feminist scholar, professor, and author.

The exhibit highlights the intersections of Gaspar de Alba’s scholarly and creative endeavors. Early poetry, essays on identity as a queer Chicana feminist, journal entries, research notes for novels and scholarly work like Desert Blood (2005) and Making a Killing (2010), correspondence with UT Press, novel manuscripts, and photographs will all be on display for visitors.

Notes for Gaspar de Alba’s first book-length academic publication, "Chicano Art: Inside/Outside the Master’s House" (1998)
Notes for Gaspar de Alba’s first book-length academic publication, “Chicano Art: Inside/Outside the Master’s House” (1998)

Gaspar de Alba is a native of El Paso/Ciudad Juárez, but has lived for over twenty-five years in Los Angeles, where she is a founding faculty member and former chair of the UCLA César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies. She is currently the Chair of the LGBT Studies Program and has affiliate status with the English Department. A celebrated writer and scholar, she has won various awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery Novel (Desert Blood) and the American Association of Higher Education Book Award for [Un]framing the “Bad Woman” (2015).

The acquisition of the Gaspar de Alba papers further strengthens the Benson’s holdings in U.S. Latina feminism and literature, which also include the Gloria Anzaldúa Papers, the Carmen Tafolla Papers, and the Estela Portillo Trambley Papers.

Gaspar de Alba at the San Jerónimo Convent in Mexico City
Gaspar de Alba at the San Jerónimo Convent in Mexico City

Attend The Event

View the event here: https://www.lib.utexas.edu/events/270

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: the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.

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.

'Aḳedat Yitsḥaḳ. Owner: Moshe Yarak. Owner signature/bookplate in extant copy. The Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Footprints – The Chronotope of the Jewish Book

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  

Working as a book conservator back in the days in Tel Aviv, I was always intrigued by the notes and scribbles found on flyleaves, covers, and pages of centuries-old books. It seemed that this text, which supposedly was not related to the actual content of the book in hand, had its own story to tell – about places, people, and events. Now this data is playing the main role in Footprints; these pieces of information could be interlinked, and show us a new spatial landscape of Jewish texts through generations.

The goal of the project, a collaborative initiative by the Jewish Theological Seminary, Columbia University, University of Pittsburgh, and Stony Brook University, is to create a “database to track the circulation of printed ‘Jewish books’ (in Hebrew, other Jewish languages, and books in Latin and non-Jewish vernaculars with Judaica contents).”[1] Those notes, scribbles, and ‘marginal’ pieces of information are scattered in many forms. Footprints lists many types of evidence while documenting the movement of books, and presents visualizations of mobility, including mapping. Some types of evidence include owners’ signatures and bookplates; handwritten notations of sales; estate inventories; references to exchanges of books in correspondence of scholars or merchants; unpublished booklists copied in flyleaves; printers’ colophons; subscription lists, and lists of approbations indicating backers or patrons of the books who presumably received a copy of the product.[2]

Footprints website.

Take for example the literary work titled ʻAḳedat Yitsḥaḳ (“the Binding of Isaac”) – a collection of philosophical homilies and commentaries on the Torah by Isaac ben Moses Arama (1420-1494).

This text is represented by five different imprints. Each imprint is represented by various unique copies, and each copy has between one to nine ‘footprints.’ For example, the imprint published in 1547 in Venice, Italy, has five unique ‘holdings’ in the database. One of these copies is traced through six different ‘time stamps’, owners, and locations, from 1599 (Modena, Italy) through 1986 (New York, NY). Another fascinating example is the journey of a copy of Masekhet Nedarim (a Talmudic tractate) printed in Venice in 1523. In 1663 it was bought (and sold) in Yemen. Between 1842 to 1894 it was owned by Alexander Kohut in New York, and since 1915 this particular copy has been owned by Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Inscription with details of the sale of Masekhet Nedarim in Yemen, 1663. (https://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/footprint/6085/)
Inscription with details of the sale of Masekhet Nedarim in Yemen, 1663. (https://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/footprint/6085/)

Librarians and researches from Europe, Israel, and Unites States are constantly adding new information and validating accuracy of current entries. The database currently includes 7638 unique footprints, and is searchable by keywords, footprint year, and publication year. Here in Austin, The Harry Ransom Center is also collaborating with Footprints; data gleaned from the Center’s early Hebrew books holdings, mainly those dated pre-1800, will be uploaded soon to the database.

Footprints is an open-source and open-access tool; it uses a PostgresSQL, an object-relational database system, which is available on Github. As such, it is both a digital humanities project and a global collaborative project. The digital platform makes public the very process of scholarship performed by trusted crowd sourcing. The collaborative platform invites immediate feedback, editing, and revision.[3] The project owners anticipate future uses to include inferential statistical analysis and network visualization. They anticipate that “cultural historians and statisticians would leverage their mutual areas of expertise to offer a statistical analysis that takes into account social, cultural, political, and economic contexts.”[4] In addition, they plan to visualize networks of book movement showing connections between places, and networks connecting individuals to each other or to other places.

Footprints brings to mind Bakhtin’s Chronotope, where time and place are merging into one meaningful experience. A physical printed book travels through times and places; created, owned, and used by various individuals, carrying with it ideas and intellectual meaning. A Chronotope of the Jewish book, Footprints is a multidimensional bibliography, which highlights and makes use of previously unknown resources in a way that re-imagines the practice of Jewish book history.


Further reading (all available at Perry-Castañeda Library)

Pearson, David. 2007. “What Can We Learn by Tracking Multiple Copies of Books?” In Books on the Move : Tracking Copies through Collections and the Book Trade, edited by Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Mandelbrote, 17-37. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press ; London : British Library.

Walsby, Malcolm and Natasha Constantinidu, eds. 2013. Documenting the Early Modern Book World: Inventories and Catalogs in Manuscript and Print. Leiden: Brill.

Dweck, Yaacob. 2010. “What is a Jewish Book?Association for Jewish Studies Review 34: 367-376.

[1] http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/about/

[2] http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/about/#about02

[3] Michelle Chesner, Marjorie Lehman, Adam Shear, Joshua Teplitsky. “Footprints: Tracking Individual Copies of Printed books Using Digital Methods.” 2018. Medaon, 23. https://www.medaon.de/en/artikel/footprints-tracking-individual-copies-of-printed-books-using-digital-methods/

[4] http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/about/#about05

 

 

Records in the stacks of the HMRC.

Whit’s Picks: Take 4 – Gems from the HMRC

Resident poet and rock and roll star Harold Whit Williams is in the midst of a project to catalog the KUT Collection, obtained a few years ago and inhabiting a sizable portion of the Historical Music Recordings Collection (HMRC).

Being that he has a refined sense of both words and music, Whit seems like a good candidate for exploring and discovering some overlooked gems in the trove, and so in this occasional series, he’ll be presenting some of his noteworthy finds.

Earlier installments: Take 1Take 2, Take 3


Free Electric State / Caress

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

 Not your typical ethereal shoegaze, Durham, NC’s Free Electric State lays its smoky slab of Carolina alt-rock down heavy upon your picnic plate. Shirlé Hale’s lead vocals stun alongside her band’s densely distorted drone. The song structure and guitar wash of Ride or MBV, but with a more radio-friendly fist-pumping feel. Crank it, of course.

 

  

Willie Buck / The Life I Love

 Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

Chicago blues legend Willie Buck steps out from the shadows of Muddy, Buddy, and Howlin’ Wolf on this high-spirited lowdown collection of classics. A native of Houston, Mississippi, Buck drives his boogie-woogie combo further on up the road with a mixture of juke joint whimsy, suave Windy City certainty, and undeniable Delta-cred.  

 

The Eighteenth Day of May

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

The self-titled debut album by this London psych-folk outfit made quite the critical splash across the pond with its shaggy-bearded nods to Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band, Pentangle, and the Byrds. Behold the acoustic Celtic shimmer! The chiming electric jangle! Behold those bittersweet Summer of Love harmonies! 

 

Brigitte DeMeyer / Something After All

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

California’s Brigitte DeMeyer serves up some serious heartland soul on this Brady Blade-produced roots rock record. The Buddy Miller and Steve Earle covers (with backing appearances by both) lend an Americana helping hand, but it’s DeMeyer’s own tracks here that truly stand out and shine. 

 

John Stetch / Ukrainianism

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

Haunting solo piano from Canada’s fellow traveler jazz genius, John Stetch. Classically avant-garde at times (only to be leavened by his family’s ancestral folk songs), Ukrainianism thrills with life-affirming highs, then breaks the heart with slow and dissonant lows. Contains historical notes for each song. A masterful work of art for a nation and its people.

[Harold Whit Williams is a Library Specialist in Music & Multimedia Resources Cataloging for Content Management. He writes poetry, is guitarist for the critically acclaimed rock band Cotton Mather, and releases lo-fi guitar-heavy indie pop as DAILY WORKER.]

TARO website.

Texas Archival Resources Online Receives NEH Grant

The Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) consortium and the University of Texas Libraries have received a grant of $348,359 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to enhance their efforts to provide researchers worldwide with access to collection descriptions of archival primary sources in libraries, archives and museums across Texas.

This grant builds on a 2015 NEH Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Foundations Grant which enabled planning in key areas including shared best practices, training documentation and outreach to current and potential members and users. Grant activities will include a redesign of the TARO web platform to improve functionality and appearance, a review of Encoded Archival Description (EAD3) encoding standards, work towards standardizing existing control access terms (geographic names and subject headings) and training to support participation for TARO members.

TARO was first supported by a research grant from the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF) Board of the State of Texas in 1999. The University of Texas Libraries (UT Libraries) served as the requesting institution, with project partners including the Texas Digital Library Alliance, Rice University, Texas A&M University, Texas State Library and Archives, Texas Tech University, University of Houston and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. With these grant funds, UT Libraries established the TARO website, outsourced encoding of several hundred finding aids and provided training to member repositories. Repositories began contributing their own hand-coded finding aids in 2002. UT Libraries continued to support TARO after that initial grant. In June 2018 TARO formalized its institutional home as a program of the UT Libraries and a permanent MOU was signed.

“Having the State Archives’ finding aids available online in TARO, a consortial environment, where there are many shared and related topics among the materials held by member repositories, provides untold opportunities for discovery of our unique resources,” said Jelain Chubb, Texas state archivist and director of the Archives and Information Services Division at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The grant will fund work through April 2022 and will be administered through the University of Texas Libraries. Libraries’ Director of Digital Strategies Aaron Choate will serve as the grant’s principal investigator. Members of the TARO Steering Committee and its subcommittees will carry out work as outlined in the grant.

“As a founding partner in TARO, UT Libraries has been proud to support the project over the years and we are excited to have the opportunity to work with the team to enhance the future of this vital collective project,” said Aaron Choate, Director of Digital Strategies at The University of Texas Libraries.

NEH Logo.

– – – –

Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO), a program of the University of Texas Libraries, is a consortial initiative that facilitates access to archival resources from member archives, libraries, and museums across Texas to inform, enrich, and empower researchers all over the world.

 

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

 

Michael Shensky.

Meet the Talents: GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky

Michael Shensky joined the Libraries last year as the GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator to enhance the resources available from the Research Data Services unit with added expertise in Geographic Information Systems, which are increasingly becoming central to our online lives. Shensky took some time to talk about the importance of GIS and where he sees it in the future.

GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky.
GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky.

Michael Shensky: Whenever I’m asked what GIS is, and I often am when I tell people what I do for a living, I always start with a very simple definition and expand from there. I typically tell people that GIS is an acronym that stands for geographic information systems and that it is the technology that is used to manage the data behind many of the maps they encounter online and in mobile apps. I also find it helpful to explain that the “geographic information” part of GIS refers to geospatial data (data that features both coordinate information identifying a place on Earth and attribute information that describes something located at that place) while “system” refers to the software and hardware components that are used together to manage this unique type of data effectively.

GIS is incredibly important in our daily lives because it is used to guide and facilitate much of the work that local governments, state and federal government agencies, utility companies, non-profit organizations, and academic researchers carry out. If all GIS software were to suddenly stop working tomorrow, it would be very difficult for those who rely on geospatial data to effectively manage their operations and this would have a dramatic impact on the lives of everyone, not just GIS users. For instance, cities might have difficulty assigning work crews to conduct road repair work if they cannot access their database of pothole locations, fire departments might struggle to respond to the locations of emergencies if they can’t quickly look up the location of an address, and technology companies would see apps that include mapping functionality suddenly break as the data fails to load properly.

While most people do not realize the significant role that GIS software plays behind the scenes in the operations of many organizations, if they look closely enough they can find traces of its impact in their daily lives. If they come across a map when browsing the web, there is a very good chance that GIS software was used to design its layout and manage the data behind the features depicted in it. If a new store or restaurant opens in their neighborhood, it is likely that GIS software was used to analyze demographic and consumer spending data for their local area to determine that this would likely be the most profitable location. If they use the routing functionality built into their car dashboard, the street data used to route them was likely created or edited with GIS software. If they visit the website of their local city or county, it is quite likely they will find a web page designed specifically for sharing geospatial data that has been developed with their taxpayer money and which has been made publically available for anyone to download and use in GIS software.

 

Given the organic nature of its development, how can standards be developed to manage the proliferation of GIS data?

shensky extraMS: In the GIS world, there are open standards developed by non-profit organizations like the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and there are often competing proprietary standards developed by for-profit companies like Esri, whose software products dominate the GIS industry in the United States and many other countries. While we are very fortunate that these standards exist so that there is agreement on how data should be structured and how it should be read by GIS software, there are downsides to having multiple standards to choose from. Having multiple standards to choose from puts GIS professionals in a tough position when we want to share data with others, since we often need to ensure that data is available in multiple standard formats to make it easy for other GIS users to work with the data regardless of whether they are using open source software or Esri’s ArcGIS software.  This situation is further complicated by the fact that the popularity of specific standards can fluctuate over time and occasionally completely new standards are developed while older standards may fall into disuse and become functionally obsolete.

For the geospatial data in the UT Libraries’ collections that we are currently in the process of trying to make more easily accessible, we are aiming to share the data in every common standard format that we can.  Our goal is to facilitate access to our data for all GIS users, regardless of which software they use or standards they prefer. This approach of making shared datasets available in multiple formats has become quite common on data portals operated by other universities as well as those developed by cities, counties, and federal government agencies. As any good organization would, we plan to stay on top of the latest geospatial data standards and ensure that we are making datasets available in the formats that GIS users expect to find and like to work with.

 

How did you become a specialist in GIS?

MS: That’s actually a really interesting question, because I sometimes look back on the last decade and wonder that myself. The career path I envisioned for myself shifted quite a bit during my college years and a few chance decisions that didn’t seem particularly significant at the time ended up playing a very substantial role in leading me to the position I’m in today.

As a junior, I was contemplating my changing my major to anthropology or geography since I had really enjoyed taking classes in both disciplines, and I ended up selecting geography partly because I knew that GIS was a required class in that program and that this class would provide me with a technical skill upon graduation. At the time, I had never used or even seen GIS software but I knew it was used to make maps and that sounded really interesting to me. I didn’t actually end up taking that required GIS class until my last semester as an undergraduate and I did I was a surprised to find it a little less exciting and more challenging than I had originally expected. Right after graduation I started applying for a variety of jobs that I thought I might qualify for and the first one I was offered was a paid GIS internship. I didn’t find the job all that interesting at first and during my first few months there did not see myself making a career out of GIS.

This initial lack of fulfillment actually even ended up being a contributing factor in my decision to enroll in a Geography graduate program – I wanted to develop new skills that would open up different job opportunities. While in grad school I continued to work at this same GIS job part time and found that I started to become more interested in the work I was doing as I was assigned more advanced and challenging projects. Because of the GIS skills I gained in this role, I was offered a GIS research assistant position during my last two years of graduate school and then ended developing my master’s thesis project from the work that I did in this role. By the time I completed the work for my master’s degree, my perspective on GIS had changed dramatically, and when I was offered a full time job teaching GIS classes and managing the GIS computers labs for the Geography department at California State University, Long Beach, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to advance my career in GIS. I ended up spending several years in this position which allowed me to further develop my technical skills, gain teaching experience, and develop an even greater respect for the value of GIS software in academic research – all of which prepared me for well for my current role here at the UT Libraries.

What sort of projects have you been working on at UT?

MS: I’ve been working on a few different projects since I started here at UT, the biggest of which is focused on developing a new geospatial data portal that will be part of the UT Libraries website. This portal will allow users to search for geospatial data in our Libraries’ collections that can be used with GIS software. We have been referring to this project internally as the “GeoBlacklight” project because it uses open source software of that name to provide a web interface and data search capabilities. We are optimistic that this project will be completed in the first half of 2019 and that it will be available to the campus community before the start of the fall semester. Once it is rolled out, visitors to the website will be able to search through a variety of geospatial datasets including georeferenced scanned map images from our PCL Map Collection and vector datasets developed from items in other collections like the Benson Latin American Collection and Alexander Architectural Archives. I’m really excited to be a part of this project because I know this portal has the potential to benefit everyone in the campus community regardless of their role and area of specialization. Once the portal is finished and made available, it should be easy for faculty to find data that they can use to develop instructional materials, for students to find data they can use in research projects, for Libraries staff to find data they can use to highlight notable collections, and for everyone in general to browse through when curious about the interesting maps and datasets we have available here at the UT Libraries.

San Salvador map from the PCL Map Collection.
San Salvador map from the PCL Map Collection.
Screenshot of the search results page in a still-under-development version of the UT Libraries GeoBlacklight portal
Screenshot of the search results page in a still-under-development version of the UT Libraries GeoBlacklight portal.

addition to the GeoBlacklight project I have also been working on a program of coordinated outreach and education about GIS both internally within the libraries and externally with departments across campus. As part of this effort I have helped organize events like our recent Local Perspectives on the State of Open Data discussion panel which brought GIS experts from the City of Austin, Travis County, Texas General Land Office, and Texas Natural Resources Information System here to campus to share their thoughts on GIS and open data. I’ve also taught several GIS focused workshops that provided an opportunity for all members of the campus community to learn about GIS and further develop their geospatial research skills. In order to introduce library personnel to some of the capabilities of GIS I’ve also spoken at and helped organize a series of linked data information learning group meetings. I’ve been glad to see that this multifaceted approach has been successful in helping get the word out about GIS on campus and I’ve noticed that I am starting to hear from more and more people each week who are looking to learn more about how they might be able to use GIS in their work.

 

What are some of the interesting ways GIS will be used in the future?

MS: While it’s impossible to know exactly how the way in which we use GIS might change in the future, I think there are a few developments that are all but certain. One of the major developments I foresee is growing awareness of GIS and rapid improvement in the capabilities of open source GIS software like QGIS leading to greater adoption of GIS software in a variety of disciplines and industries. If this prediction proves accurate, the lowering of financial and technical barriers that currently hold people back from using GIS software would greatly benefit small businesses, startups, non-profits, municipalities with limited resources, and more. It should also have a profound impact in the academic world as it will make it easier for researchers to incorporate GIS into their work. I think we will see GIS software being used much more widely in fields like history, journalism, linguistics, ethnic studies, and in the humanities more generally. If this does in fact happen, it will not only open up new avenues for research in these fields but will also make it easier for those working in these different disciplines to work together with each other across departments because they are using a shared technology. Even in disciplines where GIS is already widely used, like geology, biology, geography, and anthropology, I think there will be increased rates of adoption, especially among researchers in developing countries who can start using open source GIS software without having to worry about expensive software licensing or significant software limitations. From my experience in a previous GIS position at another university, I saw firsthand how difficult it could be for researchers in my department to work with colleagues from universities in other countries whose institutions could not afford access to the same proprietary software resources until they all started using open source software to facilitate collaboration.

Example of a QGIS project
Example of a QGIS project.

In addition to the many benefits I think we will see from growing awareness of GIS software and open source GIS software in particular, I think GIS technology will become more useful and powerful as technology continues to improve. Perhaps the biggest impact on GIS will come from new and emerging categories of mobile devices that will make it possible to view and interact with geospatial data in ways that are quite different from the manner in which we engage with geospatial data now on the flat screens of our computer monitors and cell phones. In the 9 years that I have been in this field, there have been several completely new categories of devices that have been released (smart watches, augmented reality glasses, and virtual reality headsets being the most notable) all of which can be used to display new types of maps and I think we will see these technologies mature in a way that will affect how maps are made.

Virtual reality is the currently the most significant of these technologies for working with geospatial data due to the availability of relatively affordable consumer grade headsets and their ability to give users a three dimensional immersive map experience. While I think virtual reality maps will become increasingly common and useful, I think augmented reality devices ultimately hold the most promise of any emerging technology. Right now augmented reality glasses are held back by their high price points, large size, and limited field of view but companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple have all indicated that they are working on addressing these challenges. If any of these companies (or newer companies like Magic Leap who are also focusing on augmented reality technology) can create a wearable device similar in size to a pair of regular sunglasses, sell it for close to the price of a high end cell phone, and have it effectively overlay 3D objects on top of a user’s normal field of view, I think this would revolutionize how GIS professionals manage data and produce maps. It would also of course open up enormous opportunities for researchers who are looking for new ways to explore geospatial data and visualize their research findings. While a breakthrough like this may not happen this year or next, I think it is just a matter of time before our technology reaches this point and GIS software will have to adapt to facilitate the production of geospatial content for these new types of devices.

 

 

 

A Firsthand Experience in the Black Diaspora Archive

Natalie Hill is one of the inaugural members of the Consuelo Artaza and Dr. Carlos Castañeda Diversity Alliance Residency Program. She is currently in her second semester of the residency.

Rachel Winston and Natalie Hill.
Rachel Winston and Natalie Hill.

While I’ve been working in the Black Diaspora Archive (BDA) for just under two months now, I’ve already experienced and learned so much. BDA’s mission is to document the Black experience in the Americas and Caribbean. Under the guidance of our inaugural Black Diaspora Archivist, Rachel Winston, I’ve been given the opportunity to do my part in accomplishing this mission.

Currently, I’m processing the Judith Bettelheim Papers and making that collection available for researchers to use. Dr. Judith Bettelheim is a retired university professor, curator, and art historian, specializing in Afro-Caribbean festival and performance arts. Throughout her long and accomplished career, Dr. Bettelheim has helped to expand the field of art history beyond the limited lens of Western art and has pushed for the increased prominence of African and African Diasporic art in published scholarship.

Caribbean festival performer from the Judith Bettelheim collection.
Caribbean festival performer from the Judith Bettelheim collection.
Correspondence from the Judith Bettelheim collection.
Correspondence from the Judith Bettelheim collection.

Among other materials, the Judith Bettelheim Papers include handwritten field notebooks and interview transcripts from her trips to Caribbean nations, hundreds of photo slides of Caribbean festival performers, and research relating to her exhibitions and publications on Cuban visual artists like José Bedia and Eduardo “Choco” Roca Salazar. Being able to handle these records has allowed me to gain a better understanding not only of Dr. Bettelheim, but also of the people and places on which she’s focused so much of her life’s work. Preserving cultural heritage and making the records of historically underrepresented individuals and groups widely accessible is definitely a privilege, and it makes coming to work every day something to look forward to.

Photo from the Judith Bettelheim collection.
Photo from the Judith Bettelheim collection.

Beyond gaining valuable hands-on experience with archival materials and all the steps present in making them ready for research use, I’ve also been able to shadow Rachel in her daily work and better understand what it means to be an archivist not simply in theory, but in practice. And I’ve learned that depending on the day, it means a lot of different things – deinstalling exhibitions, providing reference support in the Reading Room, preparing materials for the next exhibition, visiting classes to discuss the work we do as archival professionals and how students can incorporate archival practices into their own documentary efforts, installing a new exhibition, and so on.

In my short time in the Black Diaspora Archive, I’ve already found myself involved with an active and dedicated community focused on providing a space for those who historically have not had any and a voice for those who have often been silenced. It’s been an inspiring and eye-opening experience, and I’m looking forward to becoming even more involved over the coming months.

 

 

Tennis Balls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume from the Bill Mixon cave collection.

Area Spelunker Donates Cave Collection

Caves and karst (eroded limestone terrains) are tied to the whole of human history – as shelters, as sources of water, as places of mystery and worship, and as research topics in geology, biology, hydrology and engineering. The Walter Geology Library as a respected research library in earth sciences, has a strong collection in caves and karst research, particularly since Central Texas has many caves and karst features, and the region has long hosted an avid caving community.

Volume from the Bill Mixon cave collection.
Volume from the Bill Mixon cave collection.

One member of that local caving community, Bill Mixon — former book review editor for the National Speleological Society and friend of the Walter Library — recently donated his unique collection of over 1000 books and more than 1000 periodical issues related to cave and karst research, literature, and culture. Remarkably, this entire collection is all material new to the UT Libraries, significantly broadening and enhancing our existing collections.

The collection is largely international in scope, and among the items included, almost 1/3 of the books are not only new to UT, but not held otherwise in any US libraries, or not held anywhere at all. Another 20+% of the materials are held in fewer than 5 North American collections.

The literature of caving is largely produced by specialists for specialists, and much of it is only shared among informal networks, or is only available locally or regionally — not the kind of stuff you can buy on Amazon. For this reason, this gift of personally-curated material from around the world is a tremendous asset, representing years of effort on the part of the donor to amass such a significant cross section of the world’s cave publications.

We are grateful for the gift, as it adds significantly to our existing strengths, and will give future researchers the benefit of having guides, exploration reports, and research on most of the world’s major cave and karst systems all in one place.

Why Caves Matter. 

Caves are:

  • Hidden time machines and an historical record of previous natural and human activity
  • Essential filtration tools and sources for water
  • Home to unique critters and life forms, including bats, spiders, microbes
  • Great sources of fossils of all kinds
  • Key to the study of climate
  • Important areas of earth science research
  • Home to early man, later man, hiding man, man at war
  • Repositories of early human art
  • Important risk factors in construction
  • Irresistible explorers’ temptation

Who cares?

  • biologists
  • geologists
  • hydrologists
  • engineers
  • military
  • historians
  • explorers

In the Pursuit of Discovery: Crowdfunding for the Librarian Ambassadors Fund

Arnakali bazaar - Tex Libris 1
Book stall in the Anarkali Bazaar Pakistan, one of the oldest surviving markets in South Asia. Taken by librarian Mary Rader on an acquisition trip.

When it comes to acquiring research materials at the tier-1 research level, not everything can be delivered to your front door. There are no routes librarians can explore online to purchase materials because countries do not have the same framework as the US.  And even if a librarian discovers a method for shipping, in reality, often it is cheaper for librarians to pack collections with them on airplanes.

To maintain UT’s subject expertise and to help build and steward effective networks abroad, librarians need to go overseas to make negotiations — face-to-face — for one-of-a-kind purchases that distinguish and develop UT’s collections.

Along with acquiring materials, even more important, it is the responsibility of the librarian to set in motion international relationships, and nurture  them, and create mutual education with our partners abroad on behalf of the Forty Acres.

National Museum - Tex Libris 1
Librarian Mary Rader with her international colleagues at the National Museum of Pakistan, which stewards the cultural history of Pakistan.

The University of Texas at Austin is unique.  We are the only university in Texas where librarians travel and function like ambassadors. As a result, our collections serve all researchers in Texas and many of our collection items serve as the only copy for the US. Library projects in South & Central America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East keeps the Forty Acres active in the global community.

This spring, the University of Texas Libraries will embark on a crowdfunding campaign to ensure that $20,000 is raised by April 19 so librarians may make  acquisition trips in 2020.

For 134 years, the University of Texas Libraries have committed to building one of the greatest library collections in the world.  New knowledge emerges only if we continue to expand the universe of information we make available to the Forty Acres, Texas and the world.

Will you help us build and  keep our bridges with the international community intact?

Pre-schedule your gift here: https://tinyurl.com/y7wajbpp