Category Archives: Research

Reading Holy Kur'an

Read, Hot and Digitized: KITAB Project Brings Distant Reading to Middle Eastern Studies  

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this new 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.

The KITAB Project, headed by Sarah Bowen Savant of the Aga Khan University, seeks to develop tools and techniques for producing scholarship on text reuse and intellectual networks in the premodern Arabic textual tradition. The project is based on a digital corpus of published texts that represent all genres of writing in Arabic from the earliest works to the beginning of the 20th century CE. Although the corpus draws in part from digital databases of texts, it also relies heavily on digital surrogates of printed volumes which require Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for computational analysis. The KITAB project has partnered with the Open Islamicate Text Initiative to develop an OCR software that has proven more successful than commercially-available products. The collaboration’s published results of this OCR development—called Kraken—can be found here.

A snapshot of initial results using the Kraken OCR software
A snapshot of initial results using the Kraken OCR software

The KITAB project is noteworthy not only for bringing the concepts of text reuse and distant reading to Middle Eastern Studies from a digital humanities perspective, but also for its development of tools designed for Arabic script languages. The needs of right-to-left and non-Roman script languages such as Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Hebrew—namely bidirectionality and non-Roman script recognition capabilities—unfortunately have been neglected to date in key tools utilized by highly successful digital humanities projects. The KITAB project brings the necessity of right-to-left and non-Roman capabilities to the fore by centering the Arabic textual tradition and committing to the development of tools that best meet the needs of the questions asked.

In addition to Dr. Savant, the team behind the KITAB project includes scholars from the U.S. and Europe, notably David Smith (Northeastern University) who developed the passim software upon which the text reuse project is based, and Maxim Romanov (University of Vienna) who heads the Open Islamicate Text Initiative. The team supports the continuing evolution of algorithms that seek to determine which Arabic texts were most quoted, most used by historians, and most commented on over several centuries (roughly 700-1500 CE). These questions might be answered simply enough within one text with a full-text search engine. However, to answer these questions across the Arabic textual tradition requires not only a massive corpus (currently over 4200 items), but also incredible computing power.

The latest KITAB visualization of text reuse across two works attributed to Ibn Qutayba (d. 889 CE).
The latest KITAB visualization of text reuse across two works attributed to Ibn Qutayba (d. 889 CE).

I encourage readers to take a look at the latest text reuse visualization from the corpus, which is based on two works by Ibn Qutayba (d. 889 CE). I also suggest reading Dr. Savant’s critically reflective post on running the passim software across the entirety of the corpus, and the questions raised by the results about intertextuality and what text reuse means in the Arabic context. Lastly, I recommend that those interested and/or involved in the field review information on the KITAB Project’s corpus, including the FAQ links to the Open Islamicate Text Initiative for suggesting new digital titles and new titles requiring OCR. UT Libraries’ collection of historic Arabic texts is one of the largest in the United States and ripe with suggestions for the KITAB corpus (check out this Islamic Empire — History subject heading search to see a sample of UT’s rich Arabic collections).

 

Detail of 1935 map of Austin redlines.

Read, Hot and Digitized: New Website Maps Discriminatory Redlining Practices

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this new 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.

Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America lets users visualize the maps of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) on a scale that is unprecedented. The HOLC was created in 1933 to help citizens refinance home mortgages to prevent foreclosures. Directed by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the HOLC surveyed 239 cities and produced “residential security maps” that color-coded neighborhoods and metropolitan areas by credit worthiness and risk. These maps and the discriminatory practice they exemplified and enabled later came to be known as redlining.

Los Angeles redline map

If you zoom to Los Angeles, CA in Mapping Inequality (I recommend taking a moment to read the short introduction and how to) you will see the historic redline maps overlaid on a web-based map, a color-coded legend that describes areas from Best to Hazardous, and an information panel where you can immediately explore an overview and download raw data. Zoom in further, click a red section of the map, and the “area description” will load in the information panel. The initial view is curated and gives you an immediate impression of how these maps and accompanying documents perpetuated and institutionalized discrimination. You can also view the full demographic data and a scan of the original paperwork.

I encourage you to look at cities you are familiar with, it’s startling how the effects of these maps are apparent today. This is a work in progress so not every city surveyed by the HOLC is represented or complete.  Unfortunately, the accompanying documents for Austin are not available, but you can view the entire 1935 Austin map on the PCL Map Collection website. (You can also find a digitized reprint of the notorious Austin city plan from the 1920s at Texas ScholarWorks.)

1935 map of Austin, Texas, with redline demarcations.
1935 map of Austin, Texas, with redline demarcations.

I chose to highlight this mapping project because redlining maps are a critical example of the power of maps and this interface was beautifully constructed to illustrate their impact.

Mapping Inequality is part of American Panorama: An Atlas of United States History. While American Panorama is a project by the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, Mapping Inequality is a product of many collaborations. Participants from universities across the country worked on many aspects of the data collection and transcription and the Panorama toolkit, open source software used to create these maps, was developed by Stamen Design. I also recommend exploring the latest map added to American Panorama, Renewing Inequity: Urban Renewal, Family Displacements, and Race 1955-1966.

 

 

Dongpo chan xi ji. Text.

Taiwan Studies Gets Attention from Conference, Books

The North American Taiwan Studies Association (NATSA) Annual conference was held at UT on May 24-26, 2018, the third time in Austin since its inauguration in 1994 (previously 1998/2009/2018), reflecting the strong interest in Taiwan Studies at the University of Texas in Austin.

This year, the theme of the conference was “Beyond an Island: Taiwan in Comparative Perspective.” Thirty invited scholars, sixty presenters and thirty NATSA staff gathered on campus to discuss their research on Taiwan. Despite the tight schedule, a number of the international participants were able to join Meng-fen Su, East Asian Studies Liaison Librarian, for a library tour of PCL, during which they shared their admiration for the library’s rich collection and innovative use of spaces.

As one of the funding sponsors, many of TECO Houston (Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Houston which functions like Taiwan’s consulate Office in Houston) officers also attended the conference. Meng-fen Su was contacted early in the planning so that TECO could donate a collection of books to the University of Texas Libraries and so that a book donation ceremony could be held during the NATSA Conference Welcome Ceremony. Five librarians from UT Libraries attended the ceremony and Catherine Hamer, Director of Academic Engagement, received the books on behalf of the library.

 

Catherine Hamer received a representative pack of donated books from Peter Chen, Director General of TECO, Houston.
Catherine Hamer received a representative pack of donated books from Peter Chen, Director General of TECO, Houston.

 

UTL librarians with TECO representatives, including Ms. Sophie Chou, Director of Education Division (right 2nd), Mr. Peter Chen, Director General (right 4) and Mr. Yintso Lin, Deputy Director General (left 2).
UTL librarians with TECO representatives, including Ms. Sophie Chou, Director of Education Division (right 2nd), Mr. Peter Chen, Director General (right 4) and Mr. Yintso Lin, Deputy Director General (left 2).

 

The books donated by TECO are primarily books by or about Su Shi (or Su Shih in Wade-Giles romanization, 蘇軾 / 苏轼 in traditional / simplified Chinese scripts, 1037-1101) who is better known by his literary name: Su Dongpo  (or Su Tung-p’o in Wade-Giles romanization, 蘇東坡/苏东坡), who was “unquestionably one of the most extraordinary men ever to grace the world of Chinese arts and letters.” (from Beata Grant’s Prologue to her Mount Lu Revisited: Buddhism in the life and writings of Su Shih). Su Dongpo was also a major political figure of his time, not to mention a painter, calligrapher, Buddhist, philosopher, classicist and connoisseur of the arts. The TECO donation includes 93 Taiwan publications of contemporary writings about Su Dongpo and 31 facsimiles of rare fine editions of books related to Su Dongpo, produced from the collection of National Central Library (Taiwan).

Link to UTL’s catalog of books by Su Dongpo

Link to UTL’s catalog of books about Su Dongpo

Two of the facsimiles titles UT received from TECO Houston:

 

A translation of one of Su Dongpo’s most famous song lyric (ci) from Word, Image and Deed in the Life of Su Shi 

To the tune “Recalling Her Charms” Cherishing the Past at Red Cliff. 念奴嬌: 赤壁懷古.

The great river flows east,

Its waves scouring away

The dashing heroes of a thousand ages.

West of the abandoned fortifications,

People says, is

Master Zhou’s Red Cliff of the Three Kingdoms,

Crags and boulders poke through the sky,

Frightening waves pound the bank,

Enveloping a thousand piles of snow.

The river and mountains are like a painting,

How many brave warriors were here!

 

Dimly I picture Gongjin then:

He had just married Little Qiao,

Valor shone everywhere in his bearing

His fan of plumes, kerchief of silk—

As he chatted and laughed,

Masts and hulls became flying ashes and smoke.

My soul wanders the ancient realm,

So full of feeling, other will laugh at me,

My hair turns grey prematurely.

Life is like a dream,

Let me pour a libation to the river moon.

Scan from the Flora of Forfarshire collection.

Happy 10th Birthday, Texas ScholarWorks!

Texas ScholarWorks (formerly the University of Texas Digital Repository) went into production in September 2008. Texas ScholarWorks (TSW) was created to provide open, online access to the products of the University’s research and scholarship, preserve these works for future generations, promote new models of scholarly communication and deepen community understanding of the value of higher education. In honor of our first 10 years, we’d like to share some samples of the kinds of important work being shared in TSW.

  • A wearable technology costume from the Sharir Collection (photo by Mark Doroba)
    A wearable technology costume from the Sharir Collection (photo by Mark Doroba)

    Dance professor, Yacov Sharir, has donated his archive of videos and documents related to performances, rehearsals, workshops and events that span his four decade career at UT. UT Libraries digitized the contents of this collection and worked with Dr. Sharir, Beth Kerr, and Katie Van Winkle to describe the materials. The resulting collection in TSW is a treasure trove of information about the dance community in Austin.

  • UT Communications professor, Robert Hopper (1945-1998), recorded thousands of hours of everyday conversations between people over the phone, in recorded messages, and in person. Approximately 200 hours of those recordings, and their associated transcripts, are available in TSW. This is a unique collection for those who study spoken language.
  • The Center for Electromechanics (CEM) has chosen to share their conference proceedings, publications, and reports via Texas ScholarWorks. CEM is a leading applied research unit on campus and their researchers are recognized experts in advanced energy storage and power generation rotating machines for both intermittent and continuous duty applications.
  • Waller Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, goes through the UT campus and is a focus of research for people at UT and in the Austin community. In an effort to improve the efficiency of finding information about Waller Creek, researchers have chosen to use Texas ScholarWorks as an archive for the publications, data, maps, images and class projects about the creek.
  • Perhaps the most unique materials any university collects is their collection of theses and dissertations. UT Austin has over 60,000 theses and dissertations, and almost 23,000 of them are available in TSW. In fact, one of our most downloaded items in TSW is a masters report by Andrew Dapprich about starting up a gym.
  • 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.” The  series of lectures was recorded and resides both in the collection of the Fine Arts Library and online at Texas ScholarWorks.

Photograph from the Sharir Collection taken between 1980-1996.
Photograph from the Sharir Collection taken between 1980-1996.

The process of making content available in TSW is a team project and has been from the start. The launch of TSW was the work of Project Institutional Repository Implementation (IRI) which started in early 2008. Over the course of approximately one year, the Project IRI team contributed 4,505 hours of work towards the launch and promotion of TSW. At the conclusion of the project in January 2009 there were 5,961 items in TSW. Today we have over 58,000 items. You can find documentation from Project IRI in TSW.

Many thanks to the Project IRI team, current UT Libraries staff working on TSW, and our partners at Texas Digital Library.

 

 

 

Héctor Sánchez Sánchez of Tribunal Superior de Justicia, Puebla, and Virginia Garrard, director, LLILAS Benson, with the newly signed agreement

LLILAS Benson Partnership with Puebla Archive to Yield Rich Results

Four Centuries of Rare Documents Will Be Digitized

August 8, 2018, was an auspicious day for students of Mexican history. An agreement signed between LLILAS Benson and the Tribunal Superior de Justicia del Estado de Puebla marks the official start of a project to digitize a large collection of archival materials from the Fondo Real de Cholula. Funding for the project comes from a Mellon Foundation grant obtained by LLILAS Benson.

The archives in question, which originate in the Mexican town of Cholula, Puebla State, consist of approximately 200 boxes and span some four centuries, from the 1500s to the late nineteenth century. Once digitized, they will be made available to researchers on an open-access platform by the Benson Latin American Collection and the University of Texas Libraries. The materials document, among other things, how Indigenous residents of Cholula navigated colonial judicial structures unique to their special juridical status.

Professor Kelly McDonough (second from left), LLILAS Benson director Virginia Garrard (third from left) , Lidia Gómez García (second from right) and members of the Puebla team celebrate the agreement
Professor Kelly McDonough (second from left), LLILAS Benson director Virginia Garrard (third from left) , Lidia Gómez García (second from right) and members of the Puebla team celebrate the agreement

A Rich Trove of Information

The materials will provide a rich trove of information about the colonial period, referred to in Mexico as la época novohispana. Cholula was one of only nine locations to be designated a ciudad de indios (in contrast, there were 21 ciudades de españoles). Ciudades de indios had a different justice system than others. Indigenous people paid their tribute directly to the king instead of to a colonial intermediary; they enjoyed certain privileges, and they maintained a fully functioning Indigenous cabildo, or council, which ruled alongside the Spanish one. “This allowed for a degree of Indigenous autonomy and exercise of special privileges in the new colonial context,” explains Professor Kelly McDonough of the UT Austin Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

LLILAS Benson might never have known about the collection in question had it not been for McDonough, who identified the collection as a good candidate for digitization. She emphasizes that the digitization of ciudad de indios documents has immense historical significance: “It’s the first time we will be able to understand what Indigenous justice meant in place with a very specific juridical designation and relationship with the king of Spain. We believe that the other eight judicial archives from ciudades de indios burned in the Mexican Revolution.”

“The chronological range of the collection will allow scholars to study how Indigenous practices adapted to Spanish rule, how new practices developed over the course of the early-modern period, and how both Indigenous and Spanish practices further adapted to modern political and legal structures in the nineteenth century,” adds LLILAS Benson digital processing archivist David Bliss.

Benson Collection archivists Dylan Joy (l) and David Bliss conducted a digitization training in Puebla earlier this year
Benson Collection archivists Dylan Joy (l) and David Bliss conducted a digitization training in Puebla earlier this year

The Digitization Process

A team of three historians from Puebla and Cholula will work in Puebla to digitize the collection, creating two digital copies—one to remain in Puebla and the other to be sent to Austin for preservation and online publication. In addition, all of the digitized materials will be extensively described using a metadata template developed by LLILAS Benson and its Puebla partners. The historians involved in the project are experts in sixteenth-through-nineteenth-century Cholula.

Dra. Lidia Gómez García of Facultad de Filosofía y Letras at Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP) was instrumental in keeping interest in the project going amid inevitable delays. Together, she and McDonough helped choose the personnel to carry out the important work of digitization and creating of metadata for the collection. LLILAS Benson Director Virginia Garrard relates that the team working with the archives in Puebla feels a deep and personal connection with the material; the fact that they are rescuing their own patrimony from decay is immensely meaningful to them.

A member of the digitization team shows examples of the decayed state of some of the Cholula archives
A member of the digitization team shows examples of the decayed state of some of the Cholula archives

Last June 2018, Bliss and LLILAS Benson archivist Dylan Joy conducted a training workshop in Puebla for the digitization team. The team will carry out the project using a DSLR camera and two laptops, as well as the digital photography program Adobe Lightroom. The equipment, purchased by LLILAS Benson with Mellon grant funds, will be donated to the Puebla archive at the conclusion of the project, which is set for early May 2019. Bliss estimates that the project will digitize some 45,000 pages of documents.

The final, digitized documents will be ingested into the Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI) platform, allowing researchers to form connections between the Fondo Real de Cholula documents and other collections on the platform.

A Groundbreaking Collaboration

Director Garrard, herself a historian, hails this project for bringing to light lesser-known historical actors. “This collaboration represents the lives and voices of groups traditionally omitted from the historical record,” she said. “The signing event highlighted the power of close and horizontal relationships between our two institutions, so clearly evident in the presentations of the young Mexican technical specialists and students who described for us their work with the documents, both as material artifacts and as historical sources.”

Sánchez and Garrard sign the historic agreement between Puebla High Court (TSJ) and LLILAS Benson
Sánchez and Garrard sign the historic agreement between Puebla High Court (TSJ) and LLILAS Benson

Quoted in Puebla’s El Popular, Héctor Sánchez Sánchez, presiding magistrate of the Tribunal Superior de Justicia, noted Puebla’s pride in the collaboration: the digitization of Fondo Real de Cholula is the first digitization project at an institution in the Mexican justice system. “Even more so for those of us who are part of this institution,” said Sánchez, “[the rescue of] this archive can achieve a change in the way we understand history.”

Documentos en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). Foto: AHPN.

Seminario en Guatemala Conmemora la Colaboración en Archivos y Derechos Humanos

Documentos en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). Foto: AHPN.
Documentos en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). Foto: AHPN.

POR HANNAH ALPERT-ABRAMS

Nota editorial: Citamos un reportaje del Archivo de Seguridad Nacional (National Security Archive) de George Washington University: “El renombrado Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional de Guatemala (AHPN) se encuentra en crisis después de que su director, Gustavo Meoño Brenner, fue despedido de manera súbita, resultado de una serie de acciones orquestradas por el gobierno guatemalteco y una oficina de las Naciones Unidas. Estas mismas acciones dejaron el personal del archivo, más de 50 personas, bajo contrato provisional, y transfirió la responsabilidad por el archivo al Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, quitándola del archivo nacional, donde ha residido desde el 2009.”

Esta situación materializó el 3 de agosto, una semana después de un seminario patrocinado por LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Estudios Latinoamericanos y el Centro Rapoport para los Derechos Humanos y la Justicia, que tuvo lugar en AHPN. Bajo el título “Archivos y derechos humanos: experiencia de colaboración entre el AHPN y la Universidad de Texas,” el seminario ofreció la oportunidad de reflexionar sobre los siete años de colaboración entre la Universidad de Texas y el AHPN.

 Dado las novedades inquietantes sobre el AHPN, la Dra. Virginia Garrard, directora de LLILAS Benson, dijo, “LLILAS Benson afirma su compromiso a AHPN y su apoyo por la preservación de esta colección histórica, la cual es fundamental para la búsqueda de la justicia, el rescate de la memoria histórica en Guatemala y al resguardo de la historia nacional guatemalteca desde el siglo XIX.”

Read this article in English.

El personal de LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Latinoamericanos y el Centro Rapoport para los Derechos Humanos y la Justicia viajó a la Ciudad de Guatemala para participar en un seminario sobre la alianza entre la Universidad de Texas y varias instituciones guatemaltecas que trabajan con archivos.

El evento tuvo como título “Archivos y derechos humanos: experiencia de colaboración entre el AHPN y la Universidad de Texas,” y se realizó el 27 de julio en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN), que se ubica en un hospital inacabado en donde, en 2005, se descubrieron más de ochenta millones de archivos pertenecientes a la Policía Nacional, bastantes de ellos encontrados en estado precario. Durante más de diez años, un equipo de archiveros guatemaltecos ha trabajado intensivamente para preservar, organizar y dar acceso a esta colección en riesgo.

Gustavo Meoño, director del AHPN, habla. Sentados, desde la izquierda: Virginia Garrard, Dan Brinks y Theresa Polk.
Gustavo Meoño, director del AHPN, habla. Sentados, desde la izquierda: Virginia Garrard, Dan Brinks y Theresa Polk.

Durante el seminario, los participantes reflejaron sobre la alianza de más de siete años entre el AHPN y la Universidad de Texas. Esta alianza ha permitido la fundación de colaboraciones digitales, académicas y pedagógicas, incluyendo la introducción, en 2011, de un acervo digital alojado por el sistema de bibliotecas de la Universidad de Texas.

Los anfitriones del seminario fueron Gustavo Meoño, director del AHPN, y Anna Carla Ericastilla, directora del Archivo General de Centroamérica. Virginia Garrard, la directora de LLILAS Benson; Dan Brinks, el co-director del Centro Rapoport; y Theresa Polk, la directora del programa de materiales digitales de LLILAS Benson; y fueron quienes expusieron sobre la historia de la alianza internacional y su importancia para la recuperación de la memoria histórica y la búsqueda de democracia y justicia transicional en Centroamérica.

Brinks (izq.) del Centro Rapoport, con Garrard (LLILAS Benson) y Meoño (AHPN). Foto: H. Alpert-Abrams.
Brinks (izq.) del Centro Rapoport, con Garrard (LLILAS Benson) y Meoño (AHPN). Foto: H. Alpert-Abrams.

Giovanni Batz, Brenda Xum, María Aguilar, and Hannah Alpert-Abrams—todos ex-alumnos y ex-alumnas de LLILAS Benson—hablaron sobre el impacto del archivo tanto en sus carreras como en su entendimiento de la historia de Guatemala. Especialmente conmovedores fueron los comentarios de ex alumnos guatemaltecos de la Universidad de Texas cuya comprensión de su patrimonio cultural fue moldeada por el estudio del AHPN. Como comentó Brenda Xum, “los archivos cuentan una historia humana.”

Brenda Xum, ex-alumna de LLILAS Benson. Foto: H. Alpert-Abrams.
Brenda Xum, ex-alumna de LLILAS Benson. Foto: H. Alpert-Abrams.

Dos socias del archivo, Enmy Morán y Tamy Guberek, ofrecieron una visión para el futuro de AHPN, incluyendo nuevas técnicas en la preservación de los archivos y nuevos métodos cuantitativos para descubrir las historias contenidas en ellos.

Alrededor de 75 investigadores, archivistas, estudiantes y miembros de la comunidad asistieron al evento, que fue abierto al público. Estos participantes tuvieron la oportunidad de hacer preguntas. Entre ellas, hubo preguntas sobre los desafíos de la preservación digital, la dificultad de acceder la información archivística y las cuestiones éticas implícitas en publicar información delicada en línea.

Durante una tarde bastante cálida, los participantes comentaron sobre la manera en que la conferencia reanimó su interés en las investigaciones archivísticas y la historia guatemalteca. Al final, una participante se paró de pié para felicitar a las personas miembras del panel durante el evento. “Antes, realmente no conocía este archivo,” dijo. “Tampoco sabía sobre su importancia en la historia de mi país.”

______________________

El seminario “Archivos y derechos humanos: experiencia de colaboración entre AHPN y UT Austin” fue patrocinado por el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN), LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Estudios Latinoamericanos y el Centro Rapoport para los Derechos Humanos y la Justicia.

Hannah Alpert-Abrams, PhD, es becaria posdoctoral CLIR en LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Estudios Latinoamericanos. Traducido del inglés por Hannah Alpert-Abrams y Susanna Sharpe.

 

Documentos en el Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN). Foto: AHPN.

Seminar Commemorates Collaboration with Guatemala on Archives and Human Rights

Documents at the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN, Guatemalan National Police Historic Archive). Photo: AHPN.
Documents at the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN, Guatemalan National Police Historic Archive). Photo: AHPN.

BY HANNAH ALPERT-ABRAMS

Lea en español.

Editor’s note: From the National Security Archive at George Washington University: “Guatemala’s renowned Historical Archive of the National Police (AHPN) is in crisis after its director, Gustavo Meoño Brenner, was abruptly removed in one of a series of recent actions orchestrated by the Guatemalan government and a United Nations office. The actions also placed the AHPN’s remaining staff of more than fifty people on temporary contract, and transferred oversight for the repository from the country’s national archives, where it had functioned since 2009, to the Ministry of Culture and Sports.” (See Guatemala Police Archive Under Threat.)

These actions took place on August 3, a week after LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections joined UT’s Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice in Guatemala City to host “Archives and Human Rights: A History of Collaboration between the University of Texas and the Historic Archive of the National Police.” The one-day seminar was an opportunity to reflect on seven years of partnership between the University of Texas and the AHPN, which preserves records documenting over one hundred years of police activity in Guatemala.

Given the recent alarming developments at AHPN, Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at The University of Texas at Austin, stated, “LLILAS Benson affirms its commitment to supporting the preservation of this historic collection, which is so fundamental to the pursuit of justice, the recovery of historical memory in Guatemala, and to the preservation of Guatemala’s national history dating back all the way to the nineteenth century.”

___________________________________________________

Representatives from LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections and the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice visited Guatemala City on July 27 for a seminar on archival partnerships between the University of Texas and Guatemalan institutions.

The event, “Archives and Human Rights: A History of Collaboration between the AHPN and the University of Texas” was held at the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (Guatemala National Police Archive, or AHPN). The AHPN is located in the unfinished hospital building where over 80 million pages of archival materials were found, in various states of preservation, in 2005. For over ten years, Guatemalan archivists have been working to preserve, organize, and provide access to this vulnerable collection.

Gustavo Meoño, director of the AHPN, addresses the seminar. Seated (l-r) are Virginia Garrard, Daniel Brinks, and Theresa Polk. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.
Gustavo Meoño, director of the AHPN, addresses the seminar. Seated (l-r) are Virginia Garrard, Daniel Brinks, and Theresa Polk. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.

During the seminar, speakers reflected on the seven-year partnership between the AHPN and the University of Texas, which has featured scholarly, pedagogical, and digital collaborations, including the 2011 launch of the UT-hosted digital portal to the AHPN.

The one-day event was hosted by the director of the AHPN, Gustavo Meoño, and by Anna Carla Ericastilla, the director of the Archivo General de Centroamérica. Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson; Dan Brinks, co-director of the Rapoport Center; and Theresa Polk, director of digital initiatives for LLILAS Benson, spoke about the history of the partnership and its importance for reconstructing historical memory and the pursuit of democracy and transitional justice in Central America.

Daniel Brinks (l), co-director of the Rapoport Center; Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson; and Gustavo Meoño, director of AHPN. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.
Daniel Brinks (l), co-director of the Rapoport Center; Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson; and Gustavo Meoño, director of AHPN. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.

LLILAS Benson alumni Giovanni Batz, Brenda Xum, María Aguilar, and Hannah Alpert-Abrams discussed the impact of teaching and learning with the archive on their professional careers and their personal understanding of Guatemalan history. Especially moving were personal stories from former UT students whose understanding of their cultural heritage was shaped by studying the AHPN. As Brenda Xum remarked: “los archivos cuentan una historia humana” (“the archives tell a human story”).

LLILAS alumna Brenda Xum. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.
LLILAS alumna Brenda Xum. Photo: Hannah Alpert-Abrams.

Longtime AHPN affiliates Enmy Morán and Tamy Guberek offered visions of the future of research with the AHPN, including new approaches to archival practice and new quantitative methods for uncovering archival histories.

About seventy-five scholars, archivists, students, and community members attended the conference, which was open to the public. Among the topics addressed in audience questions were the challenges of digital preservation, the difficulties of accessing archival information, and the ethics of publishing sensitive information online.

Throughout the very warm afternoon, participants commented on the ways that the conference had reinvigorated their interest in archival research and Guatemalan history. At the end of the day, one audience member stood to congratulate the panelists on a successful event. “Before this event I didn’t really know about this archive,” she said, “and I didn’t know about its importance to my country’s history.”

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The seminar “Archivos y derechos humanos: experiencia de colaboración entre AHPN y UT Austin” was co-sponsored by Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN), LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, and the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice.

Hannah Alpert-Abrams, PhD, is the CLIR postdoctoral fellow in data curation at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.

Alicia Niwagaba Wins TDL Graduate Student Excellence Award

Alicia Niwagaba, photo: Kira Matica
Alicia Niwagaba, photo: Kira Matica

Alicia Niwagaba, graduate research assistant at the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), was awarded the Graduate Student Excellence Award by the Texas Digital Library (TDL). She accepted the award during the Texas Conference on Digital Libraries on May 17. Niwagaba is a recent graduate of the Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS) program at the UT School of Information.

During her time at AILLA, Niwagaba has worked on developing an open educational curriculum designed to teach language documentation researchers how to organize and arrange their materials and metadata to facilitate their ingestion into a digital language archive like AILLA. This work is supported by the National Science Foundation under grant BCS-1653380, Transforming Access and Archiving for Endangered Language Data through Exploratory Methodologies of Curation.

Alicia Niwagaba, photo: Susan Kung
Alicia Niwagaba, photo: Susan Kung

Niwagaba is a key member of the project team, which additionally consists of AILLA manager Susan Kung and AILLA language curator J. Ryan Sullivant. “Niwagaba contributes valuable insight gained from her training in libraries and digital archives to improve the quality of the curriculum content and to incorporate literature and viewpoints that would not have been considered otherwise,” says Kung. The curriculum she is helping to develop will be taught as a weeklong course at the Institute on Collaborative Language Research (CoLang) at the University of Florida, June 18-22, 2018. Thereafter, the curriculum will be available as an open-access educational resource on AILLA’s website.

During her time at AILLA, Niwagaba developed a series of educational video tutorials about language archiving. These are designed to supplement the written curriculum or to stand alone as individual, shareable resources. Some of these engaging videos have already been widely shared throughout the language documentation community. This includes two that are available on YouTube: Language Metadata in AILLA and Filenaming.

Filenaming video created by Niwagaba (YouTube)
Filenaming video created by Niwagaba (YouTube)

AILLA manager Kung is grateful for Niwagaba’s contribution to the archive’s work, calling her “a critical member of AILLA’s curriculum development team.” Kung adds that Niwagaba “brings unique insight and perspective to the work that AILLA does. In fact, her efforts on this project have improved the level and convenience of service that AILLA is able to provide to our important stakeholders, the language documenters who entrust their precious, irreplaceable language materials to this repository. We are delighted that Alicia Niwagaba has won this award.”

View the Texas Digital Library awards announcement.

Jennifer Isasi

Jennifer Isasi to Join LLILAS Benson as CLIR Fellow for Data Curation

LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections is pleased to announce that Jennifer Isasi, PhD, will join the staff as CLIR Fellow for Data Curation in Latin American and Latina/o Studies. Isasi will work with Digital Scholarship Coordinator Albert A. Palacios to contribute to “collections as data” efforts, educational resources, and digital scholarship initiatives at LLILAS Benson. She will hold her position from July 29 through June 2020.

In her role as CLIR fellow, Isasi will have the opportunity to alter the way in which students, researchers, and affiliated communities access and engage with the digitized historical record.

According to CLIR (the Council on Library and Information Resources) the CLIR postdoctoral position “offers recent PhD graduates the chance to develop research tools, resources, and services while exploring new career opportunities. . . . Fellows work on projects that forge and strengthen connections among library collections, educational technologies, and current research.”

Jennifer Isasi
Jennifer Isasi

In addition to her work with Palacios, Isasi will work closely with the current CLIR fellow Hannah Alpert-Abrams as well as University of Texas Libraries academic engagement staff and LLILAS affiliated faculty to develop curated data sets, curricula, and workshops centered on digital assets and tools, and open-access resources that support scholarly and public engagement with digital materials.

Isasi will also work closely with the post-custodial archival team and partners in the United States and Latin America to inform the development of forthcoming digital collections and facilitate their use in digital research and pedagogy. As such, she will have the opportunity to alter the way in which students, researchers, and affiliated communities access and engage with the digitized historical record.

Jennifer Isasi holds a PhD in Hispanic Studies with a specialization in Digital Humanities from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her dissertation, “Data Mining Possibilities for the Analysis of the Literary Character in the Spanish Novel: The Case of Galdós and the ‘Episodios nacionales’” (written in Spanish) establishes a computational reading methodology to extract, analyze, and visualize literary character-systems or social networks, noting how they reflect novel genres and degrees of historicity that replicate close readings of the novels. Currently, she is a lecturer of Spanish at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where she teaches Spanish, Commercial Spanish, and Foundations of Literacy.

Transcription of Mixtec, with Spanish translation. Raúl Alvarez (transcriber and translator). 1981. Rabbit story, with additional translation by Benjamín García Santiago. This will be part of the AILLA archive.

NEH Grant Will Fund Transcription of Indigenous Language Collection

BY J. RYAN SULLIVANT

The Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) has received a pilot grant from the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This grant will improve access to some of the archive’s thousands of audio recordings in indigenous languages by supporting pilot efforts to crowdsource the creation of digital texts for manuscript transcriptions and translations that accompany recordings already in AILLA’s collections. Specifically, the grant will support the transcription of materials in the Mixtec languages of Mexico that are included in the MesoAmerican Languages Collection of Kathryn Josserand. These materials include a very broad survey of the grammar and vocabulary of the Mixtec languages spoken in over 100 towns and villages of southern Mexico.

Transcription of Tehuelche, from the AILLA archive of Jorge Suárez
Transcription of Tehuelche, from the AILLA archive of Jorge Suárez

Digital transcriptions will improve users’ access to these materials and will also facilitate their reuse for humanistic and especially linguistic research studying the dialectology of the Mixtec languages, which, decades after these materials were collected, is still not completely understood. They will also contribute to research on the prehistory of the Mixtec-speaking people, who today number almost a half-million in Mexico. One component of the project will be the development of educational modules that will use the transcription task to teach lessons on linguistic transcription, language description, and historical linguistics. This pilot project will also allow AILLA to develop transcription workflows that can be applied to other significant collections of handwritten documents in the archive’s collections.

Pilot project will improve access to a collection of Mixtec audio recordings.

The project’s principal investigator is Professor Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. The project manager is Ryan Sullivant, AILLA language data curator.

Survey in Chalcatongo Mixtec (with Spanish above), from the AILLA collection of J. Kathryn Josserand
Survey in Chalcatongo Mixtec (with Spanish above), from the AILLA collection of J. Kathryn Josserand

The National Endowment for the Humanities, created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, 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.

For more information on the AILLA transcription project, contact Ryan Sullivant.