Category Archives: Digital Humanities

'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notations of sales; estate inventories; references to exchanges of books in correspondence of scholars or merchants; unpublished booklists copied in flyleaves; printers’ colophons; subscription lists, and lists of approbations indicating backers or patrons of the books who presumably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

 

 

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.

Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “The Owl of Ignorance.” 1908.

Illuminating Explorations: Satire at the End of the Ottoman Empire

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.

Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “That's a Young Turk, My Son." 1908.
Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “That’s a Young Turk, My Son.” 1908.

Turkey, or the Ottoman Empire, has long occupied the political and strategic sights of the West. Today’s news often focuses on the constitutional amendments—in some cases styled as reforms––that the Erdoğan government has pursued. In Western academia and media, these maneuvers are most often read as an “Islamist” approach to governance; they may be more accurately labeled neoliberal, and indeed follow patterns shared with other eras of reform and significant political change in Turkish history.

In recognition of the contemporary significance of Turkish political change and development, UT Libraries’ “Satire After the Young Turk Revolution” online exhibit brings to the fore poignant political cartoons featured in the bilingual (Ottoman Turkish-French) weekly magazine Kalem. Kalem was founded following the Young Turk Revolution in the early 20th century, a movement that sought to implement significant political and social reforms in the late Ottoman Empire. These reforms and the political issues raised at the time would continue to roil Ottoman society through the First World War and into the formation of the Turkish Republic.

Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “Funeral of the Eastern Question." 1908.
Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “Funeral of the Eastern Question.” 1908.

The cartoon images have been selected for this exhibit because of their accessible meaning, illustration of the top issues of the time period, and aesthetic value. Kalem magazine was chosen for this exhibit because it represents UT Libraries’ rare Ottoman collections that are ripe for digitization to increase access for the public.

This exhibit will be of interest to those fascinated by pre-WWI Europe, the Ottoman Empire, satirical and political cartoons, and French publications in the Middle East. It will be of particular interest to researchers and students of the Middle East, early 20th century Europe, and popular art and literature across cultures.

Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “Now the Ministers Do the Cleaning." 1908.
Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “Now the Ministers Do the Cleaning.” 1908.

The print magazine is available at the Perry-Castañeda Library at UT Austin and through the Center for Research Libraries. An incomplete digital copy (issues 2 – 40) can be found through the HathiTrust Library. It is hoped that a full-color and complete digital copy of Kalem magazine will be available as an initiative of the Middle East Materials Project of the Center for Research Libraries.

Dale J. Correa is the Middle East Studies Librarian & History Coordinator for UT Libraries.

 

 

Fragment of Aztec manuscript, 1520, written in Spanish on native paper, is an illustrated account of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés. (G8 Ms.)

Pastorelas: Past and Present

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.

Zayas, Manuel Antonio, El triunfo de Jesús contra la lengua del diablo : pastorela en cuatro actos. 1853.
Zayas, Manuel Antonio, El triunfo de Jesús contra la lengua del diablo : pastorela en cuatro actos. 1853.

As the holiday season quickly approaches, many in the Latinx community are gearing up to celebrate both Christmas as well as Las Posadas. A lesser known celebratory act performed during the holiday season are the plays known as pastorelas. Pastorelas can be traced back to the 16th Century when Franciscan monks leveraged the strong artistic culture of the Mexica people in Tenochtitlan to evangelize them by incorporating Christian ideals into their performance tradition.

Historically, pastorelas have told the story of how Satan attempted to thwart the travels of the shepherds following the Star of Bethlehem in search of the baby Jesus. While pastorelas have maintained the general premise of good vs. evil, the roles of what constitutes both the good and the evil have changed to encompass contemporary issues that have faced the Latinx communities. Immigration, racism, politics, and a plethora of other topics have been incorporated into pastorelas to transmit opinions and ideas to audiences, both religious and secular.

Fragment of Aztec manuscript, 1520, written in Spanish on native paper, is an illustrated account of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés. (G8 Ms.)
Fragment of Aztec manuscript, 1520, written in Spanish on native paper, is an illustrated account of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés. (G8 Ms.)

While pastorelas have typically been an oral tradition, some have been transcribed to paper. A beautiful example of this is Manuel Antono Zayas’ “El triunfo de Jesús contra la lengua del diablo: pastorela en cuatro actoswritten in 1853. This illustrated play, held in the Benson Rare Books and Manuscript Collection, includes multiple hand drawn illustrations of the costumes to be worn during performances, including those of the angel, San Miguel, and even Satan himself.

Please visit the digital exhibit to see the beautiful illustrations in “el Triunfo” as well as some of the other spectacular rare books available to view from the Benson Collection. Also, peruse Zayas’ entire book, which has been digitized and can be viewed at Texas ScholarWorks.

Gilbert Borrego is the Digital Repository Specialist for Texas ScholarWorks, UT’s institutional repository (IR).

Javier y María José, estudiantes universitarios, organizan documentos del PCN en la preparción para digitalizarlos (foto: Anthony Dest)

¡Afro-Colombianos Presentes! Launching a Post-Custodial Project with the Proceso de Comunidades Negras in Colombia

BY ITZA A. CARBAJAL

Véase abajo para versión en español.

Along the Pacific coast of Colombia lies the vibrant and growing seaport city of Buenaventura. The city also serves as home to a large portion of Colombia’s Afro-descendant communities. Colombia, with one of the largest populations of Afro-descendant peoples in Latin America, serves as home to countless Afro-Colombians, a large number of whom live in coastal regions or rural areas, and more recently in urban spaces—a result of ongoing displacement.

This past October, the LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives unit at The University of Texas at Austin launched the second of three post-custodial projects with new partners, the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), specifically focused on the records held at the Buenaventura office serving the Palenque Regional El Kongal. These materials, held for over two decades by PCN, represent a crucial addition not only to human rights documentation of Colombia’s ongoing war and drug-trafficking related conflicts, but also as testament of resilient efforts by Afro-descendant Colombian communities to define and secure recognition and ethno-racial rights in Colombia. Preliminary selection of potential records to be digitized included photographs of cultural events and community mapping gatherings, notable agendas from previous national asambleas (assemblies), and collaborative environmental and humanitarian reports related to Afro-Colombian community issues.

PCN digitization project coordinator Marta works with University student Javier and Maria Jose to identify documents
PCN digitization project coordinator Marta works with University student Javier and Maria Jose to identify documents (photo: Anthony Dest)

As part of the recently awarded Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant titled “Cultivating a Latin American Post-Custodial Archival Praxis,” LLILAS Benson’s post-custodial team coordinated a weeklong training in Colombia. As part of the project’s structural support, LLILAS Benson representatives delivered digitization equipment, facilitated financial resources to pay digitization technicians, and developed custom step-by-step guides on how to successfully complete the PCN digitization project. The trainings, held at the offices of PCN and led by Latin American Metadata Librarian Itza Carbajal and LLILAS PhD candidate Anthony Dest, covered multiple topics, including how to scan historic materials using professional equipment, identifying and documenting metadata about collection materials such as photographs, and brainstorming future visions for PCN’s historic archival collections.

Metadata Librarian Itza demonstrates digitization and description instructions to project team members Marisol and Luz Stella (photo: Anthony Dest)
Metadata Librarian Itza demonstrates digitization and description instructions to project team members Marisol and Luz Stella (photo: Anthony Dest)

Throughout the training, LLILAS Benson and PCN team members reviewed and conducted preliminary scans and developed descriptions for a variety of records, including photographs of early PCN community events, reports on living conditions of Afro-Colombians in the region, and organizational planning documents for mobilization. After the weeklong training ended, the LLILAS Benson project team returned to the United States, leaving the PCN digitization team to begin their critical work.

In the LLILAS Benson post-custodial model, archivists work alongside partners from other sectors to preserve and manage their archival materials, often including the digitization of physical archives in order for the materials to remain in their original home. The digital copies then take on the role of scholarly resources made available to researchers, students, faculty, and the general public.

Marisol and Luz Stella practice their metadata creation skills (photo: Anthony Dest)
Marisol and Luz Stella practice their metadata creation skills (photo: Anthony Dest)

While LLILAS Benson has been implementing post-custodial methods for over a decade, this grant project focuses on formalizing approaches to working with Latin American partners. In 2014, LLILAS Benson received a planning grant from the Mellon Foundation that introduced our first three archival partners, all concentrated in Central America, for the Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI). This recent grant continues the work of the planning grant with the inclusion of new partners from Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. Digitization projects are already under way in Mexico and Colombia, and the LLILAS Benson post-custodial team looks forward to beginning work with the Brazilian partner in early 2019 and finalizing the first phase of the overall grant project.

LEER EN ESPAÑOL

A lo largo de la costa pacífica de Colombia se encuentra la creciente ciudad de Buenaventura. Esta ciudad también es hogar a una de las mayores poblaciones de afrodescendientes en toda América Latina. Los afrocolombianos viven mayormente en las regiones costeras y las zonas rurales, pero recientemente han venido a vivir más en espacios urbanos—un resultado del desplazamiento.

Marta, coordinadora del proyecto digital de PCN, trabaja en la identificación de documentos con dos estudiantes universitarios, Javier y María José (foto: Anthony Dest)
Marta, coordinadora del proyecto digital de PCN, trabaja en la identificación de documentos con dos estudiantes universitarios, Javier y María José (foto: Anthony Dest)

Este pasado octubre la unidad de iniciativas digitales de LLILAS Benson, Universidad de Texas en Austin, lanzó el segundo de tres proyectos pos-custodiales con nuestros nuevos compañeros, el Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN). Este proyecto se enfoca en los materiales históricos sobre el trabajo del Palenque Regional El Kongal de PCN, que se encuentran almacenados en la oficina de Buenaventura. Estos materiales, guardados por más de dos décadas, representan una adición esencial al cuerpo de documentos reunidos por LLILAS Benson sobre los derechos humanos. Éstos incluyen no sólo documentos de la guerra civil y los conflictos relacionados con el tráfico de drogas en Colombia, sino también testimonios del esfuerzo de las comunidades afrocolombianas para definir y asegurar el reconocimiento y los derechos etno-raciales en Colombia. La selección preliminar de materiales para digitalizar incluye fotografías de eventos culturales y reuniones para crear mapas comunitarios, agendas de asambleas nacionales anteriores, así como informes ambientales y humanitarios sobre las comunidades afrocolombianas.

Como parte de una subvención de la Fundación Andrew W. Mellon para el proyecto “Cultivating a Latin American Post-Custodial Archival Praxis” (Cultivando una praxis archivística pos-custodial en la América Latina), el equipo de LLILAS Benson coordinó un entrenamiento de duración de una semana para garantizar el éxito del proyecto. El entrenamiento incluyó la entrega de equipos de digitalización, la facilitación de recursos financieros para pagar a los técnicos, así como un repaso de los guías para completar el proyecto de digitalización de PCN. Se llevó a cabo en las oficinas de PCN en Buenaventura y fue dirigido por Itza Carbajal, bibliotecaria de metadatos de América Latina, y Anthony Dest, candidato al doctorado del Instituto de Estudios Latinoamericanos Teresa Lozano Long (LLILAS).

Javier y María José, estudiantes universitarios, organizan documentos del PCN en la preparción para digitalizarlos (foto: Anthony Dest)
Javier y María José, estudiantes universitarios, organizan documentos del PCN en la preparción para digitalizarlos (foto: Anthony Dest)

 

El entrenamiento abarcó varios temas: instrucciones para escanear materiales frágiles, cómo identificar y evaluar metadatos de materiales visuales como fotografías, y cómo planear el futuro del archivo histórico de PCN. Juntos, los representantes de LLILAS Benson y PCN revisaron y crearon metadatos para una serie de materiales que incluyeron fotografías de eventos de PCN, informes sobre las condiciones de vida de los afrocolombianos de la región, y documentos administrativos sobre varios esfuerzos de movilización comunitaria. Al completar el entrenamiento, los representantes de LLILAS Benson volvieron a los Estados Unidos dejando el equipo de digitalización de PCN para comenzar su trabajo importante.

En el modelo pos-custodial de LLILAS Benson, los archiveros trabajan junto a sus socios en otros sectores para conservar y administrar sus materiales históricos. Esto muchas veces incluye la digitalización de los materiales físicos para que éstos permanezcan en su lugar de origen. Las copias digitales entonces asumen el papel de recursos académicos que están disponibles a investigadores, estudiantes, profesoras y el público.

El equipo PCN de digitalización y procesamiento archivos festeja el fin del entrenamiento (foto: Anthony Dest)
El equipo PCN de digitalización y procesamiento archivos festeja el fin del entrenamiento (foto: Anthony Dest)

Si bien LLILAS Benson ha implementado los principios pos-custodiales por más de una década, este proyecto se concentra en formalizar el modelo de trabajo con organizaciones en la América Latina. En el año 2014, LLILAS Benson recibió una concesión de planificación (planning grant) de la Fundación Mellon que introdujo nuestros tres primeros archivos socios, todos basados en Centroamérica; el resultado fue Iniciativas Digitales Latinoamericanas (LADI). La concesión reciente nos permitirá continuar el trabajo de la concesión anterior, ya incluyendo nuevos socios no sólo en Colombia sino también en México y Brasil. Con los proyectos ya lanzados en México y Colombia, esperamos con mucho interés lanzar el trabajo en Brasil al comenzar el año 2019.


Itza A. Carbajal is the Latin American Metadata Librarian at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.

 

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.

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.”

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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.

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.

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

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

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

BY HANNAH ALPERT-ABRAMS

How can we process 80 million pages of historical documents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Access to Historical Memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagining Digital Futures

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

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

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

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

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

Support for the Economy Furniture Co. strike in Austin from Chicanos in Leavenworth, 1970.

Special Collections Bring Students to Digital Scholarship

An ambitious fall semester project in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies provided the opportunity for cross-campus collaborations that brought together the Harry Ransom Center and the Benson Latin American Collection.

The Department of American Studies Ph.D. candidate Amanda Gray’s course “Latina/o Representation in Media and Popular Culture” took students out of the classroom and into special collections to get a hands-on feel for archival research. The course took advantage of the “Mexico Modern: Art, Commerce, and Cultural Exchange, 1920-1945 exhibition” at the Ransom Center in late September before returning there on October 5th for an instructional session working with collection materials led by Andi Gustavson, Head of Instructional Services. Gustavson’s selected materials featured photographs of Mexican migrant workers from the 1960s, an anthology of early Mexican American literature, and items from the papers of acclaimed Dominican American author Julia Alvarez. However, it was Ernest Lehman’s collection on the film West Side Story that caught the eye of many students who were interested in how Puerto Ricans are represented, especially when many non-Puerto Rican actors played their roles, often in brown face.

Publicity materials for West Side Story. Box 102, folder 1. Ernest Lehman Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Publicity materials for West Side Story. Box 102, folder 1. Ernest Lehman Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

On October 10th, the class came to the Benson for another show and tell wherein I focused on archival materials relating to Latina reproductive health, the 1968-1972 Economy Furniture Company strike here in Austin, and the establishment of what has come to be known as the National Chicana Conference. Between the two archival visits, students saw a wide array of Latino representation, whether self-representation or dominant cultural representation, from the 1950s to the present day.

Program of the first Conferencia de Mujeres por la Raza. Box 1, folder 1. Lucy R. Moreno Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, General Libraries, the University of Texas at Austin
Program of the first Conferencia de Mujeres por la Raza. Box 1, folder 1. Lucy R. Moreno Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, General Libraries, the University of Texas at Austin

Under the guidance of Latin American Studies Digital Scholarship Coordinator Albert A. Palacios, the students incorporated the show and tell materials, along with their own research, into group digital projects using storytelling tools like StoryMapsJS and TimelineJS. The projects touched on a variety of issues, including class, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, sexuality, and other subjectivities. Scholarly Communications Librarian Colleen Lyon chipped in with a copyright crash course that taught students the best practices for posting academic findings online.

A card expressing support for the Economy Furniture Co. strike in Austin from Chicanos in Leavenworth, 1970. Box 3, folder 11. Economy Furniture Company Strike Collection, 1968-1972, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.
A card expressing support for the Economy Furniture Co. strike in Austin from Chicanos in Leavenworth, 1970. Box 3, folder 11. Economy Furniture Company Strike Collection, 1968-1972, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

The students showcased their digital projects at one of the PCL Learning Labs on December 15th to the delight of an audience that consisted of UTL and HRC staff as well as faculty from the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. As for the students, they exclaimed how much they preferred working with these tools in a group setting as opposed to writing a traditional final paper. To that end, Professor Gray’s innovative pedagogical approach represents the possibility for integrating the library into courses going forward and in the process, strengthening relationships across campus.

If you would like to view the final projects, click here.