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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sunny June weather welcomed a lively group of 126 faculty, graduate students, and information professionals to the University of Texas Austin campus for HILT – Humanities Intensive Learning + Teaching. HILT is an annual week-long Digital Humanities (DH) training institute for researchers, students, early career scholars, and cultural heritage professionals. “HILT is awesome! It’s like nerdy summer camp for adults, and you actually learn things that are useful for your professional life,” one HILT participant in the course Introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) for Historical Documentsstates.
In its 5th edition, HILT 2017 offeredeight immersive Digital Humanities training courses on tools and methodologies including Scalar, Python, text analysis, Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), audio machine learning, and crowdsourcing. Courses were led by 11 expert guest instructors, hailing from institutions across the United States, such as University of Delaware, Emory University and the University of Southern California Libraries. Participants each enrolled in one course of their choice and dove in for four intensive days of learning. The PCL Learning Commons and the College of Liberal Arts’ Glickman Conference Center served as classroom space.
“I really like the format of an intensive class,” a participant in HILT’s Text Analysis course reported. “It is different than other conferences I’ve attended where you go to hour-long sessions and someone presents on a project they did. I also found the instructors and participants to be extremely knowledgeable.”
UT Libraries staff partnered with School of Information and Department of English faculty to plan the 2017 institute in collaboration with HILT Co-Directors, Trevor Muñoz and Jennifer Guiliano. Combined with the expert DH knowledge of the course instructors, the team successfully executed the largest HILT institute yet, and participants shared an enthusiastic response.
“HILT helped me learn real skills, make real connections, and plant seeds for a new path in research and teaching,” said one attendee. “It was the most valuable professional development work I’ve done since I filed my dissertation a decade ago, hands down.”
Daily coursework was balanced with additional learning opportunities. Day one of HILT was activated by a keynote address from UT Austin Provost Maurie McInnis. Provost McInnis shared insights on the importance of digital humanities work through her own research experience. Mid-week, HILT participants shared their research insights with each other through lively 5-minute Ignite Talks. To facilitate networking platforms for this diverse group of participants, UT Libraries staff organized evening dine arounds at favorite local restaurants, and the UT Libraries and the Dolph Briscoe Center hosted social receptions. Participants were also invited to engage in UT Austin’s Cultural Campus through organized activities, including sunset viewing of James Turrell’s The Color Inside: A Skyspace, and specialized tours at the Blanton Museum of Art, Harry Ransom Center, and LBJ Presidential Library.
UT Libraries was pleased to sponsor nine staff to attend HILT. Following the institute, a summer series, coordinated by the UT Libraries Digital Scholarship department, provided a venue for staff participants to share insightful overviews of what they learned in their courses.
One summer series session featured UT Libraries staff Beth Dodd, Christina Bleyer, and Susan Kung presenting on their Collaboration for Complex Research: Crowdsourcing in the Humanities HILT course experience. New insights will be applied to projects such as “Digitizing and Crowdsourcing the oversize Garcia Metadata” in the Benson Special Collections. Another session featured Dale Correa, who described TEI challenges with non-English, non-Roman languages as discussed in the Introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) for Historical Documents course. The well-attended summer series informed a broader understanding of DH techniques among Libraries staff, fueled momentum for HILT-inspired projects, and generated a desire for additional training.
Among all 2017 HILT participants, 98% say they will recommend HILT to a friend or colleague. With new and similar courses offered each year, many participants plan to return in 2018 and beyond. Next summer HILT will be hosted at the University of Pennsylvania from June 4-8, 2018. For updates on future learning opportunities, follow the HILT Twitter:@HILT_DH.
HILT Participants traveled across the continent to attend the institute. See a Carto map of participant locations here: HILT Participant Map.
More photos from HILT:
Article contributed by Jenifer Flaxbart and Hannah Packard.
This June, the Libraries will be ramping up efforts in the area of digital humanities by hosting an immersive, hands-on one-week institute for people interested in getting involved in the burgeoning field.
HILT — Humanities Intensive Learning + Teaching — took place previously at the University of Maryland and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and is this year heading to UT. The Libraries has played a key role in bringing this learning opportunity to campus and will host HILT classes and events in the recently renovated Learning Commons in the Perry-Castañeda Library.
Nine courses, taught by nationally-recognized experts, will introduce a national cohort of participants to a wide variety of digital humanities and digital scholarship tools, methodologies, approaches and considerations.
Following HILT, the university is hosting the “DH@UT” Pop-Up Institute, a series of planning sessions involving librarians, faculty, researchers and other members of the campus community who want to confer and consult with experts from HILT on specific ideas for digital humanities and digital scholarship projects.
The Pop-Up Institute — one of three in an initial foray sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research — will provide opportunities to develop grant proposals for support from sponsors such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and Institute of Museum and Library Services, and to develop an organized research unit proposal for an Institute for Digital Scholarship at the university.
Both HILT and the Pop-Up Institute will foster scholarship, interdisciplinary community-building and collaboration here on campus and across the spectrum of disciplines and institutions represented at HILT.
The Libraries currently supports digital humanities and digital scholarship with software and tools, and through consultations, workshops and course-related instruction. Staff are constantly expanding expertise in these areas to provide individualized, experience-based project and research support. HILT is an exciting opportunity that will enable many Libraries subject specialist liaison librarians to develop new skills, and the Pop-Up Institute offers new opportunity for Libraries staff to partner with faculty in foundational efforts to digitally evolve research, teaching and learning at UT Austin.
A full description of HILT 2017 courses is available on the registration site, and an inventory of digital humanities work being done at UT Austin is available on the web pages describing the Pop-Up Institute: https://sites.utexas.edu/utdh/
You may have heard the phrase digital humanities (DH), or broadly, digital scholarship (DS), and wondered, “What exactly does that mean?” The reality is that DH or DS means different things to different people.
Within the University of Texas Libraries, we think about digital scholarship as research and teaching that is enabled by digital technologies, or that takes advantage of these technologies to address questions in a new way. Dr. Tanya Clement, UT faculty member and leading scholar in the digital humanities arena, believes that DH work applies technology to humanities questions and also subjects technology to humanistic interrogation.
DH and DS are interconnected and yet not interchangeable. In her recent book, When We are No More, author Abby Smith Rumsey describes the DS landscape as involving and leveraging “use of digital evidence and method, digital authoring, digital publishing, digital curation and preservation, and digital use and reuse of scholarship” to discover new things. Her description creates capacity for interdisciplinary investigation and the application of DS tools and methodologies to disciplines beyond the humanities.
Development of a framework to support digital scholarship is one of UT Libraries four current strategic priorities. The reorganization that we’ve undertaken in the last year has established a digital scholarship department that brings together a small team of experts focused on scholarly communication and open access initiatives, research data services, digital project work — including education and partnerships — and innovative spaces and services associated with the Scholars Commons pilot project.
The digital scholarship team is building on and expanding the UT Libraries capacity to engage with and support DH and DS projects and pedagogy. Much of this work involves UT Libraries subject specialist liaison librarians, colleagues in UT Libraries Information Technology (IT) and Discovery and Access divisions, collections, graduate students, and faculty, both as researchers and as teachers.
LLILAS Benson is currently wrapping up its National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Office of digital humanities Reading the First Books project, a two-year collaborative effort to develop platforms for the automatic transcription of multilingual books published in 16th-century Mexico. A public symposium on May 30 will celebrate the project’s milestones, which include the developed transcription tool, the interface prototype, and data sets. The symposium will also bring together invited scholars, librarians, developers, and students for a day-long conversation on the themes of digital scholarship, colonial and early modern history, and Latin American studies.
LLILAS Benson digital scholarship Coordinator Albert Palacios works with a number of UT Libraries IT and Discovery and Access experts to complete project work of this nature. He also notes the essential involvement of staff like Hannah Alpert-Abrams — doctoral candidate in the UT Austin Program of Comparative Literature — and the project’s Graduate Research Assistant (GRA), Maria Victoria Fernandez — a graduate student in the LLILAS-School of Information dual degree program — who manage and execute the complex, detail-oriented tasks involved.
Other examples of recent project work include European Studies and Digital Scholarship Librarian Ian Goodale’s use of open source publishing platform Scalar to create an access portal for documents from the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library related to a period of political reform in Czechoslovakia known as the “Prague Spring.” Initiated through collaborations between the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (CREEES) Director Dr. Mary Neuburger and UT Libraries Assistant Director of Research Mary Rader, the resulting website recently went live making these locally held documents available to the world.
Ian realized their vision with the assistance of several GRAs, most recently School of Information graduate student Nicole Marino, and in consultation with and through support from UT Libraries Discovery and Access experts. Utilizing digital humanities tools and collaborative approaches to leveraging local expertise, the project creates context for important, unique primary source materials and shares them via UT Libraries open access repository, Texas ScholarWorks. Ian describes the Prague Spring Archive portal as an attractive, easy to navigate resource that will continue to grow over time. He collaborated with REEES faculty members Dr. Mary Neuburger and Dr. Vlad Beronja and students in their graduate course last semester to review and annotate additional materials for inclusion. This content and new features, in development, will expand its scope and elevate its impact.
The UT Libraries is also using Omeka, a flexible open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions, to feature collections of distinction. Digital Scholarship Librarian Allyssa Guzman and UT Libraries Ask a Librarian GRAs Ashley Morrison and Mitch Cota are working together to create an exhibition of South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction collection book covers. The items in this collection broadly represent different types and periods of pulp fiction in India. The book covers included highlight examples of texts that enable scholars to explore literary conventions, cultural themes, social anxieties and alternative uses of South Asian languages such as Telugu, Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam, and Tamil.
Katie Pierce Meyer, our Humanities Librarian for Architecture and Planning, launched a Digital Scholars in Practice lecture series last year. The series showcases scholars conducting research through digital technologies, conducting research on digital technologies, and critically examining digital technologies in practice. It also seeks to celebrate innovative scholarship and build a community of practice of Digital Scholars both on a local and national scale. The most recent lecture featured Dr. Kristine Stiphany, a practicing architect and scholar who holds a visiting postdoctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation at UT Austin. She spoke about her work using digital technologies to draw social parameters into the design and construction of infrastructure in Brazilian informal settlements.
UT Libraries has several other projects in the works, and once implemented, a reshaped digital project proposal process being created by a Digital Projects Cross-functional Team, will undoubtedly surface others of potential promise and impact. Meanwhile, the digital scholarship departmental team continues to build skills and relationships that will foster a collaborative, sustainable approach to digital project work and digital scholarship within and beyond the UT Libraries and UT Austin.