Tag Archives: Data

Preserving Voices from the Past

Phone conversations of the past.

Just in the last month, the university has announced research achievements in areas as varied as digital neuroscopy, millennial socioeconomic demography, biofuel farming practices, new species discovery and engineering to improve physical therapy. It’s a testament to how much starts here that really does change the world that we are constantly moving on to the next discovery or innovation.

But the basis for these discoveries doesn’t just disappear into some massive warehouse never to be seen again. Especially in the age of digital preservation, even those materials that could easily have fallen victim to the ravages of time can now be reasonably saved for contemplation or further consideration at some point in the future.

Such is the case with a trove of audio recordings compiled by Communications professor Robert Hopper (1945-1998) documenting the most seemingly commonplace of activities — human conversation.

Over the span of decades, Hopper meticulously captured thousands of hours of person-to-person interactions, phone conversations and phone messages in an attempt to understand how we connect with each other in the most basic of ways.

Hopper’s research resulted in nine books, over sixty essays and numerous papers on the subject, but just as importantly, he left us with a sizable snapshot of how people shared space with each other during a particular era in which the telephone was a significant tool for conversation.

From voice to magnetic tape and now to a collection of ones and zeroes spread across time and distance, this information has been carefully preserved from its origination in the 20th century to today, and is available through the Libraries digital repository, Texas ScholarWorks, for anyone to access.

Established in 2008 as the University of Texas Digital Repository, Texas ScholarWorks 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.

Along with its recent renaming, the repository received a significant upgrade making it easier than ever to access, utilize and synthesize data and knowledge generated at UT for broadening our understanding of the world and of ourselves.

In such a way as to warrant a reconsideration of his work — made possible through endeavors like Texas ScholarWorks — Hopper presaged the increasing centrality of technology to the human experience in his 1992 book, Telephone Conversation:

“As citizens in the telephone age become increasingly summons-vulnerable, technical innovation transforms and constrains possibilities for speaking. In constructing summons and in answering them, we use resources already available in the speech community. But adaptation to this new medium alters communications patterns that are among our most priceless community resources. Ecological pollution may strike semiotic systems as well as air and water. We experiment on ourselves by using the telephone which may be the electronic medium that transforms its users the most thoroughly.”

The Libraries copy of Robert Hopper's "Telephone Conversation," inscribed by the author.

You Are Everywhere – The PCL Map Collection

PCL Map Collection

“Who does not have etched in the mind images of countries and of the world based on maps?”

– John Noble Wilford, The Mapmakers

It’s certainly the case that our perception of the world’s geography is rooted in our experience with the maps we’ve encountered, developed and designed over eons by both hand and machine. Even though we may have become increasingly reliant on disembodied voices to lead us where we need to go, the archetype for understanding the concept of location which we carry in our minds was instilled by the road guides of family vacations, massive retractable world maps of the elementary classroom and spinning globes of our past.

Equal parts art and science, maps are one of the most effective methods for conveying information visually in virtually any field of inquiry. In the miniaturization of space that is necessary to explain vast areas on a personal scale is a documentation of history and of change; of character and personality, value and values; of plant and animal; of health and illness, feast and famine; of motion and stasis; and of nearly any aspect of life and place that can be categorized for better understanding the world in which we live.

PCL Map Collection manager Katherine Strickland assists a patron
PCL Map Collection manager Katherine Strickland assists a patron.

And that, perhaps, is what makes the map collection at the Perry-Castañeda Library so incredibly valuable. Its scope in both size and subject is immense enough to maintain an intrinsic value — both as historical artifact and as a tool of modern research and reference — that goes unaffected by the passage of time.

Though the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection is considered a general collection, it’s anything but. Residing on the first floor of the university’s flagship library, it features more than 250,000 cartographic items representing all areas of the world. And its online component is not only one of the most highly visited websites at the university — garnering nearly 8 million visits annually — but is in the top ten most popular results for a Google search of “maps.”

The university began informally collecting maps previously — at the General Libraries, but also through efforts at the Geology Library, the Barker Texas History Center and the Benson Latin American Collection — but it wasn’t until the PCL opened in 1977 that the Map Collection was established on the first floor of the building as an independent collection.

The core of the collection emerged with the acquisition of the U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps, which date from the late 19th century and cover the entire United States, U.S. territories and other parts of the world where governments contracted U.S.G.S. for mapping, such as Saudi Arabia.

Topographic map of Singapore Island, 1941.
Topographic map of Singapore Island, 1941.

Since then, the collection has grown to feature military maps from various conflicts around the world, government nautical and aeronautical charts, topographic collections, city maps representing over 5,000 cities around the world, aerospace navigation charts, data and demographic maps, and just about every other conceivable type of physical cartography.

The collection also houses an extensive collection of atlases, from a street atlas of El Paso to the National Atlas of India. The library also purchases commercial and foreign government-issued topographic map series, country, city and thematic maps. The collection also includes a small but popular collection of plastic raised-relief maps and globes, not only of earth, but of the Moon, planets and other various celestial bodies.

Most of the maps in the collection date from 1900 to the present, and the collection is constantly being updated with newer materials, and complements a number of significant historical map collections housed on campus in the Center for American History (historical maps of Texas), the Benson Latin American Collection, the Harry Ransom Center and the Walter Geology Library.

Paul Rascoe — the Libraries’ Documents, Maps, & Electronic Info Services Librarian — has been the driving force behind the collection at PCL, especially in the formulation and execution of the collection’s online component. And it hasn’t hurt to have the planets align, at times.

“In 1994, we decided that we were going to scan maps,” says Rascoe. “We had a Macintosh computer and a Mac scanner, which I believe cost $100. We had a plan to put them in sort of a web menuing system called Gopher, but fortunately, simultaneously with our wanting to put maps online, the first web browser was introduced in that year.” Continue reading

Science Study Break and Deborah Hay exhibit kick-start the home stretch

HAL 9000
HAL gets the once-over from Dr. Risto Miikkulainen in 2010's first Science Study Break "Machines Gone Wild"

As always seems the case, the Libraries are ratcheting up the post-Spring Break calendar with a slew of events.

After a brief hiatus, this week sees the return of the wildly popular Science Study Breaks series hosted by the Life Science Library. I won’t bother going into the background of this pop culture meets science program, but you can read about it in our most recent issue of the Libraries Newsletter.

At any rate, this first SSB of 2010 features Computer Science and Neuroscience faculty Dr. Risto Miikkulainen discussing “Machines Gone Wild” using Mr. Data from TNG and HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey as foils for discussion. The program gets underway at 6:30pm, Wednesday, March 24 in Wheeler Lecture Hall (4.102) in Robert Lee Moore Hall.

Also later this week, an exhibit of photos featuring post-modern dance maven Deborah Hay gets an opening reception at the Fine Arts Library. Twenty images Continue reading