“Discovering America” with the Latina History Project

Standard

Our most recent Latina History Project session began with a discussion about the theory and practice of oral history anchored in our reading of Dr. Brenda Sendejo‘s essay titled “Mother’s Legacy: Cultivating Chicana Consciousness During the War Years.” The essay appears in Beyond the Latino World War II Hero: The Social and Political Legacy of a Generation edited by Maggie Rivas-Rodríguez and Emilio Zamora.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 11.02.35 AM

In order to provide insights into evolving gender norms during the post-war period, Dr. Sendejo’s chapter examines the oral histories of three Mexican-American women who became mothers in the years following World War II.  Dr. Sendejo led us in a fantastic discussion about the important role that granular, individual narratives can play in illuminating broad cultural, historical, political, and social phenomena.

IMG_4752

Photo credit: Brenda Sendejo

Following our oral history discussion, we switched gears to spend some time identifying items for digitization in the collection of primary source materials that Professor Mary Visser has provided for us to explore and preserve.

IMG_4782

Evaluating an item for potential digitization. Photo credit: Brenda Sendejo

IMG_4777

The primary source materials include several sheets of photographic slides featuring portraits of Central Texas Latinas by Mary Jesse Garza. Photo credit: Brenda Sendejo

The materials on loan to us by Prof. Visser pertain to the planning of the exhibit “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls,” a collection of portraits of influential Central Texas Latinas with photography by Mary Jessie Garza.  Dr. Visser collaborated with Lupita Barrera Bryant to coordinate the exhibit in conjunction with the 1992 Brown Symposium at Southwestern University, titled “Discoveries of America.”  One item we’ve flagged for digitization provides useful insights into the context and motivation behind both the photography exhibit and the 1992 Brown Symposium at large:

IMG_0470

This untitled typed memo announcing the 1992 Brown Symposium provides evidence that the event was in direct response to the Columbian Quincentennial:

“Next year’s Brown Symposium will take place January 22-24 of 1992, roughly five hundred years since Columbus sailed the ocean blue… The symposium will be entitled DISCOVERIES OF AMERICA, and brings together scholars in a range of disciplines to discuss interconnected meanings of America, and of discovery… The symposium will thus feature six DISCOVERIES OF AMERICA achieved by Blacks, Women, Southwestern Explorers, the English, the Spanish [by way of Columbus], and Native Americans. “

This memo demonstrates that the “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls” exhibit was not only relevant to regional Central Texas Latina history, but also connected with a broad movement at Southwestern and nationally to take the 1992 Quincentennial as an opportunity to reflect on the implications of Columbus’s continuing legacy for ethnic and minority groups across the Americas.

Off and Tweeting with @English10714 Reading Responses!

Standard

Freedom and Imprisonment in American Literature

Students in English 10-714 are submitting reading responses each week via Twitter.  As the course instructor, I was very impressed with the first batch of tweets, in response to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.  Students made sharp observations and raised critical questions about gender, genre, and instances of Ellison’s specific language use.

One student identified key concepts that Ellison establishes in his novel: “There is a big emphasis on the difference between civilization and culture in the beginning parts of the novel.”  Another student noted a distinct lack of diversity in gender perspectives represented in the novel.  “Would “Invisible Man” pass the Bechdel test if it were a contemporary movie?”  Yet another student touched on the issue of genre by addressing the surrealist aspects of the text.  “Does the text’s surrealism underline the absurdity of racism, or does it dilute the impact by removing weight from the story?”

Excellent…

View original post 16 more words

“Listening for a Change”: Students Blog about Texas After Violence Project Oral Histories

Standard

This week in “English 10-714: Freedom and Imprisonment in the American Literary Tradition: A Multidisciplinary Approach,” several students posted on our class blog about the experience of listening to a Texas After Violence Project (TAVP) oral history interview.  The TAVP collects oral history interviews from people across Texas who have been affected by the death penalty in our state.  The audiovisual interviews are archived at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative.  The motto of the TAVP–“Listening For A Change”–indicates the TAVP’s goal of influencing public discourse about capital punishment in Texas by providing a forum for individuals to share their stories.

Screenshot 2015-02-06 12.04.50

Students selected one oral history to listen to this week, and completed this Close Listening Worksheet as they listened. Using the results of these worksheets to compose blog posts, students reflected on the interviews, raised important questions, and made insightful observations about how the interviews connect with course readings.  Since the TAVP interviews represent a range of positions on the death penalty, one student remarked,

“Dismissing people based on their stance on capital punishment is not objective. Although anyone can agree or disagree with her it is important to listen to anyone and everyone’s story in a way that allows for judgement to take the backseat.”

Screenshot 2015-02-06 12.19.29

Screenshot from TAVP interview with Iliana Lopez, archived at the HRDI

Another student, who listened to an interview with Iliana López (see screenshot above), noted that this interview reinforces the importance of oral history at large.

“I found Illiana’s lived experiences accurately mapped out why restorative justice can be a powerful alternative to the responses of traditional law enforcement and courts… Her experience demonstrates the need to listen and share oral narratives; the stories of people we may not otherwise listen to, or who we may only hear through the filter of a criminal justice system that is more set on dehumanizing punishment rather than restorative conversation.”

Yet another student concluded, “It is difficult to learn to bear witness to injustice without either finding justice in it or turning yourself off. But witnessing is without question important.”

This is a significant point to which I would like to return over the course of our class discussions this semester.  Why is it important that we bear witness to injustice by engaging with oral histories?  What do we do with our emotions when listening to troubling narratives?  What are some productive ways in which we can process and respond to the stories of injustice we’re encountering?

*All student bloggers in the class, including those cited above, completed this Social Media Privacy Agreement at the beginning of the semester.*

Presenting on Archives and Digital Humanities at the Coalition for Networked Information Fall Meeting

Standard

Last December I had the privilege of reporting on the Latina History Project at a panel titled “Archives and Digital Humanities” at the fall meeting of the Coalition for Networked Information in Washington, D.C. I really enjoyed hearing about the work of my fellow panelists, Mary Elings of the #HackFSM Project at UC Berkeley, and Jen Wolfe and Tom Keegan of the Archives Alive Project at the University of Iowa.  Hear our conversation in the video above.

Using Digital Collections in the Theatre History Classroom

Standard

I recently enjoyed visiting Dr. Sergio Costola‘s Theatre History class to talk to students about how they might incorporate digital archival collections in final projects for the class. Dr. Costola’s class centers on theatre and performance history around the anti-abolitionist riots that took place in New York City in 1834. I highlighted several digital collections I thought might be of use to the class, including:

The Harry Ransom Center Digital Collections

The New York Public Library Digital Collections

The Library of Congress Digital Collections

The Digital Public Library of America

Students shouted out keywords corresponding to topics they’ve addressed in the class, and it was a fascinating to see what popped up in basic keyword searches.   For example, here’s a screen shot of our search of the term “burlesque” in the NYPL Digital Collections:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 3.55.51 PM

Before we began searching, we opened the session with a discussion of Kostas Kiriakakis’ brilliant comic A Day at the Park

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 3.58.51 PM

This whimsical graphic take on questions versus answers allowed us to start a discussion about the inquiry-based nature of archival exploration. After discussing the features of the characters in the comic and what the dialogue between them might tell us about how to approach archival research tasks, students completed this Archival Research Glossary Exercise. The glossary pulls from the Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology. Once they finished the exercise, we discussed basic terms. For example, what’s the difference between a primary source and a secondary source? How do libraries and archives relate to each other? And what’s a finding aid? Covering basics like these ensures that students are on the same page and prepared to approach final projects using primary sources.

New Year, New Opportunities to Teach with Archives!

Standard

I’m looking forward to an exciting semester working with Southwestern University undergrads on projects involving a host of digital archives initiatives: the Digital Public Library of America, the Human Rights Documentation Initiative, and the Rule of Law Oral History Project, to name just a few.  The beginning of the semester is a good time to evaluate teaching resources that have worked well in the past and think about incorporating new ones.  Inspired by my colleague and fellow Council on Library and Information Resources Postdoc Monica Mercado’s (@monicalmercado) Twitter appeal this morning on behalf of her independent study undergrads–“does anyone have an article they like on *doing* archival research?”–I’ve collected here my go-to resources for facilitating undergraduate engagement with archives.  I developed these resources with the support of the Bridging Disciplines Programs at UT-Austin in 2013, when I was still a wee graduate student.  I’m happy to report that I still find them useful for getting everyone (students and faculty) on the same page about what archives are and how undergrads can orient themselves to the archival research task.

Without further ado:

Archival Research Glossary and Exercise. This glossary pulls from the Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology.  The accompanying exercise enables students to familiarize themselves with common concepts and terms they’ll encounter in physical and digital archives.

Archival Artifact Analysis Worksheet. This basic worksheet challenges students to make analytical observations about a selected archival object.  It also asks students to think about next steps for researching context, thus initiating the process of identifying secondary sources to contextualize primary sources.

Undergraduate Archival Research Considerations. This hand-out offers strategies and considerations for undergraduates new to the archival research task.

Archives and Interdisciplinary Education. This hand-out for faculty offers strategies and considerations for involving students in archives-based coursework.

Tax Preparation to Quinceaneras: Analyzing the 1990-91 Austin Hispanic Directory

Standard

As part of their work for the Latina History Project, student interns are inventorying a collection of primary source materials pertaining to Central Texas Latina history.  We’re also organizing the materials into protective mylar sleeves and acid-free folders for storage in acid-free boxes.

IMG_0344

Tori (left) and Nani (right) preserving the archival materials by putting them into protective mylar sleeves and acid-free folders

IMG_0352

Official archival file folders! They’re much heavier and stiffer than regular file folders.

In addition to preserving the materials, we’re identifying items for potential digitization, and spending time analyzing these items, as well.  Today Nani and Tori analyzed the 1990-1991 Austin Hispanic Directory: Community Resources and Features Annual, subtitled Bilingual Yellow Pages for Consumers and Tourists.

IMG_0361

Using this Archival Artifact Analysis Worksheet, the students analyzed the directory inside and out.

IMG_0355

Note the Mexican-inspired graphic art… And the ad for Southern Bell Telephone, which “proudly supports the educational achievement of the Hispanic community in Austin.”

IMG_0353

“The sleeves! I can’t get over the sleeves!” –Nani

Nani and Tori made several compelling observations about the artifact.  Noting an advertisement on the inside cover for bilingual phone referrals on everything from “tax preparation” to “party planning including quinceañeras” to “wrecker services,” Tori was struck by the ad’s opening line: “If you are seeking goods and services where Hispanics are welcomed… call us.”  Tori perceived that there may have been a subtext to this invitation–perhaps Hispanics were not always welcomed at all Austin businesses.

The students discussed that cover of the directory, which is an attractive bright blue, appeals to a wide Austin audience.  In addition to being “FREE!”, the directory is bilingual and targets both “consumers and tourists.” Nani pointed out that the various crests on the cover refer to Mexico, Spain, and the U.S.; to her, the fact that the crests are arranged prominently around the Texas Lone Star suggests the cohesion of these nationalities within Texas.  Tori and Nani agreed that this sense of multi-national cohesion and integration carries through the whole of the directory.  They discussed that as it features prominent members of the community involved in education, politics, banking, hospitality, and other professional milieus, the directory portrays the Austin Hispanic community of 1990-91 not as a marginalized population, but as a fully integrated, professionally accomplished, very central part of the Austin community at large.

Transcribing Central Texas Latin@ History

Standard

During today’s Latina History Project Session, student interns did important work to enhance access to Southwestern University’s Special Collections pertaining to Latina/Latino history in Central Texas.  They’re bringing their impressive Spanish language skills to bear transcribing a 1984 oral history interview with Conceptíon Lopez, who moved from Mexico to Georgetown in 1920, at which time he was one of only four Mexicans living in the town.  The interview was conducted by Laurie Rothhammer, who was an undergraduate history student at Southwestern.

IMG_0339

Nani (left) and Tori (right) transcribe an oral history interview in Special Collections.

The hour-long interview is in both Spanish and English.  Before its digitization, the interview looked like this:

IMG_0337

Cassette tape recording of the Conceptíon Lopez interview

Now it looks like this!

Screenshot 2014-12-05 10.34.03

Screenshot of the Conceptíon Lopez interview MP.3

Tori and Nani are working with the MP.3 version in order to minimize wear on the cassette tape.  By transcribing and translating the Spanish portions of the interview into English, they’re improving the accessibility of the oral history for researchers, hearing-impaired users, and non-Spanish-speaking users.

Before jumping into the transcription process, the three of us had a discussion about why transcription is so important when it comes to oral history.  Nani remarked that transcription is a form of preservation; if the original recording is lost, the transcript might provide a back-up of the contents.  Tori pointed out that transcriptions can aide researchers and expedite the research process, since transcripts are keyword-searchable while recordings are not.  Together, we reviewed the Baylor University Institute for Oral History Style Guide for tips on how to address the common challenges that arise in oral history transcription.  For example, how should a transcriber handle false starts, feedback words, and non-verbal sounds?  The Style Guide provides tips for maintaining the integrity of the narrator’s voice without necessarily generating a verbatim transcription.

Digitizing Texas Cultural Heritage: A Look Inside the Digitization Process

Standard

Southwestern University’s Smith Library Center Special Collections is in the midst of an ambitious digitization initiative with generous grant support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)

Screenshot 2014-12-03 15.02.46

and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC).

Screenshot 2014-12-03 15.01.08

The Digital Texas Heritage Resource Center will make items from Southwestern’s Texana collections digitally available to the public by connecting them with the University of North Texas Portal to Texas History, which is a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Hub.  (Read about the relationship between the Portal to Texas History and the DPLA here.)  We at Southwestern are very excited to connect Southwestern’s unique special collections with state and national networks that are significantly enhancing access to archives for students, scholars, and educators.

As part of the team working on the Digital Texas Heritage Resource Center, I’ve been working on transcription and metadata tasks for the Thomas Falconer Correspondence.  Falconer was a British lawyer turned explorer on the Texas frontier.  As a colleague of Falconer’s relayed in an 1841 letter, during a trip to Austin in that year Falconer was enticed to join “an exploring party of 300 armed men consisting of traders to the Mexican posts + other hardy adventurers… [T]he large scope for scientific observation proved an irresistible inducement to his joining in traversing the fierce wilderness hitherto scarcely pressed by the foot of civilized man.”  On the way to its destination of Santa Fe, the expedition was brought to a halt and its members taken prisoner by Mexican soldiers; Falconer describes the episode in his book “Narrative of an expedition across the great southwestern prairies, from Texas to Santa Fe; with an account of the disasters which befell the expedition from want of food and the attacks of hostile Indians; the final capture of the Texans and their sufferings on a march of two thousand miles as prisoners of war, and in the prisons and lazarettos of Mexico.”  Falconer’s writings provide insights into the border tensions that would culminate in the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-1848.

Below is one letter I’m trying to transcribe; can you read that script??  Tricky, isn’t it!  The letter, dated December 5, 1841, recounts a steamboat trip Falconer once took on the Mississippi River, from Louisville to New Orleans.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 3.09.39 PM

Zooming in: check out Falconer’s teeny-tiny drawing of the steamboat!

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 3.10.19 PM

In addition to improving access for researchers and students, transcribing the letters is useful for the process of collecting metadata, as it allows us to identify people, places, and historical events to include in the “Keywords” section of Adobe Bridge.

scnshtbridge

Above is a screenshot of Adobe Bridge, the program we use to manage the metadata for each digitization.  The digitizations appear on the right side of the screen; to the left are the metadata fields, covering categories such as Creator, Date Created, Description, Source, and Copyright Notice.

Below, Emily Russell, University of North Texas Capstone Student Extraordinaire, is pictured at the digitization station where all the magic happens.  Along with the rest of our team of interns and archivists, we take turns doing work at this station.  Emily is contributing her digitization and metadata expertise to the Digital Texas Heritage Resource Center as part of her graduate degree in Information Science.

IMG_0329

Emily Russell getting things done at the digitization station. To the right is the flatbed scanner used to digitize documents and photos; on the computer, we save multiple versions of each scan and enter metadata for each image into the Adobe program Bridge.

The Digital Texas Heritage Resource Center initiative is off to a great start.  Updates to follow as items become available at the Portal to Texas History!