Using Digital Collections in the Theatre History Classroom


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:

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

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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!


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.”


“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


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.


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:


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


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)

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

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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.

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

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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.


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.


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!

Exploring Nigerian Market Literature Through Digital Archives


For a recent unit on Anglophone African literature in “English 316K: Survey of World Literature,” we explored the University of Kansas Libraries digital collection, “Onitsha Market Literature: From the Bookstalls of a Nigerian Market.”  This fantastic collection includes 21 digitized versions of once pulpy, now priceless pamphlets printed by enterprising Nigerian publishers on British presses discarded following World War II.  The pamphlets circulated among a popular readership at the Onitsha Market in Nigeria during the 1960s.  Onitsha, a port city and trade center on the Niger River in Igboland in southeastern Nigeria, has a history strongly determined by the British slave trade that operated in the region from the 16th through the 19th centuries, and by the British colonialism that followed.  The pamphlets in the digital collection are a legacy of this history in that they’re generally printed in the lingua franca of the region, a Nigerian pidgin that blends regional vernaculars with English.  The pamphlets thus represent the culturally-textured crossroads of British colonial influence and the laying down in print of a traditionally oral regional narrative tradition.

Together in class, we survey the content and striking cover art of a selection of pamphlets available in the digital collection, with an eye to how they reflect both Western and local influences.  Compare the visuals of these covers:

Onitsha Image 1


Onitsha Image 2

with the visuals of these covers:

Onitsha Image 3


Onitsha Image 4

The first two covers feature rubber-block-cut prints that connect them with the local Igbo folk-art tradition, while the second two covers feature images cribbed from Western cinema magazines, newspapers, or advertising.  Read comparatively, these visuals strongly indicate the geographic and historical context of Onitsha as a point of cultural confluence and international trade.

For useful history and background on Onitsha Market literature, see Kurt Thometz’s anthology Life Turns Man Up and Down: High Life, Useful Advice, and Mad English.

All images sourced from the University of Kansas Libraries digital collection, “Onitsha Market Literature: From the Bookstalls of a Nigerian Market.”

Guest Blogger Tu-Uyen Nguyen Reflects on Oral History Archiving Internship




Tu-Uyen Nguyen, TAVP intern extraordinaire, will graduate this spring with majors in Asian American Studies and Classics

Ten days after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Aryan Brotherhood member Mark Stroman attempted to kill three men he believed were terrorists: Vasudev Patel, Waqar Hasan, and Rais Bhuiyan. Only Bhuiyan survived to become a spokesperson against Islamophobia and the racial ignorance it represents. Ten years later when Stroman was issued the death penalty, Bhuiyan sued Texas Governor Rick Perry to stop Stroman’s execution. When Rais Bhuiyan survived Mark Stroman’s bullets, I was in in the fifth grade and without a clue that a decade later, I would be transcribing his interview with the Texas After Violence Project. When Stroman was executed, I was a junior at UT starting my Asian American Studies coursework as my third major. While I have only finished transcribing two of the eight hours of Bhuiyan’s interview, it has already taught me meaningful historical, educational, and personal lessons.

From Bhuiyan’s oral history interview, we learn a lot about Bhuiyan’s middle-class family experience in Bangladesh: his childhood memories of shaking mango trees during the rainy season to gather their fruit, and his coming of age in the nation’s top military school. Military school was foundational to Bhuiyan’s aspirations as a young man deciding his life path, just like the thousands of students at UT Austin are deciding their own future. Bhuiyan’s first dream to be a pilot in the Bangladeshi Air Force changed to a “dream to come to U.S. for higher education and to experience the American Dream and see the world.” Bhuiyan talks about what the American Dream is to him and how racial representation emblematizes the progress the U.S. has made:

“This is a free country where whatever you want to be, you can be… If you dream for it, you go for it, and you work hard, and you know, you achieve your goal. And you will lead a free life, you have the freedom of speech, you have the freedom of – expressing yourself. Whatever you want to be, you can be that. And our presence is an example of that. Who thought that within sixty years of segregation that there would be a black man in the White House, right?”

Bhuiyan’s remarks resonate with many of the narratives, images, and concepts of the American Dream I have encountered in my Asian American Studies coursework, pertaining to war, diaspora, labor migrations, and immigration exclusions and reform. Rais Bhuiyan is one individual whose perspective demonstrates how both Americans and people abroad understand the American Dream.

For me, as a student and future teacher, the implications of working with the Bhuiyan interview are both academic and personal. My Asian American Studies major provides me with a critical framework for exploring our shared experiences as Americans encountering race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ability, and other identity features that influence our individual and collective agency. As I continue to transcribe Bhuiyan’s interview with the Texas After Violence Project, I will be reflecting on the shooting incident that brought Bhuiyan as a Muslim American in contact with a white supremacist. I will be learning how Stroman learned about peace and acceptance from Bhuiyan’s advocacy against his execution. I will learn more about Bhuiyan’s personal philosophy against the death penalty and his perspective on our community as human individuals rather than simply criminals and victims. By learning about Bhuiyan’s experience and knowledge as it is represented in the TAVP archive, I am gaining a deeper understanding of the American dream, ways of remembering 9/11, and how to negotiate the death penalty as a Texan and an American.

Amplify Archives Event Showcases Community-Archives-Based Teaching and Learning


Last Friday, the Texas After Violence Project hosted a panel discussion about how the TAVP oral history archive, made digitally available through UT-Austin’s Human Rights Documentation Initiative, features in undergraduate teaching and learning at UT.  The event took place as part of Amplify Austin, an exciting annual fundraising event supporting non-profits across the city.  Participants convened at the Benson Latin America Collection, which is the physical home of the HRDI.

Rebecca Lorins, Acting Director of the TAVP and organizer of the Amplify Archives event, kicked off the discussion by welcoming the audience and providing some background on the purpose and operations of the TAVP, which aims to collect and archive oral histories that reflect how the death penalty affects communities throughout Texas.  Kathryn Darnall, Graduate Research Assistant, followed up Rebecca’s remarks with an explanation of the HRDI’s mission to digitally preserve the archives of social justice movements.  



Kathryn Darnall, Graduate Research Assistant at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative, addresses the Amplify Archives audience

Next, Naomi Paik, Professor of American Studies and Asian American Studies at UT, reflected on her experiences teaching “American Studies 370: Race, Memory, Violence” during Spring of 2012.


Dr. Paik reflects on her course “AMS 370: Race, Memory, and Violence”

Dr. Paik’s  course description reads as follows: “This interdisciplinary course examines how processes of racial formation and histories of racial violence shape knowledge production about the past in both historical narratives and in collective and individual memory.  We will consider how narratives of the past are produced—from the selection of facts, their assemblage into archives, and creation of historical stories from the archives, as well as in the living and recorded memories of witnesses to the past. ”

Dr. Paik described how the TAVP archives anchored a course unit on race and U.S. imprisonment regimes.  In consultation with Rebecca Lorins, she selected several TAVP oral history interviews representing multiple divergent perspectives on and experiences with the death penalty.  Working in small groups, students analyzed the archives in terms of how they interacted with prevailing histories and assumptions about capital punishment in the U.S.  Dr. Paik emphasized how powerful it is for UT students to engage with archives that are so closely tied to Texas state and regional history.

Following Dr. Paik’s remarks, I said a few words about my role as an intermediary between UT and the TAVP as an Austin community organization.


Charlotte Nunes discusses her role facilitating the BDP-TAVP internship experience

I have a long-standing relationship with Rebecca Lorins and the TAVP since I worked as a Graduate Assistant for the Bridging Disciplines Program (BDP), an interdisciplinary certificate program at UT.  Over the years, the TAVP has hosted several undergraduate interns from the BDP, and Rebecca was a fantastic resource and collaborator as I pursued a project to support BDP interns by creating workshops and other resources on effective internship practices and responsible community engagement.  When I took on co-Chairing responsibilities for the Human Rights and Archives Working Group in Fall 2013, Rebecca and I agreed that the time was right to mobilize a project that would offer BDP interns meaningful skill-building opportunities while substantively advancing the digital archiving mission of the TAVP.  We circulated this call for interns, and I personally recruited several BDP students I thought might appreciate the opportunity.

Our recruitment efforts yielded a team of five stellar interns, all of whom have demonstrated exemplary commitment to our semester-long digital archiving project.  Rebecca does the vast majority of the supervising work; however, we agree that my role serving as an intermediary between the TAVP and the BDP, and offering supervisory support to Rebecca (for example, I respond to blog posts, edit interns’ written work, and facilitate reading discussions on archival theory and practice), is part of what makes this such a functional university-community engagement project.   This intermediary-consultant model is very effective at facilitating undergraduate engagement with archival materials.  Looking to the future, I think that creating these types of consultant positions for graduate students could offer great professionalization opportunities.  (Hmm… possible category of grant funding??)

The panel concluded with inspiring contributions from the TAVP intern team.


TAVP interns share their experiences participating in the digital archiving process

Jordan Weber, Tu-Uyen Nguyen, Lillie Leone, Sharla Biefeld, and Jessica Rubio discussed how the internship is connecting with their undergraduate education.  Tu-Uyen shared how transcribing and archiving an interview with Rais Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi-American who survived a murder attempt, is enriching her Asian American Studies minor.  Lillie discussed how the hands-on, skill-building aspect of the internship complements and enhances what she’s learning in UT classrooms.  Several of the students talked about how the internship has illuminated the definition and potential of oral history as a category of knowledge production and transmission.  

A big thank you to all the panel participants and audience members for a fascinating discussion!



Texas After Violence Project Interns Learn Digital Archiving Software


Today, the Texas After Violence Project intern team had the opportunity to participate in a GLIFOS workshop with T-Kay Sangwand, Human Rights Archivist, and Kathryn Darnall, Graduate Research Assistant, both of the UT Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative.


From left to right: Tu-Uyen Nguyen, Charlotte Nunes, Jessica Rubio, T-Kay Sangwand, Sharla Biefeld, Jordan Weber, and Lillie Leone. Image credit: Kathryn Darnall

Since 2009, the Human Rights Documentation Initiative has partnered with the Texas After Violence Project to digitally archive the audiovisual oral history interviews collected by the TAVP.  The interviews, which document how the death penalty has influenced Texas communities, are freely available as a resource for public dialogue and scholarly research.  GLIFOS is the software used by the HRDI to sync interview transcripts with interview recordings.  This makes the interviews more accessible as research tools; they are searchable by content, so researchers can quickly find the themes and topics that most interest them within the oral history interviews.

TAVP Screenshot

A TAVP oral history interview with Donna Hogan, digitally archived at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative; note the synced transcript next to the video of the interview.

Each student intern is responsible for bringing one entire TAVP interview to completion, from transcription to HRDI archive and TAVP narrator page.  This way, Rebecca Lorins (TAVP Acting Director) and I hope that the students feel a stronger stake in the project, and we also like the idea that they’ll have a shareable “deliverable” to showcase on their resumes at the end of the semester.  Now that the interns have made such impressive progress transcribing, formatting, drafting abstracts, and creating tables of contents for the series of TAVP interviews they’re working on, they’re ready to begin the digital archiving process.  T-Kay assigned them usernames and passwords so that they can log in to the HRDI website and edit metadata in the TAVP portion of the site.

T-Kay and Kathryn offered a useful GLIFOS manual that has been in development since the beginning of the TAVP-HRDI collaboration in 2009.  After orienting the group to GLIFOS Social Media (GSM), T-Kay and Kathryn invited the students to begin the process of archiving their respective interviews.  Thus the “work” part of the workshop began!

Here’s a look behind the metadata scenes on the TAVP HRDI site:

TAVP Screenshot 2

The metadata page for a TAVP oral history interview with Ireland Beazley

Descriptive metadata fields include interview creators and contributors, languages, geographic foci, and intellectual property rights.  Once the interns filled out the metadata fields, they began the time-intensive process of syncing transcripts with video.  The interns did a great job engaging with the technical aspects of the workshop.  A big thank-you to T-Kay and Kathryn for sharing their expertise and providing the TAVP intern team with such a useful, hands-on digital skill-building opportunity!

Complicating Leonard Woolf’s Anti-Imperialism: the Anti-Slavery Reporter and Aborigines’ Friend


Although he’s more often remembered for his contributions to international relations, and of course for the fact that he was married to the legendary novelist Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf had an important literary career of his own.


Leonard Woolf (1880-1969)

Recently I assigned his short story “Pearls and Swine,” which appears in the 1921 collection Stories of the East, for a class discussion in “English 316K: Survey of World Literature.”


Stunning cover art by Dora Carrington; wood-cut print

In class, we talked about the short story in the context of Woolf’s political and advocacy activities following his return to England from a stint in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) from 1904-1911.  Woolf’s colonial fiction was inspired by his tenure as a colonial administrator, during which he observed the exploitation attending British economic policies aimed at “modernizing” the Ceylonese economy.  “Pearls and Swine” is based on Woolf’s experience superintending the pearl extraction industry at the Marichchukkaddi Fishery in 1906.  The story is notable for its multiple layers of narration.  It opens in the mahogany-paneled smoking room of a British club, where a character known as the Commissioner, thoroughly ambivalent about empire after his experience administering it, relates a visceral tale of the human suffering he witnessed while overseeing the pearl harvest on the north coast of Ceylon.  The unidentified narrator of the story listens silently and attentively to the Commissioner; he doesn’t speak out loud, but makes editorializing internal comments about the story and the other members of the Commissioner’s audience in the smoking room.  These characters include three men who, like the narrator and the Commissioner, remain without proper names over the course of the story.  The Colonel, the Clergyman, and the Stockjobber represent, respectively, British military, religious, and economic justifications for imperialism; collectively, they object to the anti-imperial edge of the Commissioner’s tale.

Woolf’s story takes an anti-imperial position in part by narrating pro-Empire characters in sheerly contemptuous terms.  For example, the narrator describes the Colonel as a “tubby little man” with “stupid red lips” and “kind choleric eyes bulging out on a life which he was quite content never for a moment to understand.”  Judging from his short story, it would seem that Woolf’s anti-imperialism was unequivocal.  Letters written to Woolf between 1915 and 1918 by E.W. Perera, Ceylonese lawyer and nationalist, seem to corroborate this interpretation of Woolf’s resistance to empire.  The letters, available in the Leonard Woolf Archive at the University of Sussex, indicate that Woolf participated in a media campaign Perera engineered in England to advocate civil and political rights in Ceylon.  Strikingly, the letters reveal that although Woolf’s name was in the byline of opinion pieces published in The Labour LeaderThe New Statesman, and The Manchester Guardian, Perera often dictated their content.


E.W. Perera (1875-1953)

In class, we discussed how the portrait of Woolf that emerges from Perera’s letters squares with the ethics and politics of Woolf’s fiction.  To further enrich (or more accurately, complicate!) the discussion, I introduced Woolf’s association with the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines’ Protection Society.  We examined the cover art of the first issue of the periodical of the Society, the Anti-Slavery Reporter and Aborigines’ Friend, which has been digitized as part of the British Periodicals Collection of ProQuest’s Periodicals Archive Online.

Anti-Slavery Reporter Cover

Students compared and contrasted the cover art of Stories of the East and the cover art of the periodical above.  The class considered the ethical relationship the visuals of the Anti-Slavery cover set up between colonized subjects of Empire and sympathetic Europeans, anti-slavery advocates and self-proclaimed “Aborigines’ Friends.”  Woolf’s experience in Ceylon inspired his earnest participation in Ceylonese and Indian campaigns for independence during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, but he was not immune from the orientalism (Edward Said’s term and a key concept in E316K) that so strongly inflected even the most progressive British attitudes of the day toward colonized populations.  Indeed, the April 1918 issue of the Anti-Slavery Reporter and Aborigines’ Friend includes a report that challenges assumptions that Woolf was strictly opposed to imperialism.  According to the report of an Anti-Slavery Society delegation to the Colonial Office, “Mr. Leonard Woolf referred to the importance of regaining the confidence of the people of Ceylon” (5).  This brief report of Woolf’s testimony is a reminder that in the context of late British imperialism, the progressivism of even the most politically active and articulate allies of colonial nationalists must be carefully examined for historically-specific nuance.  Is Woolf’s objection to economic exploitation and political repression in Ceylon the same thing as anti-imperialism?

Image 1: credit, Gisèle Freund/Photo Researchers; source,

Image 2 source: Smith College Libraries,

Image 3 source: National Archives of Sri Lanka,

Image 4 source: The Anti-Slavery Reporter and Aborigines’ Friend, 1:1 (1909)