The Latina History Project Goes Live!

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The digital exhibit component of the Southwestern University Latina History Project has been under construction since fall 2014 as contributors researched, identified, digitized, described, and contextualized primary sources pertaining to SU’s Latina histories.  Our site remains a work in progress, but we are happy to unveil it at this juncture!

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Click above to explore Items, Collection, and Exhibits related to the 1992 photography exhibit “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls,” which featured portraits by San Antonio photographer Mary Jessie Garza of influential Central Texas Latinas.  Congratulations to student workers Tori Vasquez, Nani Romero, and Stephanie Garcia for their hard (and ongoing!) work on this exhibit.  Special thanks to LHP faculty directors Dr. Brenda Sendejo and Alison Kafer for their support, and thanks also to Dr. Sendejo’s fall Anthropology students for their contributions to the site.

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“Discovering America” with the Latina History Project

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.”

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“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

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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.

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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:

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Cassette tape recording of the Conceptíon Lopez interview

Now it looks like this!

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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.

Off and Running with the Latina History Project

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One initiative I’m working on in my position as Postdoc in Digital Scholarship at Southwestern University is the Latina History Project (LHP).  Co-directed by Southwestern faculty members Dr. Brenda Sendejo (Anthropology) and Dr. Alison Kafer (Feminist Studies) the LHP aims to enhance undergraduate education about Latina history in the Central Texas region.  As part of my contribution to the project, I’m working with two stellar student workers and juniors at Southwestern, to explore and process archival materials pertaining to Southwestern’s own Latina histories.

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Box of folders… or TREASURE TROVE of Central Texas Latina history? Tori (left) and Nani (right) are on the case!

Dr. Mary Visser (Art) has graciously provided the LHP with a trove of primary source materials related to an important aspect of Southwestern’s own institutional history as it connects with Latina history.  During the early 1990s, Dr. Visser collaborated with Lupita Barrera Bryant to curate a photography exhibition at Southwestern.  “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls” featured photography by Mary Jessie Garza.

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Invitation to “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls: Photography by Mary Jessie Garza” at Southwestern in 1992. The exhibition invitation includes details in both Spanish and English. The cover photo is titled “Rosie Serna.”

According to the invitation pictured above, the exhibition includes images of “contemporary women of Mexican descent who have contributed to the emerging culture of Texas and the nation.”  The box of materials Dr. Visser provided includes separate information folders for each woman photographed for the exhibit, negatives of all of the portraits taken for the exhibit, and materials that Visser and Bryant researched to learn about potential subjects.  Tori and Nani and I have made some headway inventorying the materials, and thinking about how best to organize them into the protective mylar covers and acid-free boxes and folders that Dr. Visser gave us for purposes of preserving the materials.

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Proudly posing with acid-free boxes and folders.

During our first inventory session, we came across a host of interesting stuff.  We especially appreciated these gems:

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Gotta love early-nineties business casual!

In addition to exploring the materials from Dr. Visser, we also visited Southwestern’s own Special Collections to explore holdings pertaining to Latina/Latino history.  Kathryn Stallard, Director of Special Collections, gave us a helpful orientation in the Reading Room.

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Here’s Tori getting down to the business of archival analysis!

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So far, so fun!  I look forward to seeing where the Latina History Project takes us as we continue with archival processing and analysis tasks.