Humanidades Digitales en español: What I learned at the Segundo Encuentro de Humanidades Digitales

I’ve just returned from my first digital humanities conference, the Segundo Encuentro de Humanidades Digitales (2EHD) hosted by the RedHD (a group based in the Universidad Autónoma de México-UNAM) at the Biblioteca Vasconcelos in Mexico City. Biblioteca VasconcelosWhile I had attended some sessions at MLA and ASECS on digital humanities before, and participated in an MLA DHCommons workshop and a THATCamp ASECS, I still feel pretty new at DH (or HD in Spanish) stuff, plus I’ve really wanted to meet digital humanists who work in Spanish. This was a great conference for me, and I feel like I’ve come away with a better understanding of some of the DH/HD work going on in Latin America and Spain, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to meet some great people doing very interesting work. In this post I want to share some of the sessions and information that I found interesting and pertinent to my own work. I have to confess I didn’t go to all the sessions. The conference went all day from 9-6 for three days, plus two days of pre-conference workshops. But I also had never visited Mexico City before, and experiencing all the historic sites, and museums that I’ve read about—even taught to my students—but never experienced, was also important to me not only personally, but also professionally. So, all the great information I’m about to share is only a fraction of what went on at this conference, and what I present is really from my point of view, as a professor of Spanish from a small public undergraduate liberal arts institution in the United States who is still discovering DH. Still, I think it might be of interest to others who, like myself, would like to know more about Humanidades Digitales.

Some of the sessions dealt with libraries, digital collections, and digital archives. I heard a presentation from Alberto Martínez of the Biblioteca Daniel Cosío Villegas at the Colegio de México in Mexico City, detailing plans for their Proyecto Biblioteca Siglo XXI, in which they are working towards something very similar to our own Convergence Center at Mary Washington, seeking similar connections between libraries, technology, research, and teaching. I also heard about digitalization initiatives by the Mexican Institución Nacional de Antropología e Historia, and the Fondo Antiguo of the BIblioteca Central of the UNAM. Beth Plale of Hathitrust gave one of the keynote talks on her work at the Hathitrust Research Center, explaining some of the tools and resources available to researchers (both from member institutions, and non-member institutions) and demonstrated a few examples of what could be done. Her main point is that the idea of massive scale being the future of DH research was already a reality with their collection of 11 million volumes. However, she also cautioned that because of the problems of copyright, two thirds of that 11 million are not available in full text to the users. So they have developed tools that will allow researchers to collect large quantities of data from all the volumes of the Hathitrust collection, returning only the data requested but not the full text, which they believe to fall under “fair use”. Some in the audience questioned the validity of such limited views, similar to the “snippet view” in Googlebooks. Others questioned errors in the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of the texts. Clearly Hathitrust is making some progress in this idea of massive scale, but we’re not there yet either technically or legally. This connected to some of the more theoretical questions of the conference. For example, Glenn Worthey, a digital humanities librarian at Stanford University, argued that DH research focused on the text is rooted in Russian formalism, now possible on a much larger scale than, for example, Vladimir Propp could detail almost a hundred years ago in his Morphology of the Folk Tale.

There were some interesting projects and new applications presented. RedHD has developed a questionnaire that will help guide students and researchers as they evaluate their digital projects to make sure they are following best practices, following MLA guidelines, something I could really benefit from with my digital humanities work with my own students (and the topic of my poster presentation of my undergraduate research project “Women and Charity in Spain”). 20140523_104544

Rocío Romero and Alberto Rodríguez of the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Azcapotzalco(UAM-A) presented their website on the essay “Del ensayo y su escritura”, which presents students with important characteristics of the essay, the works of major Mexican essayists, and a space for them to present their own essays (similar to an approach that I take in my Escritura Avanzada course).

I learned about some important digital humanities centers and digital initiatives in Spain, Latin America and the US. In Spain, Nuria Rodríguez Ortega, an art historian at the University of Málaga spoke about her university’s ArtHis_Lab and their multiple digital initiatives to promote art and digital culture in the Spanish speaking world. Esteban Romero-Frías, a sociologist at the University of Granada, spoke about numerous projects that his group GrinUGR has begun, promoting digital studies and digital pedagogy in Spain. Like ArtHis_Lab, this group is very interested in the idea of “public digital humanities” and Dr. Romero pointed to several initiatives directed beyond the academy.  Elena González-Blanco García of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED) shared her group LiNHD (Laboratorio de Innovación en Humanidades Digitales) and a new certificate program (taught on line) they’re offering a summer course this June digital humanities in Spanish for students, researchers, professionals, and anyone else interested, with more planned for the future. In Mexico, there are several groups working along similar lines. RedHD, the hosts of the conference, sponsors a Seminario HD, which seems a bit similar to some of the ideas emerging from Mary Washington’s own Digital Scholars Institute. Iván Martínez, of the UNAM and also representative of Wikipedia Mexico and president of the board of directors of the Wikimedia Mexico Foundation, spoke of efforts to add more content about Mexico to Wikipedia, and of guidelines to help contribute to the project. Mexico will be hosting Wikimania 2015 at the Vasconcelos! The Department of Philosophy at the UNAM has begun to look into the relationship of philosophy and technology in their project Seminario Tecnologías Filosóficas. Alex Gil, of Columbia University, and Barbara Bordalejo of the University of Saskatchewan, spoke of their work with Go-DH (Global Outlook::Digital Humanities) and efforts to network and create working groups for digital humanists all over the world, with special emphasis in countries not often represented in current anglo-centric DH centers.

Which brings me to my final take-away, and really why I wanted to come to this particular conference—that is the presence of digital humanities in Spanish. One glaring problem with initiatives like Hathitrust, that Beth Plale didn’t really address in her talk, is the under-representation of Spanish. According to Plale’s statistics she shared, of the 11 million volumes that form their collection, only about 300,000 are in Spanish—that’s less than 3%! And Hathitrust is not the only place where Spanish is under-represented. DH is thus far an anglo-centric field. Elika Ortega (University of Western Ontario) and Esteban Romero-Frías highlighted in their presentations problems with surveys like Centernet whose map of digital humanities centers focuses heavily on English-speaking and European countries, and doesn’t represent as well DH/HD activity in Spanish speaking countries. MapaHD and Atlas de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades Digitales are two projects that have tried to map digital humanities in Spanish. MapaHD, through a questionnaire distributed through social media and various email lists, collected information from 80 self-declared digital humanists in Spanish and Portuguese, and found that the largest group of them were located in Spain (24), followed by Mexico (14), Portugal in third place (13), United States fourth (7), and United Kingdom (5) and Argentina (5) tied for 5th place. The majority of respondents identified their research as related to literary studies, followed by history, information science, linguistics, visual arts, and philosophy, although there was much overlap between these fields. They are creating digital editions, doing digitalization of texts and images, and creating databases among other activities.

I definitely left this conference with a sense that there is a lot going on in DH/HD in Spain and Latin America, and I hope to see more Hispanists in the US and the UK learning from them and collaborating with them, as I hope to do. I also am more convinced than ever of the importance for those of us teaching students of Spanish language, literature, and culture to include digital humanities and digital studies in our curriculum, because cultura digital is part of the many culturas that speak Spanish, and is an undeniable and ever-increasing part of all of our present and future.

Digital Scholars Institute at Mary Washington

I’m blogging this time in English after a few months of Spanish-only, to share with my non-Spanish-speaking colleagues some of my work and ideas about digital scholarship as I practice it. This semester I’ve been participating in Mary Washington’s Digital Scholars Institute a group of faculty interested in digital issues related to pedagogy, research, and scholarship. We’ve met every other week since the end of February in two cohorts to share our work and discuss pertinent issues. This project has been a natural next step for a campus that has been active in these issues for years with help and leadership from the great staff at the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies and the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation. They have given the faculty and students at Mary Washington the opportunities, training, and tools we have needed to jump in to digital work, especially through initiatives like Faculty Academy,  UMWBlogsUMWDomains, and OpenVA.  As a result of those years of cultivating, coddling, preaching, and even sometimes prodding, there is a sizeable group of faculty here that is doing VERY COOL stuff! What has most impressed me in my own cohort–Andréa Livi Smith (Historic Preservation), Shawn Humphrey (Economics), Jack Bales (Simpson Library), Steve Gallik (Biology), Mary Kayler (CTEI), Jim Groom (DTLT), and me, Betsy Lewis (Modern Languages and Literatures)–has been the creativity with which each person has approached his/her discipline and then how that work has directly benefited students, even when not expressly (or exclusively) “pedagogical”. Check out to see their work, and the work of the other 5 faculty participating in another cohort.

So on Thursday April 24th it’s my turn to present my work. Some of what I’m going to outline below, I’ve narrated elsewhere before, so I’ll link to those places and you can read or skip as you wish. I’d like to focus on a digital project I’m finishing right now, sharing some of the frustrations, questions, and doubts I’ve had throughout, and end with some future projects I hope to start soon.

First of all, I don’t consider myself an accomplished “digital scholar”. It’s something I’ve been pursuing (more like playing with!) for years, and if you’re interested I’ve already reflected a bit about my trajectory thus far (“Domain of One’s Own Faculty Initiative”). I say play, because that’s what the digital has added to both my teaching and my research: active engagement of new skills, creativity, along with a sense of joy and wonder.

I have numerous colleagues here at Mary Washington to thank for everything I’ve learned and accomplished professionally in digital pedagogy and digital scholarship. They have helped me see my work as part of an intellectual and global community.

First, UMWBlogs inspired me to use technology in my classes. Through digital applications and blogging, Spanish 413 (Advanced Writing) evolved from a grammar and writing course (a snooze-fest for me and the students!) to be about writing and creativity through the composition of a large digital project. In Spanish 375 I took a nineteenth-century novel course (again, hard to get the students enthused), and made it about film adaptation of novels in which students story-boarded and eventually produced their own video adaptation. In both I saw the digital medium as a way to engage students in exciting, creative and more real ways, turning boring and dry courses to something much more interactive and rewarding for all involved. I then decided to go a step further by involving students in my research. As part of that, in 2011 I decided to try for a Digital Humanities start-up grant from the NEH . I was denied the grant, but still took two groups of students to Madrid to do research at the Biblioteca Nacional, and created a digital exhibition with them (more about that in a minute).

When UMWDomains came along, I tried to be a little more intentional about my  web presence apart from my courses, through bringing my work together on my own domain, I started keeping a personal blog more regularly, where I write about my research, my teaching, and some issues that I see in the academy, which has included among other topics diversity, disability studies, language study, and the future of the book . Sometimes blogging feels a little disconnected–is anybody actually reading this?? But it has been a useful tool for me to work out some of my ideas and to reflect, if nothing else.

The bulk of my digital scholarship recently has been through the creation of a digital exhibition on the evolution of women’s charity in Spain. I’ve reflected (in Spanish) in my blog on the experience of working with students on such a project (“Haciendo humanidades digitales con mis alumnos”).  I’ve also presented some preliminary results of our work at several conferences: at the Asociación Internacional de Literatura y Cultura Femenina Hispánica XXIII Congreso Annual held at Pomona College in October 2013 (“Concepción Arenal’s La Voz de la Caridad Through the Lens of a Database“), a poster presentation with my students at the OpenVA conference also in October of 2013, and next month I’ll be presenting the whole site as a poster/demo at the Segundo Encuentro de Humanidades Digitales in Mexico City.

This work with my students has been amazingly rewarding, and lots of fun, and I think it has been a great experience for the three groups of freshman and sophomores who worked with me. But is it scholarship? It’s certainly not what I had envisioned when I proposed the project to the NEH three years ago. Lack of time, money, and resources have all limited what I could actually accomplish without the grant. Another issue I’ve had has to do with permissions from libraries and archives to display the material I’ve collected from them. Due to the permissions that I needed (still need), I haven’t made the site publicly available. Even though everything I display is OLD and in the public domain, the National Library in Madrid requires that I pay 25 euros per image to display them (that is up from 7 euros last fall, when I wasn’t quite ready to apply for permission!). Wasn’t the web supposed to be free and open? I suppose I can’t begrudge a library that has given me and my students open access to their collections the funds they need to keep their own work going, but it has made things difficult, if not downright expensive.

Despite these frustrations, I’ve learned TONS through this process over the last three years: about digital applications, issues of digital humanities, and about researching with students.Which leads me to my next steps. I’m offering a first-year seminar Digital Don Quijote, in which the students and I will use Cervantes’ great novel as way to approach some of the issues of digital humanities and digital studies that I’ve mentioned, and others that I haven’t (See my post “Quixotic” that I wrote last summer as I prepared to make the proposal for the FSEM).  It was originally planned for this spring (2014), but no one enrolled (another topic for discussion) so I’ll be trying it again for Fall 2014, with the senior seminar in Spanish planned for spring 2015, the 400th anniversary of the publication of the second volume of the novel. I’m trying to get together a bike tour of the Ruta del Quijote for spring break, something like this video below. Andy Rush has already got me psyched about mounting cameras to our helmets to document our experience to share with the world! Oh, and I’ll be department chair too. ¡Qué loca soy!

La investigación digital cruza fronteras con la Sociedad Ibero-Americana para Estudios del Siglo XVIII.

Recientemente fui a la reunión anual de la Sociedad Americana para Estudios del Siglo Diecicho (ASECS), que ocurrió en Williambsburg (Virginia) el 19 al 22 de marzo de 2014. Me encanta los congresos de ASECS, principalmente porque allí también se reunen mis colegas de la Sociedad Ibero-Americana para Estudios del Siglo Dieciocho (IASECS), un grupo de profesores en varias instituciones estadounidenses,  pequeño (de unos 30 miembros) pero muy activo. Somos dieciochistas especialistas en la literatura, la historia, el arte, y la música de España y Latinoamérica.  Organizamos 4 o 5 sesiones durante ASECS cada año, y durante los dós últimos años hemos organizado una mesa redonda internacional por medio de video-conferencia en la que hemos podido conversar con nuestros colegas en España y Latinoamérica sobre asuntos relacionados a las humanidades digitales. En esta entrada quiero resumir las dos sesiones (la de 2013 y de 2014) y luego dar algunas posibles direcciones futuras.

Organicé el primer panel en 2013 para la reunion de ASECS en Cleveland, con la idea de compartir algunas actividades y proyectos digitales ocurriendo en EEUU y España, y buscar nuevas maneras de colaboración, a pesar de la reciente crisis económica. El primer panel se tituló “Enriching Ibero-American Eighteenth-Century Studies in Times of Austerity.” Participaron Jesús Astigarraga (Universidad de Zaragoza) , Helena Establier Pérez (Universidad de Alicante), Kevin Sedeño (University of Kentucky), Karen Stolley (Emory University) and yo. Rebecca Haidt de Ohio State University dirigió la discusión. Mientras los participantes estadounidenses apuntaron unas cuestiones interesantes para nuestro campo del siglo XVIII, (aquí tenéis mi contribución), fueron nuestros colegas internacionales los que veradaderamente dieron vida a la conversación. Jesús habló de su participación en un proyecto digital internacional, coordinado por la European University Institute y la Universidad de Paris-8, que va a ser un diccionario internacional de traductores del siglo dieciocho. Helena editó el portal sobre la dramaturga dieciochesca María Rosa Gálvez en la Biblioteca Cervantes Virtual. Kevin, un estudiante colombiano en el programa doctoral de Kentucky, habló de los recursos digitales en la Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia. Creo que parte del éxito de la sesión fue que pudimos hablar con distintas voces que probablemente nunca podrían participar en persona de otra manera, por cuestiones económicas. Pero además, fue bonito conocer a nuestros colegas internacionales en sus oficinas, o incluso en sus casas— lo cual creó un ambiente más amigable y relajado.

Este espíritu de amistad y cooperación contiuó el segundo año con el panel “Estado de la cuestión: el mundo digital y la enseñanza en un clima de escacez financier, “ esta vez organizada y dirigida por Renee Gutiérrez de Longwood University. Nos enfocamos más en Latinoamérica este año, con la participación de José Antonio Amaya y Camilo Andrés Páez Jaramillo (más el resto de su equipo investigador) de la Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia, y de Janeth Vargas Castillo de la Biblioteca Nacional del Perú. También invitamos a Laura Mandell, de Texas A & M University—profesora de literature inglesa, directora de la Intiative for Digital Humanities, Media and Culture de su universidad y directora de Eighteenth-Century Connect, un portal de investigación digital sobre el siglo XVIII. Puesto que Laura no hablaba español, ni tampoco los participante en Colombia y Perú hablaban inglés, Renee consiguió a dos alumnos graduados del programa de interpretación de Wake Forest University para proveer traducción simultánea. ¡Fue otra sesión fabulosa! Los colegas José Antonio y Camilo Andrés de Colombia hablaron de un archivo digital de la coleccion de José Celestino Mutis a punto de publicarse. Janeth nos demostró los recursos en la Biblioteca Virtual de la Biblioteca Nacional de Perú, mientras que Laura nos mostró el proyecto de Texas A&M, The Cervantes Project, un temprano proyecto de humanidades digitales que estableció en parte la dirección para futuros proyectos semejantes, pero que también ha sufrido de unos cambios en la tecnología con los años. Laura usó este ejemplo para animarnos a usar TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) en nuestras ediciones digitales para evitar tales consecuencias.

El éxito de los dos paneles ha sido tanto que queremos seguir con ellos en futuros congresos. En 2015 la reunion de ASECS será en Los Angeles. Queremos organizar otra sesión “a lo digital”, pero esta vez dejando atrás las ideas de “austeridad” o “escasez” para, en cambio, abrazar toda la riqueza del medio digital. Voy a estar en el Segundo Encuentro Humanistas Digitales en México este mayo, presentando un poster sobre un pequeño proyecto digital mío. Espero conocer a otros dieciochistas en la reunión y explorer la posibilidad de nuevas colaboraciones con nuestro pequeño pero muy entusiasta grupo de IASECS.

Pelucas 1

Las famosas pelucas de IASECS

Pelucas 2

Así vamos a las reuniones oficiales de IASECS– pelucas decoradas según el lugar del congreso.


Haciendo “humanidades digitales” con mis alumnos

Ésta es la historia de mi trabajo con mis alumnos en un proyecto digital, y lo que he aprendido de mi experiencia. Claro que trabajar con alumnos apenas comenzando en su desarrollo intelectual y todavía formándose en cuanto a sus habilidades de investigación y de comunicación, tiene sus desafíos. Pero también hay muchos beneficios no solo para ellos, sino también para mí.


Desde la primavera de 2011 he llevado a cabo un proyecto de investigación con tres grupos de alumnos sub-graduados de la Universidad de Mary Washington, una institución pública de artes liberales en el estado de Virginia (Estados Unidos).  Los miembros de mis tres “equipos de investigación” eran jóvenes en sus primeros dos años de estudios universitarios, todos (con una excepción) especializados en lengua y literatura españolas y todos con un nivel lingüístico en el español de intermedio (pero aproximándose al nivel avanzado). Sus profesores los habían identificado como talentosos y trabajadores.  Mi universidad ha tenido desde hace algunos años un curso designado para “undergraduate research” con la idea de involucrar a los alumnos en los proyectos de investigación de un profesor. Yo quise incluirlos en mi trabajo sobre la caridad y las mujeres, eventualmente creando con ellos una exhibición digital sobre el tema, construida a base de la plataforma WordPress.  La exhibición, que estrenaremos para mayo de 2014, traza la evolución de la caridad femenina en España, ejemplificada en textos facsímiles, imágenes, video, y dos bases de datos compilados por los alumnos.


El proyecto

La colección digital presenta textos e imágenes de autores y artistas tales como Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, Francisco Goya, María Rosa Gálvez y María Cepeda de la época ilustrada; Concepción Arenal y su revista La Voz de la Caridad, y la publicación La Ilustración Española Americana del siglo XIX;  y de las primeras décadas del siglo XX la republicana Victoria Kent, la publicación de la Asociación Nacional de las Mujeres Españolas Mundo femenino, y las publicaciones de la Sección Femenina de la Falange Y  y Medina. Todos, tanto los progresistas como los reaccionarios, evocan la caridad femenina en busca de roles sociales y políticos activos para la mujer, los cuales servían para avanzar su visión de una España mejor.  Enlaces al catálogo de una exhibición no-digital Cien años en femenino (2012), y a un documental de RTVE Paisajes de la Historia (2006) sobre la Sección Femenina, proveen una perspectiva moderna.

El trabajo técnico

Tenemos textos digitalizados coleccionados de Google Books e insertados en nuestro sitio, al igual que textos que escaneamos y subimos a Google Docs para poder insertar en WordPress también. Las imágenes que usamos vienen de varias colecciones digitales públicas, y conseguir los permisos necesarios para estos objetos ha sido uno de nuestros retos principales. Las bases de datos sobre dos revistas—La Voz de la Caridad y Medina—son creaciones originales de los alumnos. Ninguna de las publicaciones está digitalizada, ni existen índices de los contenidos, así que nuestras colecciones (interrogables por autor, género, etiquetas, palabras claves, y fecha de publicación) proveen acceso a información detallada sobre los contenidos de estas dos revistas importantes. Tanto para los objetos digitales como para las bases de datos, hemos identificado metadatos adoptados de Dublin Core. Todos los elementos de la exhibición van acompañados de breves ensayos introductorios escritos por los alumnos, explicando el contexto histórico y su importancia al tema de la caridad.


Algunos problemas

Tuvimos que confrontar varias dificultades en nuestro trabajo. Algunos problemas tenían que ver con la falta de experiencia de los alumnos. Necesitaban instrucción en todo: no sabían mucho sobre las épocas y los autores/artistas estudiados, no conocían los recursos bibliográficos, ni tampoco estaban familiares con el uso de WordPress. Hubo problemas técnicos con la colección de la información, la creación de las bases de datos y su presentación en WordPress.  El tercer problema fue que los alumnos jóvenes de este nivel no se quedan mucho tiempo, y tuvimos que volver a empezar con un nuevo grupo cada dos semestres. Sin embargo, para todos estos desafíos, hubo soluciones. Usé el mismo proyecto y sitio web para instruir a los alumnos. Les asigné temas para investigar, textos que leer, y bibliografía que buscar con el propósito de crear un informe al estilo enciclopédico para nuestro sitio. Estos informes escribieron como entradas—blog posts—en WordPress, así aprendiendo a usar esta plataforma. Mientras íbamos creando más y más contenido, había cada vez más contenido para instruir a nuevos grupos de alumnos. La solución a los problemas con la compilación de las bases de datos, y luego con su despliegue en WordPress, fue un proceso de aprendizaje para todos—de “ensayo y error”–que hicimos como grupo con la guía de nuestra oficina de tecnología, DTLT. La inestabilidad del trabajo con alumnos jóvenes desafortunadamente no tiene solución, y requiere la selección de proyectos bien definidos y tareas fijas, en las que razonablemente pueden participar durante el corto tiempo que tienen.


Muchos beneficios

A pesar de estas dificultades, trabajar con mis alumnos en este proyecto me ha apuntado una nueva dimensión a mi trabajo. Me sorprendió que estudiantes tan jóvenes pudieran no solo entender el contenido del proyecto (que incluía unos textos y contextos viejos y desconocidos para ellos), sino que tuvieran la capacidad de contribuir positivamente a mi trabajo. Sin ellos, habría sido imposible coleccionar toda la información que tenemos en el sitio, especialmente en las bases de datos. Sus opiniones sobre el contenido y diseño del sitio eras muy valiosas, muchas veces precisamente porque no sabían mucho sobre el tema. Por ejemplo, me di cuenta en un momento que no había contextualizado la información sobre la Sección Femenina de la Falange bien, cuando algunos alumnos las llamaban “feministas,” lo cual me hizo pensar en la relación que tiene este grupo con el feminismo, y me apuntó donde necesito aclarar la información que presentamos en el sitio. Más que nada, interactuar con mis alumnos de esta manera más “íntima”—como guía, sí, pero también como otro compañero que trabaja con ellos, no solo que les hace trabajar—ha sido muy alentador.

Women and Charity


Un dominio propio

Todos tenemos una identidad digital, lo queramos o no. Las revelaciones escandalosas recientes de Edward Snowden nos confirmaron que desde nuestras comunicaciones diarias, hasta nuestras transacciones financieras, nosotros y nuestros metadatos son todos identificables, y que muchas entidades—desde las agencias gubernamentales como la NSA, las compañías privadas como Facebook o Google, y “hackers” de todo el mundo—están coleccionando toneladas de información sobre nosotros. Pero no tiene que ser una organización sofisticada que nos descubra información confidencial (o por lo menos vergonzosa).  Un ex novio, un futuro empleador, o incluso tu madre pueden encontrar mucha información tuya, haciendo una simple búsqueda Google.  Si no lo has hecho antes, debes buscar tu nombre en Google. Lo que salga representa tu identidad digital para el mundo.

Por eso, la Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT) de la Universidad de Mary ha creado el programa “Domain of One’s Own” (Un Dominio Propio). Bajo este programa los alumnos y profesores de la universidad pueden conseguir (gratis) un dominio web donde puedan desarrollar su presencia electrónica y comenzar a controlar su identidad en la red. El “programa piloto” comenzó en 2013, con un grupo pequeño de estudiantes y profesores, y se ha extendido este año a todos los alumnos en su primer año de estudios y a más profesores, con la intención de seguir extendiendo acceso al programa a todos los miembros de la universidad.  Los dominios han sido sitios de exploración personal o creativa, lugares donde se puede mantener un portafolio de su trabajo y su curriculum actualizado, y espacios que les ayudan a los participantes a tener una presencia profesional y positiva en la red electrónica mundial. Un alumno que ha participado en el programa piloto ha hablado de la importancia de tener su propio sitio web para la formación de su identidad digital: “One of the most important things I have done is creating my own website, my own space where I can form a digital identity by putting whatever I want in it, whenever I want, and however I want.”

Mary Washington no es la única ni la primera universidad que les está proveyendo este servicio a sus estudiantes, ni tampoco es “A Domain of One’s Own” su primer intento a animar a los miembros de la comunidad universitaria a crear su propio contenido electrónico. Hace más de 5 años comenzaron el programa de UMWblogs que les ofrece a los profesores y alumnos la posibilidad de crear una gran variedad de proyectos a base de la plataforma abierta WordPress. Sin embargo, el programa de Mary Washington ha sido reconocido por innovador y ambicioso (Chronicle of Higher Education, Wired). Tener “un dominio propio” (nombre que su creador, Jim Groom, seleccionó en homenaje a Virginia Woolf y su libro A Room of One’s Own), es un paso más hacia una conciencia de ser participante no solo en las actividades dentro de la universidad, sino de verse como parte de algo más grande.  Este proceso comienza con la selección de un nombre para el dominio, la cual les hace considerar, para algunos por la primera vez, lo que quieren que sea su identidad para el mundo de la web.

Esto es lo que hice yo hace un año con un grupo de mis colegas en la primera iniciativa del profesorado.  Nos reuníamos durante 6 semanas para conversar sobre estos asuntos, usando el libro de Martin Weller, The Digital Scholar, como punto de partida. A la misma vez aprendimos a crear y desarrollar nuestro nuevo dominio.  Para mí es un proceso que todavía sigue, pero creo que me ha ayudado a ver mi identidad electrónica como… mía. Ya no es algo temeroso o fuera de mi control. Mi identidad es mía, pero la tengo que cultivar—tal vez un poco como el jardín de Toledo (España) que escogí para la portada del sitio principal de mi dominio:


Escritura avanzada a lo digital: New beginnings

Tomorrow is my first meeting for Spanish 413: Escritura Avanzada. I’ve taught this course probably 15 times here at Mary Washington and I’ve developed quite a love-hate relationship with it. It is so difficult to help students become really good writers, in any language. Add to this the fact that very few of them are actually writing in their native language–even the heritage speakers of Spanish are more comfortable writing in English than Spanish–and you can imagine how difficult a task this is. Several years back I started having students develop their projects on a blog, the theory being that if they were writing for an audience larger than just their professor and a couple of their peers, then they’d take better care with what and how they wrote. But my thinking has really evolved to see learning to write “a lo digital” as an important skill for my students to develop and that connecting them to the digital world in Spanish was far more useful to them than another 15 page term paper in which they use the subjunctive flawlessly.

Now in Spanish 413, we spend the first half of the semester learning about different kinds or writing, reviewing some of the finer points of grammar and Spanish lexicon, and putting these into practice through weekly blog posts. The second half of the semester we spend developing a digital project in which students explore any topic of interest in a blog of their own design. Here is my course description from the syllabus:

Español 413 es un curso de escritura avanzada para los que han completado Español 317 y 318 o su equivalente.   Mi meta para la clase este semestre es mejorar la manera de escribir de cada individuo de la clase, animándole a aumentar la sofisticación de su estilo, emplear una variedad de estructuras gramaticales correctamente, y buscar un léxico más profundo y especializado.  Sin embargo, también quiero apoyarles en sus metas individuales, sean personales o profesionales, y por lo tanto cada alumno/a tendrá la oportunidad de desarrollar su escritura en un proyecto escrito sobre un tema de interés.  Para poder realizar estas metas individuales, tenemos que repasar como clase los puntos más difíciles de la gramática, el léxico, la puntuación y las técnicas de la buena escritura.  Pondremos en acción nuestro estudio del idioma en la composición de un proyecto digital individual  donde se espera que el/la estudiante experimente con lo que estamos estudiando y que explore creativamente y profundamente un tema de elección personal.

Los objetivos del curso incluyen:

  • Desarrollo de destrezas de la comunicación escrita en español al nivel avanzado
  • Exploración de los métodos de planificación, composición  y revisión de un proyecto escrito grande como un proceso creativo
  • uso correcto y sofisticado de construcciones gramaticales y de un vocabulario variado y especializado
  • desarrollo de destrezas en el diseño y construcción de un proyecto digital que se aproveche de las capacidades del  medio electrónico.
  • conocimiento de herramientas y recursos digitales para investigar y analizar información, y para facilitar la expresión creativa y la evaluación crítica
  • conocimiento de los temas históricos, sociales, filosóficos, éticos y culturales asociados con la tecnología, especialmente en el contexto español y latinoamericano

It’s a pretty tall order, and not every student gets there. But I can say that every student who puts in the effort moves his/her writing towards these goals–notice I say “desarrollo” and “conocimiento” not “maestría.” My students are on a lifelong journey with their love of the Spanish language and the cultures that go along with it–their four years with us merely an early stage on this viaje de la vida. Long after the final project for 413 is turned in and graded, I hope they will all continue improving, learning new vocabulary, experimenting, and mostly finding joy in expressing themselves in Spanish, as I have and still do. During this coming semester, as they have blog essays due, I will blog alongside them, ¡en español, claro!

. .



Is this the “future of the book”?

This blog post is about a particularly alarming situation in my university’s library, my reaction to it, some musings about what it might mean for my institution and others like it, and also what it might mean for us as educators and readers. I am not intending in this blog to disparage anyone, most especially the librarians at my university, whom I’ve experienced as always supportive of my work as a researcher and educator. Mostly I hope to spark some conversation among faculty and librarians—at UMW and elsewhere–about what this means for us, and our students. I begin with a picture, probably worth the roughly thousand words of this post, but also, in this case, worth a thousand books…

library 1This picture is representative of the hundreds of books flagged (with the little white and purple slips of paper) for removal from my university’s library. These books were chosen for the most part because they had not been checked out of the library in over 15 years. These are the PQ shelves corresponding  literary works in Spanish, and works of literary history and criticism about them. In this picture, the tail end of a long row of books in Spanish, I estimate about 250-300 books are tagged. And these are just a sample. There are many more flagged, more in peninsular Spanish than in Latin American. All of the books in Portuguese are tagged. Most of the books in Italian. I didn’t even get to the books in French and German, although I know my colleagues in those languages have been through the collection and were stunned at the number tagged, as I was. Most of these books are classics in the field: some are canonical works by important authors and thinkers, others are important historical literary histories or seminal studies in their field.

Galdos’ Episodios nacionales

Galdos’ Episodios nacionales

Early 20th-Century Philosopher Ortega y Gasset

Early 20th-Century Philosopher Ortega y Gasset

Miguel de Unamuno

Miguel de Unamuno

We were warned that this was coming, and invited to look through the books flagged for removal, with a chance to save the ones we wanted to keep. Early last month I had some extra time after spending the morning working on P&T files downstairs in the library and thought I’d go through the PQ stacks, expecting to find a few dozen tagged. When I came upon this I was completely overwhelmed! I saved what I could in the thirty minutes or so that I had to work on it, feeling sort of like the old beachcomber in that over-used story of the starfish: the one who comes upon hundreds of stranded starfish and begins throwing them back in the sea, even though there is no way he can save them all before they die in the hot sun. I saved what I could, mostly important literary histories, which I had come to first. But I only got to a few of the shelves, and there were literally hundreds more books that I couldn’t go through. When I spoke to our humanities librarian, who in turn spoke with the head librarian, we were given more time to be able to go through the stacks. I intended to get back, but it has been an incredibly busy semester, so yesterday was the first time I’ve been able to return. I was overwhelmed by the rows and rows of books with little slips of paper flagging them for removal. The sight of them inspired a feeling of panic, of helplessness, of incredulity. The only thing I could do was to start snapping pictures, to try to convey that feeling to others, and to ask some important questions of myself, and of our collective commitment to (paraphrasing Robert Darnton and others) the “future of books.”

Some of my reaction to this purging is connected to my own nostalgic connection to the materiality of books, and of libraries as spaces. I have extremely fond memories of graduate school, navegating the labyrinthine stacks of Alderman library at the University of Virginia, perusing the stacks for books, reading their spines, opening their covers,leafing through their contents, and finding gems I hadn’t expected.

Alderman Stacks 1993, photo by  Elfpvke;

Alderman Stacks 1993, photo by Elfpvke;

It wasn’t unlike the experience Jorge Luis Borges describes in his short story “La Biblioteca de Babel” (The Library of Babel), in which a library of endlessly connected hexagonal rooms filled with shelves of books, contains infinite knowledge:

“When it was announced that the Library contained all books, the first reaction was unbounded joy. All men felt themselves possessors on an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal problem, no world problem whose eloquent solution did not exist—somewhere in the hexagon. The universe was justified; the universe became congruent with the unlimited width and breadth of humankind’s hope.” (115)

Yet Borges’ library held many contradictions and problems. The allusion to the Biblical tower of Babel is underscored in the problem of unknown languages in the library, in the “impenetrable books…in ancient or far distant languages” (114). There also exists in Borges’ library an impulse to purge the unwanted, unused, unneeded, imperfect books::

Others, going about it in the opposite way, thought the first thing to do was to eliminate all the worthless books. They would invade all the hexagons, show credentials that were not always false, leaf disgustedly through a volume, and condemn entire walls of books. (116)

I’ve been a great advocate of new technologies in recent years. I firmly believe that endeavors like Google Books, Hathitrust, the Digital Public Libarary of AmericaCervantes Virtual, and other virtual library collections have had the net effect of democratizing knowledge—of making information widely available to people all over the world who otherwise would not have had access to that information. In the words of Robert Darnton:

“Yes, we must digitize. But more important, we must democratize. We must open access to our cultural heritage. How? By rewriting the rules of the game, by subordinating private interests to the public good, and by taking inspiration from the early republic in order to create a Digital Republic of Learning (“Google and the Future of Books,” New York Review of Books, Feb 12, 2009)

As a faculty member in a small public liberal arts university with a relatively small library and travel budget, I’ve benefitted from access to these digital collections in my own research and teaching. But I never dreamed that easy access to digitized material might mean that the printed material we already own would disappear from my university library’s shelves. The fact that these important books haven’t been checked out in years I think is reflective of two things: 1) easy access to some of the same materials in digitized format, and 2) curricular changes–for example we no longer teach Portuguese, and there has been a change in focus in my department’s course offerings away from Spanish peninsular literature toward Latin American literature. As a result of both factors, there is less (or even no) interest or practical use for many of these books. To be honest, when writing this blog post, I myself did not march to the library to peruse the shelves. Instead, I consulted, from the convenience of my own living room late at night, the internet. I too am part of the problem.

But still, I can’t sit on the sidelines and let all those books disappear from my university’s library without making an argument for their importance–not only to me, but to our students and our institution. In Borges, the library is a symbol of his conception of the universe and of all human knowledge. Our library is both a practical space where students and faculty research and study, but just as important to me, it is also a symbol of the broad knowledge we seek for ourselves and our students as an institution of liberal learning.  Purging the shelves of those books may make room for other things (and I am unclear what will replace these missing volumes), but will the future of our library collections at institutions like mine, symbolize a conception of the liberal arts is not very liberal at all?

I can’t finish this essay without a reference to Don Quixote, coincidentally also flagged for removal from my library’s shelves. In chapters six and seven of the first volume, Don Quixote has come home from his first set of adventures, injured and delirious. As he sleeps, his friends decide the best thing for him would be to get rid of his collection of books of chivalry. After some deliberations, they burn all the books and wall up the entrance to his library. When Don Quixote awakes, the first thing he does is to look for his books:

the first thing he did was to go and look at his books, and not finding the room where he had left it, he wandered from side to side looking for it. He came to the place where the door used to be, and tried it with his hands, and turned and twisted his eyes in every direction without saying a word; but after a good while he asked his housekeeper whereabouts was the room that held his books.

The housekeeper, who had been already well instructed in what she was to answer, said, “What room or what nothing is it that your worship is looking for? There are neither room nor books in this house now, for the devil himself has carried all away.” (Chapter VI)

Will we, as professors, scholars, readers, find ourselves also wondering what happened to our beloved books and library??

Illustration by Gustave Doré in John Ormsby translation of Don Quixote, republished by University of Adelaide

Illustration by Gustave Doré, from Chapter VI o Don Quixote, translated by John Ormsby and republished by University of Adelaide

Works Cited:

Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Library of Babel.” Collected Fictions. Trans. Andrew Hurley. New York: Viking, 1998. 112-118.

Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quixote. Trans. John Ormsby. University of Adelaide, 2013. ebooks@adelaide. Accessed November 14, 2013.

Darnton, Robert. The Case for Books. New York: Public Affairs, 2009.

—. “Google and the Future of Books,” New York Review of Books, Feb 12, 2009. Accessed November 14, 2013.

Elfpvke ( user). Photograph of Alderman Stacks,1993. Accessed November 14, 2013.

Concepción Arenal’s La Voz de la Caridad (1870-1884) Through the Lens of a Database?

This is the paper I recently delivered to the Asociación Internacional de Literatura y Cultura Femenina Hispánica XXIII Congreso Annual, held at The Claremont Colleges, October 10, 2013 (by the way, a lovely setting and very wonderful conference!!) It details some of the work I’ve done with my undergraduate research teams on a database of a nineteenth-century publication on charity. We hope to make the database (along with the entire website it lives on) live by the end of this year, but for now, here’s a “sneak peak” into our work!

Arenal Slide 1

I know it is cliché to begin a conference paper with “this paper is a work in progress”. Of course it is, you might be saying, that’s what conference presentations often are!  But perhaps I am justified in making this statement not as a disclaimer, but rather as a focus of the talk itself. Today I will detail the ongoing progress that I and three undergraduate research teams have made on a Digital Humanities project on the subject of women’s charity in Spain. In particular I will be highlighting our work on a database cataloging Concepción Arenal’s La Voz de la Caridad. I’ll finish with some preliminary findings that I think will begin to reveal a fuller picture of Arenal’s work as a journalist and social activist.

Arenal Slide 2

In Fall 2010 I decided that I wanted to involve undergraduates in my research on women and charity in Spain. Undergraduate research has been a big topic at my university—a small public liberal arts institution in Fredericksburg, Virginia—as indeed it has become a trend across the country.  We had recently added experiential learning as a general education requirement, and created a topics course number URES 197, which was intended to involve first or second-year students in the research of a professor.  Of course it was mostly students from the natural and social sciences who enrolled in this course at the beginning. But a few of my colleagues in the humanities had begun to work with research students and I was inspired to take the plunge and involve students in my own work on women and charity in Spain. In spring 2011 I gathered my first group of 4 sophomore students. We worked as a group during the semester to prepare us for a 10-day trip to Madrid in May, to collect data in the Biblioteca Nacional. That group continued its work the next fall beginning the database in question today.  The next year I continued work on the project with another group of two freshman and two sophomores from spring 2012 through fall 2013, with another trip to Madrid in between.   I am now leading what I think will be my last team, which is editing and putting the finishing touches on our work.

Arenal Slide 3

Women and Charity in Spain 1787-1941, is a Digital Humanities project that traces the evolution of the concept of Spanish women’s charity to reveal the ways that women, beginning with the late Enlightenment period and extending through the post-civil war era, utilized the idea of feminine charity in their actions and words to assert themselves politically, economically and socially.  Our thesis is that beginning with the Enlightenment, both conservative and progressive women saw charity (and the related issues of benevolence, beneficence, philanthropy and social action) as an area where women could contribute meaningfully to society, the economy, and the political direction of Spain. It is a Digital Humanities project (DH), which is more than a website, although that is part of it. Digital Humanities, which began as “Humanities Computing” until the NEH settled on Digital Humanities as the name for its office supporting such projects, is a branch of the humanities that uses digital tools to advance humanistic study in new ways. This includes collecting and archiving images and texts of cultural and historical significance, as well as creating and mining data sets related to humanistic study.[1] Our project is primarily an exhibition of digitized objects and organized in a way so as to show the connections, divergences, and evolution of ideas in various expressions of women’s charity—from the 18th century’s Junta de Damas of the Royal Economic Society of Madrid who emphasized education and economic development, to the 19th-century’s Concepción Arenal for whom charity was synonymous with social justice, and ending with the Sección Femenina de la Falange, whose conception of charity advanced Franco’s nationalistic agenda.  Among these objects are several periodical publications that had not been previously digitized, but whose complete digitization would have been too large an undertaking for our small team and my practically non-existent budget.  We decided, however, that since there was also not a detailed table of contents available for these journals, we would try to catalog the issues, in an attempt to see what was there, and to provide that information for others.

Arenal Slide 4

We began with Concepción Arenal’s La Voz de la Caridad published in Madrid from 1870-1884. Arenal is well known among US scholars as an early Spanish feminist. Her books La mujer del porvenir (1869) and La mujer en su casa (1883) set out her ideas about women’s education and women’s ability to work. Roberta Johnson called Arenal’s Mujer del porvenir a book with “a sustained resonance in the growth of consciousness about women’s condition in Spain” (18).and Lou Charnon Deustch finds that her lasting influence is in “ her general call for women to demand a better education and assume a greater role in solving social problems “(214). In Spain she is especially remembered for her work as a social activist. María Telo Nuñez says of Arenal “Iluminó los más oscuros rincones donde solapadamente se escondían la injusticia, la pobreza, la violencia, la tiranía, la discriminación, los privilegios de clase y de género, denunciando muy especialmente la inhumana situación de los presos” (“Illuminated the darkest corners where poverty, violence, tyranny, discrimination, and the priviledges of class and gender were insidiously hidden, especially denouncing the inhumane situation of prisoners” 12), These were qualities especially admired by feminist leaders of the Spain’s progressive Segunda República such as Victoria Kent[2]. Arenal’s life’s work was dedicated to speaking out in print and in action against injustices she saw on the streets, in the poor houses, in the classroom, in prisons, and on the battlefield. She famously dressed as a man in attempt to gain a university education, and later married a like-minded journalist, Fernando García Carrasco, who died in 1857. Her first publication was a long treatise “La Beneficencia, la filantropia y la caridad.” It had been submitted to the Academia de Ciencias Morales y Políticas under her young son’s name in 1860, and was awarded the prize for best essay and subsequently published under her own name in 1861. She held various government and organizational positions, including visitadora and inspectora of women’s prisons (1865, 1868), and Secretary General of the Spanish Red Cross (1871) [3]. So when she began her collaboration with La Voz de la Caridad in 1870, her career as an author and activist was well established.

Arenal Slide 5

La Voz de la Caridad  began with its first issue on March 15, 1870. It was published bi-monthly and continuously through February 1884. The only copies of the journal catalogued in World Cat are held by the Universitat de Barcelona, the Biblioteca de Catalunya, the Universidad de Salamanca, the Universidad de Deusto in Bilbao, and the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. The latter has the most complete set, with all issues from its first through the June 15, 1883 issue.  Knowing this, our group set out for 10 days in Madrid, supported in part with funds from our dean, to see how much of it we could cover.

Arenal Slide 6

We started very low tech with pen and paper. We were able to be seated together in the large reader’s room in the Sala de Prensas y Revistas. A bound paper copy was available for consultation and so each of the four students and I checked out a volume of issues at a time, and began copying everything down—title, author, page numbers, issue, date, and some keywords identifying the topic and nature of the items. Our work was interesting and we learned so much about the issues and influential events and people of the times. We even found some things we were not expecting—which is what makes research so exciting! In the first volume we consulted, we found our own town–Fredericksburg, Virginia–mentioned by Concepción Arenal in an article on “Caridad en la Guerra,” (“Charity in War”) in which she advocates for the Red Cross and better care of the wounded in the Franco-Prussian war, reporting on the success of efforts in the US Civil War seven years earlier (making us wonder if the story had been reported accurately or if things were even worse on European battlefields, knowing the rough conditions for the wounded in the battle of Fredericksburg!). In a week of hard work, we were able to get through all the volumes of issues held by the Biblioteca Nacional except the last, and returned to Fredericksburg in the fall to figure out what to do with all this information. We started by entering in all our hand written notes into a Google Docs spreadsheet.

Arenal Slide 7

Our technology specialists Tim Owens and Martha Burtis at UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies were able to download the data from our spreadsheet into WordPress and create what was essentially a post for all the 1300 + entries, linking them together so that they could be searchable by the title, the genre (poem, essay, etc), the database tags we assigned to each item, or the author. I was able to finish collecting information on the last volume of issues held at the BNE the next year during the team’s second trip to Madrid.

 Arenal Slide 8

In all we collected 1372 entries, which represented the work of 143 separate authors, in ten different genres (e.g. letters, poems, essays, news articles), and identified by 281 keywords or tags.  Concepción Arenal’s contribution to this journal certainly looms large in any assessment of it. She was one of its founders, and its editor and director for part of its existence. She was its single largest contributor throughout the 14 years of publication, and she was also one of many, collaborating in a journalistic endeavor that sought to bring news, information, opinion, and creative pieces together, united by the topic of charity and benevolence.  In the remaining few slides I’d like share a few things we’ve learned from the data we collected about Arenal and her contributions to La Voz de la Caridad.

Arenal Slide 9

A look at the numbers of contributions by author shows that Concepción Arenal is by far the most frequent contributor, followed by her co-editor in the early years of the magazine, Antonio Guerola. “No author”—a designation given to such items as announcements, subscription and donation lists , and news reported from other sources—is third.. An author referred to as Fausto was the fourth largest contributor, publishing various essays in the early 1880s.

Arenal Slide 10

Still, viewed in the larger context of all contributions, Arenal’s was about 20% of all the contents of the journal’s 14 year history.

Arenal Slide 11

Another interesting view of the journal is the number of women who contributed their voices. Again, Concepción Arenal, with her 277 entries, far outpaced the rest, with only 36 items designated to other women authors. Together they made up about 23% of all contributions—far from an equal representation, but hardly token participants either.

Arenal Slide 12

Arenal’s contributions represented 77% of women’s participation. The second most published woman was Emilia Mijares, a poet from Oviedo who published her work in La Voz de la Caridad, as well as in Revista de Asturias, and La Ilustración Gallega y Asturiana (Enciclopedia de Oviedo). She was followed by Micaela de Silva y Collás, another Asturian writer who contributed various essays, many religious in nature. Among the more famous women contributors were Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, who wrote a letter to the editors in 1871, and Fernán Caballero (pen name for Cecilia Bohl de Faber), who contributed a piece in 1875 called “Los tres amigos” (“Three Friends”).

Arenal Slide 13

The last graph traces Concepción Arenal’s participation over the 13 years for which I have data. Her highest number of contributions were in the early years, peaking in 1873 with 51 contributions, while she did not contribute at all in 1877 and only once in 1879. These low points coincided with illness, and with periods that she was living in Gijón in the northern province of Asturias. However, although editorial duties passed on to others, she continued to be a regular contributor throughout the journal’s existence.

While there is much left to learn about La Voz de la Caridad and Concepción Arenal’s participation in it, a brief look at the contents in our database reveals a new perspective on Arenal as a journalist, collaborator, and leader in a periodical that sought to enrich and inform its readers about charity in all its social and humanitarian implications. La Voz de la Caridad is yet further proof of Concepción Arenal as exceptional thinker and leader of her time, and is one of the many reasons she has been remembered and honored by the generations that followed.


[1] The collection of essays Debates in the Digital Humanities (Ed. Matthew Gold) detail the history of DH and current issues around its practice.

[2] See Telo Nuñez on Arenal’s influence in Kent.

[3] See María Campo Alange’s chronology of Arenal’s life and works, pp375-393.


Campos Alange, María. Concepción Arenal (1820-1893). Estudio biográfico documental. Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1973.

Charnon-Deutsch, Lou. “Concepción Arenal and the Nineteenth-Century Debates about Women’s Sphere and Education.” Recovering Spain’s Feminist Tradition. Ed. Lisa Vollendorf. New York: Modern Language Association, 2001. 198-216.

Johnson, Roberta. Gender and Nation in the Spanish Realist Novel. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2003.

Enciclopedia de Oviedo “Emilia Mijares del Real. http://el.tesorodeoviedo.es . Consulted Oct 9. 2013.

Gold, Matthew K, Ed. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 2012.

Mujeres asturianas destacadas, Base de datos. “ Micaela de Silva y Collás.” Oviedo: Instituto Asturiano de la Mujer.  Consulted Oct 9, 2013.

Telo Nuñez, María. Concepción Arenal y Victoria Kent: Las Prisiones: Vida y Obra. Madrid: Instituto de la Mujer, 1995.


Logo Google cervantes Don quijote

“En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme…”
Those are probably THE most memorable words ever written in Spanish–the beginning, of course, to Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quijote de la Mancha. It captures all the irony and ambiguity that will characterize this long novel, written in two volumes and published 10 years apart–the first in 1605 and the second in 1615. It is a book that has fascinated readers for 4 centuries, and inspired numerous other books, plays, works of art, music, films, t-shirts, even a chain of Japanese thrift stores!

Don Quijote, Honolulu, Hawaii

I’ve recenty finished reading the novel in English, more than 20 years after I first read it in Spanish in a graduate class with the great Javier Herrero. Lately,  I’ve had the crazy, quixotic you might say, idea to teach two seminars on the Quijote this coming spring semester: a senior-level seminar in Spanish which I hope to title “Don Quijote 21” and a first-year seminar I plan to call “Digital Don Quijote”. I say quixotic because I’m not a Cervantes specialist, and I have my doubts about how I’ll be able to guide and inspire students not only to understand this extremely long and difficult novel, but to love it as so many generations have. Certainly there were times during my re-reading of the book this summer when  I distinctly did not love this book.

Over the past twenty years I’ve re-read parts of the novel, usually the best, most iconic moments: the wonderful first chapter where Don Alonso Quijano creates his persona Don Quijote and sets about inventing an entire world for the knight errant; Don Quijote’s first failed adventure; the burning of his collection of books of chivalry; his selection of Sancho Panza as his squire and companion; his infamous battle with the windmills, and the interrupted battle with the vizcaino followed by the introduction of the historian/author Sidi Hamid Benengeli; the freeing of the galley slaves; the visions Don Quijote claimed to have in the cave of Montesinos; the adventures on the wooden horse Clavileño at the Duke’s palace; Sancho’s time as “governor” of his own island; and finally Don Quijote’s tragic death. I’ve taught various of these chapters as part of our survey of Spanish literature, and usually students enjoy the selections, which give them a small taste of the genious of this text. But I’ve always felt I was cheating them by giving them so little of such a vast and hugely important book. So I wanted to face the challenge of my own adventure, and teach not one, but TWO classes on the Quijote. The first, in Spanish, would be a more traditional look at the novel as an important piece of literature and its enormous influence on Spanish culture even today. The second a related, yet somewhat different first-year seminar in English using the novel as a way to approach digital studies and digital humanities. We would read select chapters of the novel and relate them to various topics of digital study–the questions of authorship, fair use, and copyright laws; the future of the library; DQ and gaming, digital humanities projects on DQ, DQ as a MOOC, DQ in social media, etc.

However, as I waded through the first volume, with its numerous intercalated stories that often seem rather loosely connected to the main story, I started to doubt my plans. The first idea to go to the wayside was that I could inspire first-year students to read the entire book, and simultaneously include the digital topics I was interested in. But also I began to question my plans for the advanced students. Not only is the book long (some editions are well over a thousand pages), the Spanish (and the faithful English translation by Burton Raffel) can be insanely archaic in the case of Don Quijote, and ridiculously strewn with popular sayings and proverbs in the case of Sancho Panza. Fascinating philosophical questions aside about what (or who) is an author and what is his relation with his readers and his characters, or about what divides fantasy from reality, I began to question  my long-held acceptance of Don Quijote as the first modern novel, not only in Spanish but in any language…Really?? Modern?? I said as much to my husband one night as we were both reading before bed. I had just finished the episode in the cave of Montesinos and was entering into the long episode at the Duke’s palace. I remembered these episodes to be entertaining the first time I read them, but this time around they seemed to be too drawn out, too detailed, with too many digressions. Both the structure of the entire novel–especially the first volume–and Cervantes’ often purposefully difficult language, didn’t seem modern at all to me. In fact, the novel seemed distinctly Baroque. Now, before the Cervantista’s out there start trying to correct my ignorance on the art of Cervantes (which I do not deny), Miguel himself anticipated my misgivings just a few chapters later when his historian pseudo-author character Sidi Hamid Benengeli answered my complaints with a complaint of his own:

“It is said that, in the true original of this chapter, one can read how, when Sidi Hamid came to write this chapter (which his translator only partially rendered into Spanish), the Moor penned a kind of complaint against himself, for having undertaken such a dry and narrow history as Don Quijote’s…” (Volume 2, chapter 44, 586)

Benengeli knows exactly what I was thinking as I read volume one, and he anticipates–even condones–what I am sure my students will be doing next spring::

It also seemed to him, he said, that there would be a lot of people so totally absorbed in Don Quijote’s doings that, finding these other stories of little interest, they would simply skip over or just skim rapidly through them or, if they did read them, would do so only grudgingly…

Cervantes/Benengeli  then sum it all up for me–

he concludes his complaint by asking his readers not to look down on what he has here accomplished, and to praise him, not so much for what he has written, as for what he has refrained from writing. 

When I read this paragraph I was in awe of the genius of Cervantes. Here he was, anticipating MY criticism, answering ME directly, explaining ever so patiently why this book is modern, why it is like no other, why it is still relevant, and why I ought to continue my own crazy quest to bring it to another generation of readers!

Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quijote. Trans. Burton Raffel. Ed. Diana de Armas Wilson. New York: WW Norton, 1999.

El siglo 18 @ el 21 ASECS Cleveland 2013

Abajo hay una versión de la intervención que he preparado para la mesa redonda “Enriching Ibero-Amercan Studies in Times of Austerty” en la reunión de la American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Cleveland, el 5 de abril de 2013.

 El Siglo 18 @ el 21: Inseguridades, desafíos y oportunidades

 Nosotros, como investigadores y profesores del siglo 21, estamos presentados con las oportunidades y los desafíos de un mundo cada vez más globalizado, más interconectado, pero con cada vez menos fondos para el avance del conocimiento, especialmente en las humanidades.  En mi breve intervención hoy, quiero demostrar algunos puntos de contacto entre nuestra edad y la de nuestros queridos hombres y mujeres ilustrados.  Luego, voy a examinar algunos cambios tecnológicos en las bibliotecas y colecciones digitales, y cómo nos han afectado (por bien y por mal) en los estudios iberoamericanos, y por último quisiera sugerir un camino hacia más cooperación y más colaboración en el futuro.

En una sesión  sobre las humanidades digitales en la reunión de ASECS en Vancouver en 2011, comparé los “avances” de nuestra época tecnológica a los del dieciocho. Por ejemplo, ¿no es fácil ver a Jovellanos, con su gran correspondencia y su frecuente publicación de artículos de prensa, como bloguista?

Jovellanos bloguista

¿Habría participado Feijoo en Wikipedia?

Feijoo wikipedia

¿O Goya, con sus enigmáticos caprichos en los que juega con la imagen y la palabra, en Twitter, donde en 140 caracteres podría inspirarnos a cuestionar nuestra sociedad moderna?

Goya Twitter

Tal vez estas asociaciones entre nuestros admirados ilustrados y las nuevas formas de “medios sociales” nos parezcan absurdas, pero mi punto es que nosotros, como los pensadores del 18, estamos ante un mundo de mucha promesa y de algunos peligros.  Los avances tecnológicos han creado un nuevo, y muchas veces emocionante, ambiente para nuestro estudio del 18, pero no sin sus problemas.  En su libro de 2011, The Googlization of Everything and Why We Should Worry (U California Press), Siva Vaidhyanathan nos precauciona sobre los riesgos para el futuro del conocimiento humano de una fe ciega en las compañías privadas como Google. Vaidhyanathan habla del impacto del inmenso proyecto de Google Books, y de como muchos lo han aceptado porque creen en “the potential of digital culture—when properly supported by a benevolent force such as Google—to transform, extend, and democratize knowledge” (152). Vaidhyanathan apunta todas las implicaciones, buenas y malas, del proyecto de Google Books, que no puedo desarrollar aquí.

Tengo que confesar que Google Books ha sido revolucionario en mi propio trabajo—textos que antes solo pude acceder con un viaje a España, ahora puedo ver desde mi despacho en Virginia.  Google ha participado con dos bibliotecas en España—la Complutense en Madrid (que tiene la segunda colección de libros en España, detrás de la Biblioteca Nacional), y la Biblioteca de Catalunya.  No hay ninguna biblioteca latinoamericana representada en su lista de 21 bibliotecas, que son principalmente de universidades estadounidenses, con algunas de Europa, y una en Japón. Pero Google no es la única compañía privada que ha digitalizado las colecciones de importantes bibliotecas. Gale con sus varias colecciones digitales impresionantes, ofrece suscripciones a sus colecciones de textos extraídos de la British Library,  Library of Congress,  National Archives, Harvard, Oxford y Yale.  Sin embargo, el precio de suscripción es altísimo, e imposible para una institución pequeña, o para un individuo, y aunque las colecciones tienen algunos textos de España y Latinoamérica, principalmente tiene textos en inglés.  En España hay varias otras colecciones digitales—notablemente gratis y abiertas a todos, como la Biblioteca Digital Hispánica y la Hemeroteca Digital de la Biblioteca Nacional, y la ya mencionada Biblioteca Virtual Cervantes (creada por la Universidad de Alicante). Estas colecciones en España fueron creadas con fondos públicos que ya casi no existen, y el futuro de ellas es inseguro, por lo menos.

Si al nivel institucional el futuro del avance de las humanidades está en duda, ¿hay algo que podemos, que debemos hacer nosotros como académicos para avanzar, para “enriquecer” los estudios del dieciocho en este mundo inestable, de presupuestos cada vez más pequeños, de recortes y aun eliminación de programas que antes apoyaban nuestro trabajo?  Para los especialistas en Gran Bretaña y Estados Unidos, hay grupos como Eighteenth Century Connect, que reúne varios proyectos digitales de universidades e individuos, y que está dedicado al acceso abierto y gratis.  Mi universidad, una pequeña institución pública de artes liberales, ha inaugurado una nueva iniciativa—UMW Domains. Hemos formado grupos de profesores para explorar  los desafíos y posibilidades de ser un académico “digital”, y algunos de nosotros nos hemos comprometido a cultivar nuestra participación profesional en los medios sociales.   El libro que nos ha guiado en nuestra exploración The Digital Scholar por Martin Weller (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011) describe un nuevo tipo de académico que es abierto, conectado, y colaborativo. Y son estas cualidades las que yo quiero cultivar en mi propio trabajo.  Actualmente estoy trabajando en un proyecto digital, una exhibición de textos e imágenes que traza la caridad femenina en España desde la Junta de Damas hasta la Sección femenina de la falange. Estoy compilando y organizando el material del proyecto con la ayuda de un “equipo” de alumnos subgraduados, que es una énfasis especial en mi institución. Una cosa que hemos hecho, en el contexto del 19, pero que creo que se podría repetir con textos semejantes en el siglo XVIII, es crear una base de datos catalogando los artículos publicados en la revista bisemanal La Voz de la Caridad de Concepción Arenal.  ¿No sería útil tener una base de datos del contenido del Memorial literario, por ejemplo, asequible en Google books, pero sin organización ninguna?

Los hombres y mujeres del siglo XVIII enfrentaron muchos desafíos y cambios, igual que nosotros, y aprovecharon las nuevas tecnologías con optimismo y fervor.  Es mi esperanza que hagamos lo mismo nosotros, y que seamos todos más abiertos, conectados y colaborativos para confrontar juntos los obstáculos que nos presentan hoy, para poder enriquecer nuestro trabajo colectivo en el futuro.