Alexander Rodriguez has a summer internship at the University of Houston Archives, funded by the University of Chicago through a merit scholarship. Rodriguez is working with three extensive audiovisual collections, Marketing and Communications, Special Events, and Development, which contain highly requested material and document important campus people and events. The project will significantly enhance the discoverability of these resources. Rodriguez is a fourth-year student at the University of Chicago, pursuing a major of political science focusing on international affairs and a minor in French.
What inspires your interest in working with archives?
This year, I started work on my undergraduate thesis about decolonization. In essence, I’m asking how and why France still maintains a substantial empire around the globe, even though history presents independence as something realized and done for the formerly colonized world. One aspect of my approach to answering that is to not take for granted the motivations and considerations of the two relevant actors, the French and the territorial residents. To evaluate those motivations, my task is to decode what their goals were, what information they were looking at, and what factors they found important. This kind of research necessitates the records and documents from the critical period, which can best be found in archives. As preparation for this research, I wanted to get more first-hand experience with archives, especially on the internal side. I knew I would be coming home to Houston for the summer, so I reached out to Special Collections about working with them, and the opportunity came together from there.
Please describe the tasks involved in your archival work.
My focus here has been stewarding a new acquisition of archival materials from UH Communications and Marketing. The items mostly originate from the turn of the millennium and include a variety of videocassettes, audiotapes, and newsletters. Over the past weeks, I have worked on cataloging and organizing the material. From sifting through the items, I have been gleaning information about individual artifacts and the set as a whole, which can be turned into description information useful for researchers hoping to tap into the collection. Out of the collection, I also select a few for digitization, particularly if they seem fragile or useful to make accessible upfront. Alongside that, I have also been working with collections from Development and Special Events to compare their content to this collection.
What stories/themes do you see emerging from these collections?
One aspect that I’ve noticed is the way the University spotlights its faculty and their work in its outreach initiatives. Many of the commercials and advertisements produced for UH focus on researchers who have advanced their fields while at the University, such as Dr. Paul Chu’s discoveries in superconductivity. Elsewhere, UH professors appear in news segments to discuss their work and share their perspective. The common message for the public is that this work is not only research worth continuing but also knowledge that has an impact on the lives of people outside academia and merits sharing. Through its incorporation with the Marketing materials, it becomes clear how that presentation underlines the importance of the University in supporting and enabling this research, which then encourages the next generation of bright minds to come to UH and join these efforts at the forefront of learning.
What is the significance of making archival collections more accessible?
An archive has to be built with the purpose of being used as a resource for the curious. If holding on to artifacts of the past was the only consideration, we’d do well to encase everything in concrete. These archival collections are a material memory that provides unique perspectives and invites further inquiry. By making them more available, we can encourage researchers to include them into their pursuits, alongside the sort of information they can gain from conventional libraries and websites, which can really only benefit their work. The best research is about going beyond the word of the text and asking questions about the document itself. Why was this created? Why is it in this format? Why is it together with these other items? Part of the point of preservation is to construct that context in a meaningful way, which can help take researchers to a deeper understanding of their subject.
Emily Vinson, audiovisual archivist and curator of the KUHT and KUHF Collections at University of Houston Libraries, is the current recipient of the Rooks Early Career Librarian Fellowship (ECLF). The ECLF endowment was established by former UH Libraries dean Dana Rooks and spouse Charles W. (Mickey) Rooks, PhD to support professional development and research opportunities for UH librarians early in their careers.
Please describe your research.
My central research question was to compare the accuracy of various transcription methods. I had been considering how to make our audiovisual (AV) archival collections more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing users through closed captions. I had imagined that online machine-generated transcripts would be the path forward for making collections accessible.
How did the fellowship facilitate the development of this work?
Without the ECLF funding, I would never have been able to test my assumptions on the accuracy of transcription methods. In the first year of the Fellowship I developed a small research study to compare four methods of transcription, including professional transcriptionist services, artificial intelligence machine-generated services, free “hacks,” and untrained study participants drawn from library student and staff employees. In order to create a study that reflected the types of materials that would be encountered in an archival AV collection, I selected video samples from our collection with a diverse range of recording issues that could affect transcription quality.
The Rooks ECLF provided me with time and space to develop and execute a research study. While this was valuable in its own right, it also had a very positive unanticipated outcome – I was able to draw on what I had learned from the study and tap into the Fellowship funding to launch a project to retain student employees in a remote work project during the COVID-19 campus closure. Along with colleagues in Metadata and Digitization Services, we were able to engage over 25 student employees from across the UH Libraries in the creation of hundreds of hours of high-quality video captions.
What takeaways did you learn from this experience? What advice do you have for other early career librarians?
If you have an idea, give it a shot! I had no experience designing or executing a research study. At UH Libraries, we are fortunate to have many colleagues with expertise to draw on, as well as the wider campus community. I received advice that was integral to creating a well-planned study.
I’ve gained such valuable experience – from navigating the institutional review board process to gaining a deeper appreciation for the vital importance of captions. This experience has also opened the doors to numerous opportunities to present on my research, and I anticipate seeking opportunities to publish on it as well.
Roberto Tejada, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of English and Art History at University of Houston and 2021 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in Poetry, recently donated a limited edition copy of a bookwork to UH Special Collections.
Why the Assembly Disbanded is an artist’s book co-crafted by Tejada and book designer Cristina Paoli of Periferia in Mexico City. “I’ve been fortunate to work with artists and designers on several collaborative projects at different inflection points in my life,” Tejada said, “so I turned to Cristina to work on an object that would reflect the themes of [the forthcoming poetry collection] Why the Assembly Disbanded—primarily, how to think of possible futures from the relentless social madness of the past in the present—with the help of photographs by Connie Samaras and Rubén Ortiz Torres, whose images activate some of the fears and fantasies I confront in the book.”
Only 100 copies were created and gifted to libraries and collecting institutions, an “engineered scarcity” that connotes the motivation to preserve rare cultural artifacts. “It became clear to me as I worked with Cristina that I wanted this artist’s book to underscore the perversity of value in our social-media environment and its economies of attention and scale,” Tejada noted.
The book viewer is greeted with a message to accept the work as an “act of social faith,” a concept that Tejada, as a young poet, first encountered in the pages of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property and which left an enduring effect.
“As opposed to economies of accumulation, [Hyde] argues that gifts and gift-giving keep ‘cultural vitality in motion,'” Tejada wrote. “The gift being ‘property that perishes,’ my aim is to emphasize the life-enhancing commitments, the élan vital, in short, the erotics that sustain every act meant to survive us.”
Fonts of inspiration for this work date back to the period from 1987-1997 when Tejada lived and worked in Mexico City. “My friends included the writer Carmen Boullosa, the painter Magali Lara, and the bookmaker Juan Pascoe, all belonging to a generation of artists who turned to mail art and bookworks as legitimate and surreptitious mediums for collaboration,” he said. “Pascoe has produced beautiful letterpress objects at his preeminent Taller Martín Pescador, including a collaboration between Boullosa and Lara (Lealtad, Taller Martín Pescador, 1981). Magali was the first to speak to me of the great Mexican book artist and multimedia thinker Ulises Carrión who in his writings, including The New Art of Making Books, wrote about the book medium as ‘a sequence of spaces. Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment—a book is also a sequence of moments.’ (UH Special Collections owns a unique object by Carrión, a marvel of an artist’s book called Mirror Box.)”
Other creative work and collaborations of particular significance for Tejada include Chilean writer-artist Juan Luis Martínez and his “uncontainable” book La nueva novela (1971/1977/1985), the collaboration between poet Jayne Cortez and artist Mel Edwards (Festivals and Funerals, Phase Text, 1971) and bookworks by Chicana conceptualist Celia Alvarez Muñoz.
With the widescale challenges of the past year, the project elicited greater meaning. “Working with Cristina on this book, even at the risk of overstatement, saved me from some of the darkest hours of despair in the global catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic, continued acts of racial injustice, the forced relocation of peoples, and the encroaching dangers of illiberal rule throughout the world today,” Tejada shared. “In the process of collaboration, I held a space for the uncounted, for both the cruel fortunes and joyful vitality of what my book calls a ‘society of alternate belonging.'”
Partially quoting the book’s preamble, “Why the Assembly Disbanded wonders, from the uncontainable perspective of a present already becoming the past, whose purpose does it serve to wager on the future’s history?”
“Artist’s books like Why the Assembly Disbanded, Mirror Box, or cartoneras and handmade works from Cuba’s Ediciones Vigía—among many housed in Special Collections—engage with text, image, form and format, through an analog, personal interaction with the ‘reader’ for creative and often political expression,” said Christian Kelleher, head of UH Special Collections. “This is artistic, social and cultural critical commentary that can be a unique experience. We are gratified to be able to make works like this available to students and scholars at UH.”
Why the Assembly Disbanded is available for viewing in the Special Collections Reading Room, located on the second floor of the MD Anderson Library, by appointment. Researchers are encouraged to contact curators with questions and requests.
University of Houston Libraries Special Collections is home to primary source materials of intellectual, cultural, and societal distinction, both historic and contemporary. A vast variety of rare and unique items, representing collecting areas of women’s research, Houston and Texas history, energy and sustainability, LGBT history, performing and visual arts, and more, are preserved and made available to the UH community and the general public for research and scholarship.
An exploration of UH Special Collections can reveal new directions for research. Frank Guridy, associate professor of history and African American and African diaspora studies at Columbia University, first visited UH Special Collections over a decade ago to learn more about the Houston Astrodome and its impact on the city during the 1960s and 70s. What he found there and in subsequent visits helped shape the work that led to the recent publication of his book, The Sports Revolution: How Texas Changed the Culture of American Athletics.
“The George Kirksey Papers was the first collection I consulted,” Guridy said. “Kirksey was one of the members of the Houston Sports Association, the group that brought Major League Baseball to Houston in the early 1960s. I also consulted the Thomas Cole Desegregation Papers, which enabled me to discover the role of local civil rights activists in the desegregation of the Astrodome.”
A closer look at the archives brought an enhanced view of the existing scholarly framework. “As my research interests widened, I became more interested in the University of Houston Athletic Program’s impact on the racial desegregation of college sports in Texas,” Guridy said. “Here again, the library’s collections became exceedingly helpful, especially the many game programs and materials in the Athletics Department Records, as well as the Daily Cougar and the Houstonian. One can see the ways the program sought to market itself and how the black freedom movement helped change the way in which the program represented itself to the broader public. These records allowed me to see the larger role of the university’s athletic program on the social changes that took shape in the larger sports world in Houston and in the nation as a whole.”
Guridy’s advice for students and scholars? “Be ready for the surprises you will encounter in the archives. I came to Special Collections expecting to work on just one collection and I left with a whole host of archival discoveries that expanded my research horizon and allowed me to write a story of the university’s pivotal role in the growth of the sports industry and the social changes that accompanied that process.”
Anyone is welcome to visit the UH Special Collections Reading Room, located on the second floor of the MD Anderson Library, by appointment. Researchers are encouraged to contact curators with questions and requests.
To commemorate the connection between George Floyd and DJ Screw, University of Houston Libraries Special Collections commissioned an artwork by Robert L. Hodge, a notable artist from the Third Ward. His collage titled 8:46 will be displayed at the MD Anderson Library in Special Collections.
Houstonian George Floyd rapped on a handful of the underground mixtapes created by DJ Screw, whose archival collection is part of the Houston Hip Hop Research Collection at UH Special Collections. Following Floyd’s death in 2020, Julie Grob, curator of the collection, invited Hodge to create one of his signature collages in a way that would honor Floyd. 8:46 is a vibrant layering of figures reclaimed from old record album covers, anchored by Floyd’s gaze.
The faces in 8:46 represent the various perspectives and reactions to Floyd’s death. What emerges from the work is a tale of two Americas, Hodge said, and how we are all interconnected. “It’s the story of a flawed man who, no matter what you thought about him, is a human being who didn’t deserve to die.”
Like Floyd, Hodge was raised in the historic Third Ward neighborhood where UH is located. He has exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including Slowed and Throwed: Records of the City Through Mutated Lenses, an exhibition of artwork and archival material related to DJ Screw. Hodge also contributed label text to the UH Libraries exhibition Brothers in Rhyme: Fat Pat, Big Hawk, and the Screwed Up Click.
Of the Third Ward as inspiration to his work, Hodge said, “The people make the community, and the people are so diverse. From a jazz musician to a mailman to an addict, each has a story. This keeps me grounded in reality, in my work.”
A few of Hodge’s artistic influences include Romare Bearden, David Hammons, David McGee, Rick Lowe, Jesse Lott, Frida Kahlo, Robert Rauschenberg, The Art Guys, Otabenga Jones, Jabari Anderson, Jamal Cyrus, Kenya Evans, and Robert Pruitt.
Hodge has been doing collage work for many years and it is an art form for which he holds great respect. His technique is organic and involves finding older, lesser-known soul, blues, and country records and using the album cover art to create a new image. “It’s a stress breaker for me,” Hodge said. “I love taking an existing narrative and making something new out of it. That’s a lot like hip hop, sampling older records and making something new while honoring the past. The layers represent life in collage; there are a lot of things you see and a lot of things you don’t see.”
University of Houston Libraries is pleased to announce a gift from opera composer Carlisle Floyd to UH Special Collections.
The former Moores School of Music professor’s gift of the Prince of Players score and accompanying materials coincides with two 2021 Grammy nominations for Best Opera Recording and Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Floyd debuted Prince of Players at Houston Grand Opera in 2016.
Mary Manning, archivist for the Performing and Visual Arts Research Collection, said the materials, including opera piano, vocal, and full scores, original character background, libretto, arias, and programs, will be added to the Carlisle Floyd Manuscript Scores collection donated in 1999. Other scores in the collection include Bilby’s Doll, 1976; Of Mice and Men: An Opera in Three Acts, Libretto and Music, 1968; Wuthering Heights: A Musical Drama in Prologue and Three Acts, 1958; The Martyr, for Chorus, 2 Trumpets, Timpani, and Piano, undated; The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair, 1963; and Soul of Heaven: Reflections on Music, 1992.
“The Prince of Players archives capture Floyd’s creative process and document the steps involved in making the opera—from early notes recording the birth of the idea to multiple versions of the score (handwritten and printed) to costume sketches and stage designs,” Manning said.
“This generous gift will be invaluable to scholars conducting research on contemporary American Opera and practitioners seeking to hone their craft in opera audio engineering and production,” said Madelyn Shackelford Washington, coordinator of the UH Music Library.
The University of Houston Libraries fall 2020 newsletter is now online, celebrating accomplishments of the year and the great work of our students and staff.
The University Archives at University of Houston Libraries seeks stories from UH students relating to the coronavirus outbreak. Artistic and creative expressions are welcomed alongside more documentary responses.
Students are encouraged to share stories through journals, photographs, and interviews/oral histories, and also through drawings, songs, and monologues. University Archives will preserve responses to this unique and challenging moment in history for people in the future.
For more information, visit UH Students! How has the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacted Your Life?
University of Houston Libraries Digital Research Services (DRS) and Digital Research Commons (DRC) invite UH faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows to submit proposals for sponsored digital research projects to run for the calendar year 2021. DRS collaborates with researchers on projects involving digital techniques across the humanities, social sciences, and experimental sciences.
DRS seeks teams or individuals, experts and novices alike, who have a project that they would like to develop. This can either be a project that is already underway or one not yet begun. While prior knowledge of digital tools and techniques is welcome, it is not required. DRS works with researchers to help them organize their information, analyze it, and produce compelling results.
DRS will offer grants at three levels, designed to address projects at different levels of development. The first level, designed to help projects at the seed stage of development, will offer funding up to $3500. The second, designed to develop projects that have already made demonstrable progress, will offer funding up to $6500. The third tier, designed to foster projects at a planning stage, will offer funding up to $1000, and focus primarily on producing a polished application for federal or external grants.
Proposals are due by November 6. For more information on how to submit your proposal, visit Sponsored Projects Program Overview and Documentation.
University of Houston Libraries is pleased to announce the establishment of a new endowment to support the LGBT History Research Collection.
The Hollyfield Foundation Endowment will provide funding for the acquisition and preservation of primary source materials in the LGBT History Research Collection, one of 13 collecting areas in UH Libraries Special Collections. The collection preserves and promotes the archives of LGBT communities and organizations from Houston and the region. Materials, including personal papers, organization records, and library collections, document the communities’ activist, cultural, social, and political activities, and the personal experiences of community members.
Through its support of LGBT and AIDS non-profits, the Hollyfield Foundation has made a substantial positive impact on local LGBT communities since its inception in 1994. The Houston-based organization contributes to charities that work to prevent discrimination, promote equality, and assist in HIV/AIDS education, care and treatment.
“Jay Hollyfield deeply loved Houston and our LGBT community and history,” said Elizabeth McLane, Hollyfield Foundation board president. “The Hollyfield Foundation Board of Directors is thrilled that his name will now be linked perpetually to one of the nation’s most extensive and exceptional LGBT history collections.”
In recognition of this grant, UH Libraries will establish an annual exhibition of materials from the LGBT History Research Collection, to be held at MD Anderson Library during June each year as part of Pride Month.
Marilyn Myers, interim dean of UH Libraries, said the endowment supports the Libraries’ mission to preserve and provide access to unique primary sources for teaching, learning, research, and scholarship. “This endowment will allow UH Libraries to expand the LGBT History Research Collection and increase engagement with students and scholars,” Myers said. “With this gift, we’ll be able to make accessible a rich collection of primary source materials to those seeking an understanding of the history and legacy of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender communities.”