My scholarship includes both peer-reviewed articles and digital projects that bridge the fields of digital humanities, information science, and book history. My work has focused on print and manuscript documents from the first century of Spanish colonization in Mexico. My articles consider how these documents have been refashioned by historians in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; my digital work explores the future of scholarly editing for these colonial texts.
All of my published work (including my dissertation) is open access and available through this website. Use the "+" to view abstracts.
Post-Custodial Archiving for the Collective Good
Hannah Alpert-Abrams, David Bliss, and Itza Carbajal
Journal of Critical Library and Information Science. Forthcoming.
LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at the University of Texas at Austin applies post-custodial archival methods in pursuit of a new vision of digital archival practice and the transnational construction of historical memory. This work seeks to develop a practice for digital archiving that enables the redistribution of resources while centering communities as contributors and owners of their own documentary heritage. Although LLILAS Benson has successfully built partnerships and continues to manage widely recognized collections using a post-custodial model, the anti-colonial framework through which this work has been understood does not fully account for the power imbalances at play. Using Cifor and Lee’s survey of neoliberalism in the archives as a launching point, this article considers how neoliberalism has shaped post-custodial practices at LLILAS Benson, focusing on ideas and practices of labor, digitization, and the common good. Through this analysis, the authors describe not a static set of methodologies, but rather an ongoing process of learning, unlearning, and restructuring in pursuit of a collective good.
Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience. October 2018.
Digital Humanities Quarterly. November 2016.
Early modern printed books pose particular challenges for automatic transcription: uneven inking, irregular orthographies, radically multilingual texts. As a result, modern efforts to transcribe these documents tend to produce the textual gibberish commonly known as "dirty OCR" (Optical Character Recognition). This noisy output is most frequently seen as a barrier to access for scholars interested in the computational analysis or digital display of transcribed documents. This article, however, proposes that a closer analysis of dirty OCR can reveal both historical and cultural factors at play in the practice of automatic transcription. To make this argument, it focuses on tools developed for the automatic transcription of the Primeros Libros collection of sixteenth century Mexican printed books. By bringing together the history of the collection with that of the OCR tool, it illustrates how the colonial history of these documents is embedded in, and transformed by, the statistical models used for automatic transcription. It argues that automatic transcription, itself a mechanical and practical tool, also has an interpretive effect on transcribed texts that can have practical consequences for scholarly work.
Scholarly Editing. May 2016.
Digital collections of historical books create new opportunities for scholarly editing. This article uses the Primeros Libros collection of books printed prior to 1601 to consider how design decisions for digital materials often depend on anachronistic assumptions about the coherence and originary status of the digital object. It then uses the "Archaeology of a Book" project to describe an approach to digital critical editions that engages with the shifting status of books in the early modern period, changes in their status over time, and the material traces that history leaves on the books themselves.
Pterodáctilo 11, Fall 2012
Alejo Carpentier's canonical novel Los pasos perdidos (Cuba, 1953) had a rocky reception when it was first translated into English and published in the United States in 1956. Originally hailed by publishers at Knopf with great enthusiasm, the novel ultimately was seen as a major flop: "The severest disappointment I have known as a publisher's editor" in the words of Herbert Weinstock. This article draws on archival records from the Knopf collection at the Harry Ransom Center to understand how the process of editing, translation, and publicity impacted reception of The Lost Steps in the United States.
Maria Ryskina, Hannah Alpert-Abrams, Dan Garrette, and Taylor Berg-Kirkpatrick
Proceedings of ACL 2017
Comparative Literature, Summer 2017
This dissertation is about the unreading of the Americas: about the ways that the documents that describe American history have been hidden, obscured, and rendered illegible even as they have circulated throughout the Americas and across the Atlantic. Its objects of study are the multilingual (and multimodal) documents that were produced during the first century of Spanish presence in Mesoamerica, a period that can be loosely defined as 1521-1621. It begins from the premise that, thanks to their linguistic and material conditions, the documents produced during this period were largely unreadable when they began to re-circulate among historians in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It asks: in what ways were these unreadable books read, and by what mechanisms were they rendered readable?
To answer these questions, the dissertation focuses on the most innocuous of mechanisms: the processes by which texts have been replicated for circulation. Textual replication, from transcription to typesetting, photolithography, microfilming, and digitization, is a largely invisible mechanism that has long facilitated the relationship between historians and the primary sources of their scholarship. Today, in the face of large-scale digitization projects, we express concern about the limitations of these mediations: the errors introduced by transcription, or the detail lost through digitization. At the same time, we understand that in many cases it is only thanks to these mediations that these texts are accessible at all. Given these conditions, I find that differing values, and different technologies, shape the ways in which historical documents are made available to be read, and the kinds of information that is lost in transmission.