The first comprehensive study of the cartonera phenomenon

We are very pleased to announce the launch of the book Taking Form, Making Worlds: Cartonera Publishers in Latin America, on Friday 10th June at 4pm at Centre of Latin American Studies (Alison Richard Building, Seminar Room 204). 

Lucy Bell (Senior Lecturer in Spanish and translation studies, University of Surrey), Alexander Ungprateeb Flynn (Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Contemporary Art, UCLA) and Patrick O’Hare (UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, University of St. Andrews) have collaborated with the University Library in the building up of our cartonera collection . They will be presenting and discussing their new book, the first comprehensive study of cartonera, in conversation with David Lehmann (University of Cambridge) and Clara Panozzo (Latin American and Iberian Collections, Cambridge University Library). The book is published by the University of Texas Press and is available online for Cambridge users here.

Drawing on interdisciplinary research conducted across Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, the authors show how this hands-on practice has fostered a politically engaged network of writers, artists, and readers. More than a social movement, cartonera uses texts, workshops, encounters, and exhibitions to foster community and engagement through open-ended forms that are at once creative and social.  

(from the publisher’s description) 

You are all kindly invited to attend! 

Clara Panozzo 

“Write about something that has never happened to people who have never existed” 

Angélica Gorodischer, by Nicolasgoro, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Such was the recipe for storytelling of Angélica Gorodischer, the Argentine award-winning author who passed away a month ago, on February 5th, in her beloved hometown of Rosario at the age of 93 years old. Her books were translated into several languages, including English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Czech and Russian, and although it was not the only genre she was prolific in, she is mainly known for her science fiction works. Continue reading

Dating Spanish chapbooks: the wonders of artificial intelligence

Cambridge University Library was recently awarded a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant to continue work on the Spanish chapbooks catalogued and digitised under the “Wrongdoing in Spain, 1800-1936” project, as featured in the Cambridge Digital Library. This new year-long project aims to reliably date about 67% of chapbooks bearing estimated dates, often drawn from the printer’s period of activity. To establish more accurate dates of printing for these items, we aim to conduct visual search on woodcut illustrations within the chapbooks to compare prints made from the same woodblocks.

Printing houses used woodblocks (as well as metal stereotype plates in the nineteenth century) to illustrate the chapbooks. Woodblocks were expensive to produce, so printers often had a limited stock that they reused, sometimes through several generations of printers. Earlier woodblocks were crudely made on softwood, but the technique developed to produce much more detailed woodblocks etched with metal-engraving tools on harder wood. More intricate images are typical of the later period, although many older woodcuts continued to be used in later years to cut costs. It comes as no surprise then that wood blocks deteriorated over time, becoming less sharp, developing cracks. We see how, after many printings, the finest lines began to fade, and it is this wear-and-tear that we are hoping to use to our advantage to date the Cambridge Digital Library Spanish chapbooks more accurately.

During the first phase of the project (October 2021-to date) images of the chapbooks were run through a machine learning model created by Oxford University’s Visual Geometry Group. The model was pre-trained on similar Scottish chapbooks from the National Library of Scotland. This process recognized the woodcut images and created annotations to mark them using bounding boxes, but the result was not perfect. Manual input was needed to ensure that the gathering of images suited the parameters of the project. Our aim was to isolate individual woodblock prints (i.e., woodcuts made from a single woodblock). The software missed the fact that some images consisting of two or three separate woodblocks had been combined to make an individual image. It also missed borders and garlands and made “false detections”, so manual input was essential not just to serve our purposes for the project, but also to train the machine learning model to make more accurate predictions in the future.

On the next phase of the project, all the images and annotations, alongside metadata from Cambridge Digital Library, will be imported into an instance of VISE (Virtual Geometry Group Image Search Engine). VISE will allow us to visually search many images (we annotated a total of 18,757 images out of 26,527 scanned images of chapbooks). By using an image or a metadata field as a search query, we are hoping to use machine learning and computer vision to explore relationships between the illustrations and not only narrow down the publication dates of the chapbooks, but also open up fields for research in printing and social history.

Sonia Morcillo García

  Good things come in small packages

A colourful display of books at Taller Leñateros (from Wikimedia Commons)

This post is about two small, beautiful publications that come packed with great significance. These are two books by the publishing collective Taller Leñateros (translated as ‘Firewood Collectors/Peddlers Worskhop’) in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. Taller Leñateros publishes the first books produced, written, illustrated, printed and bound entirely by Mayan people in 400 years1, and was founded in 1975 by Mexican poet Ambar Past.

Chiapas, as the perifery of the perifery, is known to the world because of the EZLN (the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, or Zapatista Army of National Liberation) who democratically control a substantial part of this Southern Mexican territory in the name of local indigenous rights. The geographical position of Taller Leñateros in this rural area is of high importance in this context2, considering as well that most of the publishing industry of the country is located in Mexico City, where literary production is mandated by big national publishers, some of them linked to mainstream publishing multinationals. 

Continue reading

Some lockdown-era donations

Our department, Collections and Academic Liaison, works on the lion’s share of donations of books made to the University Library.  Since our numbers in the library building have had to be kept very low since mid-March last year, our focus in the office has chiefly been on cataloguing new bought books, but this post mentions a few donations that we have been able to process recently. Continue reading