The Hibernating Exhibition: How LLILAS Benson Produced a Traveling Exhibition Program

The exhibition Mapping Mexican History: Territories in Dispute, Identities in Question is on tour with several state-wide stops under its belt! As part of the tour this April, the exhibition will be installed at UT El Paso’s C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department. This is the fourth stop on a tour that began in the summer of 2017 when LLILAS Benson staff members used US Department of Education Title VI funds to create the traveling exhibition and its accompanying public education program.

Looking back at the creation of the traveling exhibition, Itza Carbajal, current Latin American Metadata Librarian at the Benson Collection, reflects on the significance of this tour for a special collection: “The life of an exhibition can be shortlived. After the reception and weeks of display, exhibition items quietly return to their storage or permanent encasings. As part of the traveling exhibition project, some of the Benson’s treasures embarked on a tour around the Texas Rio Grande Valley. But unlike previous exhibitions that required established loan periods and limited forms of interactions, this tour utilized high-quality to scale reproductions, digital preservation practices, and digital humanist technologies in order to avoid concerns of preservation, safety, or financial costs to ship and handle rare and delicate historical artifacts.”

With the support of the Title VI grant, the LLILAS Benson project team sent multiple exhibition sets of original-size high resolution facsimiles, text labels, and exhibition panels to various minority-serving institutions in Texas, including South Texas College Library, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Brownsville Library, and the local Austin Consulate General of Mexico.

The original curated collection (2013), curated by Julianne Gilland, highlighted some of the Benson’s rarest maps (see 2014 issue of Portal). The exhibition demonstrated three distinct moments when maps played an integral role in the transformation of Mexico and its political geography. The original conception of the project modeled itself after other similar efforts termed either as exhibitions in a box, the Pop-Up Archive, or a museum in a box, with examples such as the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Traveling Exhibition services or Autograph ABP’s “The Missing Chapter Black Chronicles” traveling exhibition.

The LLILAS Benson project team also coordinated free digital scholarship workshops, led by Digital Scholarship Coordinator Albert A. Palacios and Carbajal, centered on the exhibition themes, utilizing digital copies of the collection materials. The workshops highlighted tools such as StoryMapJS to create a dynamic visual-based online storytelling, Carto and ArcGIS to construct interactive GIS visualizations, and Map Warper to analyze the spatial evolution of Mexican cities. The workshops, taught alongside student instructors, were open to undergraduate students, faculty, staff, as well as retired professors and local residents. To date, three workshops have been held at South Texas College Library and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Brownsville Library. As part of the fourth installation, an workshop will be held at the University of Texas–El Paso on April 27, 2018, led by Palacios and Joshua Ortiz Baco, doctoral candidate in Spanish & Portuguese and current LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship GRA.

The team that put the traveling exhibit together consisted of exhibition curator and former Benson director Julianne Gilland, Digital Scholarship Coordinator Palacios, Public Engagement Coordinator Lindsey Engelman, UT grad student Marlena Cravens, and Carbajal, who at the time was a graduate student in the iSchool and 2017 ARL/SAA Mosaic Fellow.

Original article appeared in a April 2018 TEXAS LIBRARIES UPDATE