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Puerto Rican literature database is being assembled by UH faculty

Chris Charleston/ The Cougar

An open access digital Puerto Rican literature database is under development by UH faculty, thanks to a hefty grant. | Chris Charleston/ The Cougar

UH is receiving a nearly $1.35 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create a free, open-access digital portal for anyone to learn about or teach Puerto Rican literature.

Officially known as the “El proyecto de la literatura puertorriqueña” or “The Puerto Rican Literature Project,” it will include a database in Spanish and English of approximately 50,000 assets of photographs, manuscripts, poems, videos, and archival materials.

It will also include a digital archive and additional resources that document the existence and experiences of significant Puerto Rican poets.

The collected material consists of literature spanning from 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson enacted the Jones-Shafroth Act extending U.S. citizenship to all Puerto Rican residents, to the present day.

Executive editor of Arte Público Press, Gabriela Baeza Ventura, is managing the project.

Aside from the Puerto Rican Literature Project, Baeza Ventura has experience managing other projects.

In 2019, The Mellon Foundation awarded the school $750,000 to launch the U.S. Latino Digital Humanities Program, to which Baeza Ventura and Brown Foundation Director of Research Carolina Villarroel oversee the grant as co-founders.

The digital program will give scholars access to a vast collection of written materials produced by Latinos and archived by the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage program and Arte Público Press, the oldest and largest publisher of Hispanic Literature in the nation.

“This grants-in-aid supports and extends the work that the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Program has been doing for at least 31 years at the University of Houston to locate, preserve and disseminate the written legacy of the Hispanic community in the United States,” Baeza Ventura said.

“Through this work, we have documented the Hispanic community presence in the territory that we now know as the United States to its colonial period with thousands of records in newspapers, books, archives in English, Spanish, French,” Baeza Ventura continued.

Now, in addition to her responsibilities with the humanities program, Baeza Ventura will lead the PRLP with a collective, or “Colectivo”, of prominent scholars, writers and translators from Puerto Rico and the U.S. diaspora. 

The goal of the Colectivo is to make Puerto Rican literature widely accessible through poetic materials that were physically archived or not archived at all. 

As part of their responsibilities, the Colectivo will gather, transcribe, and translate the materials to build their database. The Puerto Rican Literature Project hopes to bring light to extraordinary Puerto Rican literature and its authors. 

Currently, the database is in progress, with an estimated completion date in 2024, according to Baeza Ventura.

“The Colectivo, which consists of Claire Jiménez, Ricardo Maldonado, Enrique Olivares Pesante and Raquel Salas Rivera are already working on the database,” she said. “The estimated completion date is March 30, 2024, but we plan to share samples from the data and archive in March 2022 and March 2023.”

Members of the project will also interact with grassroots community exchanges by Puerto Rican poets and heighten their visibility to poets and reading communities at large.

In turn, part of the reach will include UH students, as the Puerto Rican Literature Project’s database will serve as a resource for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies scholars.

“Some of the benefits of this and similar databases to UH students is that they have first-hand knowledge of the process involved in gathering and organizing these materials and they can access the assets at any moment for their own research projects and apply for scholarships,” Baeza Ventura said. 

“They can also participate in curating these databases and archival materials, obtain mentorship on archives, digital humanities and project management from the US Latino Digital Humanities team and they can claim that they attend the only university in the nation that holds archives and databases on the written legacy of U.S. Latinos from the colonial period until 1980.”

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