UT-Austin digitizes indigenous language materials in online archive after Brazil museum fire

Adriana Rezal

The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America recently announced the opening of the Terrence Kaufman Collections of curated and digitized indigenous language materials, which otherwise would be at risk of being lost.

AILLA works with a number of anthropologists and linguists to collect materials on indigenous languages and cultures and preserve them on an online archive, said Patience Epps, linguistics professor and faculty co-director for AILLA. 

AILLA is a joint project with organizations such as UT’s Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Studies Library. The Terrence Kaufman Collection is comprised of linguistic anthropologist Terrence Kaufman’s large body of work including indigenous linguistic data such as dialects and language families. These materials originate from 22 countries in the Americas and cover over 50 years’ worth of Kaufman’s research, according to AILLA’s website.

Last Friday, the library hosted an urgent forum in response to a fire at the National Museum of Brazil in September, where irreplaceable cultural materials were lost. Epps said digitalizing materials is crucial.

“One positive thing, perhaps, that could come out of it is a call to action for people all over the world to create backups, create digital archives of materials that exist in collections,” Epps said.

Benson library director Melissa Guy said institutions such as universities and governments should invest in prioritizing cultural materials and research.

“We safeguard at-risk materials by preserving and hosting digital copies at UT,” Guy said. “That said, this particular approach cannot be a solution for lack of investment in cultural heritage institutions. We can’t have one without the other. It has to go together.”

History junior Karina Peralta, who is taking a class at the Benson, said the library offers a large selection of resources for students interested in subjects related to Latin America.

“I feel like the Benson does provide more … focus on Latin American culture, and they have more options in regard to that topic compared to the PCL or the other libraries,” Peralta said.

 Through projects such as the Terrence Kaufman Collections, the Benson serves as a resource for priceless cultural materials and research for UT students.

“The first thing that I would urge UT students to do is to make themselves aware of what exists,” Epps said. “It’s important that people recognize what an amazing resource we have based right here on our campus and what an important function it serves.”