Historical account of early Texas gains new exposure through University Libraries digitization project
Researchers across the globe can now interact with history through a state-of-the-art, online exhibition that showcases a Texas State University treasure. The new website celebrates La relación, a book written by Spanish conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca originally published in 1542. The website, exhibits.library.txstate.edu/cabeza, was launched in July 2018 – the culmination of a University Libraries’ team effort to re-digitize Texas State’s rare copy of the 1555 revised edition of the book and create a multi-media informational exhibition. The effort will help historians and scholars research the trailblazing work from anywhere in the world.
“We first digitized the university’s copy of La relación and made it available online 15 years ago, and it has been by far the most accessed resource in our Southwestern Writers Collection,” said Joan Heath, associate vice president and university librarian. “With the advances in digitization technology, we felt it was important to use the state-of-the-art technology and digitization experts here at the library to redo that work and provide an even better online exhibition for scholars, historians, and interested individuals around the world to access.”
La relación tells the story of Cabeza de Vaca and three companions who shipwreck along the Texas coast in 1528. It documents their travels through Texas and into the greater southwest and Mexico, including their encounters with various Native American tribes. The book, which serves as the foundational piece of The Wittliff Collections, was donated to Texas State through the generosity of Bill and Sally Wittliff and an anonymous donor in 1989.
Cabeza de Vaca’s account is of great anthropological and historical importance. In Texas alone, he identifies 23 Native American groups, describing in detail their clothes, languages, eating habits, rituals, homes and migrations. This has made the work very important to middle and high school Texas History classes which often used the previously published website in their curriculum.
“We know teachers have found this work to be invaluable in teaching students about the early inhabitants of Texas,” said The Wittliff Collections Director Dr. David Coleman. “Students find the adventurous aspects of the story to be interesting. This new website format is even more engaging and appealing.”
Coleman and The Wittliff Collections’ curator Steve Davis served on the project team that created the website content. University Libraries Digital and Web Services staff Dr. Ray Uzwyshyn, Todd Peters, Jason Long, Jeremy Moore and Erin Mazzei, and students Grayson Ellsworth and Oscar Martinez utilized new technology known as IIIF, or International Image Interoperability Framework, to provide enhanced image access with faster delivery and manipulation abilities for detail inspection, zooming and panning of
“When people visit the website, it’s almost like they are holding that book in their hands,” said Davis. “I’m particularly excited about this opportunity for us to pay proper homage to Cabeza de Vaca and his extraordinary work.”
The website includes page-by-page images of the book with an English translation next to each page, so people can read the story as written and translated. Dr. Frank de la Teja, a Regents and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus from Texas State University, provides video commentary to help highlight facets of the story and relate the historical significance of Cabeza de Vaca’s journey and experiences. In addition, there is a collection of artwork depicting the journey that links to teaching guides and other resources for further study.
“Having this document in its collections tells the world that Texas State University is serious about being a world-class humanities research institution,” said de la Teja. “It’s vital that we have websites like this one that so eloquently and so artistically represent something that is a real jewel for the university and even for the state and the country.”
By Debbie Pitts