Three Questions with Dr. Andrew Torget, UNT Historian and Pioneer in Digital Scholarship
Three Questions is an initiative to share the value that our faculty, students, and others in the UNT community derive from using the Unique Collections at UNT Libraries.
How important are Unique Collections in your teaching, learning or research?
The holdings of the UNT Libraries, particularly their digital archives, are absolutely central to my work. It would have been simply impossible for me to write my most recent book, Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, without the unique collections of the UNT library. The massive digital newspapers collection, the cataloging and accessibility of almost-impossible-to-find archival resources like Stephen F. Austin’s unpublished letters, makes all the difference for a historian such as myself. I have made discoveries in these records that change how I understand and write about the past.
In terms of my teaching, these collections have allowed me to build new research-focused courses for my students. In the spring of 2013, for example, I taught a graduate course focused on runaway slave ads in the Library’s digital newspaper collection. This past spring, I co-taught a course on the civil rights era in Texas, which relied heavily on the massive KXAS TV News archive that our Library acquired from NBC5. Relying on that amazing resource – and the tremendous work of the Library staff to make it accessible – a group of UNT undergraduate and graduate students were able to build a terrific online museum focused on the fight over civil rights in Texas during the 1950s.
How have Unique Collections changed the way you approach your research, teaching or learning?
It has enabled me to do research and teaching projects that would have otherwise been impossible. Three years ago, for example, I launched a new digital humanities project geared to take advantage of the tremendous wealth of the Library’s digital newspaper collection. Mapping Texts is an effort to combine text-mining and data visualization in order to detect meaningful language patters scattered across millions of words in the digitized Texas newspapers – to see, in other words, if we could find large-scale patterns in this massive archive that have long eluded scholars. This project was also sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and has gone on to garner a great deal of national attention.
What do you want others to know about your research?
My research and teaching are a deep blend of new digital research methods and traditional historical archival work, both of which depend so heavily on the unique collections made available by the UNT library. Quite simply, I could do none of it without these amazing collections.
Andrew J. Torget is a historian of nineteenth-century North America I the UNT history department. A veteran of pioneering work in digital scholarship, he has been a featured speaker at Harvard, Stanford, Rice, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and the Library of Congress. In 2011, he was named the inaugural David J. Weber Research Fellow at the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University. His most recent book is Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850 (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).