Abstract. DH2014. Project. Castas. Team.

For the past few weeks Elika, David, and I have been working on an abstract to go to DH2014 about Casta paintings. We took about 300 paintings from the Baroque Art database and, selecting certain descriptors, described the characters in the paintings with their actions and the setting in which they are situated. The characters themselves were described by their race (as stated in the title), their position on the canvas, and whether they were parent or child. The actions were joined to whether the character received or did an action, and the setting was chosen from a small list of landscapes (categorized by indoor or outdoor).

We have found some interesting results, including those that confirm some of my suspicions. I had noticed when I was going through the catalogued there were some interesting patterns, however the database and visualizations confirmed my suspicions. There was one particular issue that stood out to us – the problem of blood mending. The preoccupation with genealogical origins was already a big concern in the Spanish culture – being a good Christian also took into account a bloodline free from Moorish or Jewish blood. This thought came with the Spanish into the Americas, and this time the focus was a bloodline free from indigenous or African blood. However, there were also ways of having bloodlines “cleaned” through a process of blood mending. Through a certain path of unions an offspring would eventually return to a status of “white” or Spanish.  The result showed that although Spanish children are highest in number, they are representative of only 7.8% of the types of children in the paintings.

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The collaborative process has been a really great experience, especially working with different people in the lab; it definitely gives a different result. We were all responsible for different details, but at the same time we all had overlapping responsibilities. This project has also showed me some interesting perspectives that I can take for my thesis, as the general subject will be the same. I’m really excited to get started on my own work now!

Anything could happen.

This year I will be completing my master’s thesis on Casta paintings, a genre of civil paintings from 18th century Mexico (although a few came out of Peru as well). Elika, David and I have also begun work on a project of the same topic, focusing on the relationship between the subjects of the paintings and their landscape and actions. These paintings are peculiar to me as they depicted interracial family units, as opposed to the traditional religious images.

I have held a large interest in these paintings since I learned about them in my art history course last year. I have been reading a lot of background research on the subject, although it has been hard to stay focused on the topic. Although I have found a lot of great material on Casta paintings, I have been getting quite lost in readings on the casta system in social/ historical contexts, not just in terms of artistic representations, but also in literature and historical documents.

The project in the lab has so far taken the steps of importing the data collection from the Baroque Art database. In the next few days we will be examining the images from Ilona Katzew’s Casta Painting, which provides an extensive collection of images, and inputting the new data. We will be focusing on the landscape in which the subjects are in, as well as their actions. I’m interested to see what information we will have after the analysis, and whether or not the representation of castas goes along with their documented view in society.

In most of the paintings, some castes will be depicted with beautiful and expensive clothes, insinuating money and power, however generally their social class is living in squalor. There seems to be a lot of pull in terms of “calidad”, their superficial appearance, to signify whether they are truly of a certain caste or not. Although most from caste 5 are living in squalor and although subject 1 is of the same bloodline as caste 5, his wealth and superficial appearance allows him to jump to caste 2, although not of the same bloodline. That being said, this subject 1 will no longer be known as caste 5, but exclusively included in caste 2.

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 11.55.04 PM(Katzew, Ilona. Casta Painting. pp101)


Happy New Year (…well academic year)

Summer has definitely flown by, a lot of different experiences experienced and lessons learned. Now it’s the new academic year and it seems significantly busier than last year. Personally it was quite an adjustment last year: from five years of undergraduate work, three weeks of mentally preparing for the graduate student life to finally entering a graduate program. Last year around this time I was beginning my new classes and trying to get a grasp on teaching and work…pretty much everything. Now, it feels like the adjustment period never existed – projects and ideas are flowing, teaching is a comfortable concept, and courses are fantastically interesting.

I’m working on several things at the moment: continuing work on Rubens, working on both my thesis and related lab project on Casta paintings, a template development for a website and the re-working of the Baroque Art database website. I’ve been focusing on the Baroque Art database for most of the summer, learning a lot about html and css, but also attempting to understand the use of javascript and other related programing languages. But to be honest, I’m afraid to learn javascript and related langauges. Everytime I learn something new about programming, whether it’s how to fix a bug to my attempts to use github, I am continuously reminded of my ignorance – however, looking at the positive side of things, my ignorance means I am open to every new thing I learn and it makes the learning process so much more exciting. On top of that, I can read code (most times), which means that I can now officially read in three natural languages, musical notation and some code.

In other news, next week I will be participating in a round table discussion at the Taking DH Off Campus on “What Do Digital Humanists Do?” with Mark McDayter (English), Devon Elliott (History), David Bourget (Philosophy), Beth Compton (Archaelogy) and I will be representing the Modern Languages Department. I’ve decided that this year I will try and get more involved in both the academic community and, well, the community in general as keeping to myself and my own department does not provide me the diversity of thought and opinion that is necessary to get a truly well-rounded education.



Intro to Databases…and how I was kept interested

My first DHSI was definitely a whirlwind of meeting new people and introductions to, pretty much everything – the conferences, the un-conferences, the projects, etc. My database course set out to help students and faculty members plan their projects, make use of databases to organize and categorize data and then use queries to retrieve said data. However, the course was not only on how to use the database itself, but how to use databases in humanities research, how to include data in the realm of research work that is so often based on a few foundational archives/works and how to take advantage of this tool to ask question previously unfeasible. Fortunate for me, the web development course that we had recently taken had already introduced me to various programing languages and concepts.

Harvey, John and Jon from U of Alberta and U of Saskatchewan, made intro to databases an engaging subject, making use of their literary knowledge to help explain computing concepts. In the first two days I was given a deeper explanation of models and relationships, not just the traditional definition you might find in a textbook. So how does one explain models and relationships to a literature student? – with the comparison of literary concepts with new vocabulary and concepts of databases. Some of the highlights are: entities as nouns, attributes as adjectives and junctions as gerunds, and, my favourite, – the problem as a narrative. As simple as these connections are, they make something like the concept of an entity have a much more fleshed out significance.

The following two days were filled with practical exercises, such as uploading data into databases, making queries and even creating databases from scratch, tables and all. We were provided with different types of data, from a movie review database with thousands of entries, to small ones that contained data on a fictional bird watching club. There are definitely strict rules to follow when using databases, like the importance of grammatical rules, spelling (a big one), preventing repetition as much as possible and the importance of taking the time to make a good model.

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Teaching intro to databases can be daunting for any computer scientist, but when that student has received an education in literature and humanities…saying that they speak different languages is an understatement. Clarity and communication is of such a great importance in teaching, that when both parties speak two completely different languages it is near impossible to find common ground – or so one would think. Although I’m often nervous when learning something new, it is never for the subject itself, but, rather, for the way that it is taught to me. As easy as it would be to read textbooks and online tutorials, it has no tangible meaning for me. But, compare using databases with entering the Matrix, comparing computer language with everyday grammar, and using narrative creation as a means to solve models, that somehow makes much more sense.



Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 5.38.36 PMAs the academic year is coming to an end – no more teaching and no more courses – my final projects are also finishing up. One of the projects I’m working on is a group project based on a seminar studying Macedonio, Borges, Cortázar taught by Dr. Rafael Montano. For our final project we decided to create a text, combining excerpts, of a common topic, from various works by Macedonio Fernandez, Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar – this project we have entitled Macorges. This text concentrates on the question of self-existence, and although the text is a collage of snippets from various texts, there is still a coherency that allows the voice to question and answer itself. The text created is only the tip of the iceberg – we further divided the text into multiple versions, and interpretations. First we have the original text we created, the second interpretation is the text copied and given hyperlinks to articles, books, movies, YouTube videos, music, art, etc. that helps/halts/redirects the reading of the text, the third interpretation (encyclopedia) is the text, again copied, but given the bibliographic information within the text and adding a theoretical perspective to the different themes in the text, and our final interpretation is a video. We decided that this project would be displayed in blog format, allowing the viewer/reader to choose the interpretation he/she would like to read, or jump from one to another – this allows the reader to play within the labyrinth that we have created.

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My part in particular, was a collaborative work with Jimena Zambrano – a fellow Hispanic Studies student – on the interpretation we have called the ‘labyrinth’ (or ‘el laberinto’). There were a lot of challenging questions we had to resolve for our part of the project – what we deemed fit to include in our hyperlinks, what level of reader/viewer did we want to attract, what part of the text was important to hyperlink/what wasn’t, how in depth did we want to go, how were we going to add multiple links to single words/phrases, the questions were pretty much endless. However, after careful consideration, and a very direct approach we decided on a few general things that led to our part becoming more focused – our intended viewers/readers would be a general audience (although knowledge of Spanish would be important to read the text itself, it did not mean that all the links were to be Spanish, as we included English links as well – audience therefore would need reading knowledge of Spanish and English), our links would be linked to a separate blog entry in a separate blog that contained a variety of links at different levels (from general public to academic articles) and these linked blog entries would provide an explanation/synopsis of the links we had chosen and why. We also wanted to make sure to have a rich amount of links (diving the text itself into very small sections, ranging from words (that could be defined in a variety of ways – like space and time, or existentialism) to metaphoric phrases that expressed a particular thought.

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To be honest this part of the project seems endless because any thought can be interpreted in different ways depending on the perspective of the reader. What is important for us right now is to create a base for the project. We could add links continuously and never finish, so we had to cap it at some point. At the moment we are halfway into uploading the links into the secondary blog site, although our addition of links still continues…

Bogotá, Colombia.

I spent some time in Bogota recently, visiting family and getting to know the city. Although I have been there several times, I have not had the opportunity to travel within the city itself, as I mostly spend my time traveling between the homes of my family. Because I have been working on colonial art these past few months, I decided to take the opportunity and discover the museums and churches in the old city – la candelaria. It’s really embarrassing that I have never really explored this part of the city, but it’s better late than never, right?

Monasterio de la Candelaria, museum and still functioning monastery.

Monasterio de la Candelaria, museum and still functioning monastery.

I think what really impressed me the most were the churches, although the museums were beautiful, the churches had something about them that is hard to describe. I think it has to do with knowing that the art, in someway, is still being used, while museums just put the pieces away for people to look at completely out of context. Most of my studies have been with books, fiction, something I can carry around, I can purchase relatively easy and have access to at any moment. These paintings, you can find in catalogues and databases, where they provide much more information regarding the context, history, author, material information, more than what you would find from the plaques sometimes placed beside them in museums or churches. However, there is still something that happens when you see them, when you stand in front of the painting and you can see the brush strokes, or see the disintegration, or perhaps the layered materials on the paint that cannot be easily captured in an image.

La Virgen de la Leche, Anonymous, XVII c.

La Virgen de la Leche, Anonymous, XVII c.

Coronación de la Inmaculada, Cuzco School, XVII c.

Coronación de la Inmaculada, Cuzco School, XVII c.











The difference in the preservation, or perhaps the housing, of cultural objects in museums and churches is so different and interesting. While in museums they seem to have a distance created, they are surrounded by rope or encased in glass or perhaps a guard tells you kindly not to get too close, but those pieces in churches seem to belong, and if you don’t pay attention you can miss them. It is an obvious difference, viewing a painting from the 17th century in a museum seems much more intense than viewing one from a church. There is something missing (at least for me) to have a religious painting placed beside a modernist in museums, at least when they are in churches they hold their original function. Imagining that the same painting has been there for a couple hundred years makes me think of its significance, has it changed? Will it change in the future? What would happen if it was moved to another country? The function of these paintings was didactic, teaching a new country the ways of its conquerors and inciting religious fervor, to a certain extent religious didacticism can’t be taken away from religious works in churches, but it can when placed in museums. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have them in museums, because a lot of the time paintings in churches are not taken care of like they are in museums, nor do they provide the churchgoer information on the painter or the historical background of the painting, and that in itself is a loss as well. There is no right or wrong, but rather a clear distinction that needs to be taken into account when viewing these paintings. But then you have the perfect merges of museums and churches, like the convents and monasteries outside of Bogota, in Villa de Leyva and Ráquira. These museums are housed within the religious vicinity, but provide an informative and well taken care of environment to house these art works.

my html

This is something that I haven’t actually written about, so I thought I would take the opportunity to recount the experience of my semi-obsessive tendencies in html. One of my projects in my research methods class was to create my own website, using Dreamweaver. But, like most supposedly user-friendly software, I found it quite difficult because I pictured something that the software was unable to do…or at least my impatience of not figuring it within a few minutes (okay maybe like 15, but still) led me to a different scheme. With the help of a kind stranger, he led me to some useful tools on the internet to learn the basics in html. Luckily, I had already learned the very basics in one of my high school computer classes, but of course that was a long time ago and although I remember vaguely what happened, review was definitely necessary.

I began with the w3schools introduction to html, really easy to work through step-by-step of the different elements needed in creating a website. Things like, headings, paragraphs, formatting, layout, etc. This part was actually quite simple, very basic and the site provided space to practice and play around with the different kinds of codes in different combinations. It was fun, but also where the problem began. Although I’m not a huge gamer, I do have a weakness for puzzles, and this, to me, is the best kind of puzzle because I get to have what I want at the end. So this is where my semi-obsessive nature comes in (by semi-obsessive I mean that I have at last learned to divide time between puzzles and all the things I should actually be doing – studying, eating, working).

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Stemming from the w3schools intro, although really good for the basics, I also wanted the site to look nice, not so basic, but I didn’t have the kind of time necessary to figure out everything that came with html (CSS, Javascript), so Bootstrap became a very good friend of mine. Before I figured out how to use Bootstrap I would spend hours playing with the different ways to format the layout, tables, paragraphs, fonts and style, but like every course project I had a deadline…one week. The site was able to provide me with information to fill in the basic learning that I acquired in my study at the w3schools. I did use many more sources to learn different codes that do different things, including YouTube, tutorials, and different html specialized group forums. This combination has at least allowed me to enter the html house, although I feel like I’m just in the foyer and I have a castle to figure out, I’m definitely looking forward to when that time comes.



my current research process

Data – one word that I hardly use in my past research because I always associate it with science and math. But, now I’m working on a project that contains this word…data. So what is it in my very newbie case? It’s all that information that I was able to extract from catalogues, articles, books, and online catalogues. So, in the summer we had begun with researching and locating information on Rubens’ engravings that served as inspiration or models for paintings done by Spanish artists. There are, then, several main things that need to be extracted, Rubens’ engravings, the engravers (Bolswert etc), and the inspired painters/paintings in Latin America. I think this is probably the most intricate part because somehow all of this information has to come together without looking like a heap of names, places and dates. There are several things that need to be taken into account when searching the data. First, that Rubens, although his name was on the books of prints (engravings) he was not the only one or the main creator of the engravings – however for the sake of every account of his life he is named as author/creator of all of these print books and paintings. As noted in my previous blogs, the engravings were then utilized by colonial painters and reproduced in a variety of ways, either as straight copy/imitation, some differences, and minor influence over painting. That means, that there are different types of information that would need to be retrieved, Ruben’s creations (print books, engravings, drawings etc.), the middleman (publishers, engravers), the influenced painting (colonial painting) and colonial artist. The difficult part is identifying those paintings that belonged to Rubens and have been imitated in one way or another in the New World. This part, in particular, proves a challenge because of the vast amount of prints that Rubens pushed out into the market and the massive amount of paintings by numerous well-known and obscure painters in the New World. As well, throughout the years that the first set of prints got into the colonial painting circles, there were numerous ways in which the paintings were imitated, whether it was strict copy, some differences, an almost an entirely new painting but with a few identifying features of Rubens’ style, or a painting influenced by not only Rubens, but by other painters. For me, finding the paintings inspired by Rubens is challenging, as there has to be sufficient evidence that the painting itself has Rubens’ style within it. However, catalogues and articles prove to be very helpful because they are able to provide a narrowed down and concise documentation of Rubens’ paintings and their consequent use.

looking back and going forward

A new term has started and I would like to take the opportunity to outline some of the projects that are ending and some that I will be starting.

Last term I studied colonial art of Latin America, which let me explore the idea of hybridity (more in an introspective sense), the idea of belonging to a determined community, yet somehow not (which I saw in Casta paintings. This idea continued on in my study of Latin-American literature. Through my readings, and what ended up being my final project, I again worked on this idea of a “hybrid” cultural. I looked at the poems of Nicolás Guillén (Cuban, négrismo poetry) and Langston Hughes (U.S., Harlem Renaissance poetry).  What really captured my attention is not the notion of a split-identity, not just the personal experience and its interpretation through art (literature, paintings, music), but also the experience represented in the community itself. However, it’s not just the experience of this mixture, of something other than what is “normal” in a community. The transference of cultural elements has occurred in the meeting of any two cultural groups, whether they are neighbouring groups, or ones divided by an ocean.

To elaborate on why this interests me:

It’s the moment when I began to reflect at my inability to distinguish when I was reading English and when I was reading in Spanish, it’s a moment that mirrored when my mother speaks to me in Spanish in public, I look to my friend waiting for a response to my mother’s comment and realize that they don’t understand her, they are English speakers So how does this tie with the notion of hybrid? It’s my own experience with it, it’s the idea that those moments when I can’t distinguish, when both languages are received at the same speed and the same way, and I have the moment that I am neither a English speaker nor Spanish, I am somehow in between. I understand and therefore expect all others to understand the same thing as me (in language that is) and find that I’m stuck in the middle. This led me to think of things like, can I distinguish my own take on certain traditions from a Canadian perspective, or Colombian, do I always join both views together when looking at a situation, or do I give priority to one over the other in different situations? This, what I call, “inbetween” is what I see in the paintings and poetry, and sometimes music itself. Of course, this is my first instinct, and I could very well change my mind. I could go on forever. It’s one of those things I think about and I could spend hours thinking about making an argument, rejecting it, modifying it, rejecting it again, making a new argument, contradicting myself etc. etc. etc.

So what does any of this have to do with the issue of transference of cultural elements? Well, because I have unconsciously accepted a lot of different cultural elements from either side (Canadian and Colombian) without realizing it. My way of looking at the world changes, the way that it is presented, the messages that are received are interpreted differently.

This leads me to my new projects (I’ll talk about my new courses at a later time, because what I’m about to say ties in to my previous piece).

I have been working with Rubens most this past term, and I have been reading a lot of articles and books on the transference of his prints to Latin America. There are a lot of different types of research done on him (obviously as he is the biggest painter of his time, and if he was here today, I’m sure he could teach us a thing or two about monopolizing the artistic market), his history, why his paintings were transferred rather than those of other painters, how the prints were being used and manipulated by colonial artists, their function in colonial society etc. The paintings themselves provided the vision of Europe as it was during his life, the religious elements in his paintings are blatant, his cultural references are understood by those in Europe and his rise to fame and style of paintings go hand in hand with the contextual history (the Counter-Reformation). However, imagine the impact when a flood (literally) of prints are shipped to a virgin and emerging culture. The “new world” is still trying to learn how to walk, yes there was a somewhat established infrastructure in terms of policies and politics etc. but culturally it was still developing. The troubling part I found about my readings was how centralized they were on the European aspect. That is, that I could hardly find works done on the perspective of Latin American. Although it is important to understand the foundation of this transference of paintings, however, it is equally as important to understand those that received the paintings.

“Innovation respects tradition and innovation does not fear tradition” – Mind of a chef

A little deviation. So I found this new cooking show, not like the competition to see who can make the best cupcakes or where to find burgers that will legit give you a heart attack, but the kind of cooking show that will show you some cooking and give you a bit of information (like the educational kind). It’s called “Mind of a chef” with Chef David Chang from Momofoku restaurant in New York travelling the world and introducing chefs that are a bit…different. Not the bad kind of different, but the innovative, research on what is an egg for two years type of different. The episode that I watched was Chef Chang cooking with René Redzepi, in his restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. René is quite interesting, he shows his use of different produce found around Copenhagen and really concentrating on new ways to use them. Not only that but his lab is on a house boat!

The part that really caught my attention was the anarchist farmer who provides produce for Redzepi. He was all kinds of interesting, and all that he said were general truths I couldn’t help but drink in. His way of farming is more just letting things grow without interference and using new techniques of growing, or not. For example, one of the things he does is lets puts the potatoes in a crate and leaves them o sit, which results in an intense tasting potato – of course you have to know how to cook them. This anarchist farmer is so interesting because I’m so used to the term used in completely political discourse, but here its different, its more about being free than anything else. I watched another epidose, just to make sure that the show wasn’t peaking at just the Copenhagen episode, and anarchy also came up again. This time to describe an older gentleman in Spain, here it was more to say that he’s not only free, but he likes to question everything.

Even though the show is based on cuisine, there is so many things that could be adapted to any study. The general truths that they give are one of the things that I enjoyed the most. Things like the different ways of thinking, either broad or more specific, the latter allowing to see the potential. The potential I think means that sometimes in focusing it makes you think differently, seeing the same thing and questioning how its being used and the possibilities – it’s like if you see the same thing all the time you have to figure out how to make it more exciting. Sometimes reworking previous though or just completely deconstructing, both of which add to being an innovative person or society. I mean, one of the chefs from Spain spent two years thinking and questioning on the egg – like the normal ones we have for breakfast. But out of it, he found innovative ways to prepare the eggs that blends chemistry and cooking. Its interesting to see what others are doing, why and how, and maybe we can implement or recycle ideas – whether they be just ways of thinking or ways to partner up disciplines.