Workbook for Introduction to Digital Humanities: A-State

Aimie Michelle's Project Review

Carvalho Monteiro Library (Library of Congress). Cheryl Fox, Collections specialist, LC Manuscript Division, Library of Congress; Beatriz Haspo, Collections Officer, Collections Access, Loan and Management Division, Library of Congress; João Cruz Alves, Chief Executive Officer, Fundaçao CulturSintra; Created in 2012; accessed January 21, 2018.

The Carvalho Monteiro (CM) Library digital collection in the Library of Congress (LOC) provides an intriguing example of how Digital Humanities work can transform historical research while also illustrating one of the compelling concerns researchers may have regarding the transition from analog to digital information: the loss of incidental material evidence in the form of receipts, inventory lists and the physical card catalog itself.[1]   My involvement with the project began in 2011, after my undergraduate research in Portugal provided an opportunity to help a team from Fundaçao CulturSintra in Sintra, Portugal researching the lost library of Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro (1850-1920)  conduct their research in the United States, where the library had been acquired by the Library of Congress (LOC) in the 1920.  This inquiry from Portuguese researchers spurred the Library of Congress’s collections specialists to realize how important the collection was to Portugal’s national history and as a historical artifact in itself. Unfortunately, after the library was acquired in two separate purchases, it had been hastily broken up and distributed throughout the LOC’s massive holdings, becoming essentially lost a coherent collection outside of a small portion which maintained integrity as the Portuguese Pamphlet Collection.[2]  Working with the Fundaçao CulturSintra research team to compare the few surviving inventory lists and physical records from the acquisition and cataloging process, LOC archivists were able to establish a paper trail that led to an estimated 30,000 volumes belonging to the collection in the LOC's holdings, now identifiable only by the Order Division accession numbers “366768” and “387270” which mark the acquisitions in 1927 and 1929.[3]  

As  materials belonging to the collection are identified, they are added to the Library of Congress digital Name Authority File (NAF) now established for the collection. The physical condition of the material is assessed for conversation and the digital record is updated to include special notes of interest to historical researchers such as the presence of marginalia or dedications, and holding locations or access information.[4]  This allows the collection to be reconstituted as a virtual entity across the many different divisions and existing special collections that now house portions of the Carvalho Monteiro Library, as the list of titles can be searched and, in some cases, digitally accessed through the LOC’s online card catalog.  The latter accessibility is a vitally important resource for Portuguese historians, as the decades under the Salazar dictatorship and the layered rewriting of Portuguese history into a new nationalistic ideology erased influential figures like Carvalho Monteiro from public memory, along with the knowledge of their work.  Thanks to Carvalho Monteiro’s obsessive desire to create a national portrait of his beloved Portugal through collecting everything from family scrapbooks and photographs to the rarest books of his time, the CM Library allows a deep look into the material culture surrounding the tumultuous age of the Portuguese First Republic.

At present, the Carvalho Monteiro Library digital collection is difficult to navigate without specialized expertise in the LOC’s unique archival system, though search engines such as Google allow even novice researchers to discover items from the collection and related web pages or articles about the collection.  The Carvalho Monteiro Collection Project (CMCP), started in 2012 by the Collection Access, Loan & Management Division as a LOC Junior Fellowship summer internship program oversees the ongoing reconstitution of the Carvalho Monteiro Library as a digital entity.[5]  The involvement of university partners has led to the creation of supplementary websites, such as the UPenn’s Online Books Page featuring digitized versions of books listed in CM Library.[6]  As more of the texts within the collection become digitized, scholars will be able to engage in “distant reading” across the collection to identify and analyze cultural patterns and historical themes using computational methods, opening a range of information that has been previously unavailable to scholars and students abroad.[7]  The digital archives of student and scholarly work documenting the CMCP’s work in itself becomes a valuable resource detailing the inner workings of the LOC’s during the era of its aggressive expansion as the world’s largest national library in the 1920s and the creation of the Union Catalog system networking American university and public libraries.[8]

As William Jerome Wilson observed regarding the Union Catalog in 1942, “What does it profit a scholar to know that the resources of all the libraries in the world are available to him if he cannot locate his material?”[9]  Wilson’s question becomes even more pertinent in an age when the resources of all the libraries in the world are available to scholars, yet useless if one does not know what treasures are located within them or have the computational tools to manage and extract such an abundance of information.  The CM Library’s story also shows the important evidence possessed by seemingly trivial scraps of information, such as the lost temporary catalog cards used to mark the books between their arrival as a lot and their incorporation into the LOC system, whose retention in the past was limited by available space or workforce. With the increasing development of more expansive and sophisticated digital methods of data retention and analysis, “space” for conservation becomes less of an issue, allowing more detailed records of how texts are collected, organized, and shared across time and distances. The Digital Humanities allows the global culture of information itself to become one of the forefronts in understanding humanity’s need to communicate who we are and what is important to us from the individual level to the national, revealing unexpectedly rich stories along the way.

[1] David M. Berry, “The Computational Turn: Thinking About the Digital Humanities,” Culture Machine 12 (2011): 1,  accessed January 20, 2018,
[2] Cheryl Fox, “Sept. 4, 2012 email,” Carvalho Monteiro Library (Library of Congress) Name Authority File, accessed January 20, 2018,
[3] Ibid.
[4] Beatriz Haspo (Collections Officer, Collections Access, Loan and Management Division, Library of Congress), interviewed by Aimie Michelle Taylor at Library of Congress, October 4, 2013.   
[5]  "#17 -Carvalho Monteiro’s Collection," Junior Fellows Summer Internship Program description, Library of Congress, accessed January 22, 2018,
[6] John Mark Ockerbloom, "Online Books by Carvalho Monteiro Library (Library of Congress)", The Online Books Page, University of Pennsylvania, accessed January 21, 2018,
[7]  Stewart Varner and Patricia Hswe, “Special Report: Digital Humanities in Libraries,” American Libraries, January 4, 2016,
[8] William Jerome Wilson, “The Union Catalog of the Library of Congress,” Isis 33, no. 5 (1942): 625, accessed January 23, 2018,
[9] Ibid.

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