Construction of a Digital Collection of the Mexican Presidential Correspondence (1876-1910)

Alberto García García
Library of Universidad de las Américas-Puebla
Cholula, Puebla 72820 México
alberto@mail.udlap.mx

Purpose of the Project

We plan to digitize and encode the approximately 70,000 telegrams generated during the administration of Porfirio Díaz, President of México from 1876 to 1910. The collection will be made available via Internet to a wide community of researchers (historians, sociologists, political scientists, etc.) and the general public, allowing them to access the collection's resources referring to this historic period termed "Porfiriato."

This will open the opportunity for historians and other researchers to access a primary source of information to examine and develop important studies about the Porfiriato. We expect the availability of Porfirio Díaz' Presidential Correspondence in a digital medium, along with a number of information retrieval services, will bring about new ways to analyze the economic, social and political movements that took place during this period, which is key to understand Mexico's modern history.

Current work (http://digital.udlap.mx/porfirio.html)

A microfilmed version of the entire telegram collection resides at the Library of Universidad de las Américas-Puebla (UDLA). A pilot project started this year for digitizing a sample of approximately 2000 telegrams, exploring cataloging issues and developing basic information retrieval services. We have already digitized, classified  and about 1200 telegrams with the help of four library catalogers. A thesaurus  including all major terms and categories occurring in the telegrams is being constructed. We also have prototyped web-accessible interfaces for searching and retrieval over the digital collection. Progress of the project can be verified at http://digital.udlap.mx/porfirio.html. This work has been started by the Library of the Universidad de las Americas-Puebla using its own limited resources and a small grant of 5,000 dollars awarded by the Mexico-USA Culture Fund (Fideicomiso para la cultura México-Estados Unidos).

Proposed work

The ongoing pilot project has shed light on a number of research and deployment issues that need to be considered when digitizing and developing services for the entire telegram collection. Some of these issues include:

For the proposed project, we will work on tools and environments to assist catalogers in the process of creating the digital collection of telegrams. We will continue the work to construct a comprehensive thesaurus and extensive decoding mechanisms that can be used by assistive technologies (such as agents), which will be instrumental to support users in expediting the construction of the digital repository.

We will also develop a wide range of Java-based applications to facilitate the precise retrieval of the archival information. The following are some of the access points that have been suggested by potential users: addressee, sender, geographic place of the emission or reception of the message, date or subject of the telegram, and combinations of these criteria.

Also as a result of the ongoing pilot project, we have identified the major steps involved in the digitization process (http://biblio.udlap.mx/porfirio/html/entrada.html). These steps include:

a) Selecting, digitizing and transcribing the material information in the special collections room of the University of Americas, Puebla (UDLAP).

b) Retouching  each of the images of the original text of the telegrams previously digitized and creating the necessary links to their associated text.

c) Analyzing each telegram in the collection, assigning descriptors (based on a thesaurus of normalized personal names, geographic places, and subjects). For example, if a telegram refers to "Porfirio Díaz City", this is the name of a city from 1890 through the beginning of XX century. However, its current name is Piedras Negras.

d) Encode all the telegrams text using XML (eXtensible Markup Language). XML is becoming a de facto standard for handling metadata and data exchange on the Internet (http://biblio.udlap.mx/porfirio/html/1095_XML.html). Using XSL (eXtensible Style Language) we can convert these XML documents into HTML (http://biblio.udlap.mx/porfirio/html/1095_html.html ) so standard Web browsers can be used to view them. XML will be used as a intermediate format and exchange (EDI) between Web sites and applications.

e) Generate a Database and different application programs, based on each elements and attributes defined by the Telegram data type definition (DTD) (http://biblio.udlap.mx/porfirio/html/elementos.html). The main access points would be: addressee, sender, place of issue or reception, date or subject of the telegram, and combinations of these (http://biblio.udlap.mx/porfirio/html/busqueda.html).

f) Spread and promote these new points of view about the 30 years of the Porfiriato Period in the national and international scene through:

  • Articles published in national and international magazines and journals.
  • Presentations given in Mexico and abroad at events such as exhibitions, book fairs and conferences, in which the UDLA's Library participates.
  • Inclusion of this collection and searching facilities in different systems and directories in the WWW.
  • Partnerships

    We have been collaborating in this project with the team led by Dr. Barbara A. Tenenbaum, Specialist in Mexican Culture of the Hispanic Division at the Library of Congress. She has attested to the fact that the Porfiriato remains a subject of enormous interest both in Mexico and abroad and is encouraging continuance of the project and supporting funding requests. In order to continue with this project and accomplish the proposed goals, we find it necessary at this point to request support from other sources.