Reflections on a Digital-Humanities-On-Site Experience in Colombia

Reflections on a Digital-Humanities-On-Site Experience in Colombia poster

Audio Presentation:

Audio Transcript

Research Authorship:

Emilia Thom, Amarilys Sanchez, Dr. Clayton McCarl

Faculty Mentor:

Dr. Clayton McCarl | College of Arts and Sciences | Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures


The Antioquia Negra Digital Archive presents diplomatic transcriptions and partially modernized reading versions of colonial–era and nineteenth–century documents related to Africans and those of African descent in the Colombian department of Antioquia. These materials are housed within the Archivo Histórico de Antioquia (Medellín) and the Archivo Histórico Bernardo Martínez Villa (Santa Fe de Antioquia). Led by Dr. Clayton McCarl, the project involves undergraduate students from UNF as primary collaborators. The Antioquia Negra Digital Archive began in 2019 as part of a summer-session, faculty-led study abroad experience in Colombia codirected by Dr. McCarl and Dr. Constanza López Baquero. Emilia Thom and Amarilys Sánchez both participated in the Summer 2019 trip, and at this presentation will discuss this experiment in digital-editing-on-site. They will explain the processes of transcription and TEI—XML encoding involved in this project, will share samples of their work, and will consider the advantages and challenges of doing digital editing as part of a study abroad experience. Their presentation at SOARS takes place in advance of a joint presentation that they will make with Dr. McCarl at the annual congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) hosted in Guadalajara, Mexico, in May 2020.

E: Hi I’m Emilia Thom, I’m a junior at UNF and I’m studying Exercise Science and Spanish. 

A: Hello and I am Amarilys Sanchez, I am a senior at the University of North Florida majoring in history and Spanish. 

A: Today we will be presenting our poster based on our study abroad experience transcribing and creating a digital edition of an 18th century legal document. The document details the case of a Colombian slave woman, María, accused of witchcraft against her master, which took place in the Antioquia province of Colombia. 

E:The project was part of a study abroad experience, offered by the UNF Languages, Literatures, and Cultures department in the summer of 2019. Twelve students, including ourselves, spent the month of July in Colombia, traveling between three cities, Medellin, Bogota, and Santa Fe de Antioquia. 

A: While we were in Medellin, we had the opportunity to visit the Archivo Histórico de Antioquia, which is the archive that houses the document we were working on. We had the privilege of being able to view and hold the original document, which turned out to be a great opportunity that allowed us to take clearer photos of the folios. 

E: After our time in Medellin and Bogota, we stayed in the patrimonial town of Santa Fe de Antioquia, which was the colonial capital of the province of Antioquia. During our time there, we worked on transcribing and encoding the document. It was surreal to be working on the document in the same region where the trial occurred; especially since we experienced many aspects of Afrocolombian culture in a modern setting.

A: The serious work on the project really began when we arrived in Santa Fe. Before the trip began, Dr. McCarl had suggested that we would be able to work individually, with the support of a group. However, the transcription turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. As a result, Dr. McCarl paired us into groups of two. Emilia and I  worked on the documents together. 

Having two pairs of eyes helped us decode the documents more quickly, especially because we were working with documents written in colonial-era Spanish that had many abbreviations and legal terms. 

E: We also had to deal with the handwriting of the document which changed from page to page, ranging from reasonably legible to almost impossible to decipher. We found it interesting to think of all the different individuals who participated in this trial, even those who were simply recording the hearings. 

A: Another obstacle to transcription was the damage that the document had suffered over time. As beginners in the digital editing process, colonial era Spanish, legal abbreviations, and certain handwriting styles were enough of an obstacle for us, let alone the water stains and tears that sometimes smeared the ink. However, with practice, we became much more comfortable with the transcription process. 

E: I think that this project is unique because it involved students who were traveling abroad. At the beginning of this trip, none of us knew how to transcribe an 18th century document, or how to code it in XML. By the end of the trip, we had all made a lot of progress. The format of ColoniaLab is also unique, because it allows for digital editions to be edited continually. Another feature of ColoniaLab is that it preserves the original transcription of the document, along with the modernized edition. Both of these texts are presented side by side with the scanned image of the original document. 

A: We developed our own method, where we wrote on our notebooks a rough transcription, then typed it on Google Docs, and then codified it into an XML document using Oxygen XML editor 180. Once we became more comfortable with it, we started working directly with Oxygen and became more efficient at transcribing. As a result, students such as ourselves, could make a draft edition that Dr. McCarl could help us to finish. In this fashion, students can contribute to an edition, without being experts, and having room for some mistakes. 

E: Additionally, we were able to experience the cultural and geographical setting in which the document was written. The experience was invaluable for us as students, and it shows that students can contribute to lasting historical materials such as digital editions and digital archives.

A: As research in these areas continue, there is plenty of room for students to start making more primary source historical documents available to the public. There is no limit to the amount of documents that can be preserved digitally to increase our understanding of both the past and present. And starting this work will allow us to build the ideal archive of the future, where accessibility will have no limits.

E: Thank you for listening, we hope you continue to enjoy the other SOARS projects. If you would like to check our project, visit

2 thoughts on “Reflections on a Digital-Humanities-On-Site Experience in Colombia”

  1. Jeff Chamberlain

    Fascinating work! As one who has worked with 18th century documents (some in English and some in Latin), I can imagine how difficult this work was. And your diligence in transcription for digital editions is wonderful. You are certainly right that students can do a huge service in making these documents available. Thanks for your audio narration, too–it is very helpful.

  2. Karen Cousins

    Really interesting project! I appreciated the audio presentation as well — it adds so much. Well done.

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