Curing Academic Homesickness at UIUC

By: Vismaya Jayakumar, Master of Urban Planning 

Along with igniting tremendous trauma in millions of people around the world, COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted various inequities in access to health, education, food, mobility and more. The impact of the pandemic on vulnerable populations has brought to light several previously overlooked issues. One of the most vulnerable groups is international students, yet their issues are often overlooked by decision-makers.

Over the last several years, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has proudly housed thousands of international students (with an average growth rate of 4.6%). International students currently make up more than 22% of the student body at the university (more here), bringing new cultural ideas and prosperity. Amidst the chaos of the pandemic, travel bans, airport closures, rising unemployment rates, overseas money transfer struggles, ICE’s alarming notices, racism and xenophobia, and a feeling of isolation in a foreign country, one other issue the pandemic has underscored is the alienation of international students in academia resulting in, what I call, Academic Homesickness.

A photo of the COVID-19 walk in testing sites at Illinois

COVID-19 testing site at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Source: Chicago Tribune (https://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-covid-19-fall-enrollment-illinois-colleges-20200909-goq66touoregdetibhwc5ikiha-story.html)

Coming from a particular educational context, having read a different set of scholarship all through our educational careers, in our initial semesters here, many of us sit and stare at an assigned reading for a class and wonder how different it is. While this variance in perspectives undoubtedly adds to our knowledge, it also reduces opportunities for us to effectively bring our own ideas with confidence. In parallel, we who travelled thousands of miles looking for better education, some for a better life, often find ourselves in a complex state of cultural and educational bereavement. We are either constantly thinking about ways of giving back to the people and place we come from, or feeling guilty about not thinking of home enough. Including familiar scholarship can open up avenues for us international students to chase our dreams in a foreign place while still feeling at home.

Many of us move to the United States after two to three decades of living and studying in our home countries. With that deep-rooted influence, often times we try to bring our global perspectives to classrooms, be it social sciences, business, engineering, public health or art. We ponder on the relevance of previously learned things, and failing to connect them to our work here, we give up and give in to merely meeting graduation requirements. As an Indian student studying Urban Planning here, I believe the COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted this disconnect in times of quarantine separation from our families, especially for us South Asians who may feel that they have little to no relevance in the academic setting.

With over 15% of the international student population being South Asian, and many of them being doctoral students and researchers, the Illinois Dissertations on South Asia at the International Area Studies library showcases the important past work of our fellow South Asians, and provides the rest of us with much needed inspiration. This collection of more than 140 dissertations and theses has been organized by country and topic for ease and convenience.

Beyond just the South Asian dissertation collection, the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library has an extensive focus on African Studies, East Asian Studies, European Studies, Global Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Middle East and North African Studies, Russian East European and Eurasian Studies. More broadly, IAS provides monographs, articles, research journals, and digital content in various languages to support research. Due to the pandemic, many library resources including popular materials and other e-books and digital content are available online. For materials not available electronically, hard copies can be made available upon request (more here). Apart from the wide-ranging collection, the IAS library offers personalized orientation sessions for International students, both in-person and online research consultations, bibliographic training sessions, citation verification requests, one-on-one instruction sessions with subject specialists, and. Click here for more information on research consultation services and to contact subject specialists.

The pandemic and current political crises have heightened a sense of dislocation and isolation for many international students. The university is a microcosm of the real-world and with such diverse collections at our fingertips through the Library’s collections, we have tools to bridge intellectual distances, and foster innovative global research. This access cannot only remedy this feeling of academic homesickness, but also give us the confidence to go out and make real change.

Here is the IAS’s Illinois Dissertations on South Asia – Remedy to Academic Homesickness at the U of I.

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Statement regarding Executive Order barring refugees and citizens of seven countries

To echo the University of Illinois President’s statement regarding the Trump Administration’s order barring some immigrants, the International and Area Studies Library shares the University’s value of international students, scholars, exchanges, and perspectives as a central aspect of the University’s mission.  The International and Area Studies Library would like to reiterate to the campus community that it provides a safe space for students, scholars, and the community to study, research, and discuss any topic or subject, including the current policies regarding immigrant and refugee access to the United States.

In addition, the individuals at the International and Area Studies library are able to provide all students, scholars, and members of the community with access to important resources to learn about and make sense of the rapidly changing policy environment that relates directly to many regions of the world and issues of international importance.  From print and electronic resources to human expertise, the International and Area Studies Library is available to assist you.

Support for Research on the Topic and Regions Affected

If you are specifically interested in learning more about the seven countries targeted by the Trump Administration, please contact Laila Hussein, Middle East and North African Studies Librarian.  Professor Hussein has expertise in Middle East and North African Studies and Human Rights. She can also help people interested in accessing and understanding contemporary research and journalistic resources from these regions in Arabic and Persian.

Assurance of Privacy and Confidentiality

The University Library’s faculty and staff are professionally obligated and committed to maintaining patron confidentiality.  No question you ask, resource you use, or book you read will be shared without your consent (Library Privacy Policy).

Librarians can also provide advice and instruction on privacy enhancing technologies that you may wish to consider using in online research and electronic communications.  (See Library Freedom Project: https://blog.torproject.org/blog/guest-post-library-freedom-project-bringing-privacy-and-anonymity-libraries or Heritage Foundation for more information on privacy and technology issues: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2004/05/technologies-that-can-protect-privacy-as-information-is-shared-to-combat-terrorism)

Contacts

To contact an expert in Middle East Studies, get help with research on this topic, or learn more about services, resources, and advice that the Library can offer please contact:

International and Area Studies Library: Room 321, Main Library; 1408 W. Gregory Dr.; Urbana, IL, (217) 333-1501 Email: internationalref@library.illinois.edu

For specific visa advice, and counseling, please contact International Student and Scholar Services

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: International Student and Scholar Services, (217) 333-1303 (isss@illinois.edu)

Steve Witt
Associate Professor
Head, International and Area Studies Library
Director, Center for Global Studies
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Champaign, Illinois 61820 USA
Phone: 217.265.7518
Email: swwitt@illinois.edu

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Using Transliteration Tables

Doing research related to area studies oftentimes means using specialized research tools that you may not have encountered previously. Becoming familiar with these tools can make all the difference in your research and the Glocal Notes blog is here to help! This week’s post is about transliteration tables, which are an essential tool for scholars whose work involves non-Roman alphabets. 

Introduction to Transliteration Tables

Perhaps the best place to start when discussing transliteration tables is by defining a couple of key terms: transliteration and Romanization. Transliteration is the process of converting one script into another. Transliterating a term does not mean translating it, rather it means representing in a different alphabet. Oftentimes, transliteration is done on the basis of phonetic similarity. Romanization is a specific kind of transliteration, in which words from other languages are written in the Roman (also called Latin) alphabet.

Transliteration example.

The Russian words for “library” and “alphabet” transliterated from Cyrillic into the Roman alphabet.

Transliteration tables are one of the most important research tools for scholars working in international and area studies to master. Scholars working in this domain conduct a substantial portion of their work using resources in foreign languages and scripts. While preferable, using the original script is not always an option. For example, records in library catalogs do not consistently include bibliographic information in the original script and not all systems are configured to allow input in non-Roman characters.

There are many conceivable ways to represent letters from one alphabet in another and it would be very confusing if everyone transliterated words according to their own interpretation. Romanization tables have been developed over time in order to simplify this process as much as possible. A typical Romanization table lists each letter from the vernacular alphabet alongside the letter (or combination of letters) of the Roman alphabet chosen to represent it and any notes about special cases are included at the end of the table. Once you know where to find them, the tables are actually very easy to use and will be extremely helpful in searching library catalogs, databases, and reference materials containing vernacular language materials.

Partial Romanization table for Hindi.

Part of the ALA-LC Romanization table for Hindi.

In the United States, the most commonly used Romanization schemes are those developed by the Library of Congress in partnership with the American Library Association. Up-to-date tables for 70 languages are available on the Library of Congress website and I recommend printing out a copy of the tables for any language you use regularly to have on hand as a quick reference. Additionally, many of the research guides put together by the subject specialists in the International & Area Library include information about transliteration standards.

Beyond the Basics

Once you understand the basics of using transliteration tables, here are a few caveats to keep in mind that will aid you in your research. Should you run into any trouble, the subject specialists at the Library are here to help.

One important thing to keep in mind is that transliteration standards are different in different countries. If you are looking for materials held in the United States, the ALA-LC tables have you covered. However, if you encounter materials produced in other countries (including foreign library catalogs) the transliteration scheme used could be considerably different. If you are searching for items held in the country of interest, you should use the original script, as information in those databases is not always transliterated.

Additionally, transliteration tables (even in the United States) have changed over time and materials are not always updated to reflect changes. For example, books in the library catalog are listed according to the standards in place when they were originally acquired by the library.

Finally, keep in mind that formal transliteration standards are not all-encompassing and oftentimes learning informal Romanization systems in addition to formal standards can benefit you in your research. The growing popularity of social media platforms (many of which do not support non-Roman characters) has led to the increased prevalence informal Romanization systems that look very different from the formal systems, but which have their own internal logic. Scholars interested in new media in an international context, among others, would benefit from becoming familiar with these alternative systems, several examples of which are listed below.

Learning how to properly use transliteration tables is an easy way to improve your research skills in order to locate foreign language materials in the library catalog and beyond. If you found this tutorial helpful and would like to see something similar about another specialized research tool, let us know by leaving a comment below or stopping by our Facebook page. We would love to tell you all about it!

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HathiTrust Digital Library for World Scholars

HathiTrust Logo

The HathiTrust Digital Library, which is a consortium of libraries working to digitize and make available a wide variety of cultural documents, has recently won an important “Fair Use” victory in court. What HathiTrust is doing is now legally considered “transformative,” but for researchers, HathiTrust has already been very transformative.

HathiTrust has currently digitized over 10 million volumes of which less than half are in English. (See more HathiTrust statistics.) There are languages from Abkhazian to Zuni for the multilingual researcher to explore. Not all HathiTrust books, however, are available to everyone.  Some books are not yet in the public domain, so they are only searchable and not fully readable.

To get started exploring the HathiTrust’s rich collection of resources, check out a few of their internationally-focused collections:

To search HathiTrust effectively, consider that there are two basic ways to search, catalog search and full-text search. The catalog search function searches the bibliographic record for the item, including title, author, language, date, and basic subjects. The full-text search searches inside the document for words. Both search functions allow you to limit to particular languages, and also to only full-text documents.

The search results for HathiTrust have faceted search on the side, like the University of Illinois’ own VuFind catalog, which allows searchers to refine their results further by subject, date, language, and so on.

For who want to “browse” the collection by call number, like at a physical library, books can be searched by Library of Congress Classification. For instance, those looking for books classified as “Home Economics” would search for “TX.”

The University of Illinois catalog also holds records and links to HathiTrust full-text books, so when you’re searching our catalogs you may notice them in your results.

But the best part about the HathiTrust Digital Library — if you belong to a HathiTrust partner institution (like the University of Illinois!) then you can download free PDF copies of full-text resources!

If you’ve been looking for a way to explore multi-lingual archival material without all of the dust and papercuts, HathiTrust is a great place to start exploring the emerging world of open-access digital archives.

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Arabic Manuscripts There and Here

 

Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons under the Public Domain License

Quran in Maghrabi Script

Released during the Algiers Book Fair on September 20th, the Association for the Protection of Heritage of the city of Bou-Saada has joined E-Corpus to disseminate their Arabic manuscripts digitally. By the time that the book fair had started, the stand for the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Region (which co-financed the operation with the European Union) were already offering 4,600 pages from across 50 manuscripts. (Retrieved from Project Menumed)

Within the University of Illinois Archives, there are actually quite a few Arabic manuscripts, hidden away, ready to be found.

For example, the Papers of Charles C. Stewart contain copies of the text and commentary on the Koran, correspondence on obtaining the text, as well as research materials contained on 104 microfilm reels, including 2054 works from various libraries. These manuscripts and printed documents are primarily from the 19th century and delve into subjects such as literature, law, Islamic religious text and commentaries, Arabic language, and history.

Naturally, the Papers of Charles C. Stewart are not the only collection of manuscripts within the archives.

Poking around the archives with simple search terms like “Arabic” will actually yield some pretty interesting results. From there, it’s fun to surf the archives to see why certain items (like the Alaxandar L Ringer Papers in the Sousa Archives) pops up.

Moreover, it’s also interesting to look under the subjects to see where they might take you. Using the C. Ernest Dawn Papers as an example this time, under the subject line in the left sidebar, you can take control of the vocabulary used to build the archive to your advantage. Although only Middle East and Ottoman empire show up they both lead to other archived items with more descriptors, such as the William Yale Research Collection, which brings in materials from the Near East.

Run with your search. See where it takes you!

University Archives Entrance

The University Archives can be found within the University Main Library, at 1408 W. Gregory Drive in room 19, at the start of the tunnel that links the Main Library with the Undergraduate Library (UGL). The best way to reach the archives is either via the tunnel from the UGL side (door will be to your left) or down to the basement from Marshall Hall and walk towards the UGL (door will be on your right).

To gain access to the materials, it is best to contact the staff confirm the material’s availability a few days ahead of your visit. Click here to view their contact information.

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