Central and South America Area of Focus Report


Rebecca Baker, Vanessa Lopez, and Kenia Rodriguez. “Central and South American” WhatEvery1Says Project, http://we1s.ucsb.edu. July 29, 2018.  http://we1s.ucsb.edu/research_post/1851/. 

1. Overview

What is your area(s) of focus?

Central and South American (English language) news sources. Although these two regions are comprised of many different countries, and are culturally distinct, the relative dearth of English-language resources, as well as inaccessibility to archives (if they exist) caused us to make the decision to lump all of Latin America (excluding Mexico) into one area of focus.

Why is this area of focus important to the WE1S corpus?

We aim to increase representation by expanding the corpus beyond the United States and Europe. Although the number of English language sources in this area is relatively small, and the number of keyword hits even smaller, this is important to overall representation, as well as the creation of subcorpora.

2. Source Scoping Process

How have you been selecting sources for the WE1S corpus? (e.g. collecting from particular databases, using “impact” lists, etc.)

Because of the limited number of English-language news sources,these countries are underrepresented in databases. Some small/poor countries (such as Nicaragua) only have one news source in our collection list–a news source that is owned and managed by a foreign country (Colombia). Our group has manually compiled results from web searches, and have gathered the majority of our data via webscraper (although there were a few newswire/business reports available over Lexis Nexis) There is also the issue of viability–while some were valuable resources, others were outdated, irrelevant, or broken As a result, the quality of the news sources varies widely.

If you are using external lists to guide your selection of sources, include links here and indicate who produced them, for what purpose the list was produced, and any potential bias issues involved.

The Big Project was the starting place for a lot of our sources. Some of the websites are nonfunctional now, but this is an impressive collection of specifically *English* language sources in Latin America. Over the course of Google searching for metadata, there were a few others that we found by chance. We also paid attention to news digest sources that listed their sources.

3. Corpus Representativeness

How representative do you think your corpus is? (“Representativeness” can be interpreted and addressed in a number of ways, so tailor it to be most productive for your area.)

As a result of the limited number of English-language sources, our corpus is not very representative of South and Central America. Many of the publications resulted in zero hits when searching for “humanities,” leading to their omission from our corpus. Additionally, although nearly all of our sources are open source and accessible, because of language barriers, widely varying quality, and relatively poor maintenance of many of the sources, it is difficult to tell what the actual impact factor is.

What challenges in achieving representativeness have you encountered?

As mentioned above, achieving representativeness was difficult, because of the lack of relevant publications. We also have to face the challenge of being limited to material in English. The ability to speak and write in English in many of the regions we covered tends to be a middle and upper classed skill. Although some countries’ official language is English (Guyana, Belize), many are almost exclusively Spanish-speaking (or, in the case of Brazil, Portuguese). This language barrier keeps us from representing the majority of the citizens of these countries, even when the publications ostensibly speak "for" them.

Provide a tally breakdown of the various facets of sources in your area of focus that WE1S is considering as possible measures of overall corpus “representativeness” (for example, by source or media type, nationality, region, political orientation, identification with specific racial, ethnic, and gender audiences, etc.).

Distribution Method Online: 45

Note: Many of our online sources also have print counterparts. However, due to the fact that we are unable to access this material (if it is archived at all), we focused primarily on collecting from websites.

4. Reflections

What challenges or difficulties have you encountered in the source selection or collection process? Do you anticipate any challenges emerging from your work going forward?

Our collection process continues to develop through trial and error. A number of webscraping tools that we tried initially were not viable. We ran into difficulty navigating through the format of some sources. Some sites did not have a search engine, a few were temporarily unavailable (under construction), and others required a paid subscription for access. For this reason, site-specific webscrapers tended to fail. Despite the relatively small number of sources a “copy/paste” approach was not a viable option, especially with regard to importable metadata. The biggest challenge has been implementing an equally effective web scraping tool that successfully searches, extracts, and downloads useful articles. At this iteration, however, we have a tool that seems to be working quite well.

5. Research Scan

Conduct some preliminary research on the questions or challenges that you provided in sections three and four.

As mentioned above, English is only considered an official language in Belize and Guyana. In other Latin American countries, English is spoken by few thus making it a “classed” skill. This implies that English sources in these countries are written for exclusive demographics and/or expat communities.

Have other scholars reflected on these issues? Are there publications that address these problems? Has research been conducted on how to overcome these challenges or at least acknowledge them productively?

A quick Google search (in English) on the humanities in Latin America reveals that most discussions revolve around “culture” and “history” of Latin America, rather than how the humanities is practiced in Latin America. The top hits are a carefully curated, two-semester course on Latin American Humanities offered at Colombia University, as well as an internet portal for Latin American studies maintained by the University of Texas (which, to be fair, is also available in Spanish. While valuable resources, they tend to discuss culture, history, and art rather than the state of humanities (how they are taught and percieved) within these countries.

A search in Spanish yielded more results, mostly with the ongoing conversation (el debate) about the importance and applicability of the humanities in a university setting. A 2016 article from Semana. a Colombian newspaper, argues against the popular conceptualization of the humanities being “useless,” especially for developing nations. It cites a number of social and artistic movements that would have been impossible outside the context of the humanities. Notably, however, it slips into the language of economic competition and modernization-as-progress to champion the importance of these fields of study. Interestingly, it also seems to lump what we consider “humanities” (in a US context) along with the social sciences—sometimes referred to as the “human sciences” (ciencias humanas). This is a conflation that we have noticed in a number of times with regard to the discourse around the humanities in Latin America—unlike in the United States, where psychology and linguistics scholars tend to disidentify totally with the humanistic disciplines (preferring, perhaps, the “science” to the “social”)—in Latin America, the distinction tends to be emphasized between whether or not a discipline has to do with human cultures or not; the humanities and social sciences lump together on one side, while hard theoretical and applied STEM disciplines go on the other.

We also discovered a fascinating introductory university Master’s-level seminar, taught last year at La Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina), titled “Las Humanidades y El Estudio de América Latina” (“The Humanities and The Study of Latin America”). This is a fascinating resource for tracing the differences in what is emphasized when talking about the humanities in Latin America, vs. the United States. The course aims at “a general overview of the current debates surrounding the humanities in Latin America, taking into account both the overarching [Latin American] continental identity, and at the same time the regional specificities of each case” (translated by R. Baker). Critical concepts for the class, as listed on the syllabus, include “the history and power [relations] in Latin America,”
“[economic] theories of dependence, underdevelopment, [and the] periphery,” and “historical memory and urban conflict” with regard to the possibility of a “hybrid culture”—that is, the possibility of realizing the project of “modernization” and development without becoming subsumed by economic world powers. Whether or not one can “afford” to study the humanities takes on a very different valence when the focus is not on an individual student making a choice for himself, but rather on the economic and cultural threat facing an entire region, still solidly locked in the trap of debt, underdevelopment, and neocolonial rule.

More discussions, written by college professors in Colombia and Costa Rica (respectively), on the state (and importance) of the humanities in Latin America: Notas sobre el debate de las humanidades en la era de la excelencia académica and Las humanidades hoy en América Latina. 

 5. Additional Comments/Reflections

Conduct some preliminary research on the questions or challenges that you provided in sections three and four.

It is important that we use our collection process as a means to develop a workflow, which will enable future researchers to continue our work, possibly for a non-English language subcorpus. Additionally, many of the major newspapers in Latin America—especially in large countries like Mexico and Argentina—also have a number of Spanish-language sources available on Lexis Nexis and other database sources that we have access to via university libraries. In the future, contacting scholars in foreign universities may also be a viable option, potentially resulting in a larger usable data set via access to archived material.