The History of AILLA

AILLA is part of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, a partnership between the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) and the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection (BLAC) at the University of Texas at Austin. AILLA is also an integral part of the language documentation programs of the departments of Linguistics and Anthropology.

The Idea

Joel Sherzer, a professor of Anthropology at UT Austin, has conducted research on the Guna language of Panama for more than 30 years. Over the years he amassed a sizeable collection of recordings of Guna discourse, including performances that are of tremendous importance to the Guna people.

He observed that other scholars were also creating substantial collections of recordings and texts, constituting a tremendous resource for the indigenous languages of Latin America. He was concerned about the preservation of these priceless collections of indigenous verbal art.

The development of affordable technologies for creating and using digital media make it possible for AILLA to collect, digitize, and permanently preserve these resources in standard formats that anyone can access through widely-available software tools. The Internet makes it possible to serve these resources to a global audience, that most importantly includes the speakers of the languages represented in the archive.

The Pilot Phase

AILLA was founded in 2000 by Joel Sherzer of the Department of Anthropology, Anthony Woodbury of the Department of Linguistics, and Mark McFarland, Director of the Digital Library Services Division of the UT Libraries. The pilot web site and database, started in April 2000 and finished in March 2001, were built by Ladd Hansen of UT Libraries and a group of Sherzer's graduate students: Christine Beier, William Fairchild, Ajb'ee Jimenez, and Lev Michael. The first year of the project was supported by UT Libraries and a grant from the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at UT Austin.

Current Status

AILLA continues to be supported by the University of Texas Libraries and the University of Texas at Austin's College of Liberal Arts. We are also grateful for generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation over the years. The archive proper is maintained and preserved by the University of Texas Libraries. AILLA's digitization lab and office are located inside the LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.