Researcher Highlight: Dr. Ebenezer Concepción Explores Sociopolitical Critique through the Novel


Hello readers! I hope everyone had a lovely Tartan Community Day and a great Halloween. Because I currently have braces, I was able to easily dress up as Eliza Thornberry this year. Did anyone have any cool, data-themed costumes? If so, send pictures to me and I'll feature you in the next issue of Tartan Datascapes

Dr. Ebenezer Concepción, photograph credit to the University of Chicago.

As some of you may have picked up on, I consider myself a humanities researcher who uses data-driven methods and analyses. I have spent much of my career thus far trying to reframe how we view data, as data can take many forms beyond collections of numbers. While we love our numerical spreadsheets and databases here at Tartan Datascapes, I get excited by the opportunity to highlight other forms of data, such as photographs, mindmaps, and in the case of Dr. Ebenezer Concepción, literary novels. Ebenezer is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Modern Languages here at CMU, and ever since meeting Ebenezer earlier this fall, I've been eager to highlight his research. So, grab a snack, maybe some tea (or coffee, if you are needing an extra kick), and settle in to learn more about Ebenezer's fascinating research!

Ebenezer studies the intersections of sex, gender, and race in modern and contemporary (19th-21st centuries) Latin American and Iberian literatures and cultures. Currently, he is writing an article on the novel El ángel de Sodoma (1928) by Cuban writer Alfonso Hernández-Catá (1885-1940), which he reads as a sociopolitical critique that challenges Spain's military presence in North Africa. In the article, he argues that the protagonist's queerness and suicide are forms of resistance to hegemonic masculinity and a reflection of the failures of Orientalist discourses of virility and effeminacy used to promote Spanish nationalism. He is also working on translating this novel to English. Want to read more? Click here to read his full dissertation on the topic, available free through open access!

So, what are his data sources? He mainly consults, examines, and analyzes primary and secondary literature and archival resources. The primary texts consist of fiction published in Europe and Latin America during the early twentieth century, some of which is no longer in print as a result of shifts in public interest and censorship. Consequently, much of this fiction can only be found in special collections or library archives. For example, many out-of-print editions of the works by Hernández-Catá are housed in the Cuban Heritage Collection at the University of Miami Libraries, which is the largest Cuban collection in the country. Other collections in the United States include the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, the Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas, Austin, and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition to primary texts, his data sources also include periodicals, newspapers, magazines, websites, reference books, secondary critical and theoretical texts, and collection materials from archives in Cuba, Brazil, and Spain. When working with data of any kind, it is important to understand where the data comes from, who created it, who owns it, and in what ways it can be used. Primary and archival sources can often add an additional challenge, as archives have their own access and use restrictions that researchers must navigate. For Ebenezer, he had to acquire special written permission from a Cuban professional in Havana in order to consult the city's archives. These included: Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Unión de Escritores y Artistas Cubanos, Instituto de Literatura y Lingüística, Casa de Altos Estudios Fernando Ortiz, and Instituto de Historia de Cuba. He also consulted archives in Madrid, Spain including Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas and Biblioteca Nacional de España. Finally, in Brazil he engaged with the collections at Biblioteca Nacional do Brasil, Academia Brasileira de Letras, Arquivo Nacional, and Palácio Itamaraty.

If we gave out awards for "Best Managed Data" on campus, Ebenezer would easily be the top contender. In our CMU Libraries' data management workshops, we highlight the 3-2-1 technique, which states you should have three backups of your data, storing two copies on different kinds of storage media, with one copy located offsite (essentially, not stored locally on your computer). Ebenezer scans most of his sources as PDFs in order to engage with them more fully in his own time, and saves these files to his local laptop, his iCloud account, and to an external hard drive. Impressed? I know I certainly am! But it gets even better: on top of practicing the 3-2-1 technique, he uses a consistent file-naming scheme that organizes each PDF by author and work in specific folders which are categorized by thematic content. 

What's next for Ebenezer? In addition to his ongoing work with El ángel de Sodoma, he will also be working on a book project that (re)examines how Cuban narrative authored by women and men writers from the 1910s through the 1930s subverted Cuba's growing ambivalence toward and suppression of individuals who disrupted the sociopolitical hierarchy of the white/black and heteronormative/homoerotic binaries that shaped the modernization of the nation-state. 

What are three takeaways from this researcher highlight?

1. Novels can be rich data sources for important research on sociocultural and historical analyses.

2. The 3-2-1 technique for storage is an excellent way to protect your research against data loss. 

3. When engaging with archival data sources, there may be institutional or even national restrictions and policies surrounding your access rights to the information as a researcher. Be sure to check for these policies as you plan your research project! If you are planning a project using archival data and are unsure of potential access restrictions, feel free to connect with us at CMU Libraries and we can help you navigate this process!

Important Happenings in Research Data Management at CMU Libraries:

We are excited to invite all students, data users, and researchers to join us at the second CMU Open Science Symposium, taking place at the Mellon Institute on Thursday, November 7th. The symposium will build awareness and support for the adoption of open research practices, and encourage innovative ideas about data sharing in the life sciences and related disciplines. The full day program will feature talks from guest speakers including researchers, tool developers and publishers, panel discussions, an interactive session with posters and demos on research using open methods, and a networking reception. This dynamic and interactive symposium will accelerate interdisciplinary collaborations among Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, and other institutions. We look forward to you joining us at this fun, stimulating, and rewarding event! Registration is open until Tuesday, November 5th, so please come and join us! 

We have a very exciting lineup of free workshops coming up at CMU Libraries (click here to see our full list of workshops for the remainder of the semester), many of which can help you learn new tips and tricks for data collection, analysis, and management. Here's a few that have a particular Tartan Datascapes-flavor: 

LabArchives Electronic Lab Notebook for Researchers, Wednesday, November 6th from 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm in the Sorrells Library Den (click here to register!); also available on Wednesday, November 6th from 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm at the Mellon Institute Library (click here to register!)

My Terms of Service: Looking at Data Rights, Thursday, November 7th from 12:30 - 2:30 pm in the Sorrells Library Den (click here to register!)

Using to Document, Version, and Share Research Workflows, Friday, November 8th from 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm in the Mellon Institute Library (click here to register!). This is a drop-in session where you can ask Lenny Teytelman, the co-founder and CEO of, questions about how to get started or optimize your use of the platform!

Introduction to Concept Mapping and Brainstorming, Thursday, November 14th from 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm in the Sorrells Library Den (click here to register!)

And of course, please email me at if you'd like some help on your journey as a researcher/scholar/awesome human being here at CMU. Remember, we all use data, regardless of our discipline. If you think something might be data, you are likely correct and I can help you develop good habits for managing it! If you'd like to have your research data featured on Tartan Datascapes, please fill out this Google Form to get in touch!