TWO weeks ago, I wrote an article where I highlighted the importance of preserving sources, documents, books and old imprints. The existence of these should not be taken for granted, as in a nation such as the Philippines, which is prone to floods, typhoons, earthquakes and fires, these are exposed to irremediable loss. The preservation of the textual heritage of the Philippines is essential to understand its development as a nation.
Largely unnoticed is a praiseworthy initiative named DigiPhiLit (https://digiphilit.uantwerpen.be/), which actually focuses on the preservation of Filipino sources and the dissemination of knowledge on Philippine literature in Spanish. The project is coordinated by the University of Antwerp (Belgium) and generously funded by the European Union for the years 2020 tp 2023. Five prestigious universities take part in it: Université of Clermont-Auvergne (France), Université Paris Nanterre (France), Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (Spain), UNED (Spain) and, from the Philippine side, Ateneo de Manila University. External assessors of the project also include Filipino members such as Daisy López (University of the Philippines or UP Diliman) and Gaspar Vibal from the Vibal Foundation.
The professors, who designed the project, noticed that Philippine literature in Spanish is not being taught in most universities in the world which, however, offer courses on Spanish and Latin American literature. They considered this to be partly due to the lack of professors specialized in this topic. To make up for this gap in the academic curricula, they created DigiPhiLit, which aims for Philippine literature in Spanish to reach as many students as possible. For this purpose, they, together with other experts around the world, will deliver a MOOC (massive open online course), which will be freely available online for autonomous distance learning. They will also invite relevant experts to create a companion of Philippine literature in Spanish to ground the contents of the MOOC and will organize summer schools to train teachers of other language literature in the Philippines.
The project, ambitious as it is, also expects to contribute to the integration of digital methodologies in the teaching process through the training of professors and the construction of a history of Philippine literature, based on data obtained with digital methods. In this sense, they continue the work started with other “digital” projects such as Dagitab, which has been coordinated since 2018 by UP Diliman and the University of Antwerp with the double purpose of training scholars in digital humanities while also digitizing rare periodicals from the UP Library. The intent for DigiPhiLit is also to continue digitizing and transcribing Philippine works in Spanish and highlighting other previous initiatives in this sense; for instance, the Digital Library at the University of Sto. Tomas in order that educational institutions can find and use the materials for free. This should also facilitate the teaching of Philippine literature in Spanish.
DigitPhiLit has other goals related to distance learning: members want to explore new methodologies for improving interactivity in distance learning. They will, therefore, take courses on this, inviting experts around the world in order that they can design a more effective MOOC. As a result of their learning process, research and experience on distance learning, they expect to publish a guide on distance learning for literary studies. Other output expected from the project are publications about digital humanities and the teaching of literature in Spanish as, despite being a global language, there are not enough resources on digital humanities in Spanish as can be found in English.
Although Philippine literature in other languages is not completely excluded, the professors and researchers taking part in it are all specialists of literature in Spanish, and they all feel that Philippine literature in Spanish has been neglected for decades and needs to be better known, especially by Filipinos themselves.
The coordinator of the project is Dr. Rocío Ortuño Casanova, who spent three years as a lecturer at UP Diliman and fell in love with the country. There, she realized quickly about the existence of a very abundant production of literature in Spanish, written by Filipinos and, hopefully, to be read by Filipinos, which had been almost completely forgotten. This is why, back in her country, she promoted the creation of a portal on Philippine literature in Spanish at the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, where dozens of Filipino books can be read online (http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/portales/literatura_filipina_en_espanol/).
Let’s hope for the best results in order that Philippine literature is better known and widely read in the Philippines and abroad.