EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – New Mexico State University Library’s Archives and Special Collections division celebrates 50 years of preserving southern New Mexico’s past and provides students, researchers and the community with access to historical documentation.
An exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Rio Grande Historical Collections opens January 29 in the Archives Gallery, located on the fourth floor of the Branson Library.
Due to the current surge in COVID-19 infections, a related event with historians and archivists to discuss the development of the RGHC and the archives’ role in preserving history has been postponed to a later date. Other events are planned throughout the year to celebrate the anniversary.
The Rio Grande Historical Collection was officially established on January 29, 1972. It was then that NMSU President Gerald W. Thomas recognized the need to establish an archival program at the university to ensure that documentary evidence of the area’s cultural heritage was not lost. He became an enthusiastic supporter of the formation of the unit.
He worked with the library director and history department to start an archive program here, and that was the Rio Grande Historical Collections. The goal was to collect unique historical documents that shed light on the history and cultural heritage of southern New Mexico and the US-Mexico border region and ensure that they are preserved and made available for future generations.
Dennis Daily, Division Manager, NMSU Archives and Special Collections.
Because NMSU is a land grant research university, the first materials that were collected covered topics such as agriculture, ranching, food production, natural resource management, and community history.
“Think of family papers, correspondence, financial records, business records, diaries and things like that,” Daily explained.
The program maintains most of its archival collections through donations from families, individuals, organizations, and corporations drawn from decades of public relations work by the department.
Now, 50 years after its inception, the collection occupies much of the top three floors of the Branson Library, located on NMSU’s Las Cruces campus.
“If you took all these boxes and lined them up next to each other, they would stretch 15,000 feet,” Daily said. “That’s almost three miles.”
The types of materials collected over the decades have undergone their own evolution, especially as technology advances in many ways.
“In the early formation of the archival archive, it was primarily paper-based materials and this type of format,” said Jennifer Olguin, archivist at the RGHC. “As technology advances, we tend to get more digital objects, so we have to think about how to keep the information on floppy disks, CDs and different types of media that are coming in. We must keep up with current standards and best practices. We never know what we’ll get when items are donated.”
The vast collection also includes nearly two million historical photographs, audio materials such as oral history interviews, maps, microfilm, DVDs, VHS tapes and more. The collections have been used by researchers from all over the world and featured in publications, exhibitions and documentaries.
“These are unique collections. For most of what we have, only one copy exists,” Daily said. “These primary source materials are used by researchers to make history and are available to NMSU students and faculty, as well as scholars across the country. We get a lot of guest lecturers who do research on topics from the border region.”
Many of the collections preserve documents of local importance, including the papers of the Amador family, a prominent Mexican pioneer family who settled in Las Cruces in the late 1840s.
“One of the fascinating parts of this collection is the correspondence,” Olguin said. “Apparently they kept every single letter, which benefits us and the researchers as it documents the cultural heritage and social life of Las Cruces at the time. Just by reading the letters one can take a kind of journey through time and see how they lived, what the living conditions were like, with whom they were in contact, with whom they did business, who stayed in their hotel. It’s just fascinating to read the letters and immerse yourself in the Las Cruces days.”
Archives and Special Collections houses, organizes and preserves these materials for the benefit of researchers while educating the community about the region’s historical origins. The RGHC continues to grow, expanding the stacks of files and providing content that will serve future generations at NMSU and beyond who study the cultural heritage of southern New Mexico.
“The materials we have here reflect the history of southern New Mexico and serve in some ways as a collective community memory of the people who have made this place their home over the past several centuries,” Daily said.
An exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Rio Grande Historical Collections opens January 29 in the Archives Gallery, located on the fourth floor of the Branson Library. Due to the current surge in COVID-19 infections, a related event with historians and archivists to discuss the development of the RGHC and the archives’ role in preserving history has been postponed to a later date. Other events are planned throughout the year to celebrate the anniversary.
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