NMSU collection a treasure trove of history - Albuquerque Journal

NMSU collection a treasure trove of history

A man travels down a nearly empty street in 1800s southern New Mexico. The historical collection at New Mexico State University contains 2 millions photographs. (Courtesy Rio Grande Historical Collections)

New Mexico State University is celebrating half a century of stewarding a treasure trove of historical documents that chronicle life on the border.

Although the university has served as keeper of the massive Rio Grande Historical Collections for decades, it remains something of a hidden gem, according to Dennis Daily, head of the NMSU archives and special collections.

The collection was formally chartered on Jan. 29, 1972, and contains 2 million photographs alongside letters, audio files, historical interviews, maps, film and more.

“If you took all these boxes and lined them up side by side, they would stretch about 15,000 feet,” Daily said. “That’s nearly 3 miles.”

Most of the items were donated from families, organizations and businesses in the community. The collection is on the top three floors of NMSU’s Branson Library.

The collection is open to the public Monday through Friday and one does not need to be a student to access it.

The school had planned a celebration on the anniversary but has postponed it until spring because of high COVID-19 numbers. There will be an exhibition and a panel discussing the importance of the materials they’ve acquired.

“One collection that has always knocked me out is the Amador family,” Daily said. “Martín Amador arrived from Paso del Norte (in the late 1850s), which is now Juárez … He really operated in both Anglo-American and Mexican cultures.”

A band during the 1800s in southern New Mexico. (Courtesy Rio Grande Historical Collections)

Amador was a merchant, a trader, inventor and local politician, and he built the Amador Hotel that is still standing in Las Cruces today. When his daughter Clotilde passed away in 1960, family members went to clean out the Amador home and were greeted with boxes of records, newspapers and other historical documents. Instead of destroying them, they offered the collection and some contents of the home to the university.

The Amador house was razed two years later but Daily said the records and items rescued from the dwelling are invaluable. Records like the Amadors’ are one of the reasons researchers from around the world come to Las Cruces to use the archive.

“These are unique collections,” Daily said. “For most of what we have, there is only one copy in existence. These primary source materials are what researchers use to write history.”

One of those drawn to the state by the collection was Katherine Massoth, who is currently an assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico. She attended college in California and Iowa and worked as an assistant professor in Kentucky. Before relocating here, Massoth would fly into New Mexico for the summer to conduct research.

“The collection changed the focus of my whole project,” she said. “Historians have tended to focus on Santa Fe and Albuquerque as the center of history here. But people in the southern part of the state had a different experience, especially after annexation.”

Massoth researches the New Mexico borderland with a focus on the role women played. Her soon-to-be-released book “Keeping House” will explore how women in the southern part of the state were able to maintain an identity tied to Mexico, while those in the north had to adopt a more Anglo identity after America annexed New Mexico in the 1840s. She has used letters written by women in the Amador family to their relatives in Mexico to demonstrate how cross-border relationships and identity were maintained.


The Journal continues “The Good News File,” a series of uplifting stories in partnership with KOAT-TV and KKOB Radio. The Journal will publish a “Good News” feature the first Friday of the month, KOAT-TV will present its feature each second Friday and KKOB each third Friday.

 

Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify where Katherine Massoth attended college.

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