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Center for American History
The Center for American History (CAH) is a museum, special collections library and archive that facilitates and supports research, teaching and public education about the history of the United States. A visit to its Research and Collections Division on the UT campus is a requirement for any scholar engaged in original research in a number of fields in U.S. history. Because it is a major institution for the documentation of the historical development of the United States, individuals conducting research on the history of Mexico and Latin America understandably may overlook it as a resource for their work. This article brings attention to a few of the many CAH collections that have potential research value to scholars in Latin American studies.
CAH also houses outstanding collections of official documents, many in original manuscript and others as typescript copies, that are essential sources for research on the history of pre-1836 Mexico. The best known of these collections is the Bexar Archivesthe foundation collection for Texas historythat covers all aspects of the military, civil and ecclesiastical dimensions of Spanish and Mexican colonial life in Texas during the period from 1717 until 1836. Records in the Bexar Archives document the foundation and maintenance of the Spanish missions and presidios, the settlement of Canary Islanders in San Antonio, governmental relations with Native Americans, and the administrative and legal issues related to slavery, commerce, agriculture and Anglo-American settlement.
Famed UT Mexican American scholar Carlos Castañeda conducted documentary projects to produce typescript and photostat copies of records rich with information about the history of northern Mexico. Housed at the center, they include the Matamoros Archives (1811 to 1859) and the Saltillo Archive (1689 to 1876). The Saltillo Archive includes municipal archives from Camargo, Mier and Reynosa on the Mexican side of the lower Rio Grande. These consist of photostat copies of birth, baptismal, marriage and death certificates dating from the late eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries.
The controversy generated by the manuscript narrative of Lt. Colonel José Enrique de la Peña is strong evidence that historical researchers in the U.S. are turning more of their attention to the Mexican view of Texas history. Peña, a Mexican army officer on General Santa Annas staff during the unsuccessful campaign to suppress the rebellion in Texas in 1836, was a participant in the assault on the Alamo. His memoir of the campaign attracted public notoriety because of his statement that folk hero David Crockett was executed after the battle of the Alamo instead of being killed while fighting. The Peña manuscript, which dates from the late 1830s, was donated to the center in 1998 by Texas businessmen Charles Tate and Tom Hicks. The dispute over Peñas description of Crocketts death has attracted most of the public attention, but the manuscripts research value is in its detailed description of the Mexican Armys efforts to defeat the rebels in Texas and its discussion of political and economic conditions in Mexico during the last half of the 1830s.
Several CAH photographic collections contain historical images of Mexico. Perhaps the most important is the Robert Runyon Photograph Collection. The Runyon collection is a major source of images for scenes on both sides of the lower Rio Grande during the first three decades of the twentieth century, as well as for individuals and events important to the history of northern Mexicoespecially the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.
In recent years, CAH has assembled one of the largest archives in the United States documenting the history of the news media. An important component of the news media archive is the newspaper clipping morgue collection, which includes the news archives of William Randolph Hearsts New York Journal American, the New York Herald Tribune and The New York Times. These massive collections contain extensive news clipping files of each newspapers coverage of Latin American affairs. The Journal American collection spans the years from 1924 until 1966; the Herald Tribune files cover the years 1910 until 1967 and the Times archive includes the years from 1924 until 1988. The news morgues of all three newspapers also provide an outstanding resource for any researcher interested in how three of the most influential U.S. newspapers have reported events in Latin America during much of the twentieth century.
Another significant component of CAHs news media archive is the American Photojournalism Collection, which consists of the negative and print collections of several of the leading U.S. photojournalists and documentary photographers, including Dirck Halstead, Dick Swanson, Margaret Thomas, David Hume Kennerly and Flip Schulke. Images of Latin America can be found in nearly every one of these collections.
Additional research material on U.S. governmental relations with various countries in Latin America also can be found in CAHs Congressional History Collections. Consisting of the papers of more than fifty former members of the U.S. Congress, including Maury Maverick Sr., Joe Kilgore, Frank Ikard, former Speaker Sam Rayburn, Senator Ralph Yarborough and Senator Lloyd Bentsen Jr., these congressional files contain government reports, correspondence and the records of hearings documenting economic, cultural, social, military and diplomatic issues stemming from the often problematic relationship between the U.S. and Latin America.
The University of Texas is fortunate to have the Benson Latin American Collection, one of the worlds great libraries documenting Latin America. But students of Latin American history, especially the history of nineteenth century Mexico, are well advised to check the resources at the Center for American History next door to the Benson Collection. Information about CAH is found on the Center for American History Web site or contact us at 512-495-4515.
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