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DISCOVERY MAGAZINE

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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.

Pieces from the Center for American History
Pancho Villa, Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 1907-1968, Center for American History
As an integral part of Mexico until its independence in April 1836, Texas played a significant role in the historical narrative of the Mexican nation. Accordingly, the center has assembled an outstanding collection of maps, government documents, personal papers and newspapers documenting every aspect of the historical development of Texas during the era of Spanish exploration and settlement as well as during the fifteen years that Texas was a province of independent Mexico. CAH’s cartographic treasures, for example, include José María Puelles’ undated hand-drawn Mapa Geographica de las Provincias Septentrionales de esta Nueva España which map scholars believe was executed in 1807. Highly accurate for its time, Puelles’s map was the first to locate the Brazos River correctly. The center also owns the only known copy of Galli’s 1826 map of Texas, the first printed map of Texas. The J. P. Bryan Cartographic Collection is an extensive collection of maps documenting not only the exploration and settlement of Texas and Mexico, but also Cuba and Central America from the early sixteenth century until the late nineteenth century.

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 Archives—“the foundation collection for Texas history”—that 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.

Pieces from the Center for American History
Pocket Map of Mexico, 1910, Rand McNally & Co. Map Collection, Center for American History
In addition to the Bexar Archives, CAH has a large group of collections of typescript and photostat copies of official Spanish and Mexican government records that include significant sections of the Archivo General de las Indias (1590 to 1821) in Madrid and the Archivo General de México—Archivo General de la Nación (1560 to 1844) in Mexico City. The Archivo General de las Indias contains all official information pertaining to Spanish colonial rule in the Americas. The archive includes copies of official reports, decrees, orders and correspondence associated with civil, military, economic, political and religious life in the provinces of Texas and Coahuila, Mexico. The Archivo General de México—Archivo General de la Nación contains a wide variety of material dating from the early colonial period through the periods of the Texas revolution, the Texas republic and annexation by the United States. The material includes mission and Inquisition reports from the area, Spanish and Mexican attempts to settle Texas, reports on conditions in the area, reports on military operations and relations between Mexican and United States officials during the annexation period.

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.

Pieces from the Center for American History
Soldaderas, Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, 1907-1968, Center for American History
The center’s collection of the papers of Anglo-American colonial agents and settlers who came to Texas before independence constitute a valuable source for the history of Mexico’s far northern provinces, as well as for the political and diplomatic history of Mexico during the first four decades of the nineteenth century. Especially valuable in this regard are the Stephen F. Austin Papers, which include the personal and official records of the first empresario of Anglo American colonization in Mexican Texas. Austin’s papers contain much information about Mexican politics and governmental policies during the 1820s and the 1830s. The Austin Papers are justly famous as a critical source for the history of the Anglo colonization of Texas, but the collection is equally valuable as a source for Mexican history during the early years of that nation’s independence.
The center also houses papers of the influential Mexican political leader and intellectual, Lorenzo de Zavala. The collection dates from 1818 until de Zavala’s death in 1836 and includes correspondence with various leading figures in Mexican history such as Antonio López de Santa Anna, José Antonio Mexia and Carlos María de Bustamante. In addition, CAH has the papers of several individuals who played key roles in the events leading to the rebellion in Mexican Texas. These collections, including the Austin and de Zavala papers, have served as the foundation upon which most of the original research on the history of the independence movement in Texas has been based and will continue to provide new information and lead to new insights on the history of Mexico as well as Texas.

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 Anna’s 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 Peña’s description of Crockett’s death has attracted most of the public attention, but the manuscript’s research value is in its detailed description of the Mexican Army’s efforts to defeat the rebels in Texas and its discussion of political and economic conditions in Mexico during the last half of the 1830s.

Pieces from the Center for American History
The Personal Narrative of Mexican Army Officer Lt. Col. José Enrique de la Peña, 1836, José de la Peña Papers, Center for American History
In addition to the Peña manuscript, CAH owns other documents and collections that are significant primary resources for research in Mexican military and political history in the 1820s and 1830s, including typescript copies of the papers of Mexican general Vicente Filisola and political leader Erasmo Seguin. And, of course, the historical relationship between Mexico and Texas did not end after Texas’ independence. The center has more archival collections, maps, newspapers and rare books documenting the tumultuous history of this historical relationship during the nineteenth century that are too numerous to be discussed in this article.

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 Mexico—especially the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.

Pieces from the Center for American History
Walter Cronkite with Fidel Castro in Cuba, 1980, Walter Cronkite Papers, Center for American History
Because of its focus on Texas and borderlands history, the center’s resources for the study of various aspects of Mexican history are far more extensive than its resources on the other nations of Latin America. Nevertheless, CAH does have a number of collections with significant information related to Latin American history.

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 Hearst’s New York Journal American, the New York Herald Tribune and The New York Times. These massive collections contain extensive news clipping files of each newspaper’s 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 CAH’s 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.

Pieces from the Center for American History
La Relación y Comentarios del Governado: Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, 1555, Center for American History
The CAH collection with perhaps the most potential research value for Latin American studies is the Development Communication Archive. Created by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the collection spans the years 1960 through 1994. This large collection includes project descriptions and records, policy papers, research reports, photographs, and audio and video tapes. Many of the projects were conducted in Latin America using a variety of communication technologies, in the fields of health, population, nutrition, agriculture, economic development and the environment. The center’s resources for Latin American studies also include the Wied Archive (1846 to 1867), which contains documentary material related to German colonies in Central America and Chile. Other important collections include the papers of William E. Dunn (1894 to 1983), a University of Texas professor who was an internationally known scholar of Latin America; Luther Evans, the director general of UNESCO during its formative years after World War II; Robert T. Hill, an internationally known geologist who conducted extensive research in Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico; and Mary Decherd, a Methodist Church educator who worked with missionaries in Brazil during the 1920s.

Additional research material on U.S. governmental relations with various countries in Latin America also can be found in CAH’s 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 world’s 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.

Don Carleton

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May 14, 2002
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