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NMSU archives is celebrating half century of preserving the past

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The Archives and Special Collections Department at the New Mexico State University Library is celebrating 50 years of preserving the past of southern New Mexico and providing access to historical documentation for students, researchers and the community. 

Rio Grande Historical Collections (RGHC) was formally chartered Jan. 29, 1972. Then NMSU President Gerald Thomas recognized the need to create an archives program at the university to ensure the documentary evidence of the region’s cultural heritage would not be lost. He became an avid supporter of establishing the unit. 

Thomas “worked with the library director and with the history department to start an archive program here, and that was the Rio Grande Historical Collections,” said Dennis Daily, department head of NMSU Archives and Special Collections. “The purpose was to collect unique historical documents that illuminate the history and cultural heritage of southern New Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border region, and to ensure that they would be preserved and made available to future generations.”

Since NMSU is a land-grant research university, initial materials that were collected covered topics such as farming, ranching, food production, management of natural resources and community history.

“Think of family papers, correspondence, financial records, business records, diaries, things like that,” Daily explained.

The program receives most of its archival collections through donations from families, individuals, organizations and businesses, garnered from decades of community outreach by the department.

Today, the collection occupies much of the top three floors of Branson Library, 1305 Frenger St. on the Las Cruces campus.

“If you took all these boxes and lined them up, side by side, they would stretch about 15,000 feet,” Daily

In addition to paper-based materials, the massive collection includes nearly 2 million historic photographs, audio materials like oral history interviews, maps, microfilm, DVDs, VHS tapes and more. The collections have been used by researchers from around the world and featured in publications, exhibitions and documentaries.

Many of the collections preserve documents of local importance, including the Amador family papers, from a prominent pioneer Mexican family that settled in Las Cruces in the late 1840s.

“The materials that we have here reflect the history of southern New Mexico and in some sense serve as the collective community memory of the people who have made this place their home over the past centuries,” Daily said.

An exhibition celebrating RGHC’s 50th anniversary is now open at the archives’ gallery on Branson’s fourth floor. Because of the pandemic, a related event featuring historians and archivists discussing RGHC’s development has been postponed to a later date. Other events are being planned throughout the year to mark the anniversary.

To donate historical materials to RGHC, visit lib.nmsu.edu/archives/specialcollections.html. Financial contributions can be made to the RGHC fund through the NMSU Foundation at advancing.nmsu.edu/givenow.

Visit openstacks.nmsu.edu.