Join us for the Festival of Books!

Since my supervisor, Maurita Baldock, left us in December to go to work at the Library of Congress, I am now taking direct orders from Trent Purdy, Assistant Librarian and Archivist-extraordinaire at the University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections. He’s not really barking orders but assigning me interesting writing projects that require research and fact checking—two of my favorite things!                                                                                 After I finished processing the Riggs Family Papers (MS 580), Trent set me onto a new processing project that is entirely different than the historical collection that I finished. Currently, I am processing more contemporary records (bulk 1970s-1980s) of a woman who worked for the City of Tucson with the Citizen Participation Council and the Model Cities Program. When I am not in my cozy basement corner sorting through the Maxwell papers,

Pearl harbor map.jpgI am writing narratives for the World War II exhibit that will be on display during the Festival of the Books. The great thing about these mini-projects is that I learn so much. The narratives I have written about are on the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the destruction of the U.S.S. Arizona, and the Japanese American Internment Camps. Each assignment has taught me a great deal about Arizona’s place in World War II history.

I hope you will come and visit us at Special Collections during Tucson’s Festival of Books, March 11-12, 2017.

Pachuco/Caló Oral History Project Collection

Last week I finished encoding the finding aid of the Robles Papers in an XML document, which is now available on Arizona Archives Online. Though I’m sad to move on from my first collection, I was excited when Veronica said she had a new collection for me to process called the Dr. Laura Cummings Pachuco/Caló Oral History Project Collection. It is a small box of 35 90-minute cassette tapes featuring interviews that Dr. Cummings conducted with nineteen people about pachuco and cholo culture in Tucson and the greater Southwest. I was beyond excited when I heard the name of the collection because I have been very interested in pachuco culture and the language forms of Mexicans and Latinx people in the United States, but also because I have been hoping to get some experience with audio/visual archiving.


Rewinding all the cassettes!

The first step was to assess the state of the collection and submit a processing proposal. The tapes are in good condition, physically, but after listening to about 15 tapes, it has become clear that many of them have quite low audio quality and some are even difficult to hear. It will be interesting to work with the Audio/Visual archivist, Trent Purdy, and learn more about how to preserve the tapes. The collection also includes some notes that Dr. Cummings took about the interviews.


Dr. Cummings’ book, Pachucas and Pachucos in Tucson: Situated Border Lives, 2009.

The oral history tapes were used as primary data for Dr. Cummings’ dissertation and book titled, Pachucas and Pachucos: Situated Border Lives, which uses an anthropological approach to pachuco culture and its associated language forms. The collection also includes two tape recordings done by anthropologist George Barker of pachucos conversing in 1947. I feel extremely lucky to have been able to listen to it, as the language form has evolved and changed with time and people don’t speak it as much. Hopefully the collection will be processed quickly so we can make some advances on cleaning up and restoring the tapes!

Processing is a Journey

It is rather hard to believe that after weeks/months of processing the Riggs Family Papers (MS 580), I am finally done. I feel excited that I have totally finished a collection from start to finish, but at the same time I feel a little melancholy, as though I am leaving an old friend. I haven’t put the boxes on the shelves in the basement yet. I’m stalling. I keep looking at the eleven beautifully arranged boxes with their bright white labels declaring “Riggs Family Papers,” and I can’t help but wonder when someone will come into Special Collections and ask to look at this collection.


Susan L. Mergenthal standing by processed Riggs Family Papers (MS 580)


Processing an archival collection like the Riggs Family Papers is a journey.  It is about following the systematic steps of processing — from the initial surveying, then writing a processing proposal, sorting and arranging documents and objects, labeling boxes and folders, and then, finally, describing the collection in the finding aid. Along with this final step is to encode the finding aid in an XML document that makes it computer-searchable. It has been a journey, and I have enjoyed the experience immensely. One thing is for sure, I will never forget this first collection, not just the processing steps, but the pioneers whose lives are documented and preserved for the future in eleven boxes at the University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections. You can view the finding aid for MS 580 Riggs Family Papers.

Brannick and Mary Riggs with their 10 children, circa 1880. The Riggs family settled in the Sulphur Springs Valley in Cochise County, Arizona Territory in 1879; MS 580 and Box 7, folder 1. Collection: Riggs Family Papers

Brannick and Mary Riggs with their 10 children, circa 1880. The Riggs family settled in the Sulphur Springs Valley in Cochise County, Arizona Territory in 1879; MS 580 and Box 7, folder 1.
Riggs Family Papers

MLK at the U of A

Though we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day every January, it can be easy to overlook the significance and meaning behind the holiday. King would have turned 88 years old this year, and it has been 48 years since he was assassinated. It is important for our collective memory to never forget the sacrifices that King made and the vision he had for a more equitable world. It may surprise some people to learn that King paid two visits to the University of Arizona.image2

He came to the U of A to deliver lectures as part of the Sunday Evening Forum in 1959 and 1962.  His speech in 1959, “It’s a Great Time to Be Alive,” had to be rescheduled because King was stabbed while in New York just a few months before he was set to appear. His 1962 speech was titled “Stride Toward Freedom.” Mary Jeffries Bruce ran the Sunday Evening Forum for many years. She invited a wide range of speakers, from diplomats to literary experts, and even hosted a Barry Goldwater-Norman Thomas debate in 1962. The newspaper clippings concerning King’s visits to Tucson can be found in the Mary Jeffries Bruce and the Sunday Evening Forum Collection (MS 472) in UA Libraries Special Collections.

image1-1We also house books on King’s impact in the Grand Canyon State. Living the Dream in Arizona: The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a collection of essays that detail the state’s civil rights history. Victory Together for Martin Luther King, Jr. by Warren H. Stewart, Sr. is an historical account of the author’s fight to have Arizona officially recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

I think it is important for everyone to keep Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memory alive, and as Arizonans this can be done in part by studying the materials found in UA Libraries Special Collections.

Ambos Nogales in History

Nogales is the name shared by the two largest border towns between Arizona and Sonora, and in Spanish, the towns are nicknamed Ambos Nogales or “both Nogales.” Before the physical border was laid down after the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, Nogales was a single city nestled among green hills around 70 miles south of Tucson. The shared legacy is clear, as the border line runs straight down the bustling center of the towns. These postcards, ca. 1920s, show the proximity between towns and the accessible nature of the actual border crossings that was very common at the time.

Since then, the two towns have developed quite differently because of the economic factors affecting them. Nogales, Sonora has seen a significant increase in population due to people moving from rural areas in Mexico to find jobs in the city and also due to the increase in population of homeless migrants that have been recently deported. Nogales, Arizona, which is nearly ten times smaller than its neighbor, with a population of around 20,000, has seen many of its residents move to larger towns in Arizona and to other states. Despite the fact that crossing the border has become much more tedious since the 1920s, people from Ambos Nogales still cross the border every day.

Cowboys, Cattle, and Windmills

One sunny November Saturday, I decided to take a road trip to the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona. I have been working on processing the Riggs family papers as well as investigating ranches in the borderlands for an upcoming exhibit, so I was curious to see the area where the Riggs’s have ranched since the 1870s. My first stop was in Willcox, AZ at the Rex Allen Museum where several of the Riggs men are recognized in the museum’s Cowboy Hall of Fame. It was interesting to see how this little corner of Arizona influenced the Hollywood movie industry with its wild and vibrant history of cowboys, cattle, Apache raids, and Mexican wars.



As I headed south from Willcox on Highway 186, my next stop, which was totally unplanned, was at a fenced-in pine grove that enclosed and sheltered a small family cemetery. I was surprised at how easily I located it without directions–the Riggs family cemetery.
I just saw it from the highway and sensed this was it. As I wandered through the graves I recognized the names from the Riggs family history book, Our El Dorado, written by John Casey Riggs and his daughter, Jeannette Riggs Roll.
I know their story pretty well now, having been processing this collection the past few months. These people were Arizona pioneers, struggling to make a home in an often unforgiving land. As I drove away from the pine grove, I knew I was traveling through Riggs country, a land of cattle, horses, and the ever important windmills. If I kept going south I would soon be in the town of Douglas at the U.S.-Mexico border, but I decided to leave that adventure for another day.



Reporting from Special Collections

fullsizerender-1On Monday, November 28, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a student research symposium, “Reporting in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” hosted by UA Special Collections. Dozens of students, faculty, and local community members filed into our large conference room to listen to twelve presentations by students ranging from undergraduate juniors to Ph.D. candidates. All of the students were enrolled in an interdisciplinary class which counts towards Journalism and/or Latin American Studies credit this semester. It was taught by Dr. Celeste González de Bustamante with the assistance of Mike McKisson, a journalism professor.


The run-down of the students and their presentations

As the symposium’s title indicates, the presentations focused on each student’s reporting of a current issue of personal interest along the U.S.-Mexico border. The students were required to take at least one trip to the border per week during the semester, and most chose to base their research in Ambos Nogales. A few students did comparative research of the U.S.-Mexico border and the U.S.-Canadian border that provided a unique perspective to the current immigration discourse. All of the presenters spent time researching at UA Special Collections and many also worked directly with our Borderlands Curator, Verónica Reyes-Escudero, throughout the semester. In fact, most of the photographs used in the presentations that were not taken by the students themselves came from our collections.

While it is all too easy to become caught up in the fiery rhetoric surrounding immigration and our southern border, this symposium should be lauded for taking a step back and painting a more complete picture of life on the border. Students searched for stories that are often underreported in the national and even local news—stories of lifelong street vendors in Ambos Nogales, housing rights in Sonora, and bison reintroduction in the Blackfeet Nation.


A community in Nogales, Sonora


The Nogales border

I’m grateful that the U of A has students who are willing and able to do such tough, on-the-ground reporting. I’m also thankful that I can work at a place like Special Collections that encourages and enriches these stories.