The Future of the Past (Heroes and Vaudevillians Edition)

My name is Mark Sandoval, and I’m a first-year Knowledge River scholar with a graduate assistantship at Special Collections. This is my first formal work experience at a library or archives, though I did some informal work for academic libraries in high school and during my undergraduate years at Centre College in Danville, KY. I’m from a small town outside of Nashville, TN, so I am still getting accustomed to the dry heat of the Southwest. (I’m also getting accustomed to a town whose pride lies in its icy sugar water and is unashamedly apologetic about its football team—“Just wait ‘til basketball season” is Tucson’s unofficial motto.)


This is me hard at work on the Joseph E. Howard collection.


A signed photo of Mr. Howard.

Something else I’ve learned in my first month here: The U of A Special Collections Library has one of the country’s largest collections concerning vaudeville. Fortunately, my first job has been to process the Joseph E. Howard collection. Howard (1878-1961) was an American composer and vaudevillian whose most famous songs are “Hello, My Baby,” “Goodbye My Lady Love,” and “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now.”


Howard’s autobiography, “Gay Nineties Troubadour,” published in 1956.

My favorite part of getting to work with the Howard collection has been learning about his life and the history of vaudeville. Howard has a very interesting rags-to-riches (and then to-rags-to-riches again) story, as he started his performing


Mr. Howard, seated, and friends.

career as a runaway orphan on the streets of St. Louis. He had nine different wives throughout his life, some of whom were fellow performers. He was known as an enthusiastic entertainer who loved what he did, and he performed up until the moment he died while giving a curtain call after a show in Chicago at the age of 83.

I’m looking forward to writing a finding aid for this collection soon, and afterwards I will be assisting our Digital Initiatives Librarian, Erika Castaño, on some of her projects. Glad to be here!


New Archivists on the Block


Me, pretending I tell people to be quiet in the library.

My name is Zazil Davis-Vazquez, and I am one of three new graduate assistants here at Special Collections this semester. I am a first year graduate student in the Knowledge River program in School of Information, and I’m already having such an exciting time at the archives. Last summer I worked as a volunteer in an archive in Guatemala, but it was very small and its organizing methodologies are vastly different than the ones we use here, so everything I’ve been learning is brand new to me.

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Mr. Robles at a book signing. His collection includes several manuscripts.

After getting acquainted with the physical layout of Special Collections, my first project has been to process a collection from start to finish. In my interview for the position, I was excited to learn that we have an entire Borderlands Collection, and I was even more thrilled when I found out I would be processing a collection of personal papers belonging to Robert Benitez Robles, a prominent member of the Mexican American community in Arizona.

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Robert Robles posing for his high school basketball team in Miami, AZ in 1926.

As an undergraduate, I took several classes that focused on Arizona history, but I never got the chance to look at primary documents. I feel as though I have a more intimate understanding of history, and going through Mr. Robles treasured letters and documents has given me a new perspective when I look around in Tucson.


A Valentine Robert made for his late wife, Amparo.

From what I’ve seen in the collection, Mr. Robles was a very compassionate man who cared deeply for his family and his community, and he went to great lengths to improve the lives of Mexican Americans in Arizona and the Southwest during his whole life. It’s been a privilege to learn about Arizona through the Mr. Robles’s collection, and I can’t wait to keep processing more collections.