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Mexico’s diplomatic archives are housed at UTPA’s library
By Chelse Benham, Radio/TV Production Supervisor
316-7996
Posted: 02/04/2004
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The University of Texas-Pan American is the only archive recipient in the United States to ultimately be allowed copies of all diplomatic correspondence and international relations written to and from the Mexican government since 1819. Lawrence Caylor, director at The University of Texas-Pan American Library leads the digitization process of Mexico’s diplomatic archives from the Acervo Historico Diplomatico in Mexico City.

The Acervo Historico Diplomatico is located at the Plaza de Las Tres Culturas which has a legendary past. The site is an amalgam of ancient Aztec culture and modern-day Mexico. The diplomatic archives are situated near the Aztec ruins of Tlatelolco, the former marketplace of the Aztec civilization.

Currently, the Ministeria de Los Exteriores (Mexico’s Exterior Ministry) oversees the Acervo Historico Diplomatico where over a million documents dating back to 1819, when Mexico received its independence from Spain, are housed.

“There was scaffolding jammed packed with bound volumes of documents reaching from floor to ceiling – some places two stories high,” Caylor said. “We estimate that it will take at least 10 years to complete the digitization process.”

The choice to digitize the documents was an easy one for the University. Digitization is the process of scanning the document and saving it to disc and it provides clear replication, speedy collection, easy storage and retrieval of two hundred years of information.

"The Acervo is charged with preserving the documents in the best possible condition,” said Dr. Mercedes de Vega Armijo, director of the Acervo Historico Diplomatica. “Digitizing the documents serves two purposes: first to preserve the materials, especially those which are beginning to deteriorate; and second, to increase the number of scholars who may need to study them, without the necessity of coming to Mexico City."

Caylor and Hugo Huerta, senior Local Area Network (LAN) administrator for UTPA’s library and the project’s technician, visited the archives for five days. In that time they scanned 362 pages and an estimated 150 documents. Huerta skillfully prevented “cross hatching” (a process that causes print on the backs of pages to bleed through to the front) from interfering in the legibility and scanning of these initial documents.

“We are seeking grants to continue this project to fund the mountains of digitizing that is ultimately required,” Caylor said. “As phase one of the project, we are initially digitizing all documents, about 12,000, pertaining to the Texas Revolution, fought from 1835 to 1836 and the Mexico-American War, fought from 1846 to 1848. Phase one may reach completion within a year allowing scholars access to the first documents. However, there are over a million documents housed at the Acervo from countries around the world and that will take years to collect.”

Documents comprising international treaties, diplomatic correspondence and consular reports are among this vast collection. One such document is the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 signed by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first American Ambassador to Mexico appointed in 1825 and an amateur botanist. (Poinsett is remembered by the Poinsettia. It is named after him because he introduced the plant into the U.S. in 1828). The following passage is found in the treaty.

The limits of the United States of America, with the bordering territories of Mexico, having been fixed and designated by a solemn treaty, concluded and signed at Washington, on the twenty-second day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and nineteen, between the respective Plenipotentiaries of the Government of the United States of America, on the one part, and of that of Spain on the other.

The treaty was named for John Quincy Adams of the United States and Louis de Onís of Spain and it was formed before Texas became a state. The treaty renounced any claim of the United States to Texas and fixed the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase as beginning at the mouth of the Sabine River and running along its south and west bank to the 32nd parallel and directly north to the Río Rojo (Red River). The treaty is an extraordinary example of the many riches buried in the archives.

“Our goal is to digitize the diplomatic archives and make them available to scholars around the world,” Caylor said. “As we continue with the project, we hope to gain a better understanding of the history of our two countries and Mexico’s relationships with other countries around the world as reflected in the documents.”

Dr. Roldolfo Arevalo, UTPA provost/vice president for Academic Affairs, has been a major supporter of the project.

“All this is due to the Provost’s support and effort. He sees the value of our students and faculty participating in a larger world view,” Caylor said. The project to digitize the archives began two years ago. Armijo chose UTPA for various reasons: its proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border that allows for scholars from both countries easy access to the documents, the high concentration of Mexican and Mexican American students at UTPA and University’s reciprocal agreements with more than 15 universities in Mexico that allow students from the country to study at UTPA.

“By having access to these documents UTPA is moving towards being a tier one doctoral research institution,” said Dr. Gilbert Cardenas, director for the Center for International Studies and assistant vice president of International Programs at UTPA’s College of Business Administration. “These archives will bring in scholars from around the world and increase the prestige of the University.”

In fact, only UTPA faculty, students and visiting scholars will be given free and unlimited access to the archives once they are logged and made accessible to the public at the University library. Other outside scholars may access the call numbers and view a synopsis of the documents online, however for a complete reading of the article, researchers will have to contact the Acervo Historico Diplomatico or physically come to UTPA.

Since being hand-stitched in the volumes at the time of their initial arrival at the Acervo Historico Diplomatico, these documents have received limited use because of the difficulty of accessing specific items. Access to the archives at UTPA will provide many researchers and historians, for the first time, with information not previously known and shed light on events that could ultimately change the history books.

For more information contact Caylor at 956/381-2755 or at caylor@panam.edu. ###