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A Month in Special Collections: May

June 3, 2016

may infographic

Flora and Fauna

May 31, 2016
Mountain laurel in bloom, March 1992.

Mountain laurel in bloom, March 1992. Photo source: Office of University Communications Photographs, UA 16.01.01, UTSA Libraries Special Collections.

Every May, as classes end and students graduate or head off on summer adventures, I’m shocked to realize how quiet the university becomes—especially after the persistently frenzied feeling that signals the end of the spring semester. The vibe on campus settles into its summer rhythm, allowing a greater opportunity to notice the beauty of the outdoor spaces we inhabit in our daily working lives.

Tomato plants in the garden of the Back 40 at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures.

Tomato plants in the garden of the Back 40 at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures. Photo source: Kristin Law.

Tall corn in the garden of the Back 40 at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures.

Tall corn in the garden of the Back 40 at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures. Photo source: Kristin Law.

Spending time on UTSA’s campuses offers many chances to experience the flora and fauna of our region, whether that includes stopping to smell the plants in the pioneer garden at the ITC’s Back 40, hearing the blue jays at Bill Miller Plaza downtown, or pausing to watch the lizards speed through the grass by my favorite lunch spot.

One recent morning, I spotted a furry gray creature blending into the gray concrete of Ximenes garage. At first glance, I mistakenly thought it was one of the campus cats, but soon realized it was actually a possum. Over the past year, I’ve learned that if I stay especially late in the evening, I might get to see one of the rabbits that resides near my office.

A possum snuggled into the concrete of the Ximenes garage.

A possum snuggled into the concrete of the Ximenes garage. Photo source: Kristin Law.

Nestled at the foot of the Texas Hill Country in one direction, and easily accessible to the rest of the city in the other, UTSA’s main campus is situated in a unique spot. Because of our location, the variety of wildlife is particularly entertaining and captivating. I’m grateful for the landscaping that integrates native plants in the spaces between buildings and I believe that staff from previous decades shared my appreciation for campus wildlife. Numerous scenic views show up in the Office of University Communications Photographs collection, proving that campus is a lively and colorful place to be, even when class is not in session.

Redbud trees in the central courtyard, February 1992.

Redbud trees in the central courtyard, February 1992. Photo source: Office of University Communications Photographs, UA 16.01.01, UTSA Libraries Special Collections.

New Exhibit at Special Collections

May 23, 2016

Fact: Stranger than Fiction?
The Fantastical 18th century Utopia of Bishop Baltasar Jaime Martínez Compañón
from Trujillo del Perú
This exhibition is a creative and intellectual collaboration between Dr. Juliet Wiersema’s AHC 4333 New World Manuscripts class and Rare Books Librarian, Agnieszka Czeblakow

Putting History in Students’ Hands
Juliet Wiersema, Assistant Professor, Art History
Blair Salt, MA graduate student, Art History

How do you make 200 year-old scientific study images relevant and interesting to today’s UTSA students? That was the challenge I faced with my spring 2016 course, New World Manuscripts II. The Andes. Working from a facsimile of Baltasar Jaime Martínez Compañón’s Trujillo del Perú, an encyclopedic collection of watercolors that document the natural history of the bishopric of Trujillo during the later part of the eighteenth century, students created a vibrant exhibition, housed in UTSA’s Special Collections. Unlike other Enlightenment-period, crown-sponsored botanical expeditions, Trujillo del Perú was a project spearheaded by a progressive prelate. Through questionnaires sent throughout a vast area, Martínez Compañón was able to crowd-source information, collecting drawings of myriad unusual and often useful plants and animals that were native to northern Peru. The facsimiles have only become available in the past few decades and very few comprehensive studies have been undertaken on them. For students, this means an unparalleled opportunity to conduct new research and arrive at original observations.

Trujillo del Perú is the product of an enlightened Spanish prelate, Baltasar Jaime Martínez Compañón (1737 – 1797) and dozens of his native subjects. In 1767, Martínez Compañón was sent by King Charles III of Spain to serve as cantor of Lima’s Cathedral. Eleven years later, in 1778, he was named bishop of Trujillo, an appointment he undertook with gusto for the next 12 years. As bishop, Martínez Compañón worked to improve the lives of the people he served—founding towns, building schools, and educating the indigenous people of the vast Bishopric of Trujillo. Nevertheless, Martínez Compañón’s greatest legacy is Trujillo del Perú, a nine-volume paper museum of 1,372 beautiful and seemingly fantastical watercolors by anonymous (and largely indigenous) artists. Together, the volumes provide an encyclopedic view of the people, plants, animals, insects, architecture, and traditions of this region during the final half of the eighteenth century.

Remarkably, Martínez Compañón compiled his series like a modern day crowd sourcing project, drawing upon the indigenous knowledge of his subjects. Through questionnaires, information was collected about natural and local resources, with a decided emphasis on medicinal plants and exotic animals. Often times, illustrations were accompanied by botanical specimens which were later sent to Madrid to fill Charles Ill’s Royal Cabinet of Natural History.

At first glance, many of the illustrations in the Trujillo del Perú volumes appear far-fetched, even impossible; a porcupine with a prehensile tail? A tree that bleeds? A ray with a two-sided saw for a nose? A cursory look into the specimens documented, however, reveals that many continue to inhabit this region while others have made their way into our ecosystem, our diet, and even our grocery stores!

Acquiring Trujillo del Perú by Bishop Martínez Compañón
Shari Salisbury, UTSA Librarian

I first learned about Trujillo del Perú by Bishop Martínez Compañón from art history professor Juliet Wiersema when she invited me to a lecture at the San Antonio Museum of Art. Dr. Wiersema was interested in the nine-volume facsimile of watercolor reproductions for her own research and for teaching. Dr. Marion Oettinger, Curator of Latin American Art, showed slides of the illustrations and had several of the volumes on a table for the audience to examine. As a librarian, I couldn’t resist thumbing through them and looking at the amazing drawings! Dr. Oettinger explained that the facsimile had been published in three different bindings, and SAMA’s set had examples of each. He also indicated that it had been difficult to locate all nine volumes and that they had been acquired by SAMA one or two at a time until they had found all nine. According to the WorldCat database, about 50 libraries have copies of Trujillo del Perú however many do not have all of the volumes. Dr. Oettinger also stated that little had been written about the watercolors, but that a new book called The Bishop’s Utopia by Emily Berquist Soule was soon to be published. In light of this forthcoming publication and Dr. Wiersema’s research and teaching interests, I felt we needed to be quick if the UTSA Libraries were going to be able to acquire our own copy of the complete facsimile. The new book would doubtless stir up more interest in the watercolors!

I enlisted the help of UTSA Libraries Acquisitions Department staff, and they immediately set to work trying to locate the Trujillo del Perú volumes. We did not care whether they had the same binding or not, we just wanted to see if we could get all nine. It was touch and go at times, with a volume seemingly becoming unavailable just when we thought we had found them all! Working with vendors in the United States, France, and Spain, we were excited when our Acquisitions staff managed to locate and purchase all nine volumes within two months!

Most recently, we have learned of the existence of a booklet and three appendices that are meant to accompany Trujillo del Perú, and our Acquisitions staff are already tackling the challenge of locating these also. The saga continues…

Working with Trujillo del Perú as a Class
Christine Lane and Kat Gally, UTSA undergraduate students

As students learning in an age of Wikipedia, we found it fascinating that a similar crowd-sourced project had successfully taken place centuries in the past, in today’s Peru! The eighteenth-century bishop Baltazar Jaime Martínez Compañón compiled an impressive collection of local knowledge leveraging the artistic skills and botanical savvy of his subjects. Martínez Compañón is perhaps best exemplified by his devotion to his work and his concern for the citizens of his bishopric, Trujillo.  He introduced a variety of educational, scientific, and urban planning projects in order to assimilate the Peruvian people into European culture.

Within his nine volume work, Trujillo del Perú, the ambitious bishop compiled hundreds of watercolors. In these pages are also his elaborate plans to develop a booming industry based on exotic plants. He hoped to aid the local population in becoming a rich asset to the Spanish crown and aimed to shape Trujillo itself into a veritable utopia, where citizens were productive and natural resources were capitalized upon and commercialized. His proposed reforms, while beneficial, were largely unsuccessful due to a number of factors including lack of financial support from the church and the Spanish crown, resistance from those in power, and Martínez Compañón’s idealistic adherence to the grandiose nature of his proposals. Although Martínez Compañón was tasked to convert the Peruvian natives into hardworking Catholics, he still valued indigenous culture, traditions and beliefs. This set him apart from nearly all of his peers.

Within the pages of Trujillo del Perú are fascinating and unique examples of Peruvian biodiversity that border the line of believability. After spending a large portion of the spring semester pouring over the facsimiles of these manuscripts housed in UTSA’s Special Collections, an exhibition emerged: “Truth: Stranger than Fiction? : The Fantastical 18th century Utopia of Bishop Baltazar Jaime Martínez Compañón from Trujillo del Perú.” The exhibition showcases some of the fascinating and extraordinary pages from this collection of images, juxtaposing them with their real world counterparts. The exhibition is currently on view on the 4th floor of JPL and will be featured in the August issue of Sombrilla.

Narrowing Down the Exhibition Topic
Chloe Walker, Stephen Sotoodeh, Megan Doss, and Elizabeth Wirick, UTSA undergraduate students

While our class was taking in the hundreds of watercolor illustrations making up Martínez Compañón’s Trujillo del Perú, we were struck by the number of animal images that seemed more imaginary than real. For instance, we had no idea what kind of creature was indicated by the figure identified as Chachapas.

Chachapas

Chachapas

Trujillo del Perú’s Chachapas looks like a sheep/monkey/raptor hybrid which seemed biologically impossible. The Chachapas was one of many animals that seemed to have been invented by the illustrators. So, our first step was to undertake a bit of research on these animals to see if they had counterparts in the natural world. As it turns out, all—including the Chachapas—did, making us realize that these seemingly naive illustrations were in fact very accurate. This notion got us thinking about different topic ideas we might pursue for our exhibition.

Our initial idea was to focus on the crowdsourcing aspect of the manuscript, illuminating how Martínez Compañón employed the help of natives to create this encyclopedia of local knowledge. Our project would mirror that process through the creation of a Wikipedia page, as the modern-day equivalent of Martínez Compañón’s eighteenth-century crowd-sourced encyclopedia. However, we later decided that the nature of a group process is inherently like crowd sourcing, and that creating a Wikipedia page would not, therefore, be necessary. From there, a new topic emerged.

It was the veracity of the watercolor images that became our new focus. The fact that all paintings were depicted by likely dozens of people native to Martínez Compañón’s vast bishopric explained the varying artistic style found in the images, but were the plants and animals depicted local to the region, and did they depict a fanciful fiction or a grounded reality? This question became the cornerstone of the exhibition, and through our combined research and pictorial analysis, the veracity of every questionable image was confirmed. As it turned out, even the most bizarre images depicted flora and fauna endemic to the bishopric, even the fantastical Bleeding Tree (featured in exhibition).

As we searched for explanations about the fantastical appearance of these images, we came up with a handful of possibilities: artists not having been academically trained; the use of multiple perspectives in a single image; artists working from subjects that may have been in the process of decomposition (see, for example, the hammerhead shark); and the need to enlarge or exaggerate identifiable or useful parts of plants and animals. Comparing Martínez Compañón’s versions of these fantastical organisms from Trujillo del Perú with extant examples found in the natural world formed the basis for our exhibition.
Fantastical Finds
Bertha Chavez, Rhonda Oliver, and Marlene Saucedo, UTSA undergraduate students
Daniela Cavazos Madrigal, MFA student

Leafing through the beautifully illustrated images offered an encyclopedic look at eighteenth-century Peru’s unusual flora and fauna. As many of these images, at first glance, seemed fantastical in nature, our first goal was to ascertain if these species did, and still do, in fact exist. After we had spent weeks familiarizing ourselves with the contents and artistic styles from Trujillo del Perú, each student chose two species to investigate further. One of the intriguing outcomes was learning about the habitat and habits of these animals, insects, and plants and how each continues to be significant today.

The bagworm moth was an excellent example of an insect too bizarre to invent. The artist presents us with three aspects of the life cycle of this flying insect. A. depicts the larvae and C. shows it emerging from its bag, or cocoon, spun from silk and plant detritus. While the image looks fantastical and strange, this watercolor presents a remarkably accurate depiction of the insect larvae and the cocoon itself

The Hierba de Dientes for example, which is also known as the toothache plant, has analgesic properties that were and continue to be used to relieve tooth pain. The depiction of this plant, with its purple and gray hues, seemed an odd choice. After some initial research, I realized that the depiction in the volume is completely different from its current appearance. One explanation may have been that the illustration was modeled after a decayed specimen of the Hierba de Dientes.

Two other visually intriguing plants appearing in the volumes are Mashua (tropaeolum tuberosum) and Yuca/Cassava (manihot esculenta), both edible tubers. At first glance, the Martínez Compañón image of the Mashua looks a bit like a jellyfish. However, it seems the artist was simply capturing—in a single view—the above ground flowering plant and the underground tubers. The colorful striped roots depicted below the ground line are accurate renditions of what Mashua looks like today. A similar perspective was employed for the Yuca, which privileges the brown tubers, which grow underground.

Many of the images capture things both seen and used today in San Antonio and elsewhere. One example is what Trujillo del Perú refers to as the Mariposa de Seda. Its orange and black wing pattern, distinctive mint green cocoon, and proximity to a milk weed plant evokes the Monarch Butterfly. Another example is the Manzanilla plant, also known as Chamomile. Today Chamomile can be purchased in supermarkets and used as tea. Chamomile has long been used as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and mild astringent. It is used to treat wounds, ulcers, eczema, gout, bruises, burns, and other ailments.

Learning from an Eighteenth-century Pictorial Manuscript
Ron Palos, Rebecca Moore, and Kayla Littlefield, UTSA undergraduate students

Before taking this upper division Art History course, we knew virtually nothing about Peru or South American Art History. Indeed the only thing I knew going into this course was that we would be studying old manuscripts and documents of some sort from an area or region in South America. I was intimidated at first upon learning about the specificity of study our class would take and began to wonder if New World Manuscripts I might have been a course I should have taken prior to this one. This turned out to be unnecessary as I discovered there was very little existing scholarly research (relatively speaking) on our specific area of study or manuscripts from Spanish colonial Peru.

Starting with study of Guaman Poma’s long letter to King Phillip III of Spain and working our way through the 9 volume facsimiles of Bishop Martínez Compañón’s Trujillo del Perú in UTSA’s Special Collections, I became fascinated with observing and studying what only a handful of other academics have seriously studied. It was a unique experience being able to contribute to this area of study, and a position I never expected to find myself in as an undergraduate student at UTSA. Through concerted examination of the Trujillo del Perú manuscripts and the process of creating an exhibition for the Special Collections Library, I have learned to truly appreciate what UTSA and the Library has to offer students and have a greater understanding of what it is to make an academic contribution. In the end, I am happy to have contributed even the tiniest piece to the field and I know that my classmates likely feel the same way. Dr. Juliet Wiersema’s enthusiasm for Latin American studies in Art History definitely helped us understand our unique position as students in this class. It was a unique and engaging experience that I hope Dr. Wiersema and UTSA will continue to bring to undergraduates for years to come.

Tribute to the Original Convention Center Exhibit-Banquet Hall

May 14, 2016

During the last few weeks we observed the demolition of the oldest exhibit-banquet hall at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Constructed during 1966 and 1967, the building–along with the neighboring Arena and Theater for Performing Arts–was part of a three-building complex known as the San Antonio Convention Center. The complex was part of a vast urban-renewal project that also included HemisFair’68, the world’s fair honoring San Antonio’s 250th birthday. The convention center opened at the same time as HemisFair and was the site of events related to the fair.

As the city attracted more and larger conventions, the complex–renamed in honor of United States Representative Henry B. Gonzalez in 1976–was expanded several times. This January, a $325 million expansion opened to the east of the older building. Demolition of the original hall, located at the corner of Market and Alamo Streets, was scheduled to begin as soon as the new structure was completed. The layout of the old building had become obsolete and it stood in the way of integrating the redeveloped HemisFair Park with downtown.

This is a sample of the many photographs in our collections that document the appearance and uses of the original exhibit-banquet hall during the years that it served the community.

Alamo Street entrance to Convention Center Exhibit Hall, August 1970. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-1103-A-85040)

Alamo Street entrance to Convention Center Exhibit Hall, August 1970. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-1103-A-85040)

Newly completed Convention Center Exhibit Hall, by Lyda and Lott, general contractors. Behind it, the Tower of the Americas tophouse is being hoisted to the top of the concrete shaft, January 20, 1968. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0015-022-03)

Newly completed Convention Center Exhibit-Banquet Hall, by Lyda and Lott, general contractors. Behind it, the Tower of the Americas tophouse is being hoisted to the top of the concrete shaft, January 20, 1968. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0015-022-03)

The San Antonio Convention Center, designed by local architectural firms Noonan and Krocker; Phelps and Simmons and Associates, August 1969. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-1103-A-3296)

Panoramic view of the San Antonio Convention Center, designed by local architectural firms Noonan and Krocker; Phelps and Simmons and Associates, August 1969.  East Market Street at lower left.  (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-1103-A-3296)

Mural, by Carlos Merida, opposite the east entrance to the Exhibit Hall, ca. 1968. The mural has been preserved in place and will be incorporated into a new structure. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-1102-1064-A)

Glass mosaic mural, by Carlos Merida, opposite the east entrance to the Exhibit Hall, 1968. The mural has been preserved in place and will be incorporated into a new structure. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-1102-1064-A)

Convention Center Banquet Hall, March 1969. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-1103-B-118-9)

Convention Center Banquet Hall, March 1969. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-1103-B-118-9)

Exhibit Hall during National Decorator’s Convention, May 1969. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-1103-C-28-32)

Exhibit Hall during National Decorator’s Convention, May 1969. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-1103-C-28-32)

Smith-Corona Marchant exhibit during convention of the American Mathematical Society and Mathematical Association of America, January 1970. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-0491-A-39-15)

Smith-Corona Marchant exhibit during convention of the American Mathematical Society and Mathematical Association of America, January 1970. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-0491-A-39-15)

Brother-sister dance team Isaac Cardenas and Lisa Cardenas during zoot suit contest at low riders convention, August 30, 1980. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0064-036-33)

Brother-sister dance team Isaac Cardenas and Lisa Cardenas during zoot suit contest at low riders convention, August 30, 1980. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0064-036-33)

Photographers and model at photography trade show, September 13, 1980. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0064-076-44)

Photographers and model at photography trade show, September 13, 1980. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0064-076-44)

U. S. Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez speaks at Texas Pharmaceutical Convention, July 16, 1978. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0047-061-42)

U. S. Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez speaks at Texas Pharmaceutical Convention, July 16, 1978. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0047-061-42)

Russian chess champion Anatoly Karpov (left) and Danish Grandmaster Bent Larsen in the third round of Church’s International Chess Tournament in Mission Room, November 21, 1972. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0026-127-30)

Russian chess champion Anatoly Karpov (left) and Danish Grandmaster Bent Larsen in the third round of Church’s International Chess Tournament, November 21, 1972. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0026-127-30)

Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter at podium with Mayor Lila Cockrell, July 30, 1976 (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0038-131-41)

Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter at podium with Mayor Lila Cockrell, July 30, 1976 (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0038-131-41)

Tejano Music Awards program in Banquet Hall, San Antonio Convention Center, March 10, 1985. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0284-089-08)

Tejano Music Awards program in Banquet Hall, San Antonio Convention Center, March 10, 1985. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0284-089-08)

Cheerleading camp, August 3, 1982. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0110-192-22)

Cheerleading camp, August 3, 1982. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0110-192-22)

Former Vice President Walter Mondale (center) stands between Bella Abzug (left) and Patsy Mink at National Women's Political Caucus, July 10, 1983. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0168-044-37)

Former Vice President Walter Mondale (center) stands between Bella Abzug (left) and Patsy Mink at National Women’s Political Caucus, July 10, 1983. (San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0168-044-37)

C.O.P.S. Convention in Banquet Hall, November 7, 1982. (San Antonio Light Collection, MS 359: L-7205-19-03)

C.O.P.S. Convention in Banquet Hall, November 7, 1982. (San Antonio Light Collection, MS 359: L-7205-19-03)

 

 

 

 

Highlights from the Expanded Worsham Family Papers

May 9, 2016

UTSA’s collection of the Worsham Family Papers largely consists of the papers of Israel Worsham (1820-1882), whose family came to Texas (then Mexico) from Alabama in 1829. His parents, Jeremiah and Catherine Landrum Worsham, received Headright grant #5 in Stephen F. Austin’s Colony, and Israel received 320 acres of land in Montgomery County (just north of Houston) in the Republic of Texas in 1839. The papers originally contained financial records, bills of sale and receipts for slave sales, and the research of Israel’s great-great granddaughter, Ella K. Dagget Stumpf. This research led to a biographical entry on Israel in the New Handbook of Texas.

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Receipt for the purchase of fifteen bales of cotton, 1864.

In May of 2015, UTSA Special Collections acquired a donation of additional documents that represent other family members and help provide a more well-rounded representation of Israel’s life. These documents give the collection greater diversity, and include family correspondence, employment contracts with freedmen, and papers documenting Israel’s involvement in the military, politics, the Council of Laborers, and election administration.

The correspondence includes letters exchanged between Jeremiah Worsham, Israel Worsham, and other family members and acquaintances. One particularly interesting letter, dated November 22, 1842, was written to Jeremiah from Israel while Israel was stationed at Camp Leon (in present-day San Antonio) dated November 22, 1842. This letter is from Israel’s service in the Texas militia, written three days before the departure of the Somervell expedition.

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Letter to Jeremiah from Israel at Camp Leon, November 22, 1842.

Israel’s political involvement is documented in the collection by a list of the members of the Sixth Legislature of the Texas House of Representatives and the proceedings of a meeting of delegates at Danville, for which he was present. In addition to his term in the Sixth Texas legislature (1855-56), he served in the Montgomery County Home Guard in the U.S. Civil War. After the war, he represented Montgomery, Grimes, and Brazos counties for the House of Representatives in the Eleventh Texas Legislature (1866). Following the war, he also employed members of the Colguin family (freedmen) on his plantation, which was located on the old Post Road to Houston.

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Employment agreement between Israel Worsham and Israel Colguin, January 1866.

Israel was also a member of the Council of Laborers, a secret society created to protect the interests of farmers in the southern states, similar to The Grange. There are three membership certificates for Israel in the collection, as well as a copies of the order’s constitution, bylaws, and rituals.

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Membership certificate and appointment of Israel Worsham as a Grand Treasurer in the Council of Laborers, January 14, 1876.

In 1880-1881, Israel served as an election judge for Montgomery County Precinct 4. The collection contains two copies of election returns from Montgomery County and one document appointing him as an election judge.

txsau_ms00144_00005

Appointment of Israel Worsham as Presiding Officer of Election, February 1881.

Israel and his wife, Emily Womack Worsham, had five children: Ophelia Frances, Alice Tabitha, Mattie Myrtella, Josephine, and Jefferson Davis Worsham. Israel died in 1882 and was buried in the family cemetery on his plantation.

The Israel Worsham Family Papers are housed at UTSA’s Main Campus and can be viewed by appointment in the John Peace Library Special Collections Reading Room. The collection guide for the papers is available online.

A Month in Special Collections: April

May 2, 2016
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Names and Places of UTSA: Tomás Rivera (revisited)

April 24, 2016

This month we continue “Names and Places of UTSA,” a blog series on university history, with a post by archives student assistant, Marissa Del Toro. This month’s blog post returns to an influential figure within UTSA’s early history, Tomás Rivera, who was covered in an earlier post.

Portraits of Dr. Tomás Rivera, 1976.

Portraits of Dr. Tomás Rivera, 1976. Photo source: Gil Barrera Photographs of the University of Texas at San Antonio, MS 27, UTSA Libraries Special Collections.

This remembrance of Tomás Rivera begins with a personal anecdote from my childhood in California. Since 1986, my mother has worked at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), so my sisters and I became acquainted with the campus from a very early age. On special occasions my father would bring us to the campus to visit her at work. Our visits to UCR were a treat for my sisters and me, as we were also given the chance to stop by the library and choose a book to read while we waited for our mom to get off work. Now this may not seem much but this library, the Tomás Rivera Library, became a sacred space for me as I grew up; it was an escape from some of the harsh realities of life. The tall white arches leading to the building’s entrance were a gateway to another world for my sisters and me.

Later on when I attended UCR as an undergraduate, the Tomás Rivera Library became a different haven for me. It became a space of learning, hanging out, and of course the magical environment for overnight study sessions. When I came to UTSA in 2013, I was surprised—but excited—to see the Tomás Rivera Center (TRC) here on campus. I learned that the TRC was an on-campus site for student tutoring services; the center has even assisted me with my Master’s thesis, giving me the guidance and tools to become a better writer. I viewed Tomás Rivera’s presence here as a sign of good luck for my time at UTSA.

Tomás Rivera Library

Tomás Rivera Library at University of California, Riverside. Photo source: UCR Today.

While I knew some biographical information about Rivera, I did not fully understand the extent of his legacy that existed in California, Texas, and the United States. Tomás Rivera was a professor, poet, author, scholar, and activist who led an impressive life before his untimely death in 1984 at the age of forty-nine. His story begins in 1935 in Crystal City, Texas, where he was born to a migrant Mexican-American family. During his youth, Rivera became an avid reader while he was on the road with his family following the migrant stream of work from Texas to the Midwest. Despite the harsh circumstances of poverty, constantly moving, and working from a young age, Rivera became a successful student with a strong interest in writing.

In 1954 Rivera graduated from Crystal City High School and attended Southwest Texas State College (now known as Texas State University). By 1964 he had received his Bachelor’s degree in English with minors in Spanish, History, and Education, and a Master’s Degree in Education. He continued his studies at the University of Oklahoma, and by 1969 had completed his PhD in Romance Languages and Literature, as well as a second Master’s Degree in Spanish Literature. While earning his advanced degrees, Rivera impressively managed to teach both Spanish and English at schools in League City, Crystal City, and San Antonio, Texas.

In an interview with his wife Concepción “Concha” Rivera, whom he married in 1952, she notes that Rivera encountered difficulty in finding work as an English teacher in 1950s and 1960s America. She attributed this to the prejudicial belief that “they weren’t going to hire a Hispanic to teach English.” She recalled that moment as when Rivera decided to receive additional degrees in Spanish so he could find work more easily.

Tomás Rivera : eight youth portraits

Composite photograph of school portraits and group snapshot from early teaching jobs. Photo source: UCR_TR_EC_3, The Tomás Rivera Archive Catalog, UC Riverside, University Archives.

From 1971–1973, Rivera was Director in the Division of Foreign Languages, Literature and Linguistics, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Professor of Spanish Literature at UTSA. He was invited to campus at the request of the first president, Arleigh B. Templeton, after they had previously worked together at Sam Houston State University. Mrs. Rivera recalls her husband’s integral role in the early planning stages of UTSA, since he was only one of five people developing the curriculum and academic blueprints for the new university.

Afterwards from 1973–1976, Rivera became Associate Dean of the College of Multidisciplinary Studies and continued as Professor of Spanish at UTSA. He would eventually become Vice President for Administration at UTSA before leaving in 1978 to become the Executive Vice President and Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Texas at El Paso.

FromTheSearchersByTomasRivera

Back page of the program from Tomás Rivera’s memorial service, 1984. Source: UTSA Library Office of the Dean Records, UA 5.01, UTSA Libraries Special Collections.

A year later in 1979, Rivera became Chancellor at the University of California, Riverside, as well as Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures. This was a momentous occasion in his life—and for U.S. and California history—as Rivera became the first Mexican-American to hold such a position within the University of California system. Mrs. Rivera noted that she once told him that, “You’re still a migrant worker. You keep moving every two years.” However, UC Riverside would be Rivera’s final position before his untimely death in 1984.

Rivera lived a short life but he accomplished a great deal. Besides teaching, he was appointed by both Presidents Carter and Reagan to serve on the Commission of Higher Education. He also served as a board member for the Carnegie Institute, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey, and the board of directors of the Times-Mirror Company.

In addition to being a successful educator and administrator, Rivera was also a gifted writer who wrote from the personal yet powerful experiences of his life. He wrote several prose pieces, poems, and essays on literature and higher education. Rivera even contributed to El Grito: A Journal of Contemporary Mexican-American Thought, a journal founded by Octavio Romano and Nick Vaca at the height of the 1960s Chicano Literary Renaissance. From its opening in 1967 until its closure in 1974, the El Grito provided an essential outlet for Chicano writers who found difficulty getting their work published in mainstream publications.

Rivera’s most well-known work is his 1971 novel, Y no se lo tragó la tierra: And the earth did not part. This semi-biographical book of poems, which earned him the prestigious Quinto Sol Literary Award in 1971, reflects the stories of his migrant upbringing and the community he belonged to. Rivera’s powerful words reveal the world he existed in but also the formation of his identity as he encountered the harsh and sometimes unfair elements of life: alienation, exploitation, racism, love, family, community, death, and resurrection. At UTSA, our Rare Books collection holds several of his published works including, This migrant earth (1987) as well as Y no se lo tragó la tierra: And the earth did not part.

UTSA Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 1, Page 4, 1973.

UTSA Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 1, Page 4, 1973. Source: UTSA University Publications Collection, UA 1.02, UTSA Libraries Special Collections.

Rivera’s legacy reveals him to be a dedicated individual who broke down barriers and established new opportunities for Mexican-Americans, Chicanxs, Latinxs, and Hispanics through his numerous accomplishments. In a 1981 interview, Rivera noted that his success was due in part to his parents and his family’s encouragement. Following the support he received growing up, he inspired others to “maximize education as much as possible.” He viewed education as a sense of power and strength that creates more possibilities and better visions for a future. Rivera was a humble person but also tremendously insightful. He once said: “Have a very strong love for each other as people. Help the less fortunate. Develop a stronger consciousness of what you are and how you can help each other.”

The memory of Tomás Rivera lives on in the numerous plazas, buildings, research centers, and schools named in his honor. These sites offer thousands of individuals who walk through their doorways a welcoming and supportive environment, as seen in the Tomás Rivera Library at UCR and the Tomás Rivera Center (TRC) at UTSA. My experiences at these places—as a child, an undergraduate, and a graduate student—are a testament to his legacy. Rivera’s life stands as an influential model for my young brown life, and for many others as well.

Tomás with his family.

Tomás with his family. Photo source: UCR_TR_EC_2, The Tomás Rivera Archive Catalog, UC Riverside, University Archives.

 

Bibliography

Handbook of Texas Online, R. R. Hinojosa-Smith, “Rivera, Tomas,” accessed April 11, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fri34.

Meier, Matt S., and Margo Gutiérrez. “The Mexican American Experience.” 2003. Accessed April 11, 2016. https://books.google.com/books?id=-E1_hLqmUCIC.

Rivera, Concepcion Concha, and Jan Erickson. “Transcription of Oral History Interview with CONCEPCION G. RIVERA.” Transcription of Oral History Interview with CONCEPCION G. RIVERA. August 13, 1998. Accessed April 11, 2016. http://www.ucrhistory.ucr.edu/pdf/rivera.pdf.

“Rivera’s UCR Curriculum Vitae, 1984.” Tomás Rivera archive, Collection 253. University of California, Riverside Libraries, Special Collections & Archives, University of California, Riverside. 1992. Accessed April 11, 2016. http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb567nb5kv/?brand=oac4.

Tomás Rivera archive, Collection 253. University of California, Riverside Libraries, Special Collections & Archives, University of California, Riverside. Accessed April 11, 2016. http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf6r29p0kq&brand=oac4/

Salazar, Veronica. Dedication Rewarded, Volume 2. San Antonio, TX: Mexican American Cultural Center, 1981.

“Tomás Rivera.” Tomás Rivera Center. 2016. Accessed April 11, 2016. http://www.utsa.edu/trcss/TomasRivera.html.

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