Summer Research Fellows Dig in at the Benson
by Susanna Sharpe
Recipients of the LLILAS Benson Minority Serving Institutions and Community Colleges Summer Research Travel Fellowships have been escaping the Texas heat inside the cool, quiet Benson Collection. LLILAS Benson offers four such fellowships a year, funded by a Title VI grant from the US Department of Education and dedicated specifically to supporting research at the Benson by scholars who teach in minority-serving institutions (MSI) and community colleges.
This year’s visitors include two historians, an ethnomusicologist, and a novelist/English instructor, all of whom focus on broader issues in their teaching. They were kind enough to each take the time to give an overview of their projects.
The Border: Contemplations and Consequences
UT Austin alumnus Patrick Timmons (PhD, History, 2004), who teaches history at El Paso Community College (EPCC), made his enthusiasm for the Benson known via a series of YouTube videos recorded for the benefit of his students, in hopes his excitement about being in the Benson will catch on. “EPCC has 28,000 students spread out over four campuses, all of which have libraries,” says Timmons. The college awards more than 3,000 associates degrees per year, and is one of the top granting institutions of associates degrees to Latinas/os, who make up over 85 percent of the student body.
Timmons is researching a book about the formation of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso as separate places. “What has created the distance between the two cities?” he asks, noting that at other times in history the two have been more fluidly connected. His answer, in part, is the “hard regulated border,” wherein the United States emerges as a repressive power via immigration control, drug control, and national security. On the Mexican side, the Programa Nacional Fronterizo (National Border Program, or PRONAF), created in 1961 to give an economic boost to Mexico’s northern border, led to a separate Juárez, a gateway to Mexico and the South that emphasized tourism and manufacturing.
There are several consequences of the separation between two cities whose populations used to come and go much more freely: “Violence has been segregated into Juárez due to more regulated borders, as has our understanding of violence.” In addition, the two municipalities are constrained in the kind of relationship they can have with one another. Official relationships would require international agreements; thus, informal arrangements have been the norm since the 1950s.
Timmons emphasizes the importance of his students in his two weeks at the Benson. “My students don’t see themselves in the U.S. history they study,” he claims. He is thus seeking to use materials from the Benson to enrich the Mexican side of the border experience in the teaching of U.S. history, “to combat the notion that teaching about the border and the Southwest is about distancing.” He is also doing as much as he can to make his enthusiasm about libraries contagious.
“Community colleges are delivering the first two years of undergraduate education, where students are first exposed to scholarly inquiry,” says Timmons. “I want my students to learn that libraries are for everybody; they are resources and solutions to problems.”
Donald Henriques (PhD, Ethnomusicology, 2006) is another UT alumnus. He is associate professor of ethnomusicology at California State University in Fresno, teaching Music of Latin America, Introduction to the World's Music, Mariachi Fresno State, Research Methods and Bibliography, and Seminar in Ethnomusicology. His research interests include the music of Mexico, music and globalization, (trans)nationalism, and identity.
He described two aspects of his research at the Benson: “This summer I am researching two mariachi-related topics. The first is the relationship of the nation-state with the modern mariachi and singing charro. This research extends to contemporary transnational perspectives on the mariachi and charro as cultural symbols, and the breakdown of the nation-state.” This research is part of a proposed book project currently under review by Oxford University Press, says Henriques. “The research will also be incorporated into lectures and classroom discussions centered on music, politics, and identity.”
His second project “is on the development of the mariachi voice, its connections with European vocal aesthetics, and the bel canto singing style. This research is intended for a future journal article. The mariachi voice research will enhance my ensemble-coaching skills as director of Mariachi Fresno State, and provide me with a greater depth of knowledge and awareness of relationships between aesthetics, style, and vocal performance.”
"Giving Voice to the Voiceless": Social Justice and Civil Rights through the Archives
Samantha Mabry Schulze (MA, English) is a novelist and a teacher of creative writing and English at El Centro Community College, which is part of the Dallas Community College District. Of her time at the Benson this summer, she writes: “I went into the Benson Collection with the intention of casting something of a wide net. My research interests were social justice and activism, workers' rights, and economic human rights in both the United States and Latin America during the twentieth century. My workload during the school year consists mostly of English composition courses, but each spring I lead an upper-level course in Latino literature. Of all the material presented in that course, my students show particular interest in the history of El Movimiento and the writings of César Chávez. As such, my goal was to use my time at the Benson toward expanding my knowledge base when it comes to the way in which writers and activists (and activist writers) document social justice and civil rights issues.”
For her research on the United States, Schulze consulted the archives of Maria G. Flores and the Migrant Border Ballad Project, “the latter of which consists of sound recordings and photographs of migrant workers, which provided insight on the ways in which laborers, union organizers, and the media viewed the lives and economic goals of farmworkers. In my attempt to glean how these issues were addressed in Latin America,” she continues, “I went through the Magda Portal Papers, the Santa Cruz Mining Company Records, and explored various texts regarding social and socialist realism in Latin America. Throughout, there was a common goal of giving voice to the voiceless, but the philosophy and methods of achieving this goal were quite different.”
Schulze concludes, saying, “I am looking forward to the ways in which I can integrate my research into my classroom. My hope is that the work I have done at the Benson inspires my students to be (or continue to be) active participants in their communities and agents of change in the world.”
Indigenous Resistance in Eighteenth-Century Maracaibo
Peter S. Linder (PhD, History, 1992) also earned his doctorate from The University of Texas at Austin. He teaches in the Department of History and Political Science at New Mexico Highlands University, in Las Vegas, New Mexico. During his time at the Benson this summer, he worked on an ongoing research project concerning the “evolving relations between indigenous peoples and the Spanish in the Maracaibo region during the eighteenth century.” More specifically, he examines "indigenous adaptations to growing Spanish demands in the Bourbon period, and the efforts on the part of the Spanish to defeat or accommodate Indian resistance."
“The traditional colonial historiography of the Maracaibo area has focused relatively little attention on the region’s indigenous peoples," says Linder. "My research demonstrates that, just as in the Southwest of North America, the eighteenth century saw Indians throughout western Venezuela finding creative ways of resisting Spanish attempts to gain control over their lands and labor. Many Indian societies around Lake Maracaibo and surrounding areas went on the offensive against the Spanish during the 1700s and early 1800s, and successfully pushed settlers and officials out of their lands. Occasionally, they even approached the city of Maracaibo itself.”
His ultimate goal is to publish his research in book or article form. “My work in the Benson Collection is shaping the direction of my writing on this subject,” he says.
Linder also had his students in mind during his visit: “The time I spent at the Benson will be particularly valuable to me as a professor of history at New Mexico Highlands University, which is a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution serving about 3,000 students. I work with undergraduate and graduate students doing their own research, and can use my research experience to help train students to work in relevant areas.”
He teaches a variety of courses in Latin American, Southwest, and New Mexico history. This summer’s research “will have the most impact on my courses in Colonial Latin America and Modern Latin America, and those dealing with the history of New Mexico and the Spanish borderlands,” he says, adding, “I am already modifying course materials using some of the insights gained in my work at the Benson.”
As a UT alumnus, returning to campus, and to the Benson, was especially significant to Linder: “Teaching as I do in a small university in rural Northeastern New Mexico, I especially appreciated the opportunity to spend time in a top research library; working at the Benson was in a real sense like coming home.”
Watch for the next call for applicants to the LLILAS Benson Minority Serving Institutions and Community Colleges Summer Research Travel Fellowships, coming fall 2016. For further information, contact Zhandra Andrade, Visiting Programs Coordinator/Course Scheduler, firstname.lastname@example.org.