Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.
Last weekend, I attended a lecture event, “Remembering the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920” at the Center for Greater Southwestern Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington. Three significant photographic exhibits are on display through April: “Mexico: The Revolution and Beyond: The Photographs of Agustín Victor Casasola, 1900-1940” from the Archivo Casasola; “La Tierra y su Gente: The Rio Grande Photographs of Robert Runyon,” from the holdings of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin; and from UTA Special Collections, “Images of Conflict.” All three document the transnational experience and commemorate the forthcoming Mexican Revolution Centennial.
Dr. Sam W. Haynes, Director of the Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, shared his insight into the background and significance of these photography exhibits and history:
Tina Aguilar: Tell me about the Center for Greater Southwestern Studies and your inspirations for scholarship and sharing content with the public.
Dr. Sam W. Haynes: The center exists to promote awareness of and scholarship about the American Southwest. We tend to frame that mandate rather broadly, hence the term “greater southwest.” This is my first year as center director, and one of the things I’d like to do is more community outreach than we have done in the past. The Mexican Revolution Centennial events are our first attempt to do so.
T. A: These are three powerful collections to share with the community. The juxtaposition between rural and modern is apparent, as well as the documentation of place and identity. How did you decide to showcase these exhibitions?
S. W.H: Because our center focuses on the Southwest, not just Mexico, we wanted to put together three exhibits that stress the bi-national implications of the Mexican Revolution. The Agustín Victor Casasola exhibit is certainly the most impressive, but we thought the photographs of Robert Runyon and William Horne, photographers from Brownsville and El Paso, respectively, would help round out the exhibit, since they tend to cover the conflict from the United States side.
T.A: You mentioned that you learned about and unearthed the photographs in “Images of Conflict” and put it together. When you find new threads of history like this, it must be like being in a candy store or, for fellow history enthusiasts, a visit to a place like the Library of Congress as you coordinate and make selections.
S.W.H: Special Collections has always had a pretty sizable collection of photographs on the Revolution, but they had never been digitized. Over the summer, I went through them and identified a large number that I thought had the most historical value. We then decided it might be a good idea to organize the photos around a narrative of the Revolution, since people coming up to the center on the sixth floor might not have a solid background in the major events of the conflict. The challenge was in identifying photos that would help tell that story effectively. It was fun for me to construct the narrative in this manner.
T.A: What about Robert Runyon’s photographs? Can you tell me about his eye and the environment he was documenting?
S.W.H: Robert Runyon was one of many Americans who tried to cash in on the Revolution. Unlike Horne, though, he married into a Mexican-American family when he moved to Brownsville, and this seems to have given him a far greater degree of engagement. The Boy Soldier is the most riveting, I think, and he has become the motif of the Mexico Centennial events. Another one I like very much, though, is the photograph of the crowd of refugees at Charity House in Brownsville, as it reflects the beginning of Mexican migration into the Southwest.
T.A: Where does the information about the history and photographs come from in preparation for such an exhibit?
S.W.H: I wrote up the narrative for “Images of Conflict” and the brochures for the photography exhibits. Doug Richmond, a center fellow and the history department’s historian of this period, edited the copy. Chris Conway, a professor of modern languages, translated the “Images of Conflict” text into Spanish.
T.A: Last Saturday’s public educator symposium, “Remembering the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920,” brought together Mexican/Chicano scholars from across North Texas to discuss a historical overview of key events and players who represent the rich, complex layers of Mexican history. The UTA history department’s Webb Series is an academic conference at which papers will be presented by national and international distinguished scholars. What can people expect with the forthcoming two-day conference, “Conflict and Consolidation, 1910-1940?”
S.W.H: The history department has been holding the Webb lecture series annually for 45 years. They are named after Walter Prescott Webb, a famous historian of the American West who taught at UT-Austin, but they cover a wide range of topics. Last year’s focus was on German travel literature, for example. Since the center was already focusing on the Revolution to commemorate the Centennial, the history department decided to do the same. Papers will be presented on the violent social upheaval that took place in Mexico from 1910 to 1920, as well as efforts to implement the political and social goals of the Revolution in the decades that followed by Carlos Martínez Assad, Don M. Coerver, Miguel Angel González Quiroga, Stephen E. Lewis, Francisco E. Balderrama, Jürgen Buchenau, Linda B. Hall and Thomas L. Benjamin. John Mason Hart will write a forward to the volume with this series, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press.
Dr. Sam W. Haynes continues research in his areas of specialization, 19th Century United States History, Texas History and, most recently, a new book about Transatlantic History. He invites guests to attend the Walter Prescott Webb Memorial Lectures on March 10 from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., March 11 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and to the Keynote Address with Professor Thomas L. Benjamin that evening at 7:30 p.m. All lectures will be in the Central Library, Sixth Floor Parlor, with the exception of the final lecture on Thursday, which will be in the E.H. Hereford University Center, Rosebud Theatre). To visit all three photography exhibits, Sixth Floor hours are Monday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., closed on Sunday. The Center for Greater Southwestern Studies encourages visitors to call ahead (817.272.3997) to make sure a representative is available to greet guests.
Robert Runyon photos courtesy of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin