Mexican Microfilming Projects at the UTEP Library

By on July 20, 2012

W.H. Timmons (second from right) and Leon Metz (right) visit with Mexican colleagues

A major legacy of history professor W. H. Timmons was the Mexican microfilming program at the UTEP Library. Because of his interest in Mexican history, he was instrumental in the microfilming of several important archives from northern Mexico. As part of the efforts to set up cooperative projects to film archives, he traveled to Mexico on several occasions, sometimes in the company of UTEP Archivist Leon Metz.

An early effort at UTEP to make Mexican archives available to researchers was the filming of the Ciudad Juárez municipal archives, also known as the Archivos del Ayuntamiento de Ciudad Juárez. Filming was carried out from 1961 to 1964 with financial support from the El Paso chapter of the Pan American Round Table. The library also arranged for the filming of the records of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe mission church, now the Cathedral in Cd. Juárez. Other microfilming projects included the filming of municipal records in the city of Chihuahua, historical archives from Durango, and records from the cathedral in Durango.

Some of the efforts to film Mexican archives involved colorful stories. When Leon Metz and microfilm technician Roger Flores went to Janos, Chihuahua, to film presidio records, they had to set up a generator in a barn with very poor environmental conditions. Because of difficulties shipping microfilm back and forth across the border, the Library engaged the assistance of several different individuals and organizations. The architect Pepe Lizárraga, director of the art museum in Ciudad Juárez, for a time forwarded raw film to a contact at the archives in Durango, then received the exposed film and held it for UTEP students to pick up and bring across the border.

During a project to film back issues of El Heraldo de Chihuahua, the film went through the offices of El Continental, a Spanish-language newspaper in El Paso. The filming of the newspaper was never completed; one problem encountered was that the lights on the microfilming table would dim each time the newspaper started up its presses, causing uneven exposures on many of the rolls.
Even today, with digitization becoming the more popular means of access to archives, microfilm remains a preservation medium, and the microfilm of Mexican archives remains a staple for researchers on the first floor of the University Library.


To see guides to some of the microfilm collections, go to http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/guides/.

Sources: Mexico and the Southwest: Microfilm Holdings of Historical Documents and Rare Books at the University of Texas at El Paso Library (Special Collections Department, UT El Paso Library, 1984).

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Claudia Rivers is the head of the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department of the UTEP Library. She earned both her BA and MLIS degrees at the University of Texas at Austin, and worked at the Benson Latin American Collection there before coming to El Paso in 1992. Her interests include the history of the Southwest and Mexico, ancient Meso-America, and detective fiction.