Valleyites say it all the time – we live in a distinct culture, found nowhere else in the world. The Rio Grande Valley’s way of life is different from any other place.
And it’s Dr. Margaret Dorsey’s job to ensure scholars, local schools and especially the community can study our distinct culture. As the Curator of the Border Studies Archive, she focuses on developing and adding to the current six collections already available on the third floor of the UTPA Library.
The scope of the collections is wide, including Border Music, Spanish Land Grants, Traditional Mexican American Folklore, Visual Border Studies and Latinas and politics, but it also houses a growing aggregate of photos, data and objects that is of particularly timely value – the Border Wall & Border Security collection. It was created in part to document the border wall and its impact on the community. As recently as September, State Senator Eddie Lucio asked for more study into the impact of the Border Wall. (The Monitor) Dr. Dorsey believes the Border Studies Archives will be a place where all researchers – be they from academe, the government or the community – will begin their work.
The Corpus Christi native has been interested in the border for some years. She published “Pachangas: Borderlands Music, U.S. Politics, and Transnational Marketing” in 2006 and will soon publish another book examining the border wall. Both books are from the University of Texas Press. When the Assistant Professor in the Psychology and Anthropology Department of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences was hired, she was asked to develop the existing RGV Folklore Collection. Within a two-year time span and by working closely with the UTPA library, the material expanded from a set of filing cabinets in a professor’s office to a larger multi-room facility on the third floor of the library and grew from one to six collections.
Dr. Margaret Dorsey examines a copy of The American Wall, a photo-essay by Maurice Sherif to which Dr. Dorsey is a contributor.
The rapidly expanding archive is intended to be another center – an anchor for the community – and a place of excellence in scholarship as envisioned by UTPA President Dr. Robert Nelsen at the recent Vista Conference in Brownsville. The Border Studies Archive is a place within the university that adds to the concept that UTPA is a creative place – an idea place – that acts as a core around which the community grows. Having already drawn academics from Texas A&M and Michigan State University, the archive serves as a magnet to introduce distinctive Valley cultures to the rest of the United States.
The archive also serves the local school districts through CHAPS (Community Historical Archaeology Project with Schools), an interdisciplinary program that promotes STEM education in the Edinburg, La Joya, Donna and Hidalgo schools. Headed up by anthropology professor Dr. Russell Skowronek, the CHAPS contributors include Dr. Sonia Hernandez (History), Dr. Juan Gonzalez (Geology), Dr. Kenneth Summey (Biology) and Dr. Dorsey (Anthropology). Besides the obvious task of enlightening local students about their own history and culture, CHAPS also promotes critical thinking and research skills and encourages young people to pursue further knowledge in biology, GPS technology, math and anthropology.
Currently, the Border Studies Archive is focusing its attention on adding depth to its collections in a couple of ways. First, researchers are in the community attending events and collecting stories and music. Second, through digital preservation and annotation of its current collection, the BSA seeks to make its materials accessible to the public in formats that both provide the primary source data and explain its significance to the public. To help the BSA with this effort, Dorsey has applied to the National Science Foundation for approximately half a million dollars in funding.
As UTPA progresses toward being a research oriented university, Dr. Dorsey and the Border Studies Archive serve as an example of how such research can promote the community, benefit K-12 education, attract visiting scholars and reflect the Valley’s unique culture for the world to see.