Borders are in a constant transition in the political, cultural, and geographic discourses. According to Rachel St. John, “walls and fences have become both physical realities and metaphors for the stark divide between the United States and Mexico and the attempt to control undocumented immigration and illegal drug trafficking that many people associate with the border” (1). Borderlands Archives Cartography (BAC) emerges from the constant, and current aggressive, political rhetoric that displays the geographic and ideological border between the United States and Mexico as a threat. However, the borderland “is a space where different cultures co-exist under strong political, economic, and social hegemonies; as well as, a space were regions influence each other, but maintain their own identities” (Álvarez). Therefore, the objective of BAC is to uncover literary sources, such as the newspapers published on the U.S. Southwest and Northern area of Mexico in order to represent the borderlands by their own communities.
Why the focus on periodicals? Though printing was first introduced to the Americas in 1533, fourteen years following the arrival of Spaniards to the region now known as Mexico, the persistent prevailing perception is that the United States has always been the neighbor leading innovation and dominant producer of cultural advancements. That is not the case, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans inhabiting the Southwest have been practicing literary production and self-documentation that predates the birth of the United States. In the borderlands, these cultural interactions gave rise to new identities as a result of the loss of territory, immigrations, exile, and deterritorialization. This is reflected in recovered material such as periodicals, which kept communities informed about daily affairs and advertised local businesses, among many other services. On the other hand, these publications helped individuals and [its residents] protect their rights by fighting segregation and discrimination, particularly after the cession of the borderlands to the United States in 1848. Newspapers preserved language and culture, elevating communities’ education levels by publishing creative literature in Spanish, including poetry, literary prose, serialized novels, and plays (Kanellos and Martell 7-8). Additionally, newspapers have documented diverse political, social, and economic processes from U.S. colonial times to more recent events that helps [to better] understand the [borderland and transnational] cultures (Chávez Chávez).
Borderland Archives Cartography is a digital humanities project that works in collaboration with the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage. Its legacy inspired the founders of the Borderlands Archives Cartography (BAC) project, doctoral students from the University of Houston, Maira E. Álvarez and Sylvia A. Fernández, from borderland cities of Laredo, Texas and El Paso, Texas/Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, respectively. Their experience as Research Fellows in the Recovery Program gave them an understanding of the importance of archives and their cultural and historical legacy, as well as, training on equipment and procedures necessary for the preservation of such materials. Their exposure to a database with more than 1000 recovered newspapers led the founders to a series of questions regarding the periodicals not only from the United States border, but the material found in archives along the Mexico border region as well. These academic experiences along with their personal interest on U.S.-Mexico border is reflected on their dissertations and the BAC project, which initiated in early 2017.
The project is significant because it crosses multiple borders: geographic, linguistic, and disciplinary. The following is an overview of the logistics involved in undertaking such a project, the philosophy for creating this corpus, a description of the borders, and the historical periods and communities involved. Furthermore, the objective of BAC is to gather periodicals archives from both sides of the border in order to understand the region and its communities before and after it became a division line. This project takes a digital humanities platform to expand the notion of borders, methodologies, and data analysis with the purpose to facilitate the access to the material recovered and promote diverse forms of research. BAC’s digital map displays the U.S.-Mexico border newspaper cartography that records geographic locations of nineteenth and mid-twentieth century periodicals. The corpus gathered until now is projected using, a geo-analysis tool, which helps to analyze and represent visually the data.
By following the cataloging material standards of the Library of Congress, the information coded in the map is categorized by newspaper title, location (city, state, and country), address, number of issues available, years of publication, language (Spanish, English, French), editor/s name, source (name of the collection), and historical periods (period one, period two and period three). The selection of newspapers from both sides of the border followed BAC’s protocols, in which the historical periods dictated the states and regions (cities and counties) to be considered as part of the borderlands.
The US border includes the states California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. The latter state is included due to the influence of the press during the nineteenth century. Currently, the U.S. data collected is from the Recovering Program. This material is available through microfilm at Recovery located at the University of Houston, or digitally through the NewsBank/Readex database: America’s Historical Newspapers under the Hispanic American Newspaper Collections and EBSCO database: under Arte Público Hispanic Historical Collection Series 1 and Series 2.
From the Mexican border, BAC includes the periodical from the states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. The data of newspapers collected comes from the Recovery Program, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, a unit of the University of Texas Libraries, and the Hemeroteca de la Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas under the Fondos Documentales Joaquín Meade. The material of the Recovery Program can be accessed through the online sources previously mentioned. The newspapers from the collection of Joaquín Meade can be found in the Hemeroteca de la Universidad de Tamaulipas’ website. The Benson Collection is available in microfilm form at the University of Texas Libraries.
Furthermore, the process of gathering data from the northern states of Mexico is currently underway. By using the Colegio de la Frontera Norte’s online directory, a description of the project, as well as the objectives of the research was sent via email. Some of the specialists provided contact information of archivist and directors in charge of newspapers archives related to BAC. The project was received with great excitement and their responses provided an extraordinary amount of information found in their archives. The digitized newspapers obtained by these colleagues were included in the database, the newspapers on microfilm will be requested to be digitized, and the newspapers in print form, which is a larger portion of the collections in Mexico, will be slowly integrated to the database because of travel, equipment, organization, and time required.
As mentioned before, the data from both sides of the border followed BAC’s protocols, in which the historical periods dictated the selection of states and regions (cities and counties) to be considered as part of the borderlands. Presently, BAC considers nineteenth century newspapers from the entire states, and the twentieth century periodicals are selected based on border cities from both sides. This is due to the fact that the U.S.-Mexico border went over a geographical and political transition that established what the current division line is now. With this in mind, the periodicals found in BAC are categorized in one of the three historical periods, according to the year published, in order to provide an understanding of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands:
- Period One (Colonial ruling), covers the years 1808 to 1846.
- Period Two (Mexican-American War) extends from 1847 to 1854.
- Period Three (Transition to the current division line) runs from 1855 to 1930.
Currently BAC has been well accepted in regional, national and international conferences such as 25th Anniversary Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Conference (Houston, TX), International American Studies Association 8th World Congress (Laredo, TX), 83rd IFLA World Library and Information Congress (Wroclaw, Poland), 6th Annual Digital Frontiers Conference (Denton, TX) and invited as speakers for The Humanities and Technology Camp (THATCamp) at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Gradually, BAC’s missions are being reach while the project continues to work on building bridges globally among the academic and borderlands communities. This digital humanities approach not only facilitates research with archives, it also enables and encourage other disciplines’ studies, and forms of methodologies to better understand the material.
BAC as a digital humanities project promotes the use of diverse knowledge since different skills are essential for engagement, interaction, research and most importantly, understanding the histories of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. As Roopika Risam (2014) emphasizes, these types of texts can aid in the theorizing of digital archival practices. In the case of BAC, the integration of borderlands’ newspapers created the first digital archive of U.S.-Mexico Borderlands Newspapers. Bacartography.org is a repository platform that displays the digital map, historical context of the borderlands, online resources, publications, a monthly newspapers exhibition, social media (facebook, twitter, instagram), and graphs that help visualized the data collected. BAC integrates in its platforms other borderlands digital projects to better understand the region and fill some of the historical lacunae from Mexico and the United States.
In conclusion, more than an digital project, Borderlands Archives Cartography (BAC) is a personal commitment to the borderlands communities. As fronterizas, we want to bring the legacy of Recovery to our communities through BAC because just as we found ourselves represented and empowered by the heritage recovered, that made us aware of the right histories of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, we intend to bring this knowledge and non-traditional literary sources to others to deconstruct the political discourses that have been persistent throughout the years. With this in mind, BAC, as a borderlands archive, strives to continue uncovering voices from the past to destabilize statism.
Chávez Chávez, Jorge. “El Archivo Municipal de Ciudad Juárez.” Cronología Siglo XXI (1992). Accessed May 28, 2017. https://bivir.uacj.mx/bivir_pp/cronicas/new_page_2.htm.
Kanellos, Nicolás and Helvetia Martell. Periodicals in the United States, Origins to 1960: A Brief History and Comprehensive Bibliography. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2000.
Risam, Roopika. Professionalizing via Digital Humanities. (powerpoint slides for a talk at the New England American Studies Association Spring Colloquium-“Professional Realities Inside and Outside the Academy, May 3, 2014) https://www.slideshare.net/roopsi1/professionalization
St. John, Rachel. Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border. New Jersey:Princeton University Press, 2011.
 Maira E. Álvarez’s dissertation title, Mexican and Mexican-American Fronteriza Writers: A Counter Discourse from a Militarized Border.
 El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (El Colef) is an institution of scientific research and graduate education, which is part of the System of Public Centers for Research of the CONACYT (National Council for Science and Technology). Regional Headquarters: Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey, Ciudad Juárez, and Mexicali.