Mexican entrepreneurs and their importance to the borderlands economy following World War I

By Alberto Wilson III

I had my first experience working in an archive at the University of Texas at El Paso’s special collections the summer before my senior year. I had no clue what I was doing. Archival work is markedly different from the casual research—mainly online—that I had done for my research projects in history courses. Whereas before I had a predisposed idea on a historical topic and allowed the search bar to confirm those ideas, working in an archive requires piecing together history taking all sorts of sources into consideration. After spending a few days at UTEP, I left with a few documents that never made it onto the final draft of my thesis. It took the senior methods seminar and a serious discipline towards how to properly conduct historical research for me to feel comfortable returning to an archive. When I did return, navigating finding aids, understanding how collections were organized, as well as sources’ audience, intention, and importance, made much more sense. I picked the José S. Gutiérrez Papers and focused my study on one borderlands family and from there constructed a larger narrative of Mexican entrepreneurs and their importance to the borderlands economy following World War I. 

More importantly, my experience at the archive solidified my belief in pursuing a PhD in History after Vassar. Professor Offutt’s insistence that I consider this option made a lot of sense when I found myself, above all else, having fun as I conducted research. Professor Mills recently told me that he couldn’t imagine himself doing anything else but reading, thinking, sharing ideas, and writing, so I figured if I had so much fun at UTEP’s archive maybe there was some truth to Professor Offutt’s request. And I am happy I listened. Where exactly a PhD in History will lead me is still a question I have not answered; and will likely not answer any time soon. But I know that for however many years more I have committed to school, I will be happy and excited to wake up day in and day out to pursue different historical questions, leads, and ideas. The Clark Fellowship gave me the opportunity to do archival work as an undergrad, and as I move forward into my graduate studies I hope it will serve as the first of many more research fellowships to come.