Special Collections: Archiving History for the Future

March 4, 2011

On the bottom floor of University of Arizona Special Collections, there are 36 football fields worth of archives.

Special Collections was originally established in 1958 to house materials on Arizona, the Southwest region and the United States-Mexico Borderlands. Fifty-three years later, Special Collections now holds tens of thousands of archives in its two-floor space and more online in its digital collection. These include an incredible range of rare books, photographs, manuscript collections, letters, newspapers and other materials in a wide range of research subject areas.

Categories that the materials fall in include UA history, regional folklore, borderlands communities, political papers and Arizona's territorial period.

The Southwest and borderlands collections are internationally renowned, but Special Collections holds all sorts of material, such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ personal letters and accounts from people who knew Adolf Hitler. Special Collections is relied on, worldwide, for primary source documents. These are available to students, professors, researchers, historians and anyone else with an interest in a particular topic. Sharing these materials is why the UA has a reputation as a top research institution.

Special Collections strives to be even more accessible to the public by showcasing work with UA faculty and students and featuring items in exhibits or lectures. Its current exhibit, “I’m for Stew: The Life and Times of Stewart Lee Udall,” features Arizona congressional representative and UA alumnus Stewart Udall, often called “Arizona’s native son.”

After graduating from the UA, Udall went on to become a lawyer, a B24 gunner in World War II and a politician. Udall was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives four times, and served as Secretary of the Interior under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He was the first Arizonan to hold a Cabinet-level position, a staunch supporter of civil rights and an enthusiastic conservationist. Udall oversaw the founding of four national parks and 56 wildlife refuges, along with the enactment of legislation like the 1964 Wilderness Act and the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. Even after his retirement from politics in 1969, Udall remained committed to environmentalism.

The “I’m for Stew” exhibit contains materials that spans from Udall’s birth in 1920 to his death at the age of 90 in 2010. Among these items are campaign scrapbooks; letters to people like Ansel Adams and Rachel Carson; legislation from Udall’s political career; two of Udall’s books, The Quiet Crisis and To the Inland Empire: Coronado and Our Spanish Legacy; his diploma from the UA; and photographs from the Stewart L. Udall Parks in Focus Program, which takes young people into national and state parks to appreciate the beauty of national parks through photography. The exhibit is also accompanied by a lecture series throughout this spring, and will be in the gallery of Special Collections until June.

“I’m for Stew” and other endeavors by UA Special Collections preserve and celebrate history, allowing it to endure for decades to come.

Visit UA Special Collections here.