History of the Center for the Southwest

The Center for the Southwest under the direction of Virginia Scharff began as the “Center for the American West” in the Department of History at the University of New Mexico in 1989.  Under the direction of Richard W. Etulain, the Center for the American West built on the largest and strongest concentration of nationally recognized western historians in the country to encourage enlarged study of the history and culture of the American West.  These historians at the time included Etulain, Paul Andrew Hutton, John L. Kessell, Gerald D. Nash, Margaret Connell Szasz, Virginia Scharff, and Ference Szasz.

Drawing on these faculty strengths and on more than a half-century of teaching, research, and library collecting of regional materials, the Center hosted seminars and conferences; sponsored workshops on the history of New Mexico and the West; encouraged publication of regional reference materials; and helped focus research on new topics of western history.  Former director of the Center for the American West is Richard W. Etulain, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of New Mexico.  Etulain is the author and editor of over fifty books, including his most recent publication, Lincoln and Oregon Country Politics in the Civil War Era (2013).  Etulain is also the author of Re-Imagining the Modern American West: A Century of Fiction, History, and Art and Beyond the Missouri: The Story of the American West.  Professor Etulain retired from the University in 2001.

In 2001, the Center for the American West became the Center for the Southwest, under the direction of Virginia Scharff, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of New Mexico.  Scharff, a scholar of the American West, Gender, and the United States, has long worked across genres and disciplines, and has sought to address a diverse array of audiences.  She has served on major committees both at the University of New Mexico and in scholarly organizations throughout the nation.  Scharff has lived, studies, and worked not only in New Mexico, but also in Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, and California, and understands this region not only as a student of its history, culture, and landscape, but as a denizen and devotee.  Upon her appointment to this position, Scharff noted that one of the most exciting aspects of becoming director is “the certainty that we will measure our success by embracing, encouraging, and making real the great ideas that will come out of new contacts and conversations.”

Since its transition, the Center for the Southwest has continued the Center for the American West’s previous goals to forge links with existing regional programs and centers on campus and throughout the West.  The Center serves as an interdisciplinary organization that encourages conversations, collaborations and creative cooperation among various groups of people, all over the campus, who are involved in southwest studies and regional projects.  Likewise, it promotes programs that encourage undergraduate and graduate students to undertake studies of the diverse, multicultural peoples within the societies and cultures of the Southwest and American West.  In this regard, the programs cover western history from the earliest Indigenous and Hispanic experiences to those of the recent Sunbelt Southwest.  It is the Center’s goal to take regional history to its surrounding communities through a series of courses, exhibits, and conferences.  

The Center for the Southwest also forges links with existing regional programs and centers on campus and throughout the United States, such as the Autry National Center of the American West (Los Angeles, CA), the Bill Lane Center for the American West (Stanford University), the Center for the American West (UC-Boulder), the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest (University of Washington), the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West (University of Montana), the Udall Center for Public Policy (University of Arizona), the Center for Great Plains Studies (University of Nebraska), the Southwest institute for Research on Women (University of Arizona), and the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies (Southern Methodist University). 

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