UArizona receives $1.18M for borderlands research and archive project

Border wall in Nogales

The barrier marking the U.S.-Mexico border, seen from Nogales, Arizona.

The University of Arizona has been awarded $1.18 million from the Ford Foundation to serve as an archival partner for a project designed to expand perceptions and narratives surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border.

The project, called "Reclaiming the Border Narrative: Storytelling and Cultural Power for Migrant Justice," aims to contribute to the national dialogue on migration and the U.S.-Mexico border through storytelling by affected communities that addresses local culture and socio-political dynamics in the region.

As the archival partner for the project, the university's Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry and University Libraries' Special Collections are working together to create a community-led archive that offers a more comprehensive portrayal of the border.

Javier Duran

Javier Duran

"This project is a wonderful opportunity to change and expand the perceptions about the border region and migration, from one of chaos and peril to one in which all communities, people and cultures are understood, respected and uplifted. We are delighted to be working closely with Special Collections and grateful to the Ford Foundation for their confidence and support," said Javier Duran, professor of Latin American and border studies and director of the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry. Duran also serves as co-principal investigator of the project.

The archive will house materials from more than 40 border-related projects that were previously funded by the Ford Foundation and focus on a diverse range of border activism, art, journalism and community stories throughout the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

Special Collections' involvement will include guiding participants in community archiving, developing an online presence for their creations and providing access to the collections that highlight firsthand perspectives on borderlands history.

Verónica Reyes-Escudero

Verónica Reyes-Escudero

"This initiative is an opportunity for Special Collections to continue engaging with the borderlands communities and to continue expanding the work of reframing the story and the history through source documentation from those who live, work and serve in the region," said Verónica Reyes-Escudero, the Katheryne B. Willock Head of Special Collections and co-principal investigator of the project.

"We are excited to collaborate with the grantees working on their unique border projects. It's also an opportunity to expand on 'The Documented Border' digital archive, which is one of our interdisciplinary efforts to use primary source documentation and allow people to see or hear these lived experiences," Reyes-Escudero said.

Special Collections has among its holdings distinctive collections dedicated to the surrounding border communities and the university's land-grant mission. These collections include materials that reflect borderlands life, culture and power structures dating back to the 16th century.

"This project creates an important platform for us to build upon our existing partnerships with the Confluencenter in further establishing the university as a leader in borderlands research through the Border Lab," said Shan Sutton, dean of University Libraries. "Special Collections' contribution includes expertise in applying new ways of documenting and studying the borderlands that enable all of the voices in our region to be heard." 

The Border Lab, an initiative of the university's strategic plan, convenes more than 70 UArizona scholars engaged in border-related research. In addition to providing external funding opportunities, the initiative creates a space for scholarly exchange and community engagement. Duran is the faculty leader of the initiative.

"The Border Lab initiative was created to advance and position the University of Arizona as a top destination for students and faculty pursuing border-related scholarship in global, binational and regional contexts," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "We are appreciative of this support from the Ford Foundation and look forward to our university becoming the home of one of the most important borderlands archives in the country."

The Confluencenter has since 2019 supported border-related research and education through Fronteridades, an interdisciplinary project supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that addresses human challenges facing society in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

In 2020, the Mellon Foundation also funded the Digital Borderlands storytelling project, through which University Libraries disburses grants to support the integration of library services into data-intensive, humanities-focused research on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

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