As part of the its mission to collect and preserve the agricultural heritage of New Mexico, the Museum implemented an Oral History Program in the mid-1990s.
This systematic collection of living people’s recollections of their experiences with farming, ranching, and rural life is a major component in researching and interpreting these subjects for our visitors. Curators incorporate audio tracks and quotes into most of our exhibits–wouldn’t you rather hear about history from the people that were actually there?
Museum staff or trained volunteers regularly fan out across New Mexico to conduct new interviews. In our first decade, we have gathered and processed over 400 hours of material, as well as related manuscripts and photographs. Each interview is fully processed with a brief abstract outline and a detailed transcript. Completed interview tapes and transcripts are available to researchers through the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum Oral History Program Archives. Interview tapes and transcripts are available to researchers through the New Mexico State University Library Archives & Special Collections Department.
Interviews conducted by the Oral History Program are based on a standardized list of questions arranged in major interview categories. Four categories are the subject of ongoing interviews:
- Farm & Ranch Folks — focused on the agricultural practices and lifestyles of farmers, ranchers, and their families
- Pioneers of Knowledge — a focused category to feature those people who have made major advances in the research, development, inventions, or innovations associated with New Mexico agriculture or rural life
- Rural Lifeways — interviews with rural New Mexicans whose lives intersect with agricultural and rural life, including schoolteachers, veterinarians, and agricultural extension agents
- Working the Land — focused on individuals and their families whose occupation is wholly agriculture and work for Farm & Ranch folks, such as cowboys, farm workers, and ranch managers
The Oral History Program also engages in special interview projects or sub-protocols (in addition to the above categories) on specific subjects or in collaboration with other institutions. These include:
- Founders — interviews with farmers, ranchers, politicians, and other supporters who, in the 1980s and early ’90s, played key roles in establishing the Museum or its supporting foundation, originally called the Farm and Ranch Heritage Institute. This material was used to develop the 1998 exhibit “From the Grassroots.”
- POWs in New Mexico Agriculture — part of a major research and exhibition project that was recognized with a national award in 2003. The Museum interviewed over eighty individuals associated with the use of German and Italian POWs who worked in New Mexico agriculture from 1942 to 1946–including camp workers & guards, farmers, town folk, and former POWs. This, the largest known oral history collection on a state’s POW program, was used to develop the 2002 exhibit “To Get the Job Done,” a title based on a quote from one of the farmers explaining why he hired the POWs.
- Spanish Heritage Horses sub-protocol to Farm & Ranch Folks — many individuals and groups make claims that they have scientifically identified and breed Spanish horses or mustangs that are direct blood descendants of those that arrived in the Southwest in the 1500s and 1600s. This ongoing project is expected to eventually contribute to a temporary exhibit on the subject.
- Bracero Program sub-protocol to Working the Land–following on the success of the POWs in New Mexico Agriculture project, the Museum plans to work with the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Texas-El Paso’s Oral History Institute to collect interviews with Mexican Braceros, their employers, and program workers from the mid-1940s to the 1960s.
- Collaborative Projects — the Museum often collaborates with or consults for other oral history projects in New Mexico and the American Southwest. The Museum has worked with the Cañada Alamosa Project, the Valles Caldera National Preserve, and various historical societies throughout New Mexico.
The Museum’s Oral History Program would not be a success without the dedication of a small group of wonderful volunteers who help us acquire and transcribe these interviews. If you would be interested in becoming an oral history volunteer, please contact the Museum’s Volunteer Coordinator.
We also maintain a listing of folks who have been recommended to us as possible subjects for oral history interviews. If you know someone who you think has had fascinating experiences or knows stories that should be recorded for the future, please contact Research/Archivist Donna Wojcik, (575) 522-4100 ext. 110.