Restoring the Visual Record of Mesoamerican and Spanish Colonial Cultures: Hidden Artifacts, Rare Books, and Photography Collections at Cal State La and the USC Libraries

Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives

In winter 2021, Special Collections and Archives at Cal State LA, along with its partner USC Libraries, garnered a $499,728 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) for a three-year collaborative project to digitize Cal State LA and USC’s unique collections of Mesoamerican, indigenous, and Spanish colonial artifacts, rare books, photographs, and slides and create digital access to previously hidden materials documenting the Mesoamerican region. These valuable and rarely seen objects highlight the rich histories and diverse cultural heritage of Mexico and the Central American Isthmus, and the profound contributions to art, science, architecture, and language by the Maya, Toltec, Aztecs, and Shaft Tomb cultures, among other indigenous peoples. They also reveal Spanish colonial influences on cultures and the built environment. The project will culminate with the digitization of 360 artifacts previously unphotographed for national digital platforms, 59 rare books with unique color plates, historical maps, and marginalia, and 24,827 original photographs that document material changes at key Aztec, Maya, and other Mesoamerican sites from the 1930s to the 1990s.


John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, Archival Grant Program

In early 2021, Special Collections and Archives received a $44,000 grant from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation for the Cal State LA Public Officials Papers: Community Leaders of Color Breaking Barriers Project to archive approximately 300 linear feet of unique materials documenting the contributions of Black and Latino politicians to Los Angeles political life during the twentieth century. This archival project will result in the arrangement, description, and creation of a finding aid for four archival collections chronicling the barrier-breaking work of local Black and Latino politicians, including several Cal State LA alumni, who rose to great prominence on state, national, and international stages. The collections provide a critical portrait of the evolution of local and statewide politics, and the inclusion of Black and Latino officials and their concerns within the California State Assembly, Los Angeles City Council, and the U.S. House of Representatives, among other venues. Together, the trail blazing careers of Mervyn M. Dymally, Richard Alatorre, Julian Nava, and Julian C. Dixon serve as blueprints for the political trajectories of contemporary Black and Latino politicians, and precipitate reflections on the ongoing challenges regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion that persist in the elective process. This project resulted in the hiring of a Project Archivist to work on the collections and will be completed in fall 2022.

Mervyn M. Dymally Bridgebuilder and History Maker: Cal State LA Public Events and Exhibition Project

California Humanities for All Quick Grant

In spring 2020, Special Collections and Archives and the History Department received a $5,000 grant from California Humanities for All Quick Grant to implement a three-part series of events and an online exhibition featuring the work of civil rights pioneer Mervyn M. Dymally. Dymally (1926 -2012), an immigrant from Trinidad who arrived in the United States at just 19 years old, would become the first black Lt. Governor of California (1975-1979) before serving in both the California State Assembly and State Senate. An alumnus of Cal State LA, Dymally also served in the U.S. House of Representatives for California’s 31st District. The events included:

  1. Mervyn M. Dymally Bridgebuilder of Los Angeles Exhibition and Launch
  2. Artists Salon on the Autry Class Curators
  3. Voices from the Inside: Covid-19 in the California Prison System

The project was the result of a collaborative effort between faculty and undergraduate students of Cal State LA, Project Rebound, the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership, and the Autry Museum of the American West. The collaboration was based on developing a project-based, active-learning experience through teaching history, archival practice, and primary source analysis, and the construction of public programming and an exhibit to provide a series of scholarly events that would engage a broader audience.

Virtual Exhibits

Our virtual exhibits feature special collections and archival material that reflect the diverse lives and historical narratives reflected in our heavily first-generation student body, and the major contributions their communities have made to the dynamic cultures of Southern California. Current exhibits include: