By Ruthanne Doetzer
New Mexico's history is a combination of Native American, Mexican, Spanish, and Territorial experiences. "It's not unusual to have events from even three hundred years ago surface in public life," says Craig Newbill, executive director of the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities. "People jump back to the de Vargas expedition or the 1690 Pueblo revolt."
The rebellion of the Pueblo Indians was the culmination of tensions that had begun the previous century with the first Spanish explorations of the Southwest. In 1690 the Pueblo uprising succeeded in ridding New Mexico of Spanish rule for the next twelve years. "Part of the humanities process is making sure that multiple perspectives and viewpoints are given a chance to be aired and discussed," says Newbill. "It's really a good test to see if we have our historical facts in order."
Contemporary New Mexicans draw just as much interest. Chautauquas on figures such as former Governor Octaviano Larrazolo or artist Georgia O'Keeffe might include the subject's friends or relatives in the audience. "They want to see what kind of representation these characters are getting. . . in some cases they disagree with the interpretation," Newbill says.
The emphasis on history has also led the New Mexico Endowment to revive the annual National History Day competition. Now, New Mexico students in grades six through twelve compete with each other and with students from across the nation to produce research projects on a historical theme. "It really is a practical application of the primary and secondary sources that these young scholars use and the interpretation that they bring to the public," says Newbill. "I think that program, at the moment, is the one that gives me the greatest recharge in terms of knowing that we're actually getting something right and making a difference in the communities."
A lifelong resident of New Mexico, Newbill joined the New Mexico Humanities Endowment in 1992 after receiving his doctorate in American studies. For Newbill, his work at the endowment is a natural outgrowth of his practical experience as a land surveyor for the state and his interest in rural life as it is portrayed in literature. He has taught several college courses on cowboys in literature and popular culture, and conducted oral histories in eastern New Mexico. "I take advantage of every opportunity to talk to people everywhere we go," he says. "I love to hear their stories and personal histories."