Office of Ethnohistorical Research (OER)


Ruins of the Tucson Covento, c. 1890s. The mission complex was built in 1770.

Office of Ethnohistorical Research (OER)

Arizona State Museum's Office of Ethnohistorical Research (OER) conducts, facilitates, and interprets research on the peoples of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, providing access to a substantial collection of Spanish and Mexican documents through our archive and library, finding aids for researchers, scholarly publications, and public programs. The OER Library holds approximately 8,000 secondary works, reference materials, indexes to major archival collections, maps, ephemera, and guides to paleography and translation and connects with Arizona State Museum’s library collection of 50,000+ volumes related to southwestern archaeology and history.

OER Publications and Research Projects

The office is publishing two series of documentary histories that spotlight the northern frontier of New Spain.

  • The first covers the evolution of the presidial and militia system, with four volumes published to date (2012) and a final edition in progress.
  • The second series focuses more directly upon Native American peoples of the region, with two volumes published and two more in progress.

These projects have received support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Southwestern Foundation for Education and Historical Preservation.

Also offered:

  • Research on land grants and water rights in the greater Southwest has resulted in technical reports and expert witness testimony, with scholarly manuscripts in preparation.
  • OER has researched regional environmental change and political ecology with support from the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, CLIMAS, and agencies that focus on the upper San Pedro watershed.

Documentary Relations of the Southwest (DRSW)

Documentary Relations of the Southwest (DRSW) provides the research tools and finding aids to the written record that began with the arrival of the Spanish explorers in the 1530s. The 1,200 microfilm reels of documents, many collected by the Jesuit Historical Institute, include the diaries of explorers and reports of missionaries and soldiers. They date from the first written accounts of contact with indigenous peoples in the 16th century to the Mexican declaration of independence from Spain in 1821. The "Southwest" in this case covers Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and northern Mexico—all of what was northern New Spain.

The DRSW:

  • features a detailed, online Master Index with more than 17,000 document clusters covering approximately 500,000 pages of documentation;
  • holds an impressive collection of microfilmed historical documents generated by Spain during the colonial period (1530s-1821);
  • includes documents covering a broad range of civil, religious, military, and ecological issues that speak to the relationships among Native Americans, Spanish colonists, Catholic missionaries, and the Spanish colonial administration.

Finding Aids

  • DRSW Master Index: an online, computerized index to our archive and other repositories containing documents relevant to our mission.
  • Biofile: a computer-generated biographical dictionary of approximately 19,000 persons appearing in the historical record.
  • Biodex and Biodex 2: names and references found in the indexes of approximately 200 historical and secondary works on the colonial Southwest.
  • Geofile: an alphabetical gazetteer of 64,800 regional place names and geographical features.

Southwest Mission Research Center (SMRC)

Founded in 1967, SMRC is a non-profit organization of scholars and the public that enjoys a long association with DRSW and affiliation with Arizona State Museum. SMRC sponsors Kino Mission tours and the SMRC Revista magazine.It has compiled a bibliography containing 13,000 entries related to the history and culture of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico (with plans for online accessibility).