TAMU-CC Awarded Grant to Digitize History of South Texas Rural Communities

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The Mary and Jeff Bell Library at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi recently received a $30,000 grant courtesy of the Tocker Foundation to support the digitization of up to 2,000 primary source documents that represent the history of rural communities in South Texas. The digitization process will provide public access to archival documents, photographs, and other pieces focused on those who lived in Jim Wells, Live Oak, Bee, Kleberg, and beyond. The rural community collections are rich in historical, cultural, and geographical content that tells a story of the people living in small towns and ranches, and the evolution and changing boundary lines of small towns.

Eric Christensen, TAMU-CC Librarian of Archive Processing, said the project opens doors to previously underexplored corners of history.

“Digitizing materials are important because they demolish barriers to access,” Christensen said. “These materials will now be available on demand reducing the cost of research making it more equitable and convenient. The scope of the stories that could be told and the connections waiting to be discovered and made is virtually limitless.”

The two-year, multi-phase process began in September 2022 with the digitization of the Dodson Papers. The papers were donated by a relative of Ruth Dodson, a folklorist of the late 1800s. Now in phase three, the project is focused on the Hayes Dix Surveying papers, which includes information about rural counties and how the ownership of land shaped them. Dr. Gary Jeffress, former director of the Conrad Blucher Institute, found the Hayes Dix Surveying papers and entrusted them to Bell Library for preservation.

Amanda Kowalski, TAMU-CC Assistant Librarian Digital Archivist, said processing these records is pivotal to creating a clearer picture of rural South Texas today. 

“History is a record of actions,” Kowalski said. “Surveying records are vital in understanding the structure of communities. Land history shows who built communities and how it changes over time. This teaches people how and why things have happened so we can be a stronger society.”

Sushma Chimmili ’24, a TAMU-CC computer science graduate student, was hired to digitize the collection. Her role includes creating a processing plan, digitizing items, uploading items for online access, and more.

“We live in South Texas, and I believe it’s important for all of us including faculty, staff, and students to know more about South Texas history,” Chimmili said. “We should share the history to promote and create awareness so that members of the communities within this collection can feel pride and truly showcase the beauty of our home.”

This digitization project is scheduled to be completed by August 2024 and will be available through the archive’s online portal and at http://txarchives.org/home.