The University of Arizona

Office of Ethnohistorical Research

OER Faculty OER faculty Dr. Michael Brescia, Diana Hadley, Dr. Dale Brenneman

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.

OER Programs...

Tucson Convento Late 1890sTucson Convento, late 1890s
  • complement Arizona State Museum’s research in pre-Columbian archaeology of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico;
  • explore the ethnohistory, documentary history, and political ecology of the region;
  • facilitate public programs and interpretive tours of Spanish colonial architectural treasures and other historical sites.

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 of them collected by the Jesuit Historical InstituteOpens in a new window, 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 place names, architecture, food, and many of the southwestern cultures have their origin in the history of this region. The 'Southwest' in this case covers Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and northern Mexico—all of what was northern New Spain.


Document from the library at Madrid, SpainA document from the archives at the Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, Spain
  • 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  • holds an impressive collection of microfilmed historical documents generated by Spain during the colonial period (1530s-1821);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

Mission CaborcaCaborca Mission,
Sonora, Mexico
  • 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 (not yet online; call for access).
  • More About the Finding Aids

OER Library...

  • holds approximately 8,000 secondary works, reference materials, indexes to major archival collections, maps, ephemera, and guides to paleography and translation;
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • More About the OER Publications

Southwest Mission Research Center (SMRC)...

Cover of an issue of Revista
  • founded in 1967, is a non-profit organization of scholars and the interested public that enjoys a long association with DRSW and affiliation with Arizona State Museum;
  • sponsors Kino Mission tours and the SMRC Revista magazine;
  • compiles 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).

OER Faculty

Dr. Dale Brenneman

Dale Brenneman, Ph.D. is associate curator of documentary history at Arizona State Museum in the Office of Ethnohistorical Research, where she researches the history of Native peoples of the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico as revealed in the Spanish colonial documentary record. She is currently editing a large collection of Spanish-language documents describing O’odham and Pee Posh interactions with Spaniards and Mexicans from the mid-seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. This work, which involves transcribing, translating, and placing all documents in historical context, is conducted in collaboration with scholars and elders from the Tohono O’odham Nation and will culminate in the online publication of transcriptions and translations.

Dr. Michael BresciaMichael Brescia, Ph.D. is associate curator of ethnohistory at Arizona State Museum and associate professor of history at the University of Arizona where he teaches courses on Mexico, comparative North America, and world history. He has conducted research in archives and rare book libraries in Mexico and Spain on the living legacies of Spanish water law in the southwestern United States and religious identities in colonial Mexico. He has published books that address the broader dimensions of the Mexican historical experience, including its more comparative features. Read about Michael's current research.

Diana Hadley leading a ranching tourDiana Hadley is director emerita of Arizona State Museum’s Office of Ethnohistorical Research. She writes and lectures extensively on ecological change in the Southwest and northern Mexico, and on the cultural and environmental history of the Santa Cruz and San Pedro rivers. Currently, she is working on a history of the cattle industry along the U. S./Mexico border and is researching the impacts of horses on the indigenous peoples of this area. Read about some of Diana's research.

Photos by ASM staff

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