Exhibit Honors Michael Mathes, USC Alumnus and Historian of Baja California
Mathes in front of the Biblioteca Mathes, Colegio de Jalisco, Guadalajara, Mexico.
A new exhibit in Doheny Memorial Library honors the late historian and USC alumnus W. Michael Mathes, who died August 13. The author, editor, and translator of countless works, Mathes earned his MA from USC in 1962. He was the recipient of Mexico's highest honor for non-citizens and was considered a leading expert in the history of Baja California, the Mexican province to south of the U.S. state of California.
Librarian Barbara Robinson compared Mathes to another distinguished historian with USC ties.
"He was the Kevin Starr of Baja California," said Robinson, librarian at the USC Libraries' Boeckmann Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies.
Mathes' work on the exploration and colonization of the Californias, Robinson said, demonstrated that "history did not just begin at our southern border."
Inhabited for millennia by indigenous people, the Baja California peninsula was colonized by the Spanish beginning in 1697—more than seventy years before Portola's expedition through Alta California.
On display in the Friends of the USC Libraries Lecture Hall (Room 240) are publications by Mathes, his 1962 master's thesis, and other items from the USC Libraries' special collections.
Robinson summarized Mathes' career highlights in this text for the exhibit:
Mathes, an award winning American historian and academic, specialized in the history of discovery, the history of colonial Mexico and colonial California, and in the history of printing and libraries in Mexico and Spanish America. He received an MA in history from the University of Southern California (a copy of his thesis is on display) and a PhD from the University of New Mexico. He was professor emeritus at the University of San Francisco, where he served from 1966–1994. He also shared his extensive knowledge as a visiting professor and lecturer at a dozen other universities, colleges, and academic conferences in Mexico, Texas, and California.
Considered the leading historian of Baja California, his many works on that region include seven volumes he contributed between 1961 and 1991 to the Baja California Travel Series, published in Los Angeles by Dawson’s Book Shop, and in 2005 he created a DVD on the history of Baja California with INAH, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History and CAREM, the Tecate Historical Association. Many of his distinguished works were published in Madrid and Mexico in Spanish or in bilingual editions, and in the U.S in English. In addition to books, he published articles in the California Historical Quarterly, the Southern California Quarterly, and the Colonial Latin American Historical Review.
During his early career, as a Fullbright Fellow and a Del Amo Foundation Fellow, between 1962–1966, he pursued his research in the Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain. Over the years he researched extensively in the National Archives (AGN) in Mexico City, in the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, in the Sutro Library in San Francisco as curator of the Mexicana Collection, and in the John Carter Brown Library in Rhode Island as a research fellow.
Among his many awards and honors, he was particularly proud to be a recipient in 1985 of the Orden Mexicana del Aguila Azteca (the Aztec Eagle Award), the highest decoration bestowed on non-Mexican citizens, by the order of the president of Mexico. In 2005 he was honored by the king of Spain with the Orden de Isabel la Catolica, presented at the International Colloquium of El Camino Real, at the University of Texas in San Antonio. In 2012 he was collaborating with INAH and other Mexican institutes to obtain UNESCO World Heritage status for El Camino Real, the Spanish mission trail spanning the length of the Baja California peninsula and the U.S. State of California.