THE BEAUTY OF HISTORY

Dr. Gustav Seligmann, Jr.

Dr. Gustav L. “Gus” Seligmann, Jr. ’57, ’58 says he is “elated” to learn of the new McFie endowment to New Mexico State University’s (NMSU) Library system — the type of gift historians dream of as they work to understand and interpret current events through the lens of the past.

Seligmann spent more than 55 years as an associate professor of history at the University of North Texas, specializing in political parties and presidential elections. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (now NMSU) and a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona. Seligmann is the current president of the Historical Society of New Mexico, and his wealth of knowledge regarding the history of political parties, the U.S. Constitution, and Western history —especially New Mexico history — is legendary.

Legacies and friendships forged over time

Friends with fellow historian and Las Crucen John Porter Bloom since 1958, Seligmann learned about the McFie endowment from his daughter on the day the gift was announced. This new endowment is a contribution from Bloom in honor of his grandfather, John R. McFie, one of the founders and first regents of the university.

“When I was a young Army officer at Fort Bliss, I decided to take a couple of history classes at Texas Western, now UTEP,” says Seligmann. “There I met John [Bloom], who was a young historian with a newly acquired Ph.D. from Emory University in Atlanta. In addition to explaining the vicissitudes and difficulties of getting a Ph.D. in history, John began my socialization as a professional historian.”

Among other things, Bloom introduced Seligmann to professional meetings. In 1959, the two historians, along with their colleague and former NMSU lecturer Burl Noggle, drove non-stop from El Paso to Atlanta in John’s VW Bug to attend a meeting of the Southern Historical Association.

More than 60 years later, the two remain close friends. Both of their family legacies date back to the 1800s in the Las Cruces area (May Street is named for Seligmann’s family), and over the decades, their mutual passion for and knowledge of history has been shared and disseminated through the Historical Society of New Mexico.

President McFie and Friendship
Relevance to our overall humanity

Seligmann began to value New Mexico’s story of diverse cultures after experiencing firsthand the ramifications of war when his father, serving in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was transferred to Bremerhaven, Germany in 1948. Gus attended high school in the heavily bombed city, a major port of emigration in continental Europe. Seeing people dig through rubble looking for items they could sell or trade for a chance to come to the United States shaped his deep appreciation for being born American, a privilege for which people have risked their lives since the nation’s founding.

“The beauty of history is that you can study just about anything you want because it has relevance to our overall humanity,” says Seligmann, whose family also donated a collection of historical documents and photographs to the NMSU Library Archives and Special Collections.

New Mexico’s history continues to fascinate Seligmann in large part because of the state’s ethnic diversity, a blend of different cultures that have existed for centuries with the practical realities of mostly harmonious coexistence.

“What the McFie endowment will do is very important for southern and western New Mexico — it will establish a central and major repository for historical materials, particularly content relevant to this part of the state and the Borderlands,” he says. While many historians focus on the history and culture of more recognizable cities like Albuquerque, Santa Fe or Taos, Seligmann finds hidden gems in the chronicles of Las Cruces.

He notes that New Mexico serves as a microcosm for the nation in terms of being a majority-minority culture. “The political dynamics the nation is experiencing now have been woven into the fabric of New Mexico society since the 1500s. We know how to do it — New Mexico has made diversity work.”

McFie Hall
Keeping history alive

The McFie endowment honors John R. McFie, a pioneering lawyer, Supreme Court Judge, and dedicated citizen of New Mexico. He founded the Presbyterian Sanitarium in Albuquerque, served as president of the New Mexico Archaeological Society, and led the Board of Regents of the Museum of New Mexico, and in addition, was the first chair of the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts Board of Regents.

Gifts like the McFie Archives Endowment Fund advance the vital work at the NMSU Library’s Archives and Special Collections and benefit students by providing access to unique collections for class projects, research, theses, and dissertations, along with internships and employment opportunities.

In addition to financial endowments, Seligmann encourages other New Mexicans to contribute their own documents and photographs to the archives at NMSU. Seligmann himself plans to offer a number of New Mexico books and documents to the university in the next few years. “These possessions become archaeological gold as you go through time,” he says.

First BOR Minute Books
“Stuck on paper” kind of guy

Seligmann looks forward to seeing the documents the McFie endowment will support. “As a historian, I’m more of a ‘stuck on paper’ guy — I like documents, numbers, letters in which A tells B what he thinks about C.” He hopes to see public records, especially those of the copper smelting, agriculture and military bases in the NMSU Special Collections.

For context, Seligmann quotes George Orwell’s 1984: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Says Seligmann: “If you don’t have a sense of history, you don’t know where you’ve been, and you have problems knowing which direction to go. Have you improved over the past? If so, how? And how do you continue? How do you make progress?”

He hopes the McFie endowment will spark an interest in history among current students and historians, providing glimpses into how New Mexico’s past will shape our destinies for centuries.

Tour the McFie collection in Branson Hall, 4th floor, 1305 Frenger Street, Las Cruces. A celebratory ribbon cutting for the McFie endowment will be held there on June 27 from 3 to 4 p.m. If you would like to contribute to the John R. McFie Archives Endowed fund through the NMSU Foundation, please CLICK HERE.