The Welte Institute derives its name from Cecil R. Welte. After retirement as a Rear Admiral from the U.S. Navy and earning a MA degree in Anthropology from Mexico City College in 1962, Cecil R. Welte moved to Oaxaca, Mexico and established the Oficina de Estudios de Humanidad del Valle de Oaxaca, with three objectives:
- To collect and analyze materials for a culture history of the different indigenous peoples of the State of Oaxaca.
- To provide a base for fieldwork, study and personal contact for scholars working in Oaxaca.
- To synthesize ideas from a wide range of studies for application to the culture history of the people of the region.
Over the years this facility became known as "Cecil's Library" to students and scholars working in Oaxaca as they made use of the material he collected. At Cecils death in December of 1991, the library contained approximately 6,000 titles (books, journals, off prints, manuscripts and microfilms) divided into ethnography, ethnohistory, archaeology, historical geography. In addition Cecil had made a collection of over 100 maps of Oaxaca and Mexico. Many of these are rare maps from the colonial period. The collection was used by between 60 and 100 students and researchers from Mexico, the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe, each month. The library provided a place where references and ideas could be checked while in the field, enabling investigators to hone their methods and theories while they are still able to test them.
At Admiral Welte's death, the library was re-constituted as The Welte Institute for Oaxacan Studies, Inc., a non-profit 501(c) 3 corporation in the state of Georgia with a board consisting of 9 members. A sister organization "Instituto Welte de Estudios Oaxaqueos, A.C." exists in Mexico as a non-profit organization whose function is to maintain the facility in which the library is housed and to carryout certain other activities of the Institute in Mexico.
Following the Institutes legal incorporation in the U.S. and Mexico, the library was first housed at Calle Cinco de Mayo #412 in four rooms around the central patio of a colonial structure near the 16th century church of Santo Domingo. The facility was graciously provided by Jorge Velasco, a civil engineer in Oaxaca who has a long term interest in the city's history and environment. When that venue was no longer available, the Institute moved to its present location at Emilio Carranza 203 in the Colonia Reforma. The property was purchased with funds provided by Cecil Weltes widow, Patsy; and necessary alterations and repairs were made possible by donations from other generous individuals.
As for the collection itself, as in many such private libraries, Cecil's library was well organized but in a rather idiosyncratic fashion. The material was catalogued in three different places: (1) 3x5 cards for items placed in the library before 1985, (2) a sequential acquisitions record, and (3) a primitive first generation computer database for material acquired after 1985. With considerable time and effort, the catalogue has been converted to a modern electronic database making it possible for researchers to access the material quickly and efficiently.
The Welte library has become an invaluable tool to researchers in many disciplines working in Oaxaca. It houses most of the published and unpublished work by anthropologists, historians, sociologists and other scholars who have worked in the region. In fact, much of the material held in the collection is not available elsewhere in Oaxaca or perhaps, excluding the Library of Congress and the British Museum, any where else in the world. Given the librarys importance as a reference source it is fair to say that almost every social and environmental scientist who has worked in Oaxaca has at one point or another utilized the collection to some degree or other. In addition students and researchers from institutions such as the, Instituto Nacional de Historia y Antropologa, the World Wildlife Fund, the Universidad Autnoma Benito Jurez, the Instituto Tecnolgical de Oaxaca, as well as other private and public, service, research, and educational institutions regularly use the facility since its inception. All this activity makes the library an important point for cross fertilization between the various disciplines.
As important as the library is, in recent years the Welte Institute has expanded its role beyond library services. Oaxaca has increasingly become a center of international education playing host to foreign students involved in Spanish language training and/or academic study abroad programs. The Welte Institute has taken on the role of facilitator for several of these programs, not only by providing them with special access to the library and its holdings, but also by providing meeting and classroom space and by utilizing the Institutes network of local and international scholars to provide instructors and other human resources.
Another activity the Welte Institute has assumed is the organization and sponsorship of a series of biennial international symposia on Oaxacan studies. The first, held in 1994, was a modest affair: two days of single sessions in which some 20 papers were presented. By contrast, the sixth and most recent symposium (July 8-10, 2004) featured 127 papers presented by 200 scholars grouped in 31 panels spread over three days. The participants represented a broad range of disciplines, institutions, and nationalities.
As for the nationality of the Institutes users, in the beginning Cecils library served almost entirely as a haven for foreign researchers. That is no longer the case. The biennial symposia have become major events giving Mexicansand again particularly Oaxacansan opportunity to present the result of their research. In fact, 80 percent of presenters at the last symposium were Mexican, with the bulk of those being Oaxacan. In the case of library usage, while foreignersparticularly foreign students involved in study abroad programsstill comprise a major constituency of the Institute, throughout the year, and especially when local universities are in session, the majority of library patrons are Mexicans, and of those most are, of course, Oaxaqueos.
Yet another service the Institute has taken on in recent years is the sponsorship of an electronic forum on Oaxacan studies. The list, which has nearly 300 members from around the world, has become an important medium for the exchange of information and opinion on the full range of Oaxaca-related topics.
And finally, the most recent extension of the Welte Institutes functions is as the local administrator of foreign-funded research projects. Benefiting from a staff and associates with extensive experience in research in Oaxaca, the Welte Institute is able to offer grant administration and consulting services that match local research conditions to the accountability requirements of foreign funding agencies. We are currently administering a Rockefeller Foundation-funded research project headed by David Runsten, Associate Director of UCLAs North American Integration and Development Center.
We are confident that if Cecil Welte were alive today he would be more than pleased with what has evolved from the legacy of Cecils Library.