Founded on December 26, 1859, the Historical Society of New Mexico is the oldest historical society west of the Mississippi River. During the Civil War, it suspended activities, but soon resumed its role in preserving New Mexico’s history. During the territorial period (1851-1912), its members included merchants, educators, lawyers, and politicians. Many of its members published historical accounts of the Spanish, Mexican and American periods.
The Society early began to collect historic artifacts and papers of various periods and ethnic groups. This led to the founding of the Society’s museum in rooms in the Palace of Governors in 1885. The territorial government created the Museum of New Mexico in 1909, which incorporated many of the Society’s collections and was housed in the Palace of the Governors. Later the museum collections were given to the State of New Mexico which has continued to use the early collections and expand its activities to cover the entire state. Leadership of the society was also responsible for founding the School of American Research, a major archaeological institution in Santa Fe.
In 1913, the Historical Society of New Mexico made Old Santa Fe, a journal edited by Ralph Emerson Twitchell, its official bulletin. By 1926, Old Santa Fe had been defunct for several years when Lansing B. Bloom and Paul A. F. Walter started the New Mexico Historical Review as the official publication of the Society. In 1963, financial pressures led the Society to turn over ownership of the Review to the University of New Mexico. From 1927 to 1960, the Society was the official guardian of the archives of the State of New Mexico until the time the State of New Mexico established its own archives department at the New Mexico Records Center and Archives. Over the almost 150 years of its life, the Historical Society of New Mexico has published a number of books. In more recent years book publication has been a combined project of the Society and the University of New Mexico Press.
In order to revive membership, the Historical Society of New Mexico began its annual conferences on Southwest and New Mexico history in 1974. Two and a half-day conferences are held in the Spring (usually mid-April) around the state and include tours of local historical sites as well as papers and discussion on New Mexico history and politics. Joint conferences with the Arizona Historical Society every few years broaden the interest of historical society members of both states. The need for a publication to print award-winning papers and carry society news led to the establishment of La Crónica de Nuevo México in 1976. Published two or three times a year La Crónica also carries book reviews and news of history around the state.
The Historical Society of New Mexico makes available grants to local historical societies in the state to help their programs and to provide speakers for meetings. Scholarships help students, undergraduate and graduate, to pursue their studies in New Mexico history. The various awards recognize outstanding work by student, professional and avocational historians.