Alibi V.12 No.36 • Sept 4-10, 2003 

Art Article

Past is Prologue

Hispanic Albuquerque: 1706-1846

Marc Simmon
UNM Press
paper
$19.95

When I first moved to New Mexico several years ago, the first thing I did was search out a decent history of Albuquerque. I figured a 300-year-old city would've inspired at least a handful of good general histories. So I started scouring the local book shops and I finally came up with ...

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I searched and searched and searched, and I couldn't find anything. There wasn't a single bona fide history book about Albuquerque. Sure, there were a few cheesy gift books with lots of glossy photographs of hot air balloons or the Sandias at sunset, but that was it. Try as I might, I couldn't find a single full-length book recounting the story of this city.

Is that disturbing? I know I was disturbed. Still am.

As it turns out, though, a great book telling the story of Albuquerque did exist. It was written by renowned New Mexican historian Marc Simmons and was called Albuquerque: A Narrative History. I say "was" because the book has long been out of print.

Thankfully, I tracked it down at UNM's Zimmerman Library and read it. Albuquerque: A Narrative History, in my opinion, is a masterpiece of historical writing. It combines an academic attention to detail and documentation with a commercial flair for good storytelling. As it turns out, the land on which our city sits provides fertile soil for great stories stretching from the the foggy mists of prehistory all the way through to the present.

Hispanic Albuquerque: 1706-1846 is culled from some early chapters of Albuquerque: A Narrative History. It covers the period from the coming of Coronado through the theft of New Mexico by the United States during the Mexican-American War. UNM Press stripped out all the footnotes and squished it down to a mere 150 pages, obviously aiming the book at a wider readership. The period from the time New Mexico became a territory of the United States to the present will be covered in a second volume.

I have to say I find it immensely irritating that Simmons' masterpiece has been chopped in two. Sucking all the footnotes out of it and stripping out a couple key introductory chapters about the prehistory of the region is equally annoying. It's an absolute travesty that Simmons' original book isn't available. But if this is the best we have—and trust me, it is—then it's definitely better than nothing.

Simmons is a great writer and he's done his research. I enjoyed reading Hispanic Albuquerque: 1706-1846 even if it's an abridgement of a longer, more in-depth, and therefore much better book. As Simmons writes in the preface, "Of the many ills associated with our heavy-handed modernity, the loss of a sense of history is one of the more damaging. ... Without it ... we are forced to skate on the surface of life, now largely shaped and trivialized by the commodification of almost everything."

As Albuquerque prepares to enter its fourth century, Simmons' vivid description of the city's past will hopefully inspire our direction in the future.