February 14, 2024 Saldaña Receives Prestigious Humanities Fellowship

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded a prestigious NEH Fellowship to Marie Saldaña, assistant professor of interior architecture in the College of Architecture and Design.

Marie Saldaña

Her book project, provisionally titled “Settled Spaces: Tejano Architecture, 1690-1848,” is an architectural and social history of Spanish and Mexican settlements in Texas in the centuries prior to the establishment of the US-Mexico border.

“The narrative that most people have of Texas history stems from the Alamo and Texas independence. What happened before that isn’t very well known, especially the architecture,” said Saldaña. “South Texas was originally colonized by Spain more than 300 years ago. Spanish and Mexican families have been living there and building towns, settlements and ranches, and they are the genesis for the ranching culture in Texas and in the Southwest.”

Tejanos are the descendants of the Spanish and mestizo families who settled in the frontier north of the Rio Grande, applied for land grants, and established garrisons, towns, ranches, and homesteads.

Saldaña, who is originally from Texas, began researching the topic after learning about her ancestors’ deeply rooted history in Northern Mexico and Texas. Through investigating her family tree, she became curious about Tejano communities and their architecture.

“There were stone houses that were built out of huge stone blocks. They were like fortresses to keep the family safe from Comanche raids in very exposed locations. These houses had no windows, and just a few loopholes which were used as gun ports to defend their homes. Many of these buildings were destroyed in the 1950s when a dam was built on the Rio Grande for the Falcon Reservoir,” she said.

“My project offers an alternative perspective that foregrounds the agency of Spanish and Mexican families whose architectural knowledge and social practices created the built environment of a mature culture prior to American annexation.”

Over the next year, Saldaña will pursue archival research and work on the book manuscript. After the fellowship, she plans to continue to develop her research in a digital humanities project to reach a broader audience.

NEH Fellowships are competitive awards that support twelve months of dedicated work on a project. The NEH makes awards based on evaluation criteria that include the project’s value to humanities scholars and the public, its quality, and the likelihood that it will be completed. This year’s fellowships are among grants totaling $33.8 million awarded to 260 projects across 44 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.