Publication Date

July 20, 2021

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily


  • United States



Mark L. Howe is a cultural resources specialist/historian within the United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC). He lives in El Paso, Texas, and has been a member since 2014.

Mark L. Howe

Alma maters: BA (anthropology), University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 1991; BA (history), Arizona State University, 2008; MA (history), University of Texas at El Paso, 2015

Fields of interest: US-Mexico borderlands, historical archaeology, 19th-century military history, geoscience education

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?

I started working in archaeology with a minor in history and geology. As my career progressed, I worked in the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service, all as an archaeologist. As I was looking for career advancement in the Forest Service, I changed from archaeologist to minerals administrator at the Sequoia National Forest in California. This change allowed me to move up the federal career ladder. Later, I found this position at the USIBWC, applied and was hired as the cultural resources specialist.

What do you like the most about where you live and work?

I enjoy this position as I research, write, and advise agency officials on the USIBWC history for our many projects along the border with Mexico. I have found that working with the public and other private, state, and federal officials quite satisfying in educating them about our little-known binational agency. I also serve as a commissioner on the El Paso County Historical Commission that also complements my work along the borderlands. Living in El Paso has been educational and enjoyable as this area has such a huge binational history with Mexico. One aspect of the USIBWC is that it covers the entire US-Mexico border, which allows me to travel to research and write about the archaeology and history of the borderlands.

What projects are you currently working on?

Since I handle all the cultural resources for the USIBWC, I am working with archaeologists for a new levee wall on the Tijuana River in San Diego, California, and rewriting the Spill Prevention Program for oil and diesel spills at our field offices and background history for Rio Grande sediment disposal locations. I am also co-editing a book on New Deal archaeological projects and another on Big Bend military history. Other duties as historian have been to research and write about the commission history on the land monuments from El Paso to San Diego. This project is to nominate them (258 monuments) for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) as a Multiple Property Historic District.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?

My interests have broadened as I write today about the history of the commission but also about the New Deal projects of the 1930s that were forgotten about. Today, I am incorporating environmental management into my historical work as we deal with all the environmental acts in the federal government. When I take tour groups (universities, federal and state entities) to Monument 1 on the border, I incorporate history of the borderlands into that of the commission so people learn more local history. I talk to and observe the people and landscapes to find out tidbits on personal narratives that complement my historical research and interests of the borderlands.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?

Several years ago we found a box of copper map plates of the Emory Survey (1850s) and the Barlow-Blanco Survey (1890s). These are the original plates made in Washington, DC, and six of them came to El Paso in the 1970s. I have noticed that something is not right about them and plan to write a paper in the future about this. Another one was a complete photo ledger on the construction of Red Bluff Dam on the Pecos River in the 1930s found in our archives. There were over 350 pictures that had not been seen since they were put in the ledger. Since both of these were found, I have given speeches on them to help educate the public and fellow historians on new sources of information and history.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

Border Land, Border Water: A History of Construction on the US-Mexico Divide by C. J. Alvarez. This book was just published this year and discusses the commission and what we have done in the past in construction projects along the border with Mexico. A large amount of his information was from USIBWC historical records and material sent to NARA in Fort Worth, Texas.

What do you value most about the history discipline?

I value fact and what we write about has substantial backing in either documents or pictures. This is important as people ask me about many of the projects of the USIBWC and the IBC (IBWC before 1944) and our past. By having this information, I am able to help them on their research projects and my own. I recently helped a researcher on providing pictures that are better than the ones they currently have or have never seen!!

Why is membership in the AHA important to you?

My membership is important as it keeps me up to date on new research, sources, and historical dialogues of today. After all, history is what we write about and how it affects us all.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?

I have not attended a meeting yet as it always seems to be around the same time as another archaeological meeting I go and present at.

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association