Co-Researching and Authoring Across National Borders, Part II: The Benefits and Challenges of Co-Authoring by Laura Tuennerman and Andrae Marak

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I am pleased to continue our three-part series on both how scholars can collaborate to increase their research output and on transnational work on the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. If you missed the first post, please click here. Andrae Marak is the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences & Graduate Studies and a Professor of History and Political Science at Governors State University. Laura Tuennerman is a Professor of History at California University of Pennsylvania. They are co-editors (with Clarissa Confer) of Transnational Indians in the North American West (Texas A&M Press, 2015). Their blog posts will discuss the way they utilize both scholars’ strengths to do the transnational research that made this and other works possible.

Co-Researching and Authoring Across National Borders, Part II: The Benefits and Challenges of Co-Authoring

Recently, a colleague told me (Laura) that team teaching classes can really test a friendship. There are many potential minefields when it comes to professional collaboration – especially those tied to timelines, deadlines and, for lack of a better phrase, scholarly vision. For this reason, co-writing a monograph can certainly have challenges – but there are also a great many benefits. As we mentioned in the first installment, Andrae Marak and I are using this blog to explore both the ways in which we worked together to do archival research across borders and fields of expertise, and the ways in which we wrote a book – At the Border of Empires: The Tohono O’odham, Gender, and Assimilation, 1880 – 1934 (University of Arizona Press, 2013).

The benefits of divide and conquer 

When it comes to archival research, a team approach can allow for a much broader and faster research journey since you benefit from twice the workforce —  and ideally twice the research funds. Our book project was born during Andrae’s research trip to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration’s Pacific Region Records Center facility in Laguna Niguel, California while he was researching his book, From Many, One: Indians, Peasants, Borders, and Education in Callista, Mexico, 1924-1935 (University of Calgary Press, 2009). Though that particular archive held a great wealth of materials pertinent to our topic, and would require a revisit by Andrae, we began the primary source planning for our book by scouring archival guides, looking for additional collections that would take us inside the historical experiences of the Tohono O’odham.

The resulting list was ambitious: Archivo General de la Nación; Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Educación Pública-Educación Rural; Archivo Histórico General del Estado de Sonora; Arizona Historical Society; Arizona State Museum Library; Bureau of Catholic Indian Mission Records, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University; Fideicomiso Archivos Plutarco Elías Calles y Fernando Torreblanca; Library of Congress; National Archives and Records Administration, District of Columbia; National Archives and Records Administration, Pacific Region, Laguna Niguel; Presbyterian Historical Society; Unidad de Información de Pueblos Indígenas, Hermosillo, Sonora; and University of Arizona, Special Collections.

We then divided up the work — somewhat unfairly, because Andrae likes to travel more than I do — with him covering archives in the west and in Mexico, and me handling those on the east coast. Some archives yielded limited but important information, like the Arizona Historical Society, which had an autobiography of Pete Blaine, a Tohono O’odham man born at the turn of the last century. The National Archives provided access to an original copy of the Meriam Report, a 1928 survey of conditions on reservations. And the Presbyterian Archives had records of the Tucson Indian Training schools. Others had massive collections. For example, in the summer of 2008, I made a research trip to the National Archives in Washington, DC. Focusing on Record Group 75, Record of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, I took some 150 pages of single-spaced notes from the files related to the Sells Indian Agency (Papago) and the San Xavier Reservation, which included materials ranging from annual reports and correspondence to records of the Indian Police, employees, and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. From Laguna Niguel we have not only Andrae’s detailed notes on the San Xavier Indian Agency, but also photocopies of particularly important documents.

The challenges of shared notetaking

During our research trips we took copious notes on the computer that were then printed out as hefty research packets for each other to read, annotate, and highlight. A particular favorite of mine, looking back, is a packet highlighted by Andrae in six different colors, each tied to a different type of information we might want. Yellow was for judges, orange was for farmers and so on. Unlike the notetaking that one might do for one’s own use, which can rely on memory and might just list highlights of a collection, taking notes for someone else requires the careful copying of lots of quotable text and the creation of summaries of other portions of the record.

The way that one thing leads to another

And, as those of you who are familiar with many archives in Mexico might expect, the archives that Andrae worked in there tended to have fewer things fully indexed than their counterparts in the United States. At the Sonoran state archive in Hermosillo, helpful archival officials suggested that Andrae change his research topic to either a different time period – the colonial period or that of the Cárdenas administration – or a different indigenous group because the files for these times and peoples had already been indexed as a result of previous long-term research projects. When he convinced them that he really needed to look at files on the Tohono O’odham (and the Comcáac for a future research project) from the late 19th century through the early 1930s, they brought out box after box for him to go through, folder by folder and page by page. And while many boxes had little or no information about the Tohono O’odham or the communities that they lived in, the ones that did provided quite different optics than similar files in Mexico City, Tucson, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. More importantly, not all of the archives mentioned previously were on our initial list. It was our conversations and relationships with archivists (perhaps worthy of a blog post on its own), or our running across exciting new items within archival collections themselves, that grew our list of resources and expanded our travel and research plans. Thankfully, the evidence from each new location served to change the ways in which we understood our topic and how we planned to write about it. 

Our final blog will explore how we moved from research to writing, using this collaboration to write, edit, and publish a book manuscript.

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