Co-Researching and Authoring Across National Borders, Part III: by Andrae Marak and Laura Tuennerman

Gretchen Pierce's picture

I am pleased to conclude 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 or second post, please check them out. 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 III

In our past two blogs, Laura and I (Andrae) have explored how we worked together to engage in both the archival and historiographical research and writing of At the Border of Empires: The Tohono O’odham, Gender, and Assimilation, 1880 – 1934 (University of Arizona Press, 2013). The first blog highlighted how we took advantage of our different backgrounds – me as a Mexicanist who focuses on gender, race, and identity and Laura as a U.S. historian whose work focuses on gender and identity during the Progressive Area – to put together a transnational research plan. Our second blog focused on our research process, who went where, and how we took notes so that they would be accessible and useful for both of us. Here we will share more about our writing and dissemination process.

Writing a book proposal was one of the steps that we laid out when we agreed to work together on this project. I had worked with the University of Arizona Press in the past on an edited volume and had a good relationship with the editor Kristen Buckles. They also have published an excellent library of works on the Tohono O’odham. We successfully wrote a proposal and received a book contract with them.

For Fall 2009 Laura applied for a sabbatical, so after we outlined the book chapters – which we did by theme rather than strictly by chronology – we got to writing. I agreed to write substantive portions of Chapters 1 and 6: The Early History of the Tohono O’odham and Mexico: A Counterexample. Laura agreed to use her sabbatical to take the first shot at the middle four chapters that focused on Vices and Values, Marriage and Morals, Schools and Gendered Education, and Vocation. Our process was that each of us would write a goodly chunk – note the scientific specificity of how much - of the particular chapter that we were working on prior to asking for feedback, at which point the other person would weigh in, pointing out important materials from the archives that fit into particular spaces that ought to be woven in, arguments that could be added and/or sharpened, or things that needed to be cut.

There are two pertinent points here. First, Laura and I have quite different authorial voices. My writing tends to be longwinded whereas hers is much more accessible and direct. I like her writing much better than my own . . . it is an incredible strength to be working with someone who helps you to clean up your writing and make it much more readable . . . but the iterative nature of how we wrote mostly blended our voices together into a third, unique voice. Second, in addition to adding to, augmenting, and rewriting sections of each other’s work, we also made notations in the text that we were writing where we expected or hoped the other person might better tackle an issue or an idea. For example, in my chapter on The Early History of the Tohono O’odham, I might write something about US federal government policy vis-à-vis Native Americans. Since Laura is better versed than I am on this topic, I would leave a note that said something like: “Can you please write this section and/or point me in the right direction in terms of sources?” Our writing was iterative, floating back and forth multiple times with substantive contributions by both of us to every chapter before all was said and done.

As we worked on the manuscript we agreed to present our work at a series of conferences and to get involved in a few subprojects that grew out of this work. For example, we co-wrote “Official Government Discourses about Vice and Deviance: the Early 20th Century Tohono O’odham” for an edited volume on vice and smuggling that I co-edited with Elaine Carey; “The Urbanization of the Tohono O’odham: Using Vice, Crime, and Sexuality to Explore Cultural Interaction and Assimilation” for the World History Bulletin; and co-edited a special issue of the Journal of the West on American Indians and the Borderlands of the West. We presented or co-presented our work starting with our first co-presentation at an American Historical Association meeting in Washington, D.C. where we got some excellent feedback from audience members who approached us to talk further after our presentation was done. We later presented at conferences in Costa Rica, Peru, Portugal, Canada, and Mexico as well as at a wide-range of regional and national conferences, including at both California University of Pennsylvania and Governors State University.

Cindy Speer, our administrative assistant at California University of Pennsylvania, formatted our photographs for publication. We worked with the University of Arizona Press to select someone to create the book’s index (and used some of our professional development funds to pay for it). And, last but not least, we hired Tracy Ellen Smith to create our wonderful maps.

The final product has been received positively. At the Border of Empires was named as one of the Southwest Books of the Year. We sold enough copies for it to come out in paperback. Perhaps more importantly, we were invited post-publication to give talks at a range of locations including local libraries, a local “science pub” (an informal monthly talk where scientists can share their work with non-scientists), the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the University of Windsor, and the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla. Through the hard work and coordination of Kenneth Madsen, a geographer from The Ohio State University, I (Andrae) also got to present at the Tohono O’odham Community College and the Tohono O’odham National Cultural Center and Museum, talk to Tohono O’odham students and community members, run in the shadows of the Tohono O’dham’s sacred Baboquivari Peak, and stay with Franciscan friars at the San Solano Mission (see Figures 1-2).

Figure 1: Baboquivari Peak
Figure 2: San Solano Mission on the Tohono O'odham Nation

The book did so well that we are currently in the midst of researching and writing another one, this time about the history of the Comcáac (or Seri) Indians who lived on Tiburón Island and the surrounding coasts in the Gulf of California. Through our iterative process, the project has already started taking on a life of its own. What had started as a chronological history of the Comcáac from 1840 to 1940 has turned into, riffing off of The Little House on the Prairie, a history of the ways in which the Comcáac and settler colonialism in the region are remembered. It is our hope that this next project is as much fun and as successful as our first.



Posted in: