Andrae Marak is a dean and professor of history and political science at Governors State University. He lives in Homewood, Illinois, and has been a member since 1995.
Alma mater/s: BA (political science), Marquette University; MA (political science), Syracuse University; PhD (Latin American studies—history and political science), University of New Mexico
Fields of interest: borderlands, Native American, drugs, education, Mexican revolution
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? I am a first-generation student who joined the military and worked full time as I worked my way through college, failing out twice along the way. After I got my PhD, I went back home to Milwaukee to run restaurants for several years and thought that I might stay in that field, which I found exciting and rewarding, but the desire to work with students and to write pulled me back into academia.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? I live in a diverse region and at a university that values, through action, the advancement of equity and social justice.
What projects are you currently working on? Elaine Carey (Purdue Univ. Northwest) and I are working on a 150-year history of the wars on drugs in North America. I am also, intermittently, working on a history of the Comcáac, a small indigenous group whose ancestral lands (and waters) were based on the Gulf of California. But the biggest thing that I have been working on is a collaborative project with Rosemary Johnsen (Governors State Univ., English Literature, rosemaryj.com) through the NEH’s Dialogues on the Experience of War, which makes use of the humanities to explore the experiences of veterans. We recruit a small group of veterans and train them to facilitate small group discussion as well as to analyze poetry, literature, film, primary sources, personal correspondence, and oral history and then embed them into an upper-division humanities course. This upcoming year will be our second go at this. The first year was an incredible experience.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? When I graduated I was most interested in situating myself as a scholar of postrevolutionary Mexico but over time I have become much more interested in the broader field of North American borderlands and the various things that flow across them—people, goods, ideas, etc. I have also moved from being personally deeply entrenched in the classroom to providing professional development opportunities and formative teaching assessments for the faculty in my college. I have also turned my focus from writing grants to advance my own research agenda to writing larger institutional grants and to assisting junior faculty—here at Governors State University and elsewhere—write their own successful grants. I have done so by pursuing grants that capitalize on existing synergies and institutional strengths, such as our two NEH veteran-focused grants.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? I will answer this in a different way than perhaps intended. I find that digging around in archives and accumulating a range of sources speaking to a particular topic is an incredibly satisfying endeavor. I did not know that I would love it as much as I do.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?I am currently enamored with Brian Turner’s harrowing Here, Bullet, a collection of poetry that he wrote while serving in the infantry in Iraq. We incorporated this collection into the class with embedded student veterans supported by the NEH grant and it had an incredible impact on our students, veterans and non-veterans alike.
What do you value most about the history discipline? The thing that I like the most about being a historian is the support and help that I have received (and hopefully returned in kind) from other scholars. It is amazing just how much time others have invested into my success. In addition, I have found over time that training as a historian positions me to work across many different disciplines, as demonstrated in the broad humanities focus of our current NEH grant.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you? It is one of the few conferences that I attend where I can go to panels and roundtables about topics that I am interested in but in which I do not have expertise.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share? I remember early in my career going to an AHA meeting for an interview that was in a hotel suite. I showed up at the suite and no one answered the door. I started to panic and called the chair of the search committee who reminded me that the interview was not until the next day. Oooops.
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, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.