Shannan Mattiace speaks on her federal government work

Shannan Mattiace, chair of the political science department, edited part of “The Handbook of Latin American Studies,” volume 71, which was recently released in fall 2016. This handbook is used as a source of references for different areas of Latin American politics. The handbook is in the Hispanic division of the Library of Congress.

Mattiace is a continuing editor of the Library of Congress. She has been working in this position since the same handbook’s 69th volume was released. Currently, she is working on the 73rd volume. She only edits for every other volume. A new volume is released every year.

Balancing her time is a struggle, but Mattiace said she manages it by focusing on doing this service in the summer.

“For about a month [during the summer], everyday, I try to review about four or five books,” Mattiace said.   

John Christie-Searles, assistant professor of political science, said that the work Mattiace does for the library is more than reading journals and researching.

Christie-Searles said that Mattiace does a lot of editing for the Library of Congress, focusing on Spanish language journals.  He also said Mattiace makes frequent trips to Mexico.

“She physically has to be in a place where she can be informed of what she is critiquing and editing, and I know that it does take a toll on you physically to be out of the country in ambiguous or uncertain environments, different foods, different water sources; it is a grueling and tiring thing,” Christie-Searles said.

Mattiace said it is gratifying to receive the thank-yous and comments from her colleagues for her work.

“I feel like a lot of my Mexican colleagues work really hard, … and to be able to highlight that from the vantage point of the world’s greatest library, [is rewarding]” Mattiace said.

As an undergraduate student at Central College in Iowa, Mattiace said she looked to Roderic Camp as her mentor and adviser. He was the editor of the Mexican Politics section of the same handbook before Mattiace obtained the editing position.

When Camp retired from his position, he recommended Mattiace for the position. After reviewing several candidates, Tracy North, the librarian of the Hispanic division, asked Mattiace to become an editor for the handbook six years ago.

“The folks who are selected, who get the opportunity to do that are folks who are generally regarded as having very good judgment of scholarship.”

Andrew Bloeser, assistant professor of political science,  said that during her career, Mattiace has helped advance the public’s opportunity to understand subpolitics.

Every other year, the handbook focuses on the social sciences and humanities of every country in Latin America, which are the volumes Mattiace edits. There are approximately 40 editors in total.

Mattiace said she edits the Government and Politics section, which focuses on Mexican politics.

“I am a Mexicanist,” Mattiace said. “That’s my area, and I am a political scientist, so that makes sense.”

Thousands of books come into the Library of Congress everyday, which means that a few are Latin American-oriented, according to Mattiace. The ones that pertain to Hispanics are later dispersed to the editors, including Mattiace.

“I study American politics. [Mattiace] studies Latin American politics. So those are separate fields of study, but there’s some overlap, and one of the areas where she and I overlap in terms of our interest is that we’re both interested in social movements, we’re both interested in the things that citizens can do to participate and have influence in their political systems,” Bloeser said.

Scholarship often focuses on elections and political institutions in both fields, Bloeser said. Social movements do not get as much recognition.

Bloeser said Mexico has many internal problems that Mattiace draws attention to. She focuses on “hometown associations,” which Bloeser said are poor areas that receive money from those who migrated to the U.S.

Christie-Searles said he has used Mattiace’s research in his classes on multiple occasions.

“Through our dialogues about her trips, particularly to Mexico, and her familiarity with immigrant and border issues and also drug-trafficking, I’ve been able to weave anecdotes from her research into my classes,” Christie-Searles said.

Mattiace gets 90 to 100 books and 30 to 40 articles in January of every other year to go through. She decides which are good resources and helps choose what goes into the handbook.

“Most of these books are in Spanish, because the Library of Congress assumes that I’m going to see books that are published in English, but I would not necessarily see books that are published in Mexico, for example, on Mexican politics,” Mattiace said.

Mattiace said this year’s books were published from 2011 to 2015. She said they usually pick books that are within a four-year range of publication.

Mattiace said she typically choose 45 to 55 of the sources she receives from the Library of Congress to put in the handbook. She is also free to add sources that she has come across.

“What I do is I write two parts,” Mattiace said. “The first part is I write annotated notations on each of the sources I choose.”

She has the books loaned to her for six months. The annotated notations go online on the Library of Congress’s website right away.

“The second task is that I write [an] about 2,000 word essay about the trends in the field,” Mattiace said.

She said she writes about what is being published and her opinion of what she discovers from the recent years. Mattiace has the opportunity to argue that there needs to be more information about Mexican politics beyond elections, and  that there needs to be more about violence in Mexico.

“The books that I got in January … about 80 percent of them are about elections in Mexico, and, personally and as a professional, I think that, that is too many books on Mexican elections. Mexico is undergoing a civil war right now — a drug war that has descended into civil war,” Mattiace said.

“This is a service to the field,” Mattiace said. “This is not paid work.”

Mattiace said the only material thing she gets out of it is a couple of gifted books.

Christie Searles said that he admires Mattiace’s dedication and willingness to learn about other cultures.

“Shannan is very dedicated to the region, that part of North America,” Christie-Searles said. “She, like myself, enjoys travel and adventure; we both enjoy learning about new culture and exploring, particularly those cultures that have Iberian roots.”

She will submit her workfor the 73rd issue in August 2017. It will be published in fall 2018.

“I also think that it shows students how much academics and scholars are doing behind the scenes, and I’m not just talking about myself,”  Mattiace said. “How much work people of scholars do to keep alive the flame and light of knowledge — this is just all labor of the heart — in hopes that facts matter, in hopes that knowledge matters, in hopes that expert opinion matters.”

This is just all labor of the heart — in hopes that facts matter, in hopes that knowledge matters, in hopes that expert opinion matters.

— Shannon Mattiace, Chair of the political science department