Interview by Emily Aalbers
MA Student, Communication Media and Film
Rachel Herbert graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree majoring in English, and again in 2011 with a master’s degree in History. Her graduate research focused on uncovering the integral role women played in developing Alberta’s family owned ranches and telling their story and integrating it into a previously male dominated ranching history. Using primary materials where possible, Rachel strived to tell their story in their own words while emphasizing the partnership between men and women in maintaining a ranch.
Rachel lives on Trail’s End Ranch with her husband Tyler and two children, they raise grassfed beef and sell direct to market. She lived there throughout her graduate experience and while creating her book, all while working the ranch with her husband and raising a family. In 2011 when Rachel successfully defended her 200-page thesis there was already some interest in transforming her thesis into a book.
I sat down with Rachel in a quaint Nanton café to learn more about her experience.
When did you know you wanted to transform your thesis into a book?
I had a feeling as soon as I started the research for my thesis that it would be published. There was energy and interest around the project as soon as I proposed it. Ranching is still relevant to our area and a topic popular outside of academic circles. I felt like the project was just waiting for me to tackle it. When I defended my thesis the committee was really encouraging and all suggested that I needed to look into publication.
How did you pick UCalgary Press to work with?
Who else? I completed both my degrees at UofC, and my subject area is the West. I’m a Calgary girl. It was just natural to work with the UofC Press. And I am so glad I followed through with that instinct. Every step of the process was seamless, they were so good to work with and I am thrilled with the end result. They made it into a really pretty little book!
How did your supervisor support you in this process?
I had an extremely encouraging, and patient, supervisor. Dr. Warren Elofson’s enthusiasm for ranching history rubbed off on me. We’d get so excited with our research and conversations. He was behind me 100%, even when I took multiple leave of absences, after my brother was killed in Afghanistan, and while my children were born. He never wavered in encouraging me to pursue publication. He treated it almost like a book was inevitable from the start, so while I was writing my thesis I was conscious that it was likely to be read by a wider audience.
Has the content or purpose changed at all through the transformation?
The content changed very little from the thesis to the book version. I changed some of the language to refer to the “book” instead of the “thesis.” I was also able to be a little more reflective and included some personal information in the introduction about what inspired the project, and that was my own experience of returning to my roots on the family ranch. Most exciting for me was that I was able to publish my Granny’s brief memoir, “My Sunset Childhood” as an Appendix. It feels really good to have that history preserved. That was the whole intention of the book, to give voice to a history that isn’t common knowledge outside of ranching families.
What advice do you have to graduate students who are looking to do the same thing?
Stay committed even when the amount of work seems really hard and life pulls you away from your project. Make sure that you are truly passionate about the subject. If you are inspired and intrigued and feel deeply compelled to do the research and the writing, then there is likely a wider audience for your work.
Any last thoughts?
Celebrate your accomplishments! The sense of closure I felt when I finally held a real live book in my hand was so satisfying. I felt like “yay, that’s it. I’m done.” My husband had to remind me that it isn’t every day someone gets to write a book. So I’ve made a point to have a fabulous book launch, and put some energy into book signings. The amount of support and enthusiasm for the book has been overwhelming. And that part is fun!
Rachel’s book, Ranching Women in Southern Alberta (click to follow link) is available for purchase and open access reading through UCalgary Press.