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  • Finding Dr. Dobyns:Processing the Henry F. Dobyns Collection, University of Arizona Libraries
  • Lisa E. Duncan (bio)

In August 2010, I was contacted by an archivist in Special Collections at the University of Arizona Libraries about a position processing a recently acquired archival collection. The archivist said the library had received a donation of an anthropologist's professional and personal papers. The collection was also quite large, a challenge I relished. I was interested. A few years earlier, I had graduated with my bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona's School of Anthropology. The anthropologist had graduated from the same program in the 1950s. I immediately applied for the position—and once hired, I moved to Tucson to process the Henry F. (Hank) Dobyns Papers.

I would spend the next two years of my career almost exclusively in the company of Dr. Dobyns—or at least his papers, and the memories and stories of those who knew him.1 The experience defined me as an archivist. The size and complexity of the Dobyns collection tested my skills—and often my sanity—but, ultimately, it made me a better archivist.

Henry F. (Hank) Dobyns (1925–2009) was an applied anthropologist and ethnohistorian. Dr. Dobyns spent much of his career working with native peoples of North and South America. Born in Tucson, he was raised in Casa Grande, Arizona. He graduated with a BA and MA in anthropology from the University of Arizona, and received his PhD in anthropology from Cornell University. Dr. Dobyns worked on land and water cases for several southwestern tribes and on the Cornell Peru Project, which was affiliated with the U.S. Peace Corps; he also worked at several universities, including the University of Arizona.2 He never retired, and remained active in research projects. Because of his connection [End Page 716] to the university as a graduate of its anthropology program and his friendship with anthropologist Richard Stoffle and his wife, Carla, former dean of the University of Arizona Libraries, Dobyns chose Special Collections as the repository for his papers and library. It was a natural fit. Dobyns published extensively on the native peoples of the Southwest and is best known for his work in historical demography, including "Estimating Aboriginal American Population: An Appraisal of Techniques with a New Hemispheric Estimate" and Their Number Become Thinned: Native American Population Dynamics in Eastern North America (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983).

On my first day, I was introduced to the Dobyns collection as it stood: 600 office boxes and 8 filing cabinets, located on opposite floors of two separate library buildings and stored in four different rooms. Just seeing all of the material at once was impossible. Over the previous two years, the University of Arizona Special Collections staff had picked up the collection from Dr. Dobyns's homes. They described what they found. Dr. Dobyns had dedicated every available space to his research. Notes, manuscripts, and files were in nearly every room. Dr. Dobyns was known for meticulous and extensive research, and he was a prolific author.3 He had kept everything: Every scrap of paper, every notebook, and every file on a topic of interest were included. This is what made my job so interesting—and difficult.

I had never worked on a collection which did not fit on a couple of tabletops, let alone one which flowed out of one room to another—and then another—and to still another room and another. While I was apprehensive about the size of the collection, I was excited about jumping into a new project, especially one which fit my interests so well. I had recently graduated from the University of Arizona's School of Information Resources and Library Science (SIRLS). I had several years of training in archival processing as a graduate assistant in Special Collections at the University of Arizona and I had processed collections in other institutions. I was—I am—detail-oriented, organized, and obsessed with timelines. I had confidence in my skills, abilities, and experiences. I was confident that I could tackle such a large project.

Confident, that was, until I saw "the quarantine room."

My first task with the...


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