Since 1999 I have been the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Map Librarian at the University of Toronto’s Map and Data Library. I am responsible for the geospatial and map collections and GIS services for the university. Mostly I support researchers and students in their use of the geospatial technology in their academic work. This often means teaching how to retrieve, acquire, and use geospatial and cartographic information. My job also entails teaching GIS workshops to many classes every semester. Alot of my work is done one on one with researchers but much of my work also involves working with research teams or within specific classes. I have taught a course called The Evolution of Geographic Information in the Geography Department at the University of Toronto and in 2013 I will be teaching a GIS course at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto.
While my everyday work is technologically immersed, my research and special projects, seem to always be centred around history. As most map users would attest, working with maps always involves some historical aspect of sorts. After all, most maps, once published are immediately historical in nature. They are snapshots in time and showcase events and landscapes that no longer exist exactly as they are depicted on a paper map.
I have been a professional librarian for twenty years and the twists and turns of my career have always centered on computers and history. I initially started as an engineering student at the University of Ottawa where I was first bitten by the computer bug. History became my true passion when I encountered some of the most fantastic professors in the History department there. They opened my my mind to a historical view of the world. Working as a summer student in the Cartographic Division of the National Archives was also one of the biggest joys of being a student in Ottawa.
Librarianship has since always been the centre point between my two passions, history and computers. It allowed me to continue studying history by completing an MA in history while working as a librarian at UBC. It also allowed me to continue to learn more and more about computer applications such as GIS, and some programming. Working as a librarian alongside the likes of people like NiCHE’s Bill Turkel certainly helped develop a love and appreciation of computer programming.
The University of Toronto Libraries collections of maps is one of the biggest in Canada. Our holdings cover the globe and go as far back as the 15th Century. Interestingly, our biggest users of maps actually tend to be, not from the Geography Department, but from most other disciplines that examine the history of a place or phenomenon.
As a result of major changes in GIS technology over the past few years, my two passions of maps and computers have met again in radical ways through Historical GIS. More and more, my work now consists of scanning maps from our collection, and not only making them available online, but to actually use the maps to build new information. The NiCHE funded Don Valley Historical Mapping Project, with Jennifer Bonnell, allowed the U of T Map and Data Library to showcase how paper maps can be repurposed in a GIS and become useful in a different way. And furthering the mandate of libraries, we made these data available for free as open data.
My next project will consist of developing an open source framework for building web mapping tools for historical mapping and GIS projects. The first data I will apply the framework to will be the Don Valley project, as well as another NiCHE funded project data, the Ontario Historical County Map Project data. I plan on setting up a server on cloud services, install content management software, as well as a geospatial database and web mapping tools. I am hoping to combine all these tools, document their integration, evaluate different options, and to compile the instructions for setup. All documentation will then be made available in a form that a lay person can replicate the results. I am planning on conducting this work during a research leave planned to start in the spring of 2013.
Marcel Fortin is the Geographic Information Systems and Map Library at the University of Toronto's Map and Data Library.
People have asked me to recall some of my most memorable experiences of living in Canada’s North. I was born in Whitehorse, grew up in Inuvik, and lived in Yellowknife as an adult. If you’ve ever been north, every experience is memorable. Everything from being a cross-country skier, to catching my first 25lb++ jackfish, to travelling the land via helicopter and/or dogsled, and learning how to hunt easily come to mind. Of course, there are other fond childhood memories, like digging the famous hole to China in front of my school and falling asleep while walking to school because I was as-snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug in my traditional parka, colloquially known as a mother hubbard. But other times the striking beauty of the land is a simple enough answer.
The idea of place and region did not strike me as important as a young adult – that is until I moved south. Place and people are intimately connected, which is a fundamental premise of my PhD research. I am most interested in the Gwich’in region of the Northwest Territories, in the Mackenzie Delta area, which is comprised of four communities: Inuvik, Aklavik, Fort McPherson and Tsiighetchic. I am doing a family history of sorts that investigates the changing nature of intimacy. Scholars of Empire have defined intimacy as encapsulating marriages, sexual relationships, sibling and parental relationships, childbirth and child rearing, as well as violence. But as a Gwich’in woman and historian, Gwich’in notions of intimacy must be considered as well. For example, the Gwich’in have a close and complex relationship with the animal world. Animals are understood as kin and the Gwich’in have been able to shape shift into various animals for centuries. I will examine how these kinds of intimacies changed over time in the twentieth century. Missionaries arrived in the late 1850s on the Gwich’in flats and were the first to interrupt Gwich’in intimate relationships and practices. But the signing of Treaty 11, the ‘discovery’ of oil in Norman Wells, the influx of newcomers (mostly men), changing economies, and the introduction of new technology took its toll on Canada’s Indigenous communities.
By examining written sources and conducting oral interviews, I will ask new questions about intimacy and shed light on the impact of colonization in Canada. I will ask questions about race and gender, the far reaches of Empire, the uniqueness of the region, inter-Aboriginal relations in the Northwest Territories, and the role of Aboriginal men in intimate relationships. My extended family network, my connection to the north, and the general lack of literature on the history of the Gwich’in people serves as my basis for undertaking this sort of study. But I am also motivated to insert myself in political conversations through my work, for I consider myself an Aboriginal feminist who is also an activist. I am concerned with the past, but view History as a tool to answer complex questions of the present.
Having completed my comprehensive exams at the end of January, I am not yet in the thick of my research. So many of my questions remain unanswered. In the meantime, I have embraced the daunting task of learning Gwich’in and keeping close family ties. Last August (2011), I spent a week at my family’s traditional fish camp on the Mackenzie River. It was invigorating to wake up every morning to the sounds of the river and the smell of the rose hips, knowing that it would be a day of hard, but satisfying work. Reflecting on these things was, of course, not before I thanked the bears for staying away during the night. My family and I rewarded them with their own fish treats at the end of the beach everyday – a job that should not be neglected!
Mes recherches portent sur la construction historique des représentations de la forêt québécoise. Ces représentations apparaissent être le produit de la rencontre, et parfois du choc, entre différentes formes de discours : économique, scientifique, imaginaire… C'est cette tension que je souhaite étudier et son incidence sur la gestion forestière.
Depuis le tournant des années 2000, dans un climat de crise aussi bien économique qu’écologique, un débat social est engagé concernant la gestion des forêts québécoises. On peut ici rappeler quelques événements : en 1999, l’auteur-compositeur Richard Desjardins et le cinéaste Robert Monderie réalisent un film sur les méthodes d’exploitation de la forêt au Québec, L’erreur boréale. Certains diront que L’erreur boréale a permis de mettre au jour les pratiques catastrophiques en matière de récolte des forêts, alors que d’autres contesteront en affirmant que l’angle d’approche est biaisé par le parti pris des réalisateurs. Notre objectif n’est pas de trancher sur cette question, mais plutôt de nous pencher sur le phénomène social qui a émergé à la suite de la parution du film. En effet, force est de constater que L’Erreur boréale a eu des impacts importants sur le système forestier québécois en projetant le débat sur la place publique. En 2002, un rapport du Vérificateur général du Québec vient appuyer les craintes véhiculées dans l’univers médiatique. Puis le gouvernement québécois met sur pied en octobre 2003 la Commission d’études sur la gestion des forêts québécoises (dite aussi Commission Coulombe). En décembre 2004, la Commission déposait un rapport assorti d’une série de recommandations. La réponse gouvernementale sera d’entreprendre une refonte de son régime forestier, culminant avec la publication d’un Livre vert en février 2008. La réforme en cours doit se finaliser en 2013 avec l’adoption de la Loi sur l’aménagement durable du territoire forestier.
Dans ce débat public, les enjeux demeurent surdéterminés par les intérêts économiques et scientifiques. Les aspects culturels ou identitaires de la question sont généralement relégués à l’arrière-scène sinon instrumentalisés au profit d’un argumentaire économique ou écologique. Pourtant, aux côtés de ces représentations dominantes, qui se veulent objectives, existe un discours empreint d’imaginaire. Il n’y a qu’à évoquer les propos du premier ministre du Québec, M. Jean Charest, livrés en introduction du dernier Livre vert sur la forêt québécoise :
La forêt fait partie de ce que nous sommes. Nos premières entreprises étaient forestières et, de génération en génération, dans presque toutes nos régions, la vie quotidienne a été réglée par la forêt. Nous sommes un peuple forestier. Le défi que nous avons maintenant est de faire en sorte que cette forêt, si puissamment associée à notre passé, puisse être tout autant associée à notre avenir.
L’évocation des « racines » forestières communes trouverait ses origines dans l’histoire de la colonisation du territoire et des multiples utilisations de la forêt. Cet imaginaire forestier émanant du passé peut emprunter de multiples formes et s’allier à une variété de valeurs. Mais ces référents historiques, presque mythiques, peuvent également se transformer en arguments employés au service d’intérêts économiques ou écologiques, selon que la forêt est perçue comme une ressource naturelle ou comme un écosystème.
Dans le cadre de ma recherche, je m’intéresse aux représentations de la forêt québécoise. Il existe en effet au Québec une façon d’appréhender la diversité forestière à travers le prisme de son unicité, de cette vaste étendue qui constitue un des fondements du patrimoine historique national. Une meilleure connaissance de la construction historique de ces représentations contribuerait à la compréhension de leur appropriation par les différents groupes sociaux et à leur récupération dans les débats idéologiques qui entourent actuellement la gestion des forêts. Dans cette optique, nous empruntons à l’historien Roger Chartier sa définition des représentations, faisant de ces dernières des référentiels collectifs intériorisés. Les représentations sont devenues l’élément central des rapports de domination contemporains, en ce sens que les conflits entre groupes sont le fait d’une lutte symbolique opposant des images socialement construites. Je m’intéresse donc à la forêt comprise comme une construction sociale aux multiples facettes; facettes qui entrent parfois (voire souvent…) en conflit, à l’image des différents groupes sociaux qui sont à la source de ces images divergentes. Mais la compréhension de ces représentations n’est pas simple, car elle appelle à une mise en relation de différentes sources d’information à travers lesquelles les représentations sont véhiculées. Elle demande aussi de s’intéresser aux individus qui sont à l’origine de la production et de la communication de ces représentations. Je tenterai de répondre à ces interrogations en interrogeant la production des discours sur la forêt au cours du 20e siècle, à travers les politiques publiques, les textes littéraires et les journaux.
Mes recherches sont codirigées par Nathalie Lewis, sociologue de l’environnement au département Sociétés, Territoires et Développement à l’Université du Québec à Rimouski, et par Andrée Corvol, spécialiste de l’histoire des forêts à l’Institut d’histoire moderne et contemporaine et directrice du Groupe d’histoire des forêts françaises (GHFF). C’est en jumelant ces deux approches, sociologique et historique, de même qu’en liant le cas québécois aux expériences de gestion européenne que j’espère contribuer à une meilleure compréhension de notre rapport au milieu forestier.
Maude Flamand-Hubert est doctorante en développement régional à l’Université du Québec à Rimouski, en cotutelle en histoire à l’Université Sorbonne-Paris IV. Ses recherches sont rendues possibles grâce au soutien du programme de Bourses d'études supérieures du Canada Vanier.
Currently there are between 75,000 and 100,000 black bears living in Ontario’s forests. The province has the second largest black bear population in Canada, behind British Columbia and the third largest in North America. Ontario residents have coexisted with their ursine counterparts for hundreds of years but it has been an extremely complicated and at times sordid relationship. For example, the childhood storybook character, Winnie-the-Pooh created by A.A. Milne, was inspired by a black bear named Winnipeg that was captured near Lake Superior in 1914 before being transported across the Atlantic for exhibition in the London Zoo. Not exactly the feel good story that is conveyed in the pages of Winnie-the-Pooh.
Yet, the origin of “Pooh-Bear” is just one instance of how complex the relationship has been between people and black bears. I decided to do an environmental history of Ontario’s Ursus americanus residents because of my long fascination with the provincial government’s decision in 1999 to repeal the spring bear hunt and the debate that followed. The cancellation was not the result of an extended and careful study of the spring bear hunt by government wildlife managers. It was made in response to claims made by a conglomerate of animal welfare groups, the so-called “Bear Alliance,” that the hunt was both inhumane and led to increased cub orphaning, claims that the government obviously feared were striking a chord with voters in southern Ontario. No government since has reintroduced the hunt, and northern Ontario communities have lived with the economic and environmental consequences.
While this is a more recent episode in the history of black bears in Ontario it speaks to the way perceptions of nature affect the making of hunting and wildlife management policy, and how those policies in turn have material consequences, some anticipated and others not. My project seeks to explore the way that scientific and non-scientific perceptions of bears interacted and competed in the development of wildlife management policies and hunting regulations in Ontario. Moreover, what really intrigues me is how different groups such as hunters, biologists, policymakers, naturalists, and the lay public have viewed the province’s bears and how and why these perspectives have changed over the years. From 1942 to 1961, Ontario’s black bear was subjected to a bounty system that was similar to the one applied to the province’s wolves. The majority of residents saw the animal as vermin and gladly took up arms to collect the $5 and $10 bounty on cubs and adult bears respectively. In 1961 the bounty was rescinded and the bear was designated as a game animal. However, a bag limit was not introduced and neither were closed seasons; residents simply had to buy licenses. By the 1980s, Ontario finally introduced more rigid management practices with the introduction of limited seasons (spring and fall) and limited kills. This brief snapshot reveals how human perceptions have changed the bear from pest to quasi-game to bona fide trophy animal.
Black bears do not play a pertinent role in our ecosystem. We choose to coexist with them because they feed our mind, body, and soul. We name our airlines and our sports teams after them; they drive our imagination. Canada’s preeminent bear expert, Stephen Herrero has said that “the decisions we make about how we will manage bears depend on our attitudes and values related to bears.” My study will chart the history of Ontario’s relationship with its bears in the hope that it may help shape the values guiding future policy.
Mike Commito is a Doctoral Candidate in the history department at McMaster University in Hamilton.
(How should one profile a scholar?
Calm composure? Hoot and holler?
You want the busy reader’s attention,
Something that demands retention.
I elect to write mine as a po-em.
Diehard bard, am I? Well, no ma’am.
I’ll just explore how this route goes
And leave other profiles to the prose.)
Hi, I’m Alan, director NiCHE,
Husband, father, son of a –
Joking! That’s not how Canadians pronounce it! Sheesh.
Let me try that once again:
I’m a Canadian environmental historian.
In every sense I’m mid-career,
My work goes there, my work goes here.
National parks across the nation,
Environmentalists, back-to-the-landers, conservation.
An EH textbook on methodology,
From science studies to archaeology.
The Miramichi Fire, you might think,
But that’s still not finished (and so, no link).
Lots of editing – I edit a series
(Idea for a book? I take all queries.)
I’ve also found it quite cathartic
To leave my field and explore the Arctic.
What’s next? Trying to think macroscopic,
I’ve chosen big as one new topic.
But of all my work, if I were pressed,
I’d say that I liked NiCHE the best.
It affords me a real opportunity,
To feel part of a scholarly community.
Frosh or full prof, big or small,
Scholars are just people, after all.
We’re more than impact factors and microfiche,
And that, dear reader, is why I like NiCHE.
…But wait, I almost forgot to mention,
A new website to draw to your attention!
A virtual exhibit, called “MB”,
About the “Mother of Canada’s National Parks,” you see.
Some text by me and, so much better,
A collection of her books and letters,
There’s even an oral interview,
That’s really well-worth listening to.
If biography, women’s history, or parks is what you like,
You’ll find “MB” is worth the hike.
Or more accurately, if one of these is what you pick,
You’ll find “MB” is worth the click.
(My final poem, also my inaugural:
Forgive the barking of my doggerel.)
Jim Clifford: Where do you work? How does environmental history contribute to your job?
Keri Cronin: I am the Chair of the Visual Arts Department at Brock University. I am a historian of visual culture and I bring environmental history and ecocritical perspectives to many of the classes I teach. While I don't teach a course specifically on environmental art history or ecocritical approaches to visual culture, there are many opportunities to engage students in these perspectives. For example, in my 19th century art history course, we consider how different understandings of "nature" and "the environment" influenced landscape painting during this era.
JC: I understand you recently published a book in the Nature | History | Society series at UBC Press. Could you describe this project?
KC: Yes, I published Manufacturing National Park Nature: Photography, Ecology and the Wilderness Industry of Jasper with UBC Press in 2011. This book looks at the visual culture of Jasper National Park and considers the relationship between how this landscape has been pictured and the environmental history of this region. How, for example, does the way a space is represented shape policies and visitor expectations? How do these images influence dominant understandings of concepts like "wilderness" or "wildlife." The book deals with a wide range of visual culture: paintings, photographic postcards, film, illustrated guidebooks, etc.
JC: What got you interested in this topic?
KC: I've spent a lot of time in Jasper National Park. It was a place that we often went to on family vacations when I was growing up. As I was thinking through the relationships that exist between representations of a landscape and the actual physical experience of that same space it made sense to me to reflect on a location that I have this level of familiarity with. In a broader sense, I chose to focus my research on a National Park because of the symbolic and cultural associations with these spaces in Canada--they hold a lot of weight when we consider how ideas about others species are formed and perpetuated.
JC: Are you working on something new?
KC: My current research is an exploration of the ways in which early animal rights activists (late 19th century) used art and visual culture in their campaigns.
As part of this I am in the process of curating an online exhibition for the National Museum of Animals and Society (http://www.museumofanimals.org/) called "Be Kind: A Visual History of Humane Education"
JC: What contribution do you hope to make the wider field of Canadian environmental history with these projects?
KC: My new research does not focus exclusively on Canadian material, I am working with archives in Britain and the United States as well. The contribution I would like to make with my research is to bring to the forefront just how prominent art and visual culture are in shaping our relationships with other species. Whether it is a fragile forest ecosystem or the treatment of animals in agriculture, what we are trained to see (or, conversely, what remains "out of view") goes a long way towards our understandings of and, ultimately, our treatment of the species we share the planet with.
Keri Cronin is the Chair of the Visual Arts Department at Brock University
In November 2011, I travelled to Bermuda to start my postdoctoral project, “Marine Biogeographies: British Navy and Military Cultures of Natural Science in the Nineteenth-Century North Atlantic.” Building on my doctoral work on the intersection between British military culture, and ideas and practices of ornithology, my postdoctoral project aims to understand how natural history knowledge of Canada, Bermuda, and Britain helped to produce a militarized maritime bioregion in the 19th-century North Atlantic. During this time period, Britain established an imperial defense network of fortifications and bases to secure economic and colonial control in the British Atlantic, and to prevent the United States from invading Canada, “since Bermuda, conjointly with Halifax, holds in check the whole Atlantic coast of the United States” [(T.L. Godet, Bermuda: Its History, Geology, Climate, Products, Agriculture, Commerce (London: Smith, Elder, Co. 1860), 3]. The Royal Navy commanded the sea while the British military secured strategic ports and waterways, extending the imperial network from Bermuda to the Great Lakes of Canada.
From this network emerged the collection and documentation of marine flora, fauna, rivers, weather patterns, and seascapes (through maps, specimens, charts, watercolours, photographs) by British navy and military officers who were patrolling and garrisoning the various sites in British North America and Bermuda. My primary concern is how the production, circulation, and reception of natural history knowledge and material culture by these individuals helped to constitute the British North Atlantic as a meaningful place and contributed to the production of ideas and practices of marine biogeography – the scientific study of the distribution of marine fauna – and the migration of species.
During my short visit to Bermuda, I focused primarily on the documentation of primary source materials available in the archives and museum collections, and explored some of the military and navy sites of the nineteenth century, tracing the numerous connections between Canada and Bermuda, and the ways in which the movement of people, ideas, and things helped to shape the British North American region. I toured the historic Royal Naval Dockyard and the Commissioner’s House (now part of the National Museum of Bermuda), overlooking the vast Atlantic Ocean (Figure 1). Once considered the “Gibraltar of the West,” the infrastructure located on Ireland Island served as the wintering grounds for the North America and West Indies Station (also known as the North America and Lakes of Canada Squadron, and the River St. Lawrence and Coast of America Station, among other titles). The summer station for the Royal Navy in the Americas, of course, was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, resulting in the relocation of naval manpower with the changing seasons in spring and autumn (Figure 2). How did these trans-imperial movements between Nova Scotia and Bermuda impact ideas of climatic regions and species migration in the “New World”?
While sitting outside the Bermuda Natural History Museum, I spotted a Great Blue Heron standing motionlessly on a small boat, waiting to pounce on its prey. My previous encounters with the bird involved observing it in eastern Canada, stalking fish in freshwater wetlands and rivers, amidst cattails, rushes, and willow trees. The heron I observed on this day occupied a different habitat all together. Found in the inland waters of Flatts Village, herons abound with squid, tropical fish, and seashells from the tidal ocean waters of the Atlantic. According to John Matthew Jones, John L. Hurdis, and John Walter Wedderburn in The Naturalist in Bermuda: A Sketch of the Geology, Zoology, and Botany (1859, 78) the Great Blue Herron (Ardea Herodias) was “a wary bird… not frequently met with on the shores or creeks of the Bermudas.” As the authors explained, the bird was migratory and arrived in the autumn, with a few remaining throughout the year.
Interestingly, all three authors of The Naturalist in Bermuda lived in the maritime colonies of Canada. Jones fostered an extensive network of British military and Royal Navy officers, shipmasters, and colonists in his pursuit of natural knowledge, and contributed significantly to the natural history of Nova Scotia while a resident. Hurdis worked as Controller of Customs in both Prince Edward Island and in Bermuda, which gave him access to information from ships travelling to and from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI. As part of his trans-Atlantic military service, Captain Wedderburn, 42nd Regiment (Black Watch), served in Halifax and Bermuda, making a vast collection of North American birds now housed in various museums in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Again, my fieldwork investigations sparked questions on links between imperial and “natural” connections, and the ways in which colonial environmental knowledge emerged from networked, mobile knowledges in the British North Atlantic.
At the Bermuda Archives, I had the opportunity to research watercolour albums and manuscripts. Such materials included Captain Henry Maurice Drummond-Hay’s (42nd Regiment) 70 watercolours of the fishes of Bermuda, circa 1840s (Figure 4). I was drawn to his image of the Green Moray, which he painted vividly with different shades of green and very sharp teeth. Other fish included the Toadfish, Garfish and Mackerel. I viewed a collection of watercolours of Bermuda landscapes and seascapes by Royal Navy officer Sir Michael Seymour, who served on HMS Vindictive in the British North America and West Indies Station, 1845–1848. Many of his British North America views are housed at the Musée du Québec, Québec City. I also studied the watercolours of Edmund Gilling Hallewell, 20th Regiment, who later served in Québec City and Kingston, where his watercolour of Fort Henry is housed at the Queen’s University Archives.
My investigations at the archives also allowed me to learn about the politics of “race” in Bermuda, impressing on me the delicacy of dealing with such tensions. I viewed an original Slave Register that was used to record all of the enslaved persons in Bermuda for the compensation of plantation owners after Abolition in 1833. While Bermuda’s physical geography limited the formation of a plantation economy familiar in the Caribbean, a romanticized version of the slave past has emerged that has focused on the betterment of slaves as skilled sailors, pilots, and housemaids. Despite this version of the past, the fact remains that the island slavery existed in Bermuda, where enslaved peoples lived without freedom, were sold as commodities, and were placed in precarious situations. Bermudian-born Mary Prince was one of the first people to provide first-hand descriptions of the brutalities of enslavement, which were recorded, and perhaps altered, by Susannah Strickland (later Moodie).
The issue of “race” will continue to be a focus on my postdoctoral work. I learned that army-naturalist John Tavenier Bartram, 20th Regiment, sold his commission and left his wife in England to settle in Bermuda. He lived with a Black Bermudian woman, a behaviour viewed as “degenerate” by British middle and upper class in Victorian times. Lady Brassey included a description of Bartram (Bertram in her book) and his popular natural history collection In the Trades, the Tropics & the Roaring Forties (1885) (Figure 5). Some of Bartram’s naturalist notebooks can be found at the Bermuda Archives, and a few of his avian specimens are at the Bermuda Natural History Museum. Bartram became a centre of naturalist activity in Bermuda, making connections with other British military officers such as Philip Savile Grey Reid, Royal Engineers, who published Birds of Bermuda (1884). Reid also connected with John Matthew Jones when stationed at Halifax.
While I only scratched at the surface of my research project, I was fortunate to visit Bermuda and to meet such wonderful and generous people, including Andrew Bermingham (Bermuda Historical Society); Dr. Robbie Smith and Lisa Greene (Bermuda Natural History Museum); Dr. Edward Harris and Elena Strong (Bermuda National Museum); Mandellas Lightbourne and Karla Ingemann (Bermuda Archives); and Dr. Duncan McDowall, who facilitated my trip from Kingston, Ontario. I look forward to future research and collaborations.
Kirsten Greer is a Visiting SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of History, University of Warwick, UK. She is the Coordinator for the Transnational Ecologies project with NiCHE, and a member of the Global History and Culture Centre at the University of Warwick.
JC: What is your current position?
I am a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta. I completed a PhD in Geography at the University of British Columbia.
JC: I understand you recently published a book in the Nature | History | Society series at UBC Press. Could you describe this project?
As many people will know, southern Manitoba is often threatened by flooding. Wet Prairie: People, Land and Water in Agricultural Manitoba (2011) is an examination of surface water management in the agricultural regions of southern Manitoba. Due to the Canadian federal government’s inflexible settlement system as much as to the local environment, many newcomers who intended to farm shared the experience of finding themselves confronted with flooded lands. In a bid to reconcile agriculture and surface water, and in keeping with the liberal tradition of facilitating economic development, the provincial government undertook substantial drainage efforts. Water-flow patterns, whether altered by drainage or not, became the subject of intense, long-running debate among provincial officials, drainage experts, and Manitoba residents.
The book seeks to explain patterns of engagement between people, government, and environment over a long period stretching from 19th century efforts to drain the Manitoba landscape to late 20th century attempts to establish watershed management. New alliances and rivalries emerged amidst shifting social, political and environmental contexts, with enduring consequences for both the landscapes and people of the wet prairie.
JC: Are you working on something new?
I’m researching the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration [PFRA], a federal agency created in 1935 in response to the drought and depression afflicting the agricultural regions of the Canadian prairies. Until 1969, the PFRA operated within the federal government’s Department of Agriculture. Through a historical perspective on the PFRA’s first 34 years, this project examines the role of the PFRA in facilitating the transformation of prairie agriculture.
I anticipate the project will culminate in a monograph in which I will argue the PFRA in this period be understood as a low modernist agency. The term ‘low modernist’ was coined by rural sociologist Jess Gilbert as a counterpoint to anthropologist James Scott’s influential concept of high modernism. In his widely-cited Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, Scott explains the role of a high modernist ideology, defined as an over-reaching confidence in scientific progress, the mastery of nature, and the management of humanity, in the failure of many 20th century state-led attempts at human improvement. In his analysis of the actions of United States farm officials in the years of the American New Deal, Jess Gilbert find something wholly different from high modernism: a set of positive encounters between agents and agriculturalists that, for a time, supported farmers in their own efforts to adjust to change in agriculture. I will argue that out of the drought and depression of the 1930s, through the shifts in agricultural practices and markets that continued through the mid-twentieth century, the PFRA embodied many of the principles of low modernism. The monograph will also address a profound irony: it was the PFRA, through its low modernist practices, that facilitated the entry of prairie farmers into the world of globalized, chemical-dependent, large-scale farming -- an agricultural mode vulnerable to the sort of catastrophic failure documented by James Scott in Seeing Like a State.
As I go through historical materials related to the PFRA, I’m also collecting information related to another project, one that remains quite preliminary at this point. I’m interested in the idea of development as conceptualized and deployed by Canadian federal and provincial governments in the mid to late decades of the 20th century. As I believe the PFRA played a key role in defining development, I’m finding quite a bit of relevant material in my current research. At this point, I anticipate this later project will consider how Canadian development agencies dealt with people and places considered to be underdeveloped, such as certain rural regions and many Aboriginal communities. I’m also interested in making a connection between domestic and international efforts at development. Indeed, the project is in part an effort to figure out just what the PFRA was doing in Ghana in the 1960s and 1970s.
JC: Are there any major themes or emphases uniting your past, present, and future projects?
I use historical methods to study past efforts at government planning, with a particular focus on plans with environmental aspects. From drainage districts and watershed conservation districts in Manitoba, through the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, to the 1960s and 1970s concept of development as it played out on national and international scales, I am interested in how people have worked together through government authority to address perceived problems, whether human or environmental. I’m interested in the outcomes, both positive and negative, of these efforts. Who benefited? Who didn’t? What were the consequences for people and places?
JC: You can order a copy of the hard cover of Wet Prairie: People, Land and Water in Agricultural Manitoba from the UBC Press website.
In August 1880, a small group of men, called together by author and traveller Nathaniel Holmes Bishop, gathered by the shores of Lake George in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. For four days, those in attendance slept under canvas, discussed sailing and paddling techniques and technologies, and competed in canoeing races. In spite of the poor turnout (Bishop had predicted upwards of two hundred men would attend), the event was deemed a success, and the American Canoe Association (ACA) was born.
Despite its partisan name, from the outset, the ACA was envisioned as a transnational organization, open to Canadian and American enthusiasts. The organization used annual encampments to realize its goal of “unit[ing] all amateur canoeists for the purpose of pleasure, health, or exploration.” Although the initial plan was to hold the meetings on Lake George, the site quickly became impractical and, in 1882, the decision was made to take the show on the road, so to speak. Between 1883 and 1902, the yearly encampments moved between out-of-the-way, if not entirely wild sites in New York, Ontario, and New England. Destinations included Lake Champlain, Muskoka, the Hudson River, the St. Lawrence River, and Cape Cod. Growing concerns about financing a mobile encampment prompted the organization to purchase an island in the St. Lawrence in 1900, and in 1903 the organization moved the annual meeting to Sugar Island permanently. Members of the ACA continue to gather at Sugar Island, a stone’s throw away from Gananoque, ON, to this day.
My dissertation, which is being conducted at Carleton University under the supervision of John C. Walsh, is a postcolonial feminist examination of the annual meetings of the American Canoe Association from the organization’s founding until 1910. This was not my original dissertation project. When I began the PhD, I was exploring women’s varied encounters with canoes and canoeing between 1870 and World War II. However, as I got deeper into the research, I came to realize that it was impractical as a dissertation topic, not least because of its breadth. Around the same time, I was working on a chapter on the place of women at the annual encampments of the ACA, as well as a paper on mobilities at the annual meetings for the Environments of Mobility in Canada Workshop at Glendon College. As I wrote, I began to see the possibilities of looking closely at a single event held over a number of years at a variety of different locations. Much like the Industrial Exhibitions that are the subject of Keith Walden’s Becoming Modern, the annual meetings of the ACA were events with their own logics and rhythms. However, they were also deeply embedded in late-nineteenth-century middle-class culture. As such, they shed light on the important relationships between recreation, politics, economics, society, nature, and culture. That they took place at “natural” locations far from the urban centres that were at the heart of middle-class identity in this period made them all the more interesting to me.
The shape of the annual meetings provides the structure for the dissertation. In other words, I follow the organizers and attendees as they prepare for, travel to, and participate in the meets. The chapters are organized thematically, each focusing on a different practice that was central to encampment life: organizing, navigating, governing, inhabiting, competing, working, and documenting. My hope is that the final product will be a mediation on community, place, and the politics of everyday life in the Victorian era, with some snazzy photos of sailing canoes and “pimped out” tents thrown in!
One of the best parts of my research experience thus far has been the opportunity to travel to archives off the beaten path, but close to water. In August 2010, for example, I spent a week in Mystic, CT (home of Mystic Pizza) working at “the Museum of America and the Sea,” Mystic Seaport. When I wasn’t in the research centre, I was usually off exploring the coastline on one of the town’s free bicycles, watching the Bascule drawbridge or enjoying local seafood and beer. Another one of my favourite destinations is the New York State Historical Association Library in Cooperstown, NY. Not only does the reading room overlook beautiful Lake Otsego, but the local amenities include the Baseball Hall of the Fame, the Ommegang Brewery, and the Fennimore Art Gallery and Farm Museum. Add to these locations, Blue Mountain Lake in the Adirondacks, the Muskoka Lakes Museum in Port Carling, and the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, New York, and you have one happy paddlin’ scholar.
Jessica Dunkin is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Carleton University.
Landscapes, both their meanings and their physical substance, have always fascinated me. Their histories are layered and afford an opportunity for me to combine my interests in environmental history, cultural history, and the history of science and technology. A few years ago, having completed my Master’s project exploring the relationship between landscape representations and American tourism in the Eastern Townships of Quebec during the late nineteenth century, I wondered if there was a dissertation topic that would allow me to continue exploring the landscapes created out of the relationships between people and their surrounding physical environments.
As luck would have it, while mulling over possibilities, I passed by a local golf course in my hometown and was struck with an idea: golf courses have become an increasingly visible and environmentally significant landscape in Canada. I wondered what patterns and processes lay behind the establishment and expansion of these landscapes. My dissertation project began to take form and I have since come to realize that the history of golf course landscapes or golfscapes is a much more complex narrative than I originally imagined.
For almost five centuries, prior to golf’s 1873 organized debut in North America, the game developed its core socio-cultural and environmental attributes in the United Kingdom, especially in Scotland. It was this manifestation of golf that spread throughout the world, including North America. Between 1873 and 1945, North American golf transformed from a rudimentary game played on farmers’ fields to a well-recognized pastime able to draw memberships and tourists to a variety of clubs across the continent. In my dissertation, I bring together several key layers of the history of golfscapes to provide an overall account of why and how golf courses became a significant presence on the Canadian landscape. My research surveys golf’s expansion across the country; the connections among golf, tourism, and the development of the national parks in Canada; the evolution of golf course architecture; and the growth of golf course construction and maintenance products. Combined, these elements illustrate how golf courses in North America grew out of a long United Kingdom tradition, yet charted their own paths on this side of the Atlantic as a result of the game’s interaction with the unique socio-economic and physical environments found in Canada and wider North America.
As part of this analysis, I examine the relationships among urban development, transportation, and golf course relocation, which coincides with the expansion of (sub) urban developments across Canada as well as the growth of three types of golf courses: the private club, the municipal course, and the resort course. I consider the paradoxical relationship between the desire for and necessity of connectedness to urban centres and that of wanting to remain separate from such urban landscapes and technologies. I examine how golf became part of a meaningful tourist experience, promoted by Canadian Pacific Railway, the Canadian National Railway, and the federal government, and which expanded the nuanced understandings of nature promoted in national parks across the country.
Furthermore, I contend that golf architects, who worked on both sides of the Atlantic, combined in their course designs existing ways of experiencing nature with new, golf specific forms of conceiving human/nature relationships, that appeared as a result of interactions with the diverse physical environments encountered across North America. Golf architects pursued two overarching design principles: to make the golf courses aesthetically pleasing and strategically playful.
Finally, I consider how the tools and products (including soil, turf grass, fertilizers, pesticides, excavation machinery, irrigation systems, and mowing equipment) necessary to construct and maintain golfscapes in Canada relied heavily on the mobility of material and products within Canada and from international markets. Turf grass, a major concentration in the final section of my dissertation, provides an example of these connections, as the development of turf nurseries and organizations (like the Green Section of the United States Golf Association) became increasingly important throughout North America due to the realization of regional differences, which continued to augment the need for specific North American methods but also facilitated the movement of grass seeds around the world.
As with all landscapes, golf courses reflect the myriad of ways in which humans view and use the physical environments around them and, conversely, how those physical environments influence the ideas and activities of humans living, working, and relaxing in them. They are particular to time and place. Golfscapes represent specific ways that nature has been conceptualized, shaped, and experienced. They present a unique framework in which to explore the evolution of a particular way of viewing and interacting with nature that both reflects and highlights change within wider Canadian society.
Elizabeth Jewett is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Toronto.
Like many others who do 20th century history, I came to my subject out of a desire to know why things turned out the way they did in my own lifetime. And like everyone who writes history, I bring to it my own way of looking at the world. What those two things mean for me, in the midst of researching the history of environmentalism in Nova Scotia, is that I began with an observation of difference and I have carried out my research ever more as an inquiry into differences among environmentalists.
Difference was such an inspiring starting place only because there was supposed to have been so little of it among the first generation of Nova Scotian environmentalists. In the early 2000s, battles over wind farms and other technological cures for pressing problems visibly divided a provincial movement that claimed to have enjoyed a strong sense of unity through the industrial forestry campaigns of the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Activists could point for example to the herbicide trial of 1983, which prompted fund-raising efforts from Yarmouth to Sydney and collected plaintiffs with names like Francis, MacGillivray, Doucette, Googoo, Calvert, and Schneider, and mournfully wonder what had happened to their sense of common purpose. It seemed like the movement had found in climate change that “moral equivalent of war” for which it had searched so long, only to fall apart over the sense of urgency it demanded. I wanted to know why.
As it turns out, however, today’s divisions are there in the archives as well; the unity cry of the greens is a rhetorically useful but factually dubious bit of theatre. Looked at from a perspective that doesn’t extend a false recollection of unity into the past, the longest campaign ever fought by environmentalists is the one they have ceaselessly fought amongst themselves to define their own activities. The key question with research like mine then becomes simple: what was and is “environmentalism”? For years the movement has uncomfortably worn the mantle of middle-class reaction. Usually that means reaction to the modernist project. (Sometimes, it includes reaction to the work of nature itself, at least when environmental history remembers itself.) But it has become clearer with the piling up of work by Ramachandra Guha, Robert Gottlieb, Juan Martinez-Alier, and others over the last two decades that environmentalism is marked by diversity in its roots and branches both. My project therefore deals with the urban/rural divide, aboriginal environmental justice, the influence of scientific thinking, and political/economic power, among other themes, and how they all come together to fill the empty word, “environment,” with meaning.
Nova Scotia, aside from being the inspiration for my project, offers the perfect site for an investigation of environmental activism, one that can tell the story of life in Canada’s late 20th century environmental movement better than a national story can. It is big enough to support a diverse movement (a Canadian Environment Week newsletter published in 1981 lists 27 different environmental activist groups in the province), and small enough to study without omitting too many of the local actors. Since the 1970s, Nova Scotian environmentalists have also had close connections with Canadian, American, and European activists, as well as with the provincial and federal governments.
At the moment I am tracing the story of two periods of activist group formation, one in the early 1970s, partly in response to the provincial government’s attempt to build a 12,000 MW nuclear power station on a small south shore island in the middle of the richest lobster fishing area in the province, and another in the early 1980s, in response to increased use of pesticides in forestry and to an application by a French company to begin uranium mining. I hope in the end to be able to show how the negotiation of meaning in environmentalism by the “first wave” influenced the second, as well as how inevitable and valuable different definitions of environmentalism have been in the past, regardless of their being concealed and denied.
Mark Leeming is a Doctoral Candidate in the History Department at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
In September of 2008 the Canadian Coast Guard seized an American fishing vessel on the Grand Banks after aircraft on patrol spotted it fishing within the 200 mile limit of Canadian territorial seas. The rich history of international confrontation on these fishing grounds, among the most nutrient-rich and commercially productive tracts of marine real estate known to human history, and the lengthy process of articulating territorial limits between nations for the purposes of stewarding the resource and regulating its extraction would have made this episode interesting enough. However, this case would prove even more compelling because the vessel seized was the F/V Sea Hawk and the captain was best-selling author Linda Greenlaw, who was, at the time, also starring in the first season of the Discovery Channel’s reality series, Swords: Life on the Line. Despite her literary successes Greenlaw is probably most famous for having been depicted in the film version of Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.
Rather than seize (so to speak) a golden opportunity to present the “reality” of the modern international fishery, both the Discovery Channel and Greenlaw, who authored a book about the same voyage, opted instead to regale their audiences with familiar, even somewhat tired, stories of man battling the elements, facing down the specter of bankruptcy, and overcoming personal demons like self-doubt, age, and inexperience. In fact, Original Productions, which also produced the successful series The Deadliest Catch, edited out the entire episode of Greenlaw’s seizure, arrest, and arraignment and any mention of it that may have come later. Greenlaw told interviewers that the incident could not be shown for legal reasons, but that she would deal with it in her book. Granted, it’s more of a book about her than about fishing, but her treatment of the seizure incident, in Seaworthy, is primarily restricted to her effort to reconcile her transgression of international law with her “goody goody” self image. There is no discussion of why such laws exist or the politics of enforcing them. Oddly, Greenlaw doesn’t mention anywhere in the chronicle of her voyage that there was even a camera crew on board. So the cameras won’t show us the seizure and Greenlaw won’t show us the cameras!
While no one seems interested in contextualizing it, Greenlaw’s seizure is only the latest in a nearly two century long tug-of-war over resource management in the North Atlantic fisheries. My research looks at the efforts on the part of the fishermen, scientists, politicians, and diplomats to manage fisheries in the U.S. and Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The vessel seizure, it turns out, has been a brilliant lens through which to do so. As Karl Jacoby finds in the Adirondacks, law making and law breaking can tell us a great deal about the relationships between humans and nature because such episodes create collisions between the “inarticulate” classes of resource users and the hyper-literate classes of lawyers, judges, politicians, and diplomats. Fishermen’s transgressions were occasioned by depositions and testimony in which they describe the nature of the fishery and their place in it to those who would arbitrate questions of law. And within management regimes, wardens, officers, and overseers communicated their movements and activities to their superiors along with their observations and opinions on the efficacy of the existing structure of institutions and practices. Correspondence between regulatory bureaucracies in adjacent jurisdictions illuminate the struggles of regulating access to species that migrate freely across jurisdictional boundaries—particularly complicated when such jurisdictions are also divided by international borders. While the modern press labeled Greenlaw everything from a poacher to an environmental terrorist to a swordfish serial killer, you can but imagine the rhetoric of the notably vitriolic press of the late nineteenth century on the occasion of similar incidents.
Environmental history is just beginning its movement offshore. Just as the stories our popular culture feeds us about the fishery tend toward the simplistic and sensational, much of the early work on the oceans has come out of the same tradition of quantification that has guided our management approaches in recent decades. While valuable, this inevitable, and somewhat predictable, tale of depletion and decline from unimaginable abundance to dire scarcity reinforces a fallacy that resource management is, at best, a twentieth century creation. The story I tell not only places earlier management regimes under the microscope, exposing them to the kind of scrutiny that will enable us to refine and perfect them, it provides some context for the statistical portrayals. Catch statistics are as much social as they are biological. They are created, compiled, reported, archived, and referenced by people with varying sets of motivations and objectives. Catch is not a reflection of how many fish existed in a given place at a given time. Even in the nineteenth century complex webs of laws were debated, passed, enforced, and broken that dictated where fishermen could be, when they could be there, what they could take, and what they could use to take it. The tales of decline are not wrong. But to tell them with the context edited out is irresponsible. My work looks to bring us closer to understanding the reality of past marine ecosystems and their users.
Robert Gee is a PhD candidate at the University of Maine. He is also a 2011-2012 Fulbright Scholar at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.