By: Meg Beaton
The two day event brought faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, researchers and members of the public together to discuss and chart new directions in environmental history of Atlantic Canada. Organized by the Historians of the Environment of the Atlantic Region (HEAR), and generously supported by the Network for Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE), the Colloquium was an opportunity to exchange ideas about emerging areas of, and approaches to, research. The event also provided attendees with the opportunity to prioritize research areas and a forum to discuss future projects for HEAR and scholars working in this area.
On September 17, 2009, Dr. Graeme Wynn, Professor of Geography at the University of British Columbia and world renowned historical geographer delivered the opening 2009-10 MacKay Lecture. As part of the Ganong Colloquium, Dr. Wynn’s talk provided an intriguing overview of environmental history in Atlantic Canada. Titled “Sustainability and Resilience in Atlantic Canada: A Long View,” Dr. Wynn’s lecture emphasized the relevance of historical knowledge in the way that we assess and approach the environmental past of the region. Using ten examples from the region, Dr. Wynn traced various environmental issues from the end of the 17th century with a window into the experiences of First Nations people, through to current issues with a discussion about Cape Breton’s Tar Ponds.
The Colloquium also brought scholars, researchers and the public together in a forum held on September 18, 2009. This round-table discussion was successful in clearly defining HEAR’s research and project priorities. It also provided an opportunity for scholars to define new directions and teaching methods. Leading this discussion was Dalhousie University’s Claire Campbell. An executive of HEAR, Dr. Campbell lead off the day’s conversation by summarizing HEAR’s activities over the past year. In addition, several attendees noted upcoming events that would be of interest to the group including the following:
1. Professor Steven Mannell noted that the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada will be holding its 2010 meeting on May 26-29 in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and there is space for a panel or presence about historical landscapes.
2. Dr. Edward MacDonald announced that the University of Prince Edward Island will host an environmental history conference titled “Timescapes: Environmental Histories, Environmental Futures, and Prince Edward Island.” The conference will feature plenary lectures, field trips and workshops and will take place June 13-18, 2010.
3. UNB doctoral candidate Mark McLaughlin announced that he was proposing a panel on the environmental history of the Atlantic Region as part of the Learned, taking place in 2010 in Montreal. He is looking for proposals from people to fit within this year’s theme of "Telling Stories/Storytelling". Those interested in this panel are invited to send a proposal to Mark within the next few weeks at email@example.com
Attendees also discussed various options for holding the Canadian History and Environment Summer Schools (CHESS) in 2011 when the Learneds take place at the University of New Brunswick.
Dr. Campbell and Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray also took this opportunity to officially announce that Acadiensis Press has agreed to publish a collection of essays on the environmental history of Atlantic Canada. The project will be headed by Dr. Campbell and Dr. Summerby-Murray who will edit the collection. The Call for Papers for the project will be circulated in the next few weeks. Discussion took place about various ways to organize the publication, including structuring the publication around the four elements (Air, Water, Wind and Fire), or other organizing themes such as Sustainability and Ecologies and Human Adjustment.
The round-table also explored the idea of proposing a course on environmental history. This course is being envisioned as a possible team-taught cross-linked course offered through several universities. Suggestions for the curriculum included e-lectures and video/audio link-up for students and faculty participating at different university locations. John Sandlos is heading up a group to discuss these ideas and the possibility of proposing a teaching collaboration on the environmental history of the region. Those interested in this initiative are invited to get in touch with Dr. Sandlos at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. John Sandlos and Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray also made presentations to the group about new areas of research in Atlantic Canada environmental history. Dr. Sandlos focused his talk on opening up lines of communication between universities and students through e-lectures and e-networking. He noted that he has had success with expanding into different methods of teaching, including the assignment of podcasts to students and the use of YouTube videos as ways to disseminate knowledge about the region. Dr. Sandlos also pointed to certain areas where there is a dearth of research that needed to be explored, including the history of urban environments, natural disasters, military, and the Atlantic North. Dr. Summerby-Murray noted that it was critical to situate Atlantic Canada environmental history within a broader and theoretically engaged context. Primary areas of research that researchers need to focus on include human responses to environmental actions, and exploring areas such as the steel industry and urban development and place this research within larger issues of culture and regional development. In addition, Dr. Summerby-Murray advocated a need to return to older texts in order to re-categorize and use older researcher as environmental texts to incorporate this work into a broader historiography of the region.
Following the morning meeting, the delegates adjourned to a fabulous tour of Point Pleasant park, led by Halifax Regional Municipality landscape architect Stewart MacMillan. During this visit to the park, HEAR members were able to view 18th century earthworks as well as sites of park restoration after 2003 Hurricane Juan.
Photo Credit: "Halifax Clock Tower" by Reto Fetz.
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