"Unpacking" Atlantic Canada: Identities, Boundaries, Economies
From April 30-May 3, 2009, scholars of Atlantic Canada gathered at the University of Prince Edward Island for the 18th Atlantic Canada Studies Conference. Held every two years, the conference provides the opportunity for academics, public historians, researchers, students and interested members of the community to come together and discuss the Atlantic region. This year’s conference was titled “Unpacking” Atlantic Canada: Identities, Boundaries, Economies.” This theme asked participants to contemplate how the notion of “region” has been negotiated and defined in relation to the national and international context. As the Call for Papers indicated, the conference sought papers that explored “experiences and representations within the region that hinge on dichotomies – urban/rural, modern/anti-modern, progressive/conservative, truth/fiction.” As a result, the final program for the conference produced a wide scope of panels that problematized the concept of region through a variety of lenses that included the burgeoning area of environmental and landscape history of the region, political culture, religion and faith, poetry and fiction, education, and masculinities.
Highlights of the conference included a panel on the environmental history of the region. Titled “Environmental History in Atlantic Canada: Surveying the Landscape,” the session was chaired by Dalhousie Professor Claire Campbell. Panelists included Robert Summerby-Murray, Alan MacEachern, and Sharon Weaver, all of whom addressed the ongoing evolution of environmental historiography in the region. Perhaps most importantly, the panel addressed emerging areas of research in this area, and possible avenues for future research.
Robert Summerby-Murray, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Mount Allison University, spoke about new possibilities for re-framing the way environmental history has been conceptualized. Pointing to various examples, Summerby-Murray suggested that we must undertake a more interdisciplinary approach by looking to the work of indigenous scholars, for example, to expand the ways in which environmental history has been approached. Looking to other disciplines would help uncover new methodologies and approaches to the subject matter. Summerby-Murray also pointed to the need for new environmental publications that explored issues such as the history of water, resource management policy and the law, as well as the urban landscape and corporate engagement with the environment.
University of Western Ontario professor Alan MacEachern spoke about the need to preserve the material traces of the past. Providing a poignant example about the preservation of forests that had captured evidence of the Great Miramichi Fire, MacEachern demonstrated why it is critical for researchers to take an active role in safeguarding those tangible remnants that can help us to better understand various aspects of environment history.
University of Guelph doctoral candidate Sharon Weaver discussed the critical connections between the environment and protest through her exploration of the “back to the land” phenomena. Comparing the experiences of those back-to-the-landers on both the east and west coasts, Weaver pointed to the importance of making national comparisons. Her research highlights exciting new directions for environmental history that documents issues of environmental protest and conflict.
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