Nature | History | Society Fall Event: Liza Piper on Disease in Canada’s North

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Professor Liza Piper from the Department of History & Classics at the University of Alberta came to UBC for the Nature|History|Society fall event. Graduate students and faculty gathered for a special Q&A seminar on Dr. Piper’s new book The Industrial Transformation of Subarctic Canada. The following day, Dr. Piper delivered a research lecture on her new work on disease in the Canadian North. For those unable to attend this event, NiCHE has archived Dr. Piper’s lecture, it is embedded below.

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Abstract: Socio-ecological interconnections between northern environments and more temperate latitudes have deep historical roots. This talk will present an overview of the disease experiences of northern peoples, beginning in the late nineteenth century, to expose the physical and social connections binding Arctic and Subarctic environments to other places in the world. It will focus in on a case study to illuminate these ties: a 1949 poliomyelitis outbreak in Chesterfield Inlet on the western shore of Hudson Bay. The outbreak received international attention given that it occurred as poliomyelitis was reaching a global epidemic peak. The role of medical researchers in the outbreak offers an opportunity to connect the significance of the physical agents of disease and environmental change in the North with interpretations of this socio-ecological space as historically isolated beyond the reach of global forces. Scientists who arrived in Chesterfield Inlet did not see the outbreak of poliomyelitis as revealing the realities of modern life in the North, but rather as signaling the distance of local Inuit populations from modernity.

Bio: Liza Piper is an assistant professor of history in the Department of History & Classics at the University of Alberta.

Featured image: Open water lead above Canada, Arctic Ocean, 2013. Photo by NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

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Sean Kheraj

Associate Professor and Vice-Provost Academic at Toronto Metropolitan University
Sean Kheraj is a member of the executive committee of the Network in Canadian History and Environment. He's an associate professor in the Department of History and Vice-Provost Academic at Toronto Metropolitan University. His research and teaching focuses on environmental and Canadian history. He is also the host and producer of Nature's Past, NiCHE's audio podcast series and he blogs at

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