NiCHE ~ Succession

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September 21, 2004 could reasonably be called the day that both my daughter Sadie and NiCHE were born. Picture the scene: A newly-assembled crib in one corner of the room. Me frantically finishing the grant application, due that day, which spoke of the network for the first time. There is moaning in the background, and me yelling over my shoulder, “Last paragraph, dear!” But Sadie, as she would do so many times subsequently, interrupted my work, and it would be a colleague who ended up forging my signature, I guess, and submitting the grant.

Happy 10th birthday to NiCHE and Sadie.

NiCHE, like Sadie, has had a great first ten years. We have built a close-knit community of hundreds of members. We have moved forward the discipline of Canadian environmental history / historical geography, and strengthened the field’s national and international profile. We maintain one of the most active digital presences of any Canadian scholarly group or any environmental history group anywhere. I look around our website and whether it’s Nature’s Past, The Otter, the instructional resources and tools for students and scholars, the 5 regional networks, the 37 archived projects, the 61 archived events, or what have you, I see lots of evidence of a highly successful, highly active community. I want to acknowledge the large and too-often unseen part played in the network’s management by the NiCHE Executive – Laura Cameron, Stéphane Castonguay, Colin Coates, Matthew Evenden, Liza Piper, Bill Turkel, and Graeme Wynn – and many others who have worked closely with NiCHE over the years – including Jennifer Bonnell, Claire Campbell, Jim Clifford, Adam Crymble, Jessica DeWitt, Sean Kheraj, Josh MacFadyen, and Jessica Van Horssen – but ultimately I could, and should, acknowledge all our members, all those who have participated in our events or projects, or on our website. NiCHE has existed because we have seen value in its existence.

NiCHE’s success resulted in and in turn has greatly benefited from the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s Strategic Knowledge Clusters program. Because three successive SSHRC awards have made up so much of our budget, and because the team of applicants was financially responsible for the awards granted, the grants essentially determined NiCHE’s administrative structure. With the major, seven-year Clusters grant coming to an end in 2015 – and with the Clusters program itself no more – some senior NiCHE members (myself a co-applicant) applied this year to the SSHRC Partnership program. We recently learned that application was unsuccessful. As a result, there is a clear need and opportunity for NiCHE to renew or even reinvent itself in 2015, with a new administrative structure and a new vision.

I am confident about NiCHE’s future because there remains not just lots to do, but lots of us doing it. An editorial collective currently consisting of Jim Clifford, Sean Kheraj, Daniel MacFarlane, and Josh MacFadyen have assumed responsibility for our website. The Canadian History & Environment series has published two books so far and there are seven more in development. Before CHESS 2014 was over, there were volunteers to host CHESS 2015. Folks are starting to dig into the Environment Canada archival collection now at Western; more on that on our website soon. We have the same motivations and many of the same opportunities to develop NiCHE as we have had all along.

I have said for years that I would not lead a NiCHE 2.0, because it is important that whoever is willing to take over knows they will have full latitude and receive full credit for doing so. I will stay on as NiCHE director and administer the remaining Cluster funds until July 2015, when I go on sabbatical. But beyond that point the structure and leadership of NiCHE is wide open. I want to encourage the community to discuss what form the network should take. Our website is open to you to do so, of course, and I will also make available some Cluster funds to foster that discussion, either piggybacking an existing event or in a standalone one.

Since its birth NiCHE has benefited by its association with an ecological term. It’s time we apply ourselves to another such term: succession.

I am happy to talk more, on- or offline, about any of this. Bye for now, and happy birthday.

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I am a Professor in the Department of History at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada. I was Director of NiCHE, 2004-15. You can reach me at amaceach@uwo.ca.

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