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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Obviously thanks to everyone who has made NiCHE such success so far. And thanks too to the great people who tried to make the Canada and the Anthropocene proposal such a success (It was a great proposal). I guess I will go out on a limb and ask whether it is time to think about creating a membership based learned society with a modest annual fee, a board etc. Of course, this would not preclude people from going for something like the partnership grant to help fund NiCHE activities. But would a membership fee – small for graduate students and sliding scale for those with a steady income – proved the base needed to continue NiCHE’s activities over the long term? I am not sure I know the answer to this question, but maybe it is worth thinking about. I am not sure centering things around a conference and journal is the best way to go. The core of NiCHE is public outreach and networking through web-based activities and workshop events like CHESS. I think it will be hard to get SSHRC a funding for this kind of stuff now, and the partnership was veering to a more traditional research project structure. Would membership fees allow us at least a base level of stability to keep on keeping on…?
Thanks for getting things started Alan and John. A membership fee is worthwhile considering. I guess the obvious next question is what we want to keep funding and whether a fee could cover some or all of the costs. The actual website is cheap, but there are associated costs and it would be great if we could continue paying some honorariums to graduate students. CHESS is more expensive, but we could work to reduce costs. What else should we aim to do as a network?
I think a membership fee is something we should consider as we begin to think about a new structure for NiCHE.
Over the past couple of years and during the “Canada in the Anthropocene” PG proposal project we had a chance to come up with a good list of core NiCHE activities. This included the digital infrastructure (website, podcast, blog, etc…), regional networks (TEHN, PEN, HEAR, EH-SO, Arpents, etc…), CHESS, and the Canadian History and Environment book series. It is time again to think about what NiCHE activities should continue and what combination of funding and volunteerism is necessary to sustain those activities. I think discussing a membership fee and a new governance structure is a good idea, but we should also remember the key role of individual volunteers in building and maintaining NiCHE.
I will echo the suggestion and comments made thus far advocating for a membership fee or something similar. I would, however, caution that the fees should be extremely low or not applicable to our undergraduate and graduate students. From my observation, much of the growth of NiCHE was driven by the passions of who were then graduate student volunteers.
If we are to see the same progress moving forward we will want to remove any barriers from the next cohort of students, much as the founding scholars did for us.
Alan et al.- congrats on the birthday. It is worthy of a significant celebration!
Don, I heartily agree. NiCHE 1.0 was an open and welcoming group when I was a graduate student. I would like to retain that quality.
I think Jim’s point is important. What do you want to do? What does that cost?