CHESS 2020: Call for Participants ~ Deadline Jan 10

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Drilling Down into 19th-Century Energy History: Canadian History & Environment Summer School (CHESS) 2020

29-31 May 2020

**Deadline for Applications: 10 January 2020**

Host Institution: Western University

The Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE) and Western University are pleased to invite applications for the Canadian History & Environment Summer School (CHESS) in London, Ontario, 29-31 May 2020. CHESS is an annual event that brings together graduate students, faculty, and other researchers in the fields of environmental history and historical geography for two and a half days of field trips, workshops, public lectures, networking, and more.

CHESS 2020 participants will reflect on the impact that energy production and use have had on human and non-human history. Southwestern Ontario’s nineteenth-century oil industry will figure prominently in CHESS 2020. The communities of Oil Springs and Petrolia were home to Canada’s first commercial oil industries in the 1860s. Commercial oil production modified the region’s political, economic, environmental, and cultural landscapes. The population boomed during the early oil rush, as optimistic investors and businessmen flocked to the area. The region’s oil production grew considerably in these years. Between the 1860s and early 1900s, Petrolia provided 90 percent of Canadian oil. While no longer the epicentre of Canada’s oil industry, both Oil Springs and Petrolia continue to produce oil today.

Arriving on Friday May 29, participants will attend a keynote address from Brian Black, Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania Altoona, an expert on the nineteenth-century oil industry in nearby Pennsylvania. He will speak on “Petrolias, Then & Now: Exploring Change & Continuity in the Ethics of Extraction.” On Saturday May 30, we will travel to Oil Springs and Petrolia, Ontario for a full-day field trip. Charlie Fairbank – the fourth-generation owner of Fairbank Oil – will guide us on a tour of his property. Fairbank Oil has been in operation since 1861 and continues to use nineteenth century equipment to extract 24,000 barrels of crude oil from its 300 wells each year. Participants will also visit the Oil Museum of Canada to learn more about the region’s oil history.

On Sunday May 31, the University of Toronto’s Ruth Sandwell, a specialist on energy and everyday life in Canada, will deliver a keynote on “Fear & Anxiety on the Energy Frontier:  Understanding Women’s Early Encounters with Fossil Fuels.” This will be followed by a session relating historical to contemporary oil production in Canada. CHESS will conclude with a workshop coordinated with the Canadian Historical Association, exploring the intersections between public history and environmental history. How can environmental historians engage in controversial or difficult environmental issues? How might they teach academic and non-academic audiences about the environmental past through public history? What strategies can museums use to better promote environmental content?

Participant space for CHESS 2020 is limited. To apply, please complete the online form at the link below by 10 January 2020. The application requires just contact info, a statement explaining how your research or teaching interests align with CHESS 2020’s theme, and a short CV. All applicants will be notified as to acceptance soon after. Depending on funds raised, faculty members may be asked to pay a registration fee of approximately $100 but graduate student registration will be free. Funds are also being sought to provide graduate students with some travel funding. If you have any questions, please contact the organizers Blake Butler ( or Alan MacEachern (

CHESS 2020 Application Form

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M. Blake Butler

I am an Ottawa-based historian. Much of my research examines Canadian and environmental histories, with an emphasis on winter-based topics. My doctoral dissertation examined the history of snow in Vancouver between the mid-nineteenth century and the end of the twentieth century. I am also currently employed as a historical researcher at Know History. I can be reached at

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