In the past twenty years, Departments of History across Canada have pivoted towards researching and teaching a more global history. The Canadian Historical Association has been slow to follow. What do we as an association need to do to build relationships with non-Canadianists teaching at Canadian universities? How might our annual conference open outward to the world in future years?
Juanitas De Barros, Meredith Terretta, Wendell Adjetey, Twisha Singh, Paula Hastings.
Chair: Alexandre Dubé
On Wednesday, January 18, six historians sat down to discuss a more global Canadian Historical Association, one that reflects the CHA’s mandate to be an association for all historians in Canada, not just historians of Canada. Dr. Alexandre Dubé of l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi chaired the digital roundtable, with participants Dr. Juanita de Barros from McMaster University, Dr. Meredith Terretta from the University of Ottawa, Twisha Singh from McGill University, Dr. Paula Hastings from the University of Toronto, and Dr. Wendell Adjetey from McGill University. Alexandre Dubé began by reminding us this is an old issue for the CHA, one which goes back as far back as the 1930s.
Juanita De Barros noted that, like many of her colleagues, her work has moved away from focusing on a single geographic area – in De Barros’s case, Georgetown, Guyana – to broader topics on women, race, class, gender, and health. De Barros’s interests over the past few decades have made her a much more regional and comparative historian. The historical questions De Barros is interested in cannot be answered just by looking at one colony, or even a group of colonies. Regarding the CHA, De Barros meditated on a recent experience presenting at the CHA last spring – if the work in question had not had a Canadian component, would she have presented this work to the CHA? She figured probably not, and the CHA should think about how to attract comparative histories that do not include Canada to its annual meetings.
Meredith Terretta said she also trained with a narrow geographical focus, equatorial Africa, where the local was strongly emphasized. But since 2010, all her work has incorporated some kind of border crossing. At the University of Ottawa, Terretta and her colleagues offer third and fourth year “History Across Borders” seminars, which are run every semester by a different professor who brings their own thematic foci. Terretta said it is hard to categorize these courses, but it is important to not simply gather them under “Other,” which, she argued, is not an identity, but a label applied by someone who is not whatever they are labelling.
Twisha Singh brought an international student perspective to the conversation, arguing the importance of including more “non-Canadianists” in the CHA. International students, she argued, talk to their experiences, so how can they further their career aspirations as being part of the CHA? She has been working with the CHA to include more international student voices, because presently, international students are not engaging with student committees or CHA workshops. One remedy was, Singh argued, to seek contact persons in different universities to reach out to international students and let them know the CHA represents all history students. The CHA must make it clear it is a global platform.
Paula Hastings questioned how the CHA was engaging beyond Canada, since for several years, there has been a robust and growing interest in situating different aspects of Canadian history in global contexts. One way to assess how well the CHA was diversifying geographically was to analyse the kinds of research being conducted and presented at the CHA’s Annual Conference. Hastings examined Annual Conference programs from 2015, 2017, and 2019, to quantify the contributions of individuals affiliated with non-Canadian institutions in panels, roundtables, keynotes, and poster presentations, and by looking at papers presented on topics without a Canadian element in traditional panels only. While noting her study is informal and not methodologically rigorous, Terretta discovered that in all cases, fewer than 20 per cent of contributions – in one case, only five per cent – were not about Canada. As a Canadian historian, Hastings wondered if there were ways to bring in scholars with thematic synergies, maybe through calls for papers and by encouraging transnational and thematic panels.
Finally, Wendell Adjetey argued the CHA is perfectly positioned to push boundaries in very serious geographic ways, and in ways that would allow for incorporating other historians and students with other experiences. One of the key takeaways Adjetey took from writing his book is the large contribution African peoples have made to globalizing Canada. But Canada, Adjetey noted, takes immigrants from across Asia, the Mideast, and Latin America, but much less so Africa, despite it being the fastest growing territory in the world. He asked what kind of blind spots might arise from this? How do we reckon with some of these trends, knowing the history, the connections between the British Empire and Africa, and the fact Canada still remains, in some ways, a crown jewel in that empire.
Following the individual presentations, the panellists and the audience discussed strategies around making the CHA a more global institution, and one that reflects the diverse, globally focused history happening in Canada today.
The recording of the roundtable is now available on the CHA’s YouTube channel.