Reflection: 2016 Accomplishments

1469923511-mc-hp-1For the past few years I’ve reflected on my professional practice and accomplishments at the end of the year.  I’m going to continue that tradition with this blog post albeit in a slightly more list based format than the reflective posts I’ve done in the past.

In 2016 I did a lot of things including:

Talks and Presentations

  • In March I spoke as part of aFinding the Embedded Archivist” panel at the National Council for Public History annual meeting in Baltimore, MD.
  • This year I provided instructional programming to over 1,250 people.  The bulk of these instruction sessions related to residential schools, the history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School, and reconciliation.  However a handful were also related to teaching about archives and archival literacy.
    • As part of this work I’ve taken a serious look at how I present residential school history and revamped my instruction practices to make sure I’m giving priority to Indigenous voices.

Committee Work

  • I was appointed as the co-chair of the membership committee for the National Council on Public History
  • In August I was appointed to the Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives (SCCA) – Response to the Report on the Truth and Reconciliation Task Force.   I am really honoured to be part of this committee and engaged in this important work relating to Indigenous communities and archives.

Outreach

  • I started seriously editing Wikipedia.  This was a bit of a rabbit hole for me – it initially started as a way to expand some of the archival outreach I do and evolved into a hobbie and something I really enjoy. I also organized a small edit-a-thon at Algoma University geared toward increasing content relating to Indigenous women on Wikipedia.
  • I spearheaded the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre’s contributions to the Archives of Ontario Family Ties: Ontario Turns 150 exhibition.
  • I curated and co-curated a number of smaller scale exhibitions on campus including one about local author Brian Vallée, and one focusing on Indigenous Women Activists and the Water Walk movement.
  • I setup and have been maintaining social media accounts for the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. I also learned a bit more about different tools to help schedule and manage this outreach work.

Self-Care and Other Priorities

  • I kept with my commitment to make my physical health a priority.  I’ve been consistent in going to the gym on a regular basis and have been trying to eat better.
  • After much years of debate my partner and I made a decision to move.  We’ve bought and house and will be moving in 2017.  This move will mean I’m much closer to my work, it will cut down my commute significantly, and result in me getting to spend more time with my daughter.
  • I’ve been meeting regularly as part of two writing groups – an academic one (online) and a non-fiction group.  Both of these have been key in keeping me motivated on some ongoing projects.
  • In November I was honured to stand beside my sister as during her wedding.
  • I’m raising a funny, energy filled 2 year old who can identify Doctor Who on my t-shirts and who loves playing tea time.

At the end of 2016 I am very grateful for great colleagues, a community of public historians who energize and inspire, and challenging conversations.   Onward.

Service, Professional Development and Privilege

coffee-break-1177540_960_720I’ve been thinking a lot about service expectations, professional development opportunities and privilege.  A lot has been written on the connection of conference attendance and privilege, conferences are expensive to attend and in the academic world that you often essentially pay to present your research.  If you’re lucky enough to have a job that includes a professional development fund your travel and attendance might be covered but for many individuals these expenses come out of pocket.  I’m very lucky (and privileged) to work in a place that has consistently supported my participation in conferences. I also have the time and financial stability to be able to attend professional development events and serve on professional committees without putting myself at financial risk.

I still think conferences can be valuable and have the potential to offer opportunities for connections with colleagues and skill building.  I really look forward to the NCPH annual conference for this very reason and I have been on the organizing committee of a handful of conferences. However there definitely needs to be a more open dialogue about the financial challenges associated with attendance that is faced by students, early career professionals, and those in positions of precarious employment. In the academic world there is a huge sense of urgency that you need to build your CV by presenting at conferences but the very people who most need to build their CV through conference presentations are the ones who can least afford it.  This sense of urgency is perhaps not a potent in the Canadian archives and library field but it is definitely still there – especially if you want to open career possibilities.

It’s important for conference organizers to think about what financial barriers their registration fees, hotel choices, and funding options place on attendance.  Room sharing, attending smaller regional conferences, and other creative cost saving approaches can help on an individual level.  As someone who lives in a region that rarely holds conferences related to my profession I understand the very real expenses associated with traveling for professional development.  But this is a discussion we need to be having on a larger scale and is something we need to consider when running events.  Creating opportunities for digital professional development, informal networking meetups, or running shorter less expensive single day events is one way to help with this.  Similarly, joining planning committees and organizational committees where you can bring concerns and alternative suggestions can help.

Conferences are expensive to run, I get that. But there also needs to be a way that we can acknowledge the implicit privilege of conference attendance and work to create more inclusive spaces.  This is particularly important for public historians and heritage professionals who work with communities and want to cultivate more community involvement.  If we want to build meaningful collaboration and diversify our profession we need to create spaces for that to happen.

Remember the Children and Canada’s History

I recently wrote a piece for the Canada’s History website about the Remember the Children: Photograph Identification Project that was started by the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  This is a project that is near and dear to my heart.  It is one of the initiatives that made me realize the importance of community involvement in residential school archives, the power of images, and the many harsh realities of the intergenerational trauma.

Through this project the SRSC and CSAA have worked to connect communities and survivors with residential schools photographs and to identify people in residential school photographs.  Having the opportunity to work with survivors and communities on this project has been a humbling and eye opening experience that I am very fortunate to have worked on.

Closure of Smith Museum of Stained Glass

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Revised Prompt: What heritage sites have you discovered this year that you love? Tell us all about them, and why you love them. 

One of my favourite trips this year was to Chicago and included a number of heritage sites.  The built heritage in Chicago is beautiful and I enjoyed learning about how the city developed and the mixture of architecture styles that developed as a result of continuous development after devastating fires in the city.

One of the smallest heritage sites I visited this year was the Smith Museum of Strained Glass Windows in Chicago.  This unique site featured over 150 stained glass windows many of which were originally housed in buildings in Chicago.  I found the contrast of the beautiful old stained glass with the modern, tourist location on Navy Pier particularly striking.

When looking up the link for this post I discovered that in October 2014, two months after my visit, the Smith Museum closed and the stained glass was all boxed up and removed from Navy Pier.  The Pier is undergoing renovations and ‘needed’ the museum space for planned new attractions.  At this point the collection of stained glass does not have a home. There are tentative plans to have some of the works exhibited in public spaces, but no signs of a dedicated space for the entire collection.  The Smith Museum was unique in its location and was the largest exhibition of stained glass in North America, its closure is a huge loss to the heritage and stained glass art community.

Archival Community

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Prompt: Ah ha moment: Did you have an “ah ha” moment this year? Was it a big one? Or just a small enlightenment?

I changed roles in late 2013 to move from an archives technician position to a researcher/curator role.  I have enjoyed the new challenges that the researcher/curator job brought and the new relationships I was able to build with local and national art communities.  However, this year I realized that though I enjoy project management and working on community inspired art projects I was missing the time I had previously spent immersed in archives. 

This ah ha moment inspired me to reconnect with the archival world.  Presenting at this year’s Archives Association of Ontario conference, participating in SNAP Roundtable twitter chats, and reconnecting with archival literature helped return me to the archival sphere. Living in a very small city that does not have a wealth of heritage professionals has made me more aware of the need to build supportive professional networks and communities.  Many of the people I consider colleagues and who I turn to for advice live miles away and work in a range of different public history and archival settings.  

Community and Student Supervision

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt: Victory Laps: What was your biggest accomplishment this year? 

I was fortunate to be part of many great projects this year.  Being part of the effort to bring Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS) to Sault Ste Marie was a humbling and amazing experience.  WWOS is a commemorative art installation honoring missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the United States.  The project is community and ceremony driven.  It was inspiring to see so many people in Sault Ste Marie work together on the project and so many people visit the installation.  I learned a lot during this project and had the privilege of working with a great group of community volunteers.

This past year I also had the opportunity to supervise a fourth year undergraduate history thesis.  The student’s thesis focused on the early years of the Shingwauk Residential School.  Acting as a supervisor was an extremely rewarding experience.  The sense of community amongst the supervisors and thesis students was inspiring and allowed for many a good historical debate. 

Being able to see a student work their way through an idea, background research, archival research, and the writing of a thesis was a unique experience that I am glad I had the opportunity to be part of. Having the chance to talk about writing strategies, research methods, and archival research with people who are just as enthusiastic about history is always a great thing. 

From Pulp and Paper to Community Hub

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt is: When did you feel beautiful this year? Why? Altered prompt: Discuss a beautiful heritage project or site from the past year.



St Marys Pulp and Paper Complex

One of the most inspiring revitalization projects in my community this past year has been the transformation of the St. Mary’s Paper Mill site. Initially known as the Sault Ste. Marie Pulp and Paper Company, which was built by Francis H. Clergue in 1895, the site remained operational until St. Mary’s Paper went bankrupt in 2011. A shot history of the pulp and paper industry in Sault Ste Marie can be found here.

Riversedge Developments purchased the site in 2012 and since that time the site has undergone significant revitalization. Much of the unique architecture found on the site has been preserved and there are plans for the site to be developed as a cultural and tourism hub.

The first phase of the project has seen the opening of the Mill Market in the former Board Mill Building, the former machine shop being developed as a concert venue, and the Algoma Conservatory of Music moving into the old administration building.

The site is being used for both public and private events and is slowly integrating itself into community life. It is great to see the revitalization of this industrial site and the preservation of such an important piece of heritage. Overall this is a great example of adaptive reuse of an industrial heritage site.

Interactive Libraries: the New Halifax Central Library

Image from Wikimedia Commons, Citobun

The Current on CBC has been running a series recently focused on all elements of design.  By Design looks at traditional design as well as new technologies, education practices, and other human constructed ideas that shape our world.  This week By Design featured a segment on designing libraries in a digital era.

The feature focused on the design of the new Halifax Central Library.  Set to open in the fall of 2014 the library is the first of scale to be built in Canada in many years.  The library features gaming stations, meetings rooms, community spaces, cafes, and takes the approach of libraries as gathering spaces and communal spaces of knowledge.

The discussion questioned the future of libraries and placed libraries as much more than a place for books, but as an actively engaged center of a community. This sense of community engagement was integrated into the design process for the Halifax Library. Five public consultations were held which invited Halifax residents to provide input on the design and components of the library. Many of these sessions were interactive.  For example in 2008 library patrons were asked to write down what they wanted in a new library on a ‘graffiti wall.’

Interactive events including knit-ins, talking fences, and community art projects are other examples of the Halifax Library already beginning to engage the community through non-traditional means. The library is position itself as a welcoming multipurpose environment that encourage conversation.

It is great to see such a large scale library project being funded and supported by a community.  As the library opens it will be interesting to hear feedback from the community and see how this new community oriented space is being used.  

For those interested in checking out the design of the new Halifax Central Library a virtual tour is available:

Community Conversations and Libraries

Earlier this week I attended a music night at my local public library.  The night featured a couple of local musicians as well as Tenpenny Bit a traditional music group from out of town.  The evening was free to attend (but a number of people did give small donations), included a couple of hours of good music, conversation, and snacks.  The event was well attended and made me think about the relationship between libraries, art, and communities.

When I first moved to Northern Ontario I remember being baffled by the fact that the library wasn’t open all the time.  The town I grew up in wasn’t huge but it had enough people and funding to support a large library with great hours.  The library in the community I live in now is only open 29 hours a week but still manages to offer a range of programming.

In the past year the library has hosted a handful of small art shows and music nights.  The art shows and displays have featured works by local artists and the music nights have highlighted both local and visiting talent. The events bring people into the library that might not normally visit and provide a needed creative venue within the community.

The most recent music night also highlighted the idea of libraries as community spaces and places of conversation.  Most businesses in our small town close at 6pm.  But the library is open from 7-9pm four nights a week. The library also has a visible presence in the local paper, community nights, and local events. This presence might be as simple as offering hot chocolate and cookies during the winter ‘midnight madness’ event to encourage people to step into library.  The local library is an integral part of the community and actively works to engage locals outside of traditional library programming. 

I like the idea of libraries as being flexible spaces of engagement where patrons can engage with knowledge, arts, and community.  Books bring people together.  But so do free cookies, music nights, and children’s programming.

Contested Public History and Public Engagement

The Spring 2014 issue of The Public Historian focused on contested histories, addressing controversy through public history, and the relationship of controversy and commemoration.  Christine Reiser Robbins and Mark W. Robbins’ piece “Engaging the contested Memory of the Public Square, Community Collaboration, Archaeology, and Oral History at Corpus Christi’s Artesian Park” is an excellent example of the challenges and potential benefits of tackling contested histories, issues of identity, and public input.

The article uses the case study of Corpus Christi’s Artesian Park to highlight the potential of using community engaged methods and collaborative designs that integrate oral history, archaeology, and archival research to build historical narratives.

The history of the Artesian Park and its commemoration has been filled with controversy.  In 1975 and 2002 attempts to commemorate the the park were filled with community disputes, disagreements of interpretation, and debated history.

In 2012 a public archeology and oral history project was launched in the community to focus on expanding historical narratives relating to the Park.  The project highlighted the possibility of creating a new narrative that combines personal histories, civic history/myth, and national narratives.  And the results showed the diversity in experiences and histories relating to the park. 

Christine Reiser Robbins and Mark W. Robbins’ argue that “engaged public history frameworks that are community driven and incorporate multiple methodologies can be a ‘source of empowerment’ in the pursuit of more open and contested cultural heritage.”  This project was open to all segments of the community which allowed for a range of participation and an increased understanding of the community itself and the history of the park.  The project also allowed for “new relationships to the place and to the community to be formed.”

This case study is a great example of the importance of community participation, collaboration, and the integration of multiple narratives into historical interpretation.  The long held nostalgic civic histories of the Park represent only a portion of the complete heritage of the Artesian Park.  Community collaboration and community input is crucial when addressing heritage the is contested and deeply community rooted.  Public history projects have the potential to bring together communities and start conversations relating to heritage and broader community issues.