Monday, June 7, 2010

Reporting, Selling, and Linking: An Update

What did I do on my sabbatical? Pretty soon I will answer this question for my employer, but in the interim here are some of the highlights:

The second edition of HWP arrived on shelves in early May and it represents a rather thorough makeover from the first edition.  The changes were not from dissatisfaction with the first edition;  instead, they come from our commitment to offer a reader that seeks to reflect the current state of the field.   The most serious changes emerged, not surprisingly, for the "Play" section as the literature on recreation, leisure, and sport has been explosive in the four years since the first edition of our book.  We also re-worked our lengthy introduction to the book, explaining some of the new themes (such as transnationalism) and new points of emphasis (such as sexuality) that define this edition of the book.  The book remains focused on "social space" both in the readings chosen and in the visual primary documents included at the end of each section, as social historians have become even more spatially-oriented (and aware) in the last half decade.  There are lots of reasons for this, and in the introduction to the book we make mention of several.  But one reason, and I offer here it as a personal observation, is the influence of environmental history on social history:  for the last twenty years, the influence has tended to be chiefly the other way around, as environmental historians drew inspiration and guidance from social historians.  We have arrived, it seems, at a point when it is more apt to describe the relationship as more dialectical, defined by cross-fertilization and exchange.  Readers of HWP will hopefully see evidence of this in several of the new readings.

Coming this November from UBC Press, Placing Memory and Remembering Place in Canada is the second collaboration I have enjoyed with Jim Opp.  This project began in the Spring in 2007 when a so-so plenary presentation I gave to the Underhill Colloquium became the basis for a conversation between us about what I was really doing in that paper and what Jim was thinking about with respect to his own work on photography, memory, and history in the Prairies.  Our conversation quickly expanded into what we admired and were inspired by in the literature and what we felt was missing (or perhaps not being emphasized enough) in terms of our scholarly thinking.  Those conversations became the blueprint for the above book, a collection of new, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary scholarly writing by us and by ten collaborators from across the country.   Our fellow authors are, in order of appearance:  Cecilia Morgan, Frances Swyripa, Alan Gordon, Russell Johnson, Mike Ripmeester, Patricia Gentile, Steven High, Kirsten McAllister, Matthew Evenden, and Joan Schwartz.
How we wrote this book will, one hopes, become more common for all scholars in the social sciences and humanities just as it is already well-establish in Quebec's scholarly culture.  After consolidating contributors, Jim and I applied for and received a SSHRC Aid to Workshop Grant that, in combination with wonderful support from Carleton, allowed us to pre-circulate first drafts of all the chapters and then meet for two days of intense-but-exhilarating conversations about them.  There were no formal, lengthy presentations as is common at larger conferences.  Instead, it was a group of  16 (our contributors, minus Joan Schwartz, plus four doctoral students and our editor at UBC Press, Melissa Pitts) engaged people sitting around a common table having discussions about what it was we were doing and how we were doing it.  We worked through each chapter in order and then, at the end, had an open session about the book as a whole.  In between we took our meals together and talked about endless other things, sometimes related, sometimes not (thankfully!), to the placing of memory and the remembering of place.  We left the workshop in the summer of 2008, retreated to our homes, and produced the next drafts.  Full of inspiration from our experience at the workshop, Jim and I went to work on an introduction that is, we feel, unusually ambitious for an edited collection.  Following the peer review process, we decided to approach one of the foremost scholars of these scholarly themes, Joan Schwartz, and asked if she would be interested in writing an Afterword for the collection.  Not only did she agree to this, but Joan wrote a remarkable essay that is no mere conclusion, a re-stating what has already been said.  Instead, it is an essay that uses the insights of the book as a point of departure for a intensely personal and scholarly reflection on place memories and places of memory in our everyday lives.  In every way, and exceeding our wildest hopes, it became the 11th chapter of the book.

Along with Jess Dunkin, I am co-organizing this Fall's Shannon Lecture Series in Canadian Social History.  The central theme of the series is certainly related to Placing Memory and Remembering Place in Canada, especially my own chapter in the book.  It is also central to Jess's own doctoral work and scholarly thinking.  More details can be gleaned at our website, and more are forthcoming, but a few words can be added here.  In addition to being very excited about our lineup of scholars, we are equally excited about the participation of a film-maker John Greyson and singer-songwriter Miss Emily Brown.  Both have thought a great deal about the past and their relationships to it (intellectually, artistically, personally, and politically) and visible traces of this reflection can be seen and heard in their art.  We think their participation in the Shannon's adds not only new scholarly insights into storytelling and the social effect of stories, but it will also inspire our audience in ways they may not expect.

This is Henry John Reyburn Walsh, who on 19 May 2010 transformed this sabbatical experience from 'satisfying' to 'unforgettable'.  As shown above, he has more than a hint of a sense of humour and timing.  And most wonderful for me is that when I hold him I see his incredible mother looking back at me through his eyes just as I do when I hug his sisters, Hope and Emily.

While we had no idea our year away from Ottawa was going to be anything other than an adventure for the four of us, we could not be happier that those plans got radically changed and we are returning to the nation's capital as a quintet.  It is the third time I have become a parent, and it is no less wonderful, exciting, and terrifying as it was / is the first two times.  My one regret is Henry came along too late to make it into the Acknowledgments for either HWP or Placing MemoryLandscapes of Longing is going to be for him.  As it should, since it's his fault I am still not quite done.  (Not really, Henry!  Daddy also likes to make "jokes.")