Reflecting on the Canadian Environmental Movement History Workshop at Trent University


Canadian Environmental Movement History Workshop. Photo © Pauline Harder, Piece of Cake Communications 2012.

Canadian Environmental Movement History Workshop. Photo © Pauline Harder, Piece of Cake Communications 2012.

As some of you may know, Stephen Bocking and I have been preparing to host a workshop on the history of the Canadian environmental movement for several months. After many hours of preparation, the event occurred this past Monday and Tuesday at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. 

We managed to cover a lot of ground in two days. Fourteen scholars, coming from as far away as Halifax, Nova Scotia and Vancouver, British Columbia, discussed eleven papers. These papers were distributed in advance, so rather than introducing the topics we were able to focus our energy on coming up with ways to improve them for publication. We had a great mix of scholars and subjects. There were a few senior scholars - Don Munton, Robert Paehlke, Doug Macdonald, and Jean-Guy Vaillancourt - who have been studying environmentalism since the 1970s and 1980s. There were some mid-career scholars, such as Matthew Hatvany and George Warecki. Younger scholars were also present, with a number or participants either in the final stages of their doctoral studies or holding postdoctoral fellowships. While most were historians, other participants came from backgrounds in geography, political science, religious studies, sociology, and environmental studies.

Lessons and observations from the workshop:

  • I live-tweeted the event. Within an hour of mentioning a paper by Don Munton and Owen Temby on air pollution in Sudbury, Ontario and Trail, British Columbia, staff at CBC Sudbury contacted me about interviewing them. The interview was taped the following day, and is scheduled for radio broadcast on Wednesday, August 29th. (I will provide a link to this interview when it is posted online.) This is all the evidence I need that Twitter is a valuable resource. That said, the only workshop participants that use it are Stephen Bocking (@BockingStephen) and I (@ryaneoconnor). 
  • Gathering a small group of scholars to focus on papers on a single subject, with the collective aim of producing an edited collection was far more rewarding than any conference I have attended. This is not meant as a slight towards conferences, but rather a commendation of small, highly-focussed events. I suspect my fellow participants will agree with me on this.
  • A two day workshop requires a lot of organization and coordination. That said, things are infinitely more manageable when you have secured the necessary funding to bring people together and hold the event. In this respect, I would like to acknowledge the generous funding provided by the Network in Canadian History & Environment [NiCHE].

Now that the workshop is over, the focus will shift to revising the papers for publication as an edited collection. This book, tentatively titled The Great Green North, will be the first collection on the history of Canada's environmental movement. Needless to say, all of the participants are excited about breaking new ground. We hope to get this book out in the first half of 2014. In the meantime, much work will go into editing and revising the papers, highlighting the key themes, and preparing visual aids and other supplementary materials.

Finally, here is a question for you, the potential reader. There was some discussion of including a preface written by a well-known, non-academic, environmentalist. As a result of my research I happen to know a number of prime candidates for this, and no doubt my colleagues will have a number of suggestions. What are your thoughts on this? Would this add to the overall project, or would it be an unnecessary distraction?

There will be a few more perspectives of this workshop published in the coming days. Pauline Harder is writing a story for the Trent University Daily News, while Jonathan Clapperton is submitting a post about his experience to the NiCHE website. I will add links to these stories as they become available.