The last day of a conference always seems a little sad to me since it’s a day to say last good-byes while still catching all the panels and activities possible.
My first panel was The Stories Staples Tell; Resource Economies in Canada with Colin Coates (York University), Jim Clifford (University of Saskatchewan), Andrew Watson (University of Saskatchewan), and Anne Dance (Memorial University). The panel began with a discussion of how the staples thesis has been set out and what new digital history techniques can add to this area. Coates showed how text mining can help to show previously overlooked staple products or unnoticed distribution trends. The use of digital history techniques enables large numbers of documents to be examined and analyzed in different ways. Coates gave an example of a Wordle analysis of Innis’ classic work which showed an emphasis on fish, fur, and wheat. He also explained the Trading Consequences site and closed the presentation with the suggestion that this type of research can propose new stories of economic activity. Since the staples thesis has become so widely known – a classic – I was excited by the idea of re-examining it in this way and the idea that a more micro-level approach might yield new insights.
Up next were Jim Clifford and Andrew Watson who used the Trading Consequences site in their own work on London’s Ghost Acres which uses a MediaWiki and examines how commodities production in other places supported and fed the city of London. Canadian cheese, for example, dominated the overall cheese imports to Britain. As it’s a big project with lots of potential commodities to examine Watson suggested that they would be interested in collaborative work. A blog on the NiCHE site about this will be coming soon!
Anne Dance brought the panel into more contemporary times with a look at the last three decades of dealing with contaminated sites in Canada. She suggest looking at the Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory to get an idea of the scale of the issue but also provided a map of the sites – there were a lot of points on it! Her work uses a lot of grey literature and government reports. Since my own project also uses a lot of similar literature it was great to hear it discussed within another context and to get another perspective on its uses and limitations. Dance noted that the next part of the project will be to look at the same topic with a “bottom up” approach. The reclamation approaches initially took a southern approach to northern sites which meant that solutions, such as the importation of fresh topsoil, were impractical. The shift to more northern-focused solutions has created jobs in reclamation and a new spin on the idea of contaminated sites; remediation is now portrayed less as fixing failure and more as economic development and investment in the future. With the rise in the remediation industry could this, Dance mused, become a new part of the staples story?
After this panel I decided to go to the poster exhibit. It was great to see the posters from many different historians show-casing such a wide range of topics from emotional labour in community engaged research to representations of Western Canadian identity on menus (aptly put behind the coffee the CHA office was offering). The posters for me were a way to get a quick snapshot of research. Sadly I didn’t come across many of the poster presenters to ask questions but next year I’ll make sure to attend the presentation session so I can do just that. I’ve tweeted photos of all the posters if you’re curious about them. Next up I headed to the Expo where I spent an enjoyable time browsing through the books on offer. I always have trouble deciding on which books to buy when I have only a little room in my suitcase for them. Fortunately I was able to get books shipped to my home which made the decisions easier especially when some of the books I wanted were available only for pre-order.
I presented in the afternoon. Shout out to the audience members for showing up at the last panel of a very busy day! My panel was Sustaining a Fragile West: Environmental Myths and Realities will Claire Campbell (Bucknell University) and Frances Reilly (University of Saskatchewan). I enjoyed having a chance to share my own research with an audience and to see the presentations from my fellow panel members. Reilly presented on the Alberta Rat Patrol and how its early messaging echoed messaging around the fear of communist encroachment. Campbell looked at the Bar U Ranch and how its history is celebrated without putting ranching into its context as an extractive industry. My own presentation focused on the changes in the nitrogen balance and soil fertility of the Saskatchewan RM of Wise Creek which was part of the international Sustainable Farm Systems Project.
With the panels done and the CHA officially finished it was time to take the evening to enjoy Calgary. A friend took me to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary where I was delighted to see geese, deer, and swallows. As we walked across a bridge we came face to nose with a porcupine! After mutual and careful observation we both decided to return the way we’d come. The porcupine sighting was a delightful end to my Calgary Congress and CHA experience. I want to thank the CHA Graduate Students’ Committee for giving me this chance to share my experiences at the CHA with all of you. I hope you enjoyed Congress as much as I did.