“Cultural Histories of Fog in Atlantic Canada”
This research project starts with the stories people in Atlantic Canada have told about fog: tales of dory fisherman astray on the Banks; the visceral reactions of early European visitors and settlers to thick banks of fog on the coast; Indigenous narratives about the significance of foggy weather; memoirs about the sensory and emotional effect of fog in the daily lives of coastal communities; countless moody visual depictions of fog in photography, painting, and other media. Fog is ubiquitous in Atlantic Canada, a presence that drifts in and out of countless moments and experiences, but this has so far not received sustained attention as a topic of historical interest. Stories about fog offer a new entry point into understudied histories of science, settler colonialism, seafaring, and daily life across Atlantic Canada. These stories also frequently include vivid descriptions of sensation, inviting us to consider what it feels like to live on the coast. What are the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures that have characterized coastal living in Atlantic Canada? And how might we explore these embodied sensory experiences to better understand the daily contours of rural life? This project was funded by a 2-year SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship held at the University of New Brunswick in 2018-2020.
“Modern Eyes: A Cultural History of Vision in Rural Nova Scotia, 1880–1910”
I defended my award-winning doctoral dissertation in the Department of History at Carleton University in the fall of 2016. It is currently under review by a university press for publication as a scholarly monograph.
“Modern Eyes” explores a number of interconnected histories of vision and modernity in rural Nova Scotia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Approaching rural life and culture as a history of vision provides a new analytical lens for investigating the ways that rural people encountered, negotiated, and responded to the transformations being felt in both rural and urban places at the time. Informed by sensory history and visual culture studies, this unconventional perspective provides a coherent surface for cultural analysis across topics that are not traditionally discussed together, bringing to light and recuperating a variety of overlooked aspects of rural culture and knowledge. In their encounters with natural science, consumer culture, new technologies, and the Canadian state, rural Nova Scotians engaged in historically-specific practices of observation and articulated unique ideas about vision, which were frequently interlaced with ideas and anxieties about modernity.
Chapters include analyses of nature-study and sensory training in rural elementary schools, practices of skilled vision at agricultural exhibitions, the professionalization of optometry in rural communities, the vision of sailors in relation to new maritime navigation infrastructure, and rural outreach from the Halifax School for the Blind. The result is a cultural history that places rural communities in Nova Scotia at the centre in of a conversation about modernity in Canada in the years bracketing the turn of the twentieth century.
Eastern Shore Islands Heritage Research Project
The Eastern Shore Islands Heritage Research Project was a government-funded, community-led study to research and document the rich cultural history of Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, focusing on the remarkable islands and coastal communities from Jeddore Rock (off Jeddore Harbour) east to Wedge Island (at the mouth of the St Marys River), in the Mi’kmaw region of Eskikewa’kik. I grew up on the Eastern Shore and was delighted to bring my professional expertise home to this project.
Small History Nova Scotia on Twitter
I created the Twitter account @smallhistory in 2014. It reaches thousands of followers with real daily news from rural and small-town Nova Scotian newspapers, c.1880–1910. I have also created two print volumes of the project.
Originally drawn from my dissertation research, these tweets chart seasonal rhythms of labour and leisure, land and sea. Many historians, particularly historians of women, have revealed how the small details of daily life can offer an entry point to something much bigger and more profound about the past. Deeply rooted in place, this small-scale public history project has proven to be a relatable way to engage the public in histories of how Nova Scotians lived in the late nineteenth century.
“An Itinerant Photographer Pictures Rural Education in Nova Scotia, c.1912”
My award-winning MA thesis (Concordia University, 2009) and a subsequent journal article used the images of itinerant trade photographer Frank Adams to reconsider the place of state education in rural communities in early twentieth-century Nova Scotia. At a moment when many voices sought to sway public opinion about what rural education should be, Adams’s school photographs articulated a range of meanings assigned to and produced by rural communities that are visibly at odds with the imagery and ideology of Progressive education reform in the period. Produced in the years before school portrait photography became part of the official imagery of educational bureaucracies, Adams’s photographs celebrate a unique sense of place and are evidence of a transitional, moment when alternative ways of imagining rural education were possible.