Historian of the city, politics, and society
As an historian, I believe public engagement matters. The work we do, our research and writing, should be disseminated to the widest possible audience in a clear, understandable form. Why? Two reasons. First, because the public–and not just our fellow historians–deserves access to the work being done in publicly-funded institutions. Second, because historical perspectives matter to contemporary issues: a better understanding of the past can help us make better choices today.
I try to live up to my commitment to public history in a couple of ways:
Speaking to the present
Studying the past in depth doesn’t make us experts on today. But it does give us a kind of expertise that might be useful to people making important decisions, especially on issues that have a long history. I’m proud to be Public Outreach Coordinator and a Contributing Editor at the award-winning public history website Activehistory.ca, where one of our main goals is to connect our work with issues of today. I’m always eager to speak to media on those occasions when there’s a chance to give an historical perspective from my research on something being discussed today.
For a few examples, see:
July 21, 2017. Interviewed for “How a child’s death led to the rebirth of Yonge Street,” Globe & Mail. URL: https://www.theglobeandmail.com///news/toronto/how-a-childs-murder-led-to-the-rebirth-of-torontos-yongestreet/article35769399/?cmpid=rss1&click=sf_globe
June 22, 2017. Interviewed for “Murder of Emanuel Jaques changed the face of Yonge Street and Toronto,” CBC News. A shorter version of the story also appeared on CBC Radio. URL: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/emanuel-jaques-yonge-street-sex-work-1.4172511
December 16, 2016. Interviewed on CBC News Toronto (at 11:56) on heritage conservation districts and the pace of development in downtown Toronto. URL: http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/835360835705
December 10, 2015. “How Did the Urban Reformers Change Toronto?” Discusses the much talked-about political memoir of former Toronto Mayor John Sewell.
June 17, 2014. “An Idea Whose Time Has Come: A City Museum for Toronto.” With Jay Young. Nominated for Heritage Toronto’s 2015 Short Publication Prize.
April 28, 2014. “The Value of Thinking Big: Experimenting with Pedestrian Space in Toronto, 1970s to 2014.” A look at a new proposal to close Toronto’s Bloor Street in light of 1970s attempts to create a downtown pedestrian mall.
“The History of St. Clair West,” interview on CBC Here and Now, with Gill Deacon, June 20, 2014. URL: http://tinyurl.com/kyad3le
“Tossing the Boss throughout the Years”, Toronto Star, Jan. 7, 2013, p. GT3. Interviewed in a piece about Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford’s possible removal from office. Based on my ActiveHistory.ca article “Municipal Conflicts of Interest in Canada, Old and New.”
Publish for a wider audience
I publish my research not just in academic publications, but also in more popular (not to mention visually appealing) formats. Since 2014 I’ve been a regular contributor to Spacing magazine.
“Yonge Street Mall: Fun and failure of ‘70s pedestrian project,” Spacing Magazine (Winter 2016). URL: http://spacing.ca/toronto/2017/03/16/yonge-street-mall-fun-failure-pedestrianizing-torontos-iconic-strip-1970s/
“When Sex Dominated Yonge Street,” Spacing Magazine (Fall 2014). URL: http://spacing.ca/toronto/2017/03/09/sex-yonge-examining-decade-yonge-street-citys-sin-strip/
“150 Years of Bikes in Toronto,” Spacing Magazine (Spring 2014).
Public talks and consultations
In 2013 I was invited by the Toronto Public Library to talk about my research on Yonge Street. The result was my talk “Toronto the Good?”, which I felt was a real success. Attendance was about 50, and there was a great discussion afterwards. Best of all, I met people who had their own vivid memories of downtown Toronto in the period I study. I’m looking forward to taking part in more discussions like that at the TPL in the future.
That year, I also participated in an initiative called WIDEN, that aims to put speakers doing different kinds of research together to stimulate a public discussion of a larger issue. In my case, it was “Networks,” and I had fun relating research on activism in 1970s Montréal to discussion of subterranean infrastructure and online commmunication.
In 2014 was happy to take part in one of a series of “visioning” workshops for a project I’m very excited about: a Museum of Toronto. It was a pleasure to be part of the very early stages of such an important public history project.
And in summer 2015 I enjoyed putting my research into motion, leading historical walking tours of downtown Toronto. My tour, entitled “Creating Toronto: The Story of the City in Seven Stops,” provides locals and Torontonians alike with an overview of some of the main themes and sites in Toronto history–and all in under two hours and two kilometres!
Organizing public history events
Followers of my blog will know that I spent a big chunk of my time in 2013-2014 working on the Urban Transformations project. That symposium, which looked at the past, present, and future of the St. Clair West corridor, had a strong public component, including a packed house for a public lecture by author, urbanist and Toronto Star columnist Edward Keenan.
More recently, I was part of the team that organized the October 2015 New Directions in Active History Conference at Huron College in London, Ontario. The New Directions conference brought together educators, academic & public historians, students, curators and archivists to discuss the different ways historical practice can be made engaging, democratic, and active.
During the summer of 2017, I helped organize and spoke at an event that brought together historians, advocates, and community members to discuss the impact of the 1977 murder of shoeshine boy Emanuel Jaques on Toronto.