Finishing up my Second Year at UW

As I finish up the last batch of generally amazing student projects for my digital history course, the 2013-14 academic year comes to a close. And with it, my second year (ok, technically my second academic year rather than calendar year, but that’s how we think) on the tenure track here at the University of Waterloo.

It’s been a great year that crucially saw me falling into some good work cycles. The first year was quite a bit of a whirlwind as I learned new things constantly (from how to fill out a travel claim, to an expense report, to where you go when you need a key for the A/V podium, etc.). While I still feel like I darken our administrative coordinator’s door a wee bit too often with questions, and occasionally run into administrative snafus (did you know what the definition of ‘capital equipment’ is? I do now – don’t try to buy such things with your personal credit card…), for the most part the time has begun to whizz by as I fall into routines.

So in this post, I just want to reflect a bit on what’s working well, and what I want to work on a bit more.. Read more

End of an Era: On Finishing the First Book Project

A picture of the cover of the book Rebel Youth, which is a montage of various young people fighting with police officers on the streets of Toronto.For five years, four months, and fifteen days, this project has been with me, in one way or another [thanks Wolfram|Alpha for the date spread]. And on Wednesday, it’ll be done. It’s the end of a chapter in my life, and has me dealing with all the complicated feelings that transitions bring.

The last few months have seen me shepherding my forthcoming book, Rebel Youth: 1960s Labour Unrest, Young Workers, and New Leftists in English Canada, through the final publishing stages at the University of British Columbia Press. Copyeditor queries over the holiday break, and now the painstaking process of combing the proofs for typos (I’m oddly elated whenever I find one, because I’m pretty sure I’ve read each sentence about a hundred times now). It’s had me feeling a bit odd, actually.

I started Rebel Youth in the cold winter of 2008-09, during the long, acrimonious, and (for me), profoundly perspective-changing CUPE 3903 strike. I would picket Mondays and Wednesdays for ten long hours each day, bundled up in countless layers, with many people who would become hopefully life-long friends, but also profoundly dispiriting for a few reasons. On the ‘off’ days, I remember starting things off by reading old back issues of Canadian Dimension in the tranquil environs of the University of Toronto’s Pratt library, writing my proposal, and then kicking things off. Three days a week, reading about students and labour unions, and two days a week, seeing some of these issues still with us in that strike. Read more

Bringing it All Together: Returning to Old and New Themes in my Work

Research that I have been doing with the Internet Archive.
Research that I have been doing with the Internet Archive.

Reader note: One of my goals has been to blog more often about my research, both in order to keep writing every single day, but also to hopefully engage with people in between sporadic pubs.

Plus, this is research I wish I’d submitted for the summer conference season, but didn’t.

I’ve been working on an article this semester, addressing the role of children and youth in early debates over Canadian World Wide Web regulation (the stirrings of which began in 1994, peaking roughly around 1996-1998). Beyond being a fun way to actually use the Internet Archive for research (a combination of playing with WARC files, Voyant Tools, Mathematica, and good old fashioned historical research – i.e. plumbing through Government Documents), it sort of brings together several disparate intellectual threads I’ve been playing with. Read more

Reflecting on Active History, Public Engagement, and York University

In November, I gave this talk at York (click for text). The subtitle was "My Experiences Here." I didn't dwell enough on the "here" part.
In November, I gave this talk at York (click for text). The subtitle was “My Experiences Here.” I didn’t dwell enough on the “here” part.

Maybe it’s the snow day, but I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how lucky in many ways I was to attend a department that encouraged online participation and public engagement. This is the sort of post I would never have written when I was in the program, but now that I’m in a full-time teaching position elsewhere I can sing some praises (without seeming like a suck up). As I note at right, I gave a talk at York University on public history and the university, subtitled “my experiences here.” I don’t think I gave enough justice to the “here” part.

I greatly enjoyed (as I always do with her work) Melonie Fullick’s piece in today’s Globe and Mail, “[t]he university has everything to gain from Twitter.” It’s a piece that explores how universities have and should engage with the public far more, and why graduate students need to be encouraged to do this. Of course, prompting this post, was a very nice shout-out to ActiveHistory.ca (of which I’m a member of the editing team):

An example of such forms is Active History, based at York University, which aims to “[connect] the work of historians with the wider public and the importance of the past to current events.” The site contains blog posts, book reviews, academic papers, and podcasts, created by a diverse group of scholars including graduate students, freelance researchers and writers, postdoctoral fellows, and librarians, as well as faculty. The goal is not merely to disseminate information, but to set up an informed dialogue with various audiences who can also contribute to what is being discussed.

Fullick continues to speculate on why this isn’t encouraged in most programs. It did, however, prompt me to reflect on why I thought ActiveHistory.ca was actually encouraged in our own department (and also, in my own department, as I’m pretty sure my online activities played a role in my hiring). Read more

Post-Firewall: “The Force of All Our Numbers” in Labour/Le Travail

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Click for PDF version of the article.

My article, “‘The Force of All Our Numbers’: New Leftists, Labour, and the 1973 Artistic Woodwork Strike,” published in the 2010 Labour/Le Travail issue is now past the firewall cut off. If you want to read it, check it out here (PDF).

Right now, I am largely publishing in rolling firewall journals. There aren’t too many fully open-access journals in Canada (one major exception is Historical Studies in Education, which I have my eyes on for a manuscript I have started writing).

I’ve given a lot of thought to my own publishing practices lately. Luckily, every one of my articles save my first one from my MA (one in Ontario History) will be coming out of a rolling firewall at some point. This one is the first, my Urban History Review one should be later this year, followed shortly thereafter by one in BC Studies.

That all said, during my interview for my current position at the University of Waterloo, I did note my publishing plans: largely rolling firewall, until eventually I hope to transition to fully open access. It’s not a perfect plan, and I’m sometimes a bit uneasy about it, but I hope that in some way I can help effect the change I dream of.

SSHRC Postdocs: What’s going on?

The SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship success rate is declining precipitously, continuing a trend that has continued with fits and starts since 1999. By graphing the numbers found on SSHRC’s own webpage, we can see why: the number of applications is increasing, while the numbers of awards have generally not kept pace (and disturbingly, have actually been declining since the 2010-11 academic year).

Bear in mind the broader context of these figures: graduate growth in Ontario (Canada’s largest province), encouragement by governments to grow even further (6,000 more spots announced in 2011 at the MA/PhD level), and even some public hand-wringing about whether we’re producing too many PhDs. Even if we argue that not all PhDs will end up as academics, the rising numbers of applications indicate that many do want this position.

Recent changes to the SSHRC program, which I’ve also blogged about here, are clearly aimed at bringing that success rate back up (in short: limiting the chances an applicant has and limiting it to people who have never received a postdoc of any kind). They’re going to do so by cutting the number of applications. If we take a low success rate as a problem, there are two solutions: (a) lower applications; or (b) raise awards. I suppose (a) is an easier solution.  Read more