Welcome back to our regular favourite series, Historians’ Histories! This week we have a very special guest, fellow UVic alumna and one of my favourite people, Anne Dance! Not only is she brilliant, but she is extremely generous for agreeing to be interviewed despite her insanely busy schedule! So without any further, ado, here’s her Historians’ Histories:
Dr. Anne Dance is the Academic Director of the Parliamentary Internship Programme and a Visiting Researcher at the University of Ottawa.
What is your background (education, life experience, etc..)?
I fled Ontario as part of the double cohort in 2003 and did a BA at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, followed by an MA in history at the University of Victoria. I also studied French through the Explore program in Saskatchewan and American history and politics at the University of St. Thomas (Houston). The Parliamentary Internship Programme of the Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA), a paid, non-partisan academic program on the Hill, brought me back to Ottawa in 2008.
I worked on policy and advocacy for the cooperative sector after the end of the 10-month internship. But I had a project in mind for a doctorate, so in autumn 2010 I left Ottawa for the University of Stirling, where I did a PhD at the Division of History and Politics funded by the Commonwealth Scholarship. Stirling made for a wonderful experience, thanks in large part to my tremendous supervisor, Catherine Mills, my brilliant cohort, and all of the terrific scholars in that department, including Alasdair Ross, who recently passed away.
After completing my PhD in 2013 I returned to Canada, where I taught and worked in the public sector. Arn Keeling and John Sandlos helped me find funding (via Resources and Sustainable Development in the Arctic and the Social Sciences and Humanities Resource Council) for postdoctoral fellowships at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
I have been the Academic Director of the CPSA’s Parliamentary Internship Program (PIP) for a little more than a year and am also a Visiting Researcher at uOttawa’s Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies.
What drew you to history in the first place?
I read a lot of historical fiction as a child, including books by Ann Rinaldi, Janet Lunn, Mildred D. Taylor, Jane Urquhart, and Dorothy Dunnett. I loved these portrayals of the past, not because they present a particularly idealized view of history (they do not), but because the characters and depth of plot were so engaging.
Why did you decide to become a historian?
Sheila Andrews’ Canadian History survey at St. Thomas University drew me to the field. A few years later, Rusty Bittermann and Mike Dawson helped me apply for grad school and coached me through funding applications. I have had so many great history teachers through the years, and it was their support that got me here.
Why did you decide to focus on your particular area of study?
In undergrad I randomly signed up for Rusty Bittermann’s Canadian Land Struggles in a Global Perspective, which made a big impression. Adding the environmental history component clarified so much for me. Of course weather patterns had an impact on battles and civic unrest. Of course imperialism had an impact on health, crops, and how humans feed themselves. Of course land tenure and conceptualizations of wilderness shape every facet of our world. Environmental history helps me understand the past, but also the world I inhabit every day.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a fiction writer, a teacher, a botanist, a librarian, and a ballerina.
What kind of work do you do as a historian?
I am currently working on a book based on my PhD dissertation for UBC Press. This study compares historical approaches to reclaiming the Sydney tar ponds and the Athabasca oil sands. I am also researching Cora Hind, Manitoba’s “Oracle of Wheat”, from an environmental history perspective. I have a few other small projects on the go. Someday I will update my website.
As the academic director of PIP, I teach a weekly seminar on Canadian politics and supervise the ten interns’ research papers. I also organize their orientation, run the recruitment campaign, chair the selection committee, fundraise and write grant proposals, negotiate agreements, produce annual reports and budgets, run events like the Jean-Pierre Gaboury Research Symposium, and coordinate with the program’s many wonderful stakeholders. I have been overseeing the website redesign and lead long-term strategic planning.
If you didn’t go study your chosen area, why kind of history do you think you would want to do?
Gender history, political history, legal history, labour intellectual history, public history, military history…I like it all, especially world history.
What is your favourite part about being a historian? And what is your least favourite part?
My favourite part is the people: the fantastic and inspiring friends, colleagues, and students I have met through school and work.
My least favourite part is the time issue. There is never enough time to keep up with the reading and the new developments in the field. Unwritten Histories’ roundups and new articles posts have been so terrific at addressing some of these major gaps.
Another problem is that there are many wonderful young scholars who are doing amazing things to push history in fantastic directions, and the jobs they need to undertake this work simply do not exist at this time.
If you could go back in time, whether to live or just visit, which time and place would you pick and why?
It would be very useful to travel back in time to contaminated sites in order to better understand the scale and extent of pollution problems, and maybe tackle them at their source rather than wait until now. Hearing one of Cora Hind’s public lectures and quizzing her audience would also be fascinating!
Why do you think we, as a society, should study history?
History can be inspiring but also agonizingly brutal. History is complicated, and it is so important that we understand this complexity since every aspect of our lives is shaped by the past: our laws, our education, how we interact with each other, and how we conceive of the future.
What is the coolest and/or strangest thing you’ve ever found or learned while doing research? / What is the most surprising thing you’ve ever learned about history?
I never cease to learn something new studying history. I suppose that is the most surprising thing. Every day there is something new to learn. This is a really positive aspect of the field, too: it can grow and evolve.
What is your favourite historical film/museum/etc. and why?
During my MA I ventured to Creston, BC and worked from its wonderful Museum and Archives. It is a terrific museum in a beautiful place, and the archives are a joy to work from.
In your opinion, what is the most important event or person in Canadian history that everyone should know about?
Every Canadian should read James Daschuk’s Clearing the Plains.
Special thanks to Anne Dance for sharing her story with us, and for her kind words about Unwritten Histories! If she wasn’t so lovely, I would probably have to dislike her for being so talented on principle. 😉 If you’d like to learn more about her work, you can check out her website, www.anne-dance.com, or connect with her on Twitter @AnneDance2. And If you’d like to see more posts from this series, you can do so here. I hope you enjoyed this blog post! If you did, please consider sharing it on the social media platform of your choice. If you are interested in participating in this series, please get in touch by emailing me at unwritten histories [at] gmail [dot] com or by sending me a message on Facebook or Twitter. And don’t forget to check back on Sunday for a brand new Canadian History Roundup! See you then!