Welcome back to our regular favourite series, Historians’ Histories! If you’d like to see more posts from this series, you can do so here. This week we have an interview with the lovely Michelle Desveaux, a fellow historians and lover of stories! Enjoy!
Michelle Desveaux is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Saskatchewan studying historical consciousness. She has previously published ““Twenty-First Century Indigenous Historiography: Twenty-Two Books That Need to be Read,” co-authored with Patrick Chassé, Glenn Iceton, Anne Janhunen, and Omeasoo Wāhpāsiw, in the Canadian Journal of History.
What is your background (education, life experience, etc..)?
I’m originally from Cape Breton, currently living in Saskatoon where I’m completing my PhD. I took a round-about route to grad school. I finally committed myself to furthering my studies when an engineering firm offered me a full-time position and I had horrible nightmares of editing engineering reports for the rest of my life. I remind myself of this when dissertation work gets difficult! I have a BA from Cape Breton University and an MA from Trent University – both in history. My dissertation work at the University of Saskatchewan explores historical consciousness and the relationships between Canadian and Indigenous histories, by examining how these histories exist/co-exist at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, the national archives and Asinabka (Victoria Island, Ottawa), and in performances of Indigenous stand-up comics.
In my non-academic life, I enjoy bad puns, good tea, silly movies, attempting to garden, and crushing the patriarchy.
What drew you to history in the first place?
I adore stories. I’ve always been drawn to them and always had a tendency to get lost in them. For me, history is an extension of that love.
Why did you decide to become a historian?
This was something of a gradual process. I talked about being a historian during my undergrad studies, but I don’t think I fully understood what it entailed. During my masters I wanted to be a historian, but my idea of what a historian is and does has changed once more now that I’m into my PhD. Rather than deciding to be a historian I’ve kind of just re-committed myself to the discipline several times as my understanding of the career has shifted. But I think it has all stemmed from my love of stories.
Why did you decide to focus on your particular area of study?
I’m fascinated by the ways people think of history and internalize historical narratives, and how this can influence our lives on both a macro and micro level. History informs the way we see the world, so the narratives we are exposed to and ascribe to invariably affect the way we shape the world. This conviction is at the heart of my work on historical consciousness.
If you didn’t study your chosen area, why kind of history do you think you would want to do?
I don’t think I would be in history, honestly. I think I’d be studying folklore. I almost pursued graduate studies in folklore but I’m quite happy (now) to say that they wouldn’t have me. ?
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Literally all the things. There is an assignment from fourth grade in which I describe how I am going to be a nurse AND a doctor (why both?), as well as an artist, a writer, and a teacher. Briefly in second year undergrad I wanted to be a long-haul trucker, and I’m still sometimes sorry I didn’t pursue architecture.
What kind of work do you do as a historian?
In addition to writing my dissertation and doing the research that goes along with that, I’m also the Graduate Fellow in History and Scholarly Publishing at the Canadian Journal of History, as well as a sessional instructor for the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP). At the Journal I get to see the publishing side of history in action, which is quite fun – not to mention useful to a new scholar! For SUNTEP I teach a pre-contact North American history class, which is quite a fun challenge, as it’s only recently become a topic that is found in history departments.
What is the coolest and/or strangest thing you’ve ever found or learned while doing research?
That if it wasn’t for the fact that a man’s will was so complicated and impossible to implement, it is very likely that instead of the massive reconstruction found at Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, we’d likely have instead a pretty little plaque and a statue of King Edward VII of England.
(Article hopefully coming in the near-ish future.)
What is your favourite part about being a historian? And what is your least favourite part?
I should say that my favourite part is discovering interesting and strange things from the forgotten past. And I do love that. But if I’m honest, I think my favourite part is the flexibility. I can do my work on campus, at home, or at a coffee shop; I can go grocery shopping on a Wednesday morning.
On the flip side, my least favourite part is forcing myself to stick to a work schedule when the work is so self-directed. So my favourite thing is also my least favourite thing, I suppose.
If you could go back in time, whether to live or just visit, which time and place would you pick and why?
I think I’d stay firmly in the present. Not only because women have not had a whole lot of freedom in past times/places, but because I’m really fond of modern comforts. I won’t even go camping unless it involves a cabin and indoor plumbing, so I don’t think traveling to the past is something I should try.
Besides, it might cause me to have to re-write my dissertation. ?
What is your favourite historical book/film/museum/etc, and why?
Monty Python and the Holy Grail. For many reasons, but particularly for its philosophical discussion on forms of government. (“Help, help! I’m being repressed!”)
In your opinion, what is the most important event or person in Canadian history that everyone should know about?
I don’t know that I would recommend one event or person, but I would like everyone to know that Canadian history isn’t just the good things; it also includes the less savoury parts of our past. For example, there was slavery in Canada. Our government actively marginalized Indigenous peoples. Workers have died in the fight for fair treatment. Knowledge of these sorts of histories helps us better recognize injustice in the present; and knowing things have not always been the way they are now enables people to imagine a better future and to push for it.
Special thanks to Michelle Desveaux for agreeing to be interviewed, even though now we’re all going to be waiting with bated breath for that article on Louisbourg! 😛 If you’d like to learn more about Michelle’s work, you can get in touch with her via her Twitter account, @deh_voh. 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 Friday for a look at Upcoming Publications for December!