Previous Symposia

Unwieldy Archives (May 2-3, 2019)

Keynote speaker: Kirsten Weld (John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of History, Harvard University), “Thinking Archivally.”

Archives can be unwieldy institutions. This conference asks participants to reflect on the relationship between the archives they use and the histories they write. As historians, how do we deal with the power and politics of archives? A historian’s curiosity as they begin their archival research can quickly be met with frustration. The archive itself or particular documents might be destroyed or inaccessible, the silences in the archive can seem insurmountable, or the documents found in archives might be unable to capture the ephemerality of the historian’s subject of research. How do historians work around – and through – such silences?  View the conference program.

Senses and Spaces (May 10-11, 2018)

Keynote speaker: Barbara Lorenzkowski (Concordia University), “Sensing War: Childhood Memories of the Wartime Atlantic, 1939-1945)

Senses & spaces comprise the fabric of lived experience. As historians begin to focus on embodiment as a focal point of historical interest, this conference will ask: how do scholars approach the historical meanings of senses? How do we examine the constructions of spaces? Experiences of sound, sight, touch, smell, & taste offer windows into culture, politics, & power where the body encounters both matter & meaning. Senses provide insight into historical experiences from gender, sexuality, & culture, to religion and violence. Similarly, the study of spaces maps lived experience onto geographies that are contested as they are imbued with cultural significance. We week to explore how historical space are powerfully shaped by memory, environment, & migration. View the conference program.

Defining the Nation in a Transnational World (May 11-12, 2017)

Keynote speakers: Ian McKay (McMaster University), “Myth and the Manipulation of History: The Vimy Anniversary in Retrospect” and Mary Jane McCallum (University of Winnipeg), “Miss Chief: The Obscure History of First Nations Female Suffrage and Leadership”

What is a nation? What is national identity? Is the concept of the nation-state still a relevant analytical tool in an increasingly global world? Where do milestone events in a single nation’s history, such as the Confederation of Canada in 1867, fit into our approaches to the study of history? Why have such events acquired the status of national myth? Which individuals and stories have been marginalized in the writing of national histories? This conference, sponsored by the Canada 150 initiative, explored these themes in a broad context, problematizing the idea of national commemoration in a transnational world. View the conference program.

Singular Voices, Multiple Identities (May 5-6, 2016)

Keynote speaker: Dr. Sarah Bridger, “Bell Curves, Context-Stripping, and Well-Meaning War Criminals: The Individual and the Collective in 1970s American Science”

From world political leaders to grassroots activists to ordinary citizens, individuals and their beliefs, perceptions, words, and actions shape our understanding of the past. This theme encouraged participants to consider how their research intersects with the idea of the individual and the impact historical persons make on interpretations of the past. Participants considered the ways in which the individual tells us something different than the many, and whether this specificity illuminates or obscures our understandings of the past. View the conference program.

Instability and Insecurity (May 7-8, 2015)

Keynote speaker: Dr. Kate Brown, “Dispatches from Dystopia”

From the uncertainties surrounding past political, social, cultural, and economic change to recent concerns over the spread of Ebola in West Africa, the conflict in Ukraine, and the emergence of ISIS/ISIL, issues of instability and insecurity have been a constant aspect of everyday life in pre-modern and modern societies. This theme encouraged participants to consider how their research investigates historical moments on uncertainty, transition, and flux. Presenters discussed the ways in which the study of instability and insecurity in the past opens up new ways to understand the present. View the conference program.

(De)Construction Sites: Reinterpreting Histories (February 7-8, 2014)

Keynote speaker: Dr. Jon Soske, “The Saturnine Moment: Eschatology and Revolutionary Violence in 1980s South Africa”

This year marked the tenth annual graduate history symposium at University of Toronto. “(De)Construction Sites: Reinterpreting Histories” acknowledged our first symposium, “Construction Sites: Building Histories,” and invited participants from a variety of disciplines to consider how their research critiques, challenges, or re-imagines grand narratives of history and traditional methodologies. By pushing the boundaries of heuristic devices, dichotomies, and categories, we can question and historicize constructions that have become commonplace in our discipline. View the conference program.

Making the World Turn: Power and Passions Throughout History (February 1-2, 2013)

Keynote speaker: Professor Hilary Earl, “Postcards from Auschwitz: Reflections of a Holocaust Historian in Transit”

Power and passion are two words that we routinely encounter in both our intellectual and everyday lives. Variegated understandings and debates about the scope and form of these terms have driven individual, communal, national, and international pursuits. Power, broadly defined, is played out and contested on a global, local, and community scale, between empires, countries, governments, monarchies and dynasties, and within families and neighbourhoods. Passions may be anything from love, sex, intimacies, and friendships, to passion in religions and spiritual contexts, or passion for personal, intellectual and scientific pursuits. Participants also explored how power is played out in historical sources – who writes these texts, whose voices are privileged, why are some sources preserved while others are lost – and how historians themselves exercise power when recreating histories. View the conference program.

Debt and Dependence (February 3-4, 2012)

Keynote speaker: Dr. Barrington Walker, “Learning Deficits and Black Debts: Race and IQ Testing in Chatham, Ontario’s Schools, 1939”

Issues of debt and dependence surround us, as bailouts, deficit reduction and budget cuts have become a regular part of political discourse. Newspaper and magazine columns, as well as television shows, have helped to make becoming financially responsible a part not only of our social conscience but also of our everyday contexts. How can we reflect on debt and dependence in history? With the different forms of debt we incur, how do we manage and repay them? What debts do we, as scholars, owe to the subjects of our research and sources, especially when studying memory and/or living sources? How do we deal with the power imbalance between dominant and dependent discourses? As scholars, how do we decide who gets to speak? View the conference program.

Experimenting With/In Text: Histories, Memories, Voices (February 4-5, 2011)

Keynote speaker: Dr. Dan Healey, “The Silence of the Gulag Queer: How Can We Read the Diary of Vadim Kozin?”

From the testimonies of tortured so-called “heretics” during the Mexican Inquisition, to the vampire-rich discourses of oral histories recorded in Central and East Postcolonial Africa, to the subversive subtexts embedded in late Soviet-era Latvian rock lyrics, the primary sources of historians have often been crafted in order to voice specific objectives, on the part of the creators of these texts – be it consciously or unconsciously. The ways in which authors have creatively combined, altered, edited and intertwined their texts with dominant narratives in order to tell their stories have shaped our understanding of history. View the conference program.

Crossing the Line: Boundaries and Borders in History (February 5-6, 2010)

Keynote speaker: Dr. Michael Gauvreau, “Writing the History of Two Normal Societies: Negotiating the Boundaries between English Canada and Quebec”

Whether it be Caesar crossing the Rubicon, the Bhakti saints’ drive to reform the Indian caste system, or the tremendous upheaval that gripped China during the Cultural Revolution, accounts of history reveal the inscription and implosion of the lines that inform our understandings of the world. “Crossing the line” thus evokes not only the lines that are declared, pushed, and transgressed by historical subjects, but also the blurring of the disciplinary boundaries that can divide and compartmentalise us as scholars. What has it meant in history to cross a line? What does the existence of the lines themselves mean? And what is at stake in the drawing, crossing, and redrawing of lines? As scholars, it is our responsibility to identify not only when and where lines have been crossed, but how crossing them was significant. View the conference program here.

Instituting History: Foundations, Fixtures, and Faultlines (February 6-7, 2009)

Keynote speaker: Dr. Catherine Carstairs, “Digging for Drugs in Documents and Departments?”

Institutions: as formal organizations, social practices, and established customs, they have played a significant role in shaping history and in affecting how historians study the past. The practice of history is itself an institution; as scholars and students we must continually grapple with the implications that institutionalization has had on our subjects and on our methodologies. Histories of institutions are studies of power and control, of accepted norms and marginalized peripheries. They are also studies of agency and negotiation, and of cooperation and community. View the conference program.

Cultures in Contact (February 8-9, 2008)

Keynote speaker: Dr. Deborah Neill, “From the Local to the Global: Alcohol and World History”

Globalization, multiculturalism, ethnic tension – evidence of cultures in contact is all around us. History shows us that transnational and cross-cultural interactions are not unique to the contemporary world. For centuries, different cultural groups have come into contact. The effects have been both positive – enrichment of languages & art, technological advancement, exchange of knowledge – and negative – wars, imperialism, racism, discrimination. The outcome of such interactions are at the centre of Cultures in ContactView the conference program.

After the Fall: Sex, Gender, and Power (February 9-10, 2007)

Keynote speaker: Dr. Kevin Siena, “A Dog that Rarely Barked in the Night: the Strange Medical Silence on Same-sex Transmission of the Pox, c. 1660-1760″

Just as Michel Foucault changed the way historians discuss issues of power, Joan Scott’s definition of gender as a category of historical analysis has had a lasting impact. As Scott points out, gender is itself “a primary way of signifying relationships of power.” The construction of gender and power has been analyzed in relation to a wide range of historical periods and types of history. Papers for this conference reflect how issues of sex and gender implicate issues of power for any historical time and place. View the conference program.

Telling Stories: History, Medium, and Message (February 10-11, 2006)

Keynote speaker: Dr. Natalie Zemon Davis, “Film and the Possibilities of the Past”

Technology is dramatically transforming historical scholarship and writing in the 21st century. Paper-based manuscripts and texts now coexist with dynamic, multiform, digitally coded resources as sources for historical inquiry. Electronic representations of the visual and aural richness of diverse cultures have risen to challenge museums and archival vaults as the sole means of inspiring the intellectual lives of both scholars and students. Such experimental modes of historical research have inspired historians to consider alternative ways of approaching archival materials and early modern texts, breathing new life into the ways we approach historical research. The enormous implications of all these changes – the creation of new modes of historical research, pedagogy, and experiments with media as a source – are at the center of Telling Stories: History, Medium and Message. View conference program.

Construction Sites: Building Histories (February 12-13, 2005)

Keynote speaker: Hubert Hsu, “Architecture or American High”

Is the historical discipline a construction site? Can sites be constructed, destroyed and reconstructed? How does this affect and contribute to the building of historical narratives? How do we build histories through stories? Are bodies constructed? Are landscapes constructed? How are race, class, gender and sexuality constructed? Do sites of construction overlap?