TOPIA celebrates 10 years of probing Canadian cultural studies issues

TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies is celebrating a decade of being this country’s only cultural studies journal providing critical thinkers in history, visual art, film, television, music, literature and the social sciences a venue to share, discuss and analyze the latest in Canadian and international culture.

A bash at the Gladstone Hotel’s Art Bar, 1214 Queen St. West, Toronto, will take place on Sunday, March 23 from 5 to 8pm with live music by Ian Jamieson & Kousha Nakhaei. The celebration will gather together editors, authors, artists, assistants, readers and supporters who helped place TOPIA at the critical edge of cultural studies.

With an editorial board that spans the globe, but stops here at York with editor Jody Berland in the Division of Humanities, Faculty of Arts, TOPIA is a forum for current research and writing in cultural studies in Canada.

"We’ve been able to reach a lot more people and a more interdisciplinary audience over the years," says Berland, the editor since the journal’s inception. "Celebrating the 10th anniversary of TOPIA, kind of establishes it as a permanent academic journal. It’s like a coming of age for the journal and a tribute to its ability to survive."

It survived despite being turned down for funding by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) four years ago. "It’s a great testimony to the support from York because York really stepped in and saved the journal when we didn’t get the funding from SSHRC. The journal owes a great deal to Bob Drummond, dean of arts, and to the Graduate Program in Communication and Culture, which houses our editorial office," says Berland.

Letters of support for TOPIA poured in from around the world after word regarding the lack of SSHRC funding spread. There was shock and disapproval as far as Australia and Hong Kong.

"We had all these academic associations writing in very favorable reviews of the journal when the SSHRC funding was denied. It was a really strong testimonial to our achievement as an academic journal," says Berland. "Without TOPIA, there was nowhere for people to publish. There was no academic peer-reviewed journal like this in Canada. Journals in other countries would ask the contributors to take out the references to Canada saying it was too specific. So it also helped to professionalize and consolidate a field that was interdisciplinary and didn’t have an academic association of its own."

In keeping up with the times and technical resources, TOPIA became the first journal to be digitized and published online in 2006 through York Library’s Open Journal Systems software, developed by Simon Fraser University. This allowed for an even larger readership. Issues are available free from the first issue through to the Fall 2005 issue. Articles published in the last two years are only available through subscription.

Articles range from road kill in popular culture, hip hop in the north, the sexuality of Ashley MacIsaac and urban development in the prairies to Quebec integration, feminist theory, new technology and media coverage of the war in Iraq. TOPIA also has an extensive book review section edited by Barbara Godard, Avi Historica Chair of Canadian Literature in York’s Department of English.

"It’s cutting-edge because it’s a crossing for all disciplines," says Berland. "And that’s what makes it unique."

Graduate students also have the opportunity to learn how to copy edit, review manuscripts and prepare a journal for print. Student editorial assistants come from communications and culture, English, environmental studies and the humanities.

It’s a place where different disciplines, such as art and philosophy, can meet where they otherwise might not have the chance. "I think it has been a really important way for scholars to mix and explore questions across a range of issues," says Berland.

What comes next for TOPIA is to secure stable funding so it can continue to titillate, provoke, engage and interest scholars from all disciplines around the world.

Berland says her experience during a recent visit to British Columbia made it clear TOPIA was making an impact. "People were like, "Wow, TOPIA, what would we do without it?"

TOPIA is published by Wilfred Laurier Press. Subscriptions to TOPIA, published twice a year, reach across the globe into Hong Kong, Australia, Japan, the UK, Poland and the US. There in an international editorial board along with an advisory board.

For more information, e-mail TOPIA’s online issues can be read through York Library’s Open Journal Systems.

By Sandra McLean, York communications officer