The important history, heritage and sites of memory of people of African descent in Canada are at the heart of a summer institute taking place Aug. 21 to 27 at York University.
Convened by the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples at York University, the theme of the institute is “Slavery, Memory, Citizenship”. It marks the International Year for People of African Descent, as designated by the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
As part of the proceedings, Michaëlle Jean (right), former governor general of Canada, current UNESCO special envoy to Haiti and the recipient of a 2007 honorary doctor of laws degree from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, will announce the launch of the UNESCO Slave Route Project: Itineraries of African Canadian Memory initiative during her keynote address on Aug. 23.
The project is a long-term initiative to identify important sites of memory that relate to people of African descent in Canada. The UNESCO Slave Route Project (part of the organization’s Division of Cultural Policies & Intercultural Dialogue) has recognized that historic sites associated with people of African descent in Canada constitute a UNESCO “Itinerary of Memory”.
“We are pleased that York University’s Harriet Tubman Institute is hosting the program on slavery, memory and citizenship, with presentations by many distinguished guests, including Canada’s former governor general, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean,” says York’s President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. “Our Tubman Institute has played – and continues to play – a leading role in fostering debate, informing public policy and striving to resolve current social injustices as they relate to racism and slavery.”
The Itineraries of African Canadian Memory initiative will detail how the experiences of Africans and their descendants “have contributed to building this nation from 1604 through the present day,” says York Distinguished Research Professor Paul Lovejoy, Canada Research Chair in African Diaspora History and director of the Harriet Tubman Institute. “The goal of the project is to raise consciousness about the diversity of the Canadian past.”
Lovejoy, along with noted Underground Railroad historian and award-winning author Karolyn Smardz Frost and historian and genealogist Hilary Dawson, are working with community partners, government agencies and heritage organizations to identify sites evocative of the African Canadian experience. The purpose of the Itineraries of African Canadian Memory initiative is to establish the process by which Canadian sites related to slavery and slave resistance can be officially recognized by UNESCO. Eleven sites designated by the Ontario Heritage Trust have already received UNESCO recognition.
Delegates at the 2011 Summer Institute will explore African migrations, slavery and the slave trade from both historical and contemporary perspectives. Ongoing research projects by scholars at the Tubman Institute and its partners will be highlighted as part of the institute’s proceedings. The event is associated with a Major Collaborative Research Initiative funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada.
The week-long Summer Institute will provide a forum for senior scholars, junior researchers, teachers from all levels of education, librarians and public policy-makers to discuss historic and contemporary issues of forced servitude (slavery); the ways in which slavery is researched, taught and publicly presented (memory); and the impact of this public memory on status, placement and recognition in the national policy (citizenship). The Summer Institute will be broadcast via video podcasts to off-site workshops held simultaneously in Haiti.
Plenary sessions will be delivered by York Professors Lovejoy, Smardz Frost and Annie Bunting; Toyin Falola, distinguished professor, University of Texas; Francine Saillant, CELAT, Laval; Amani Whitfield, University of Vermont; Myriam Cottias, CNRS, Paris; Sir Hilary Beckles, principal, University of the West Indies, Barbados; Maria Elisa Velázquez, president, UNESCO Slave Route Project; and Blaise Tchikaya, executive board, the African Union. These sessions will be held daily from Aug. 22 to 27, between 9am and 11am.
Jean Augustine (left), Fairness Commissioner of Ontario and the first African Canadian woman to be elected to the Parliament of Canada, will be the keynote speaker at the closing luncheon on Aug. 26. Augustine is the recipient of a 2011 honorary doctor of laws degree from York University, and has donated her archival and parliamentary materials to York’s Faculty of Education, thus creating the opportunity to establish York’s Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment.
“The Summer Institute showcases the strength of interdisciplinary research at York University,” says Robert Haché, York’s vice-president research & innovation. “Researchers work together with partners, community groups, international and external organizations to disseminate new knowledge and improve the accessibility of information across various sectors in society, while addressing complex social issues.”
For more information, including a list of speakers and sessions, visit the Harriet Tubman Institute website.