History

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The History Department at the University of Manitoba has substantial teaching, research, and community expertise in the history of: human rights, aboriginal rights, self-determination and rights-based struggles; social justice and social movements. The Department offers varied geographic perspectives on human rights issues for many different groups of people at the local, regional, national, and global levels.

Greg Bak

An assistant professor of history and archival studies, Bak played a key role in developing the successful proposal to house the National Research Centre at the University of Manitoba.

He specializes in digital archives, including the history of digital culture and using digital archives for social justice.

Bak is also a collaborator on the Embodying Empathy partnership development grant. In this project, residential school survivors and researchers will partner together with the goal of creating a virtual Indian residential school that leads people to empathize and engage with those who attended residential schools.

Before joining the University of Manitoba in 2011, Bak was the senior digital archivist at Library & Archives Canada, a curator of rare books at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) libraries, and an information specialist for the HIV/AIDS affiliate of the Canadian Health Network and the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health.

Benjamin M. Baader

Dr. Baader is an Associate Professor of History. His teaching and research activity focuses on the history of the Jewish people who have been for some two thousand years a vulnerable minority population in a large range of historical settings. His work focuses on Jewish life worlds in Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century, a time when Jewish men and women fought for emancipation and struggled to achieve integration into German society.  Accordingly, he has extensive expertise on the dynamics of human rights discourses in Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment Europe, and is an expert on the process in which Western societies negotiated the rights of individuals and communities in a formative period of modernity. Moreover, gender is an important analytical category in all of his publications and in his ongoing research.  His book Gender, Judaism, and Bourgeois Culture has contributed greatly to understanding of how the gender order of pre-modern Jewish culture gave way to modern modes of gender organization.  He is an expert on how hierarchies between men and women played out and were transformed in the transition to Western modernity and he possesses expertise on how culturally specific mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion have determined and limited the rights of women in various historical settings.

R. Jarvis Brownlie

Dr. Brownlie is engaged in research, teaching, and community work that all relates broadly to human rights, social justice, and rights-based struggles. As a scholar of Aboriginal history, Prof. Brownlie is constantly presented with concerns relating to all these issues, and also pursues them by choice. Brownlie has published a journal article that discusses the ways that Anishinabe activists spoke about human rights and Aboriginal rights during the inter-war period (“‘Nothing left for me or any other Indian’: the Georgian Bay Anishinabek and Inter-War Articulations of Aboriginal Rights,” Ontario History, vol. XCVI, no. 2 (Autumn 2004), 116-42). In Brownlie’s research on Aboriginal-government relations questions of rights and social justice arise frequently, and they are discussed in several places in A Fatherly Eye: Indian Agents, Government Power, and Aboriginal Resistance in Ontario, 1918-1939 (Oxford University Press, 2003). Brownlie is currently engaged in a research project concerning the ways that oral history is handled when it is advanced in Aboriginal legal cases pertaining to treaty and Aboriginal rights and is also a co-investigator for a SSHRC-funded research project on the oral history of northern Manitoba treaties. Brownlie teaches an upper-level seminar entitled “The History of Aboriginal Rights” and maintains an active reading practice relating to these issues. Finally, Brownlie is engaged in community work that relates to social justice and rights-based struggles. This includes, most recently, being a co-investigator in an oral history pilot project that was conducted at Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre in Winnipeg’s North End. In this project Aboriginal speakers were brought in to speak to young Aboriginal women about resistance, a topic that evoked considerable discussion about social justice and questions of human rights.

Joyce M. Chadya

Dr. Chadya is an Assistant Professor of African History. Her research work focus on a number of areas that are related to social justice and rights issues. In one study she explored why and how women and children fled from the war-torn Zimbabwean countryside to Harare during the liberation struggle and settled in an open public space as refugee-squatters for the duration of the liberation war. Thus, she looks at how men and women experienced the war differently as well as peasants’ right to peace and security so as to have a normal life in the countryside. Once they reached the urban centres it becomes an issue of their right to shelter in a colonial town where white interests were paramount. This was in the context of an anti-colonial struggle as Africans were fighting for majority rule. In another study she examines why there has been a surge in child sexual abuse in Zimbabwe between 2000 and the present. She argued that many children especially from poor backgrounds have become vulnerable to sexual abuse as their right to safety and childhood has been compromised at a time when the country is experiencing political, social and economic turmoil. In a different study she investigated how women joined the anti-colonial nationalist struggles as appendages of men and how their incorporation into guerilla armies was just symbolic. This study demonstrates that the participation of women in liberation struggles is no guarantee for the better treatment of women – socially and economically – in the post-colonial period. While during the anti-colonial struggles African women were advised (by nationalists) to put their women’s issues aside and focus on the common enemy, the colonialist, in the post-colonial period they were told to become “proper” African women who did not challenge the patriarchy and who were not influenced by western imperialist feminists. In yet another study she examined the impact of the economic meltdown, in particular fuel shortages, on the right to one of the most fundamental human practices – mourning and interning the dead. Focusing on Harare and Chtungwiza, she came to the conclusion that the fuel shortages, among other problems affecting Zimbabwe in the new millennium generated cultural shifts on the Zimbabwean deathscape. These shifts in funerary practices exhibit the fluidity of culture as traditions were reshaped by the economic the economic changes the country was experiencing. The shift in these practices evinces one of the principal motifs of culture – that culture is fluid especially when the material world is factored in.

Tina Mai Chen

Dr. Chen is Associate Professor of History and Co-coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Research Circle on Globalization and Cosmopolitanism. She is a specialist in Modern Chinese history, with a specific research interest in the social, political, and cultural norms that structure people’s engagement with society, nation-states, and international organizations and movements.  Her research addresses how rights of people have been part of socialist and post-socialist struggles in China, and the promises and limitations of particular rights frameworks and alliances across the twentieth century. She is internationally recognized for her work on gender and women’s emancipation in Maoist China; Sino-Soviet cultural exchange and its relationship to global anti-colonial struggles; and historical cultural studies committed to interrogating how inequalities are produced, reinforced, and challenged through the global circulation of cultural products. Most recently, she has undertaken a SSHRC-funded research project on the Chinese diaspora in Burma, with a focus on migration experiences and citizenship rights as related to wartime occupation of Burma by the Japanese. This project considers how notions of patriotism, loyalty, ethnicity, and race were mobilized during and after WWII as part of the articulation of key categories and policies of the Post-War Human Rights regime, namely understandings of refugees, displaced persons, and modern national citizenship.

Dr. Chen’s teaching also foregrounds critical engagement with alternative conceptualization of rights, the everyday manifestations of rights struggles, and the benefits and costs of programs initiated by nation-states and international organizations that seek to address particular forms of oppression and inequality over others. She teaches courses in the fields of Modern World History; Culture, Rights, and International Relations in Post-1939 World History; History of Modern China; and Chinese Revolutionary Theory. She is also an active member of the Winnipeg Chinese Community and an advocate for diversity and equity at the University of Manitoba.

David S. Churchill

When frustrated with the status quo, members of marginalized groups often band together and use political activism to secure their human rights.

Dr. David Churchill studies these human rights movements in the context of sexual orientation in post-1960 United States. Over the last five decades, lesbians and gay men have used Rights Talk to gain privacy protection, anti-discrimination legislation and full citizenship rights in terms of marriage, adoption, military service, and immigration.

To spark conversation about current human rights movements, Churchill and colleauge Tina Chen co-ordinate the Interdisciplinary Research Circle on Globalization and Cosmopolitanism. This group formed in response to events like the War on Terror, September 11, and a rapidly changing economy. They are dedicated to examining cultural and political implications of globalization.

In 2004, Churchill was a Rockefeller Humanities Research Fellow in Columbia University’s gender, sexuality, health and human rights program.

He also directed the University of Manitoba’s Institute for the Humanities during its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Two-Spirit, and Queer (LGBTTQ) Archival and Oral History Initiative.

Roisin Cossar

Roisin Cossar is a specialist in Medieval History, with a geographic focus on Italy. As part of her research in the society and culture of medieval Italy, she analyzes the status and lived experience of underprivileged people, especially the poor inhabitants of Italian cities in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. For instance, in published work she has examined how paupers in medieval Italian cities organized themselves into associations to demand charitable assistance. She has also investigated the changing face of charitable associations in medieval Italy, and has argued that over the course of the later Middle Ages the poor and women were gradually cut out of the groups that purported to assist them in an earlier age. The status of marginal groups and their efforts to shape their own lives is also the subject of some of her teaching. In a third-year course, The Margins of the Middle Ages, she introduces students to some of the groups considered to be on the periphery of medieval society, and through critical readings of key texts the class discusses perceptions of these so-called “marginal” groups throughout medieval society.

Chris Frank

Long before the Winnipeg General Strike, workers have banded together to form movements and pursue their rights. Historian Dr. Chris Frank studies the relationship between labour movements, governments and legal systems in 19th century Britain.

In one line of research, he looks at how filing legal complaints about workplace injustice can shape both these movements and how workers understand themselves in relation to their employers.

Frank teaches British, Irish and European history and has taught the History of Working Peoples and the Labour Movement 1700-present. He wrote Master and Servant Law: Chartists, Trade Unions, Radical Lawyers and the Magistracy, 1840-1865 and was a co-coordinator of the Law and Society Research Cluster with Greg Smith.

Jean Friesen

Dr. Friesen specializes in Aboriginal history, treaties and rights. Dr. Friesen has published many works, including Magnificent Gifts: The Treaties of Canada with Indians of the Northwest, 1869-76, and was a member of the legislative assembly from 1990-2003. In that capacity, she was appointed deputy premier and minister of inter-government affairs in 1999, also receiving ministerial responsibility for co-operative development in 2002. She continues to work closely with governmental and community organizations on issues of Aboriginal history and governance. Friesen is also part of the speakers’ bureau for the Treaty Commission of Manitoba.

Mark Gabbert

Dr. Gabbert is an associate professor of history and a specialist in modern world history. In both his teaching and research, he focuses on questions of democracy, social justice and the impact of political-economic developments on human emancipation.

Gabbert is especially interested in the relationship between socialism and democracy. He studies the way popular, radical 20th century movements led to the construction of authoritarian Stalinist regimes, the fate of those regimes, and possible democratic alternatives to both Stalinism and capitalism.

He is a founding member of the global political economy program and represents the history department on its steering committee. Gabbert also has a longstanding interest in academic freedom and is currently a member of the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

Julie Gibbings

Julie Gibbings is an assistant professor in the Department of History. She is a specialist in modern Latin America, with a specific research interest in nineteenth and twentieth century Guatemala, a country that emerged from genocidal civil war in 1996 with a strong indigenous revitalization movement. Dr. Gibbings is currently completing a book length project on struggles over the meaning and limitations of early concepts of human rights such as the universal ideals of citizenship and freedom. She examines how these struggles were waged through discourses on history and race in Guatemala. Her work helps us to understand why international development and human rights discourses would later be so powerful for so many marginalized and excluded peoples.

In both her research and teaching, Dr. Gibbings foregrounds the struggles of indigenous peoples in Latin America for autonomy, rights, and restitution and how contemporary Latin American nations, even those with the most progressive and populist reforms, continued to be plagued by traces of colonial practices.

Esyllt Jones

Esyllt Jones researches and writes about the relationship between social inequality, disease and social movements. Her first book, Influenza 1918: Disease, Death and Struggle, discussed the impact of poverty and social hierarchy on individual, family and collective experiences of the pandemic, while emphasizing the capacity of marginalized citizens to mobilize for mutual support. Her work has also argued that involuntary public health measures (such as compulsory vaccination and quarantine) are historically contested practices that violate the rights of the modern citizen body. She is now working on a second monograph entitled Red Medicine: Transnational Lives and the Birth of Medicare in Canada, which situates the emergence of one of Canada’s most critical social programs in the context of transnational debates about health, medicine, and social equality in the 1930s and 1940s.

She teaches first and second year Canadian history from the point of view of the long (unfinished) struggle for human rights and democracy, and the importance of dissent and oppositional thought to the development of democratic institutions and practices. Her classes challenge students to think through the limits of equality, by exploring the historical experiences of women, workers, ethnic and racial minorities, and Aboriginal peoples. “The History of Winnipeg” (3890) studies the Winnipeg General Strike, anti-poverty movements, and the Aboriginal activism in the 1960s and 1970s. Honours and graduate teaching in the history of medicine – dealing with topics such as Aboriginal health, the treatment of those with mental illness, the medicalization of normative (hetero)sexuality, and the relationship between gender inequality and notions of female embodiment — reveals that health equality and human rights are inseparable. Prof. Jones’s graduate students are currently writing theses on issues such as the history of polio, family and disability; grassroots political activism for medicare in Saskatchewan in the 1940s; and the history of nursing unionism.

Jorge Nállim

Jorge Nállim is Assistant Professor of History, specializing in Latin American history. His teaching and area interests are closely informed by a concern with human rights and social justice. In both graduate and undergraduate courses on Latin American history, he focuses on human rights violations that characterized different Latin American countries in the second half of the twentieth century, from Guatemala and El Salvador to the countries in the Southern Cone. Given this history, Latin America has been at the forefront of human rights struggles and debates, both at theoretical and more concrete, real levels. A native from Argentina, which witnessed one of the most brutal military regimes in Latin America, he is interested in issues intrinsically linked to human rights such as those related to state power, popular protest and resistance, justice, memory, and social and political healing.

Tom Nesmith

Tom Nesmith is the founder and director of the master’s program in Archival Studies in the Department of History. His interest in the growing public affairs and human rights roles of archives goes back to his first archival position at the then Public Archives of Canada, which involved acquiring and making available records related to the women’s movement. He wrote a short article on this work in *Canadian Woman Studies/les cahiers de la femme* vol 3, no.1 (1981) entitled “Sources for the History of Women at the Public Archives of Canada”. He was on the team of archivists that researched and mounted the major 1982-83 PAC exhibit of documents on the history of women in Canada (1870-1940), which toured the country for many years. Since joining the history department, he has introduced students to the roles archives play in public affairs, human rights, and social justice. Several Archival students have completed MA theses on these themes — from Aboriginal peoples’ archives to child abuse survivors’ archives. He has also published on these topics and delivered keynote addresses on them at archival conferences in Scotland and New Zealand and at the National Archives of Australia.

Adele Perry

Adele Perry is a historian of women’s and gender history, colonial history, and the histories of migration and immigration.   She teaches women’s history, Canadian history, and western Canadian history. Geographically and temporally Perry’s research focuses on north-western North America from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century with interests in comparative analyses of the Caribbean, the Antipodes, and the United Kingdom.   Perry is completing a book length-project on intimacy, kinship, and identity in the nineteenth-century British empire, and is beginning new work on liberal humanitarian critiques of British imperialism in the fur-trade territories of mid nineteenth century British North America, and will make connections between indigenous dispossession, settler colonialism, and abolitionism and between the fur-trade colonies and their metropoles. This project will offer a new vantage point on the intellectual lineages of the discourse of modern human rights and its power and limitations to address the complicated histories of Indigenous peoples and imperialism. Her publications include: the award-winning On the Edge of Empire: Gender, Race, and the Making of British Columbia, 1849-71 (2001); co-editor, Rethinking Canada: The Promise of Women’s History (4, 5th, and 6th edition); and numerous articles in Canadian and international journals.

Greg Smith

Dr. Greg Smith teaches and researches the historical dimensions of human rights, particularly from the 1700s and 1800s.

The way we talk about human rights today is rooted in writings from the Age of Enlightenment on criminality, poverty, punishment and access to justice. Smith traces these roots in his research and has published on violence and the law, punishment and rights, and about access to justice for disadvantaged groups.

Smith is an assistant professor of history and associate dean of Arts. He co-ordinated the Institute for the Humanities Law & Society Research Cluster, where the 2009-10 program theme was “Law and Human Rights.”

Erik Thomson

In a world where many people think of “human rights” as an antidote for evil, it is important to remember that the most cunning leviathans often clothe themselves in a vision of righteousness.

Dr. Erik Thomson, an associate professor of history, urges us to consider concepts of human rights with a critical eye, as political power can complicate and tarnish rights-based arguments.

In his research, Thomson has scrutinized the diplomatic process that tried to restore and justify rights during the Reformation, as well as the networks of financiers, arms-dealers, rogues, and diplomats who started using rights language for their own personal gain across Europe and the world.

He teaches a course that focuses on texts examining how uncomfortably commerce, rights, empire, and citizenship come together in European thought.

Thomson earned his PhD and MA from the John Hopkins University and his BA from Queen’s University.

Ravi Vaitheespara

The beautiful scenery of Sri Lanka seems at odds with its ugly, 25-plus years of ethnic conflict between the Sinhalas and the Tamils. This conflict erupted in the 1980s through a clash of strong Sinhala nationalism while the Tamils pushed for self-rule. How did identity, violence, and government repression shape the conflict?

Ravi Vaithees studies how these factors intersect with human rights in his research and through his work as coordinator of the Postcolonial South Asian and African Studies research cluster.

These topics are also the focus of his senior joint undergraduate/graduate seminar on Imperialism, Decolonization and Neocolonialism, and other courses on modern South Asian and Asian history.

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