This year marks the 10th anniversary of The City Talks lecture series, which began in 2010 when a group of urban scholars at the University of Victoria established the UVic Committee for Urban Studies.
Changing Memoryscapes in the City
January 23: Monumental Changes: Finding Meaning in Monuments and the Controversies Surrounding Them
Emma Renaerts is a Master’s of Journalism student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who is passionate about memory studies, social justice, and its intersections with culture. She is currently working on a final research project about the removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Victoria: it’s origins, aftermath, and impacts. As a journalist, Emma has covered topics including representation in the media, place naming and monuments, intersections of identity and the arts, and policy. Her work has been published or broadcast by The Tyee, THIS magazine, and CBC Vancouver, among others.
At 5 a.m. on August 11, 2018, city workers prepared to remove a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister. As the sun began to break through the clouds, workers fastened ropes around Macdonald’s bronze neck and, as if he was being hung in public, lifted the figure off its base. A couple dozen supporters and protesters faced off nearby. As the statue rose into the air, then was placed on a flatbed truck, the protesters, arms linked in a line, began to sing the Canadian national anthem. “….True patriot love, in all our sons command. O Canada, we stand on guard for thee…” Activists responded with their own chant. “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye,” they cheered. Around 7:30 a.m., the truck pulled away with its load, disappearing around the corner and out of sight on the way to city storage where the statue remains today. The Macdonald statue is just one of countless statues of controversial figures to have been removed in recent history. But the removal, and what is happening now within the City of Victoria, shows that there is more than one way to remove a statue. It also begs the question: are there right and wrong ways to remove a monument? Emma’s talk will explore these questions and more, looking at why monuments matter, the meanings they have, and the controversies that spring up around them – looking at the removal of Macdonald’s statue as well as other examples from her research and journalistic coverage of memorialization.
February 20: Memories in Stone: Confronting Colonial Monuments
Nadine Nakagawa, City Councillor, City of New Westminster
In May of 2019, the New Westminster City Council voted to remove the statue of Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie that stood in front of the provincial court house. This action was prompted by a call from the Tsilhqot'in National Government and echoed actions taken by the Law Society and UVic Law School. The removal prompted significant media attention which resulted in a backlash around the province. The Begbie statue is part of a larger public discourse on the role of colonial monuments in public spaces and how they not only reflect our shared history, but also suggest continued colonial control of future narratives. In removing the statue, the city has been accused of attempting to erase or rewrite history. History is often presented as objective when in fact there are multiple stories and perspectives on Judge Begbie and his actions. Judge Begbie’s memorialization in the form of statuary indicates a centring of settler perspectives while erasing the Tsilhqot’in’s historical telling of their government’s interactions with the judge. Additionally, in their stories on the statue removal, the media ignored the part of the motion that included opportunities to share different historical perspectives to create a fuller story. Instead, their focus was solely on the action of removal. Recontextualizing monuments to include both Indigenous and settler perspectives is one potential approach that has been suggested by many Indigenous people. Across the globe, artists and activists are confronting colonial monuments with a variety of interventions meant to highlight their contested historical narratives. Allowing for transformation and recontextualization provides an opportunity both to decolonize public spaces and to have a multi-perspective understanding of shared histories.
***NOTE: The City Talks lecture by Derek Alderman scheduled for April 2 has been cancelled due to a travel advisory issued by the speaker's university as a result of COVID-19.***
April 2: More Than Just an Urban Travel Guide: The Negro Motorist Green Book as Archive, Map, and Memorial
Derek Alderman, Professor, Department of Geography, University of Tennessee
The Negro Motorist Green Book (1936-1966) was a segregation-era travel guide developed by and for African Americans to help them navigate and negotiate the harassment, humiliation, and possible violence of driving through and staying in Jim Crow-dominated US cities. Largely forgotten by the general public until little over a decade ago, the Green Book is of growing (inter)national fascination, having become a touchstone for bringing attention to the fact that highways, cities, and towns were never fully open to African American drivers, and, in fact, remain discriminatory today. Dr. Alderman will explore the larger value of the Green Book to understanding the relationship between memory, race, and the city and the extent to which the famed motorist guide opens up but also limits certain ways of remembering racism and anti-racist resistance. Alderman will deploy the idea of the Green Book as “archive, map, and memorial” to identify how scholars, activists, and educators are using the history of how and where people of color traveled to address the legacies of living with, surviving, and driving against Jim Crow—not only in the past but in the present.
Politics and the City
September 19: The 2019 Federal Election and the Political Stakes for Canadian Cities
Laurel Collins (NDP Candidate for Victoria Electoral District), Racelle Kooy (Green Party Candidate for Victoria Electoral District), Nikki Macdonald (Liberal Party Candidate for Victoria Electoral District), and Jordan Reichert (Animal Protection Party Candidate for Victoria Electoral District).
What are the political stakes of the 2019 federal election for Canadian cities? This first City Talks event of the Fall 2019 series will consist of a discussion with four federal candidates running for election in the Victoria Electoral District: NDP Candidate Laurel Collins, Green Party Candidate Racelle Kooy, Liberal Party Candidate Nikki Macdonald, and Animal Protection Party Candidate Jordan Reichert. Each will begin with opening remarks followed by a discussion with the audience moderated by Deniz Unsal (Anthropology, University of Victoria).
October 17: Ethnicity and Conflict in Iraq's Oil City: A History of Kirkuk
Arbella Bet-Shlimon, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Washington
Arbella Bet-Shlimon is Associate Professor of History at the University of Washington. In her research and teaching, she focuses on twentieth-century Iraq and the Persian Gulf region as well as Middle Eastern urban history. Dr. Bet-Shlimon is the author of City of Black Gold: Oil, Ethnicity, and the Making of Modern Kirkuk (Stanford University Press, 2019).
Kirkuk is Iraq’s most multilingual city, for millennia home to a diverse population. It was also where, in 1927, a foreign company first struck oil in Iraq. Kirkuk soon became the heart of Iraq’s booming petroleum industry. Over the decades that followed, oil, urbanization, and colonialism shaped the identities of Kirkuk’s citizens, forming the foundation of an ethnic conflict. In the early 1920s, when the Iraqi state was formed under British administration, group identities in Kirkuk were fluid. But as the oil industry fostered colonial power and Baghdad’s influence over Kirkuk, intercommunal violence and competing claims to the city’s history took hold. The ethnicities of Kurds, Turkmens, and Arabs in Kirkuk were formed throughout a century of urban development, interactions between communities, and political mobilization. Ultimately, this lecture argues that contentious politics in disputed areas are not primordial traits of those regions, but are a modern phenomenon tightly bound to the society and economics of urban life.
November 21: The Politics of Racism and Urban Decline in the American Rust Belt
Jason Hackworth, Professor, Department of Geography & Planning, University of Toronto
Despite the considerable overlap between the presence of non-white people and generalized population (and capital) flight in a variety of national contexts, the urban decline literature almost entirely ignores race and racism as active causes of urban shrinkage. Most literature focuses on conventional economic explanations (e.g. levels of deindustrialization) and solutions (e.g. reinvention of the economy around a creative class paradigm). This presentation, which is based on material from the book Manufacturing Decline: How Racism and the Conservative Movement Crush the American Rust Belt (2019, Columbia University Press), explores the role of racism as an active cause of urban decline. More than simply being the cause of economic distress, declining cities and their often non-white citizens are actively constructed as virtual bêtes noires to advance conservative political interventions.