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Thematic history of the Robarts Centre

Contributing to Academic and Public Debates

Since the Inaugural Lecture of the Robarts Centre in May 1984, entitled “Se Connaître: Politics and Culture in Canada,” the Robarts Centre has had a strong and continuous interest in documenting, interrogating, and analyzing Canadian identity and culture. Considering John Robarts’ interest in Canadian unity, the Robarts Centre designed the John P. Robarts Chairs in Canadian Studies program so that experts could share with academic and public audiences in oral and written forms their insights on the state of specific aspects and processes making Canadian society. Running from 1986 to 2000, the Robarts Chairs were an integral part of the significance of the Robarts Centre identity.

Since then, the spirit of the Robarts Chairs has evolved to include the Annual Robarts Lecture, timely conferences to highlight key themes and turning points, such as the Millennial Wisdom Symposium in 2000, and the the Robarts Centre Summer Institute which ran from 1999 to 2002. With the evolution of the institutional landscape in research, the Robarts Centre has also evolved to support York’s institutional Chairs, such as Canada Research Chairs, and has worked in partnership with various academic research units at York, in Canada and throughout the world. It continuously supports key public events and celebrates the work of outstanding Canadian scholars, dignitaries and experts for their contribution to the study of Canada.

Supporting the Next Generation

Since its inception in 1984, one of the key goals of our Centre has been to support postdoctoral fellows working on various aspects of the study of Canada. Over the years, this support has continued and multiplied to match an increasing number of requests for resident and visiting post-doctoral scholar positions, based on available funding programs, faculty associates’ requests and York academic units. In complement to the development of graduate programs at York over the last 40 years, the Robarts Centre is seen as a key addition to supporting postdoctoral fellows at York, notably in developing contacts, networks, and various professional opportunities.

Throughout the 2000s, the support of the Robarts Centre to the next generation evolved more systematically to include opportunities and initiatives for graduate students, notably through the Annual Robarts Graduate Conference and the Barbara Godard Prize for the Best York University Dissertation in Canadian Studies. The Robarts Centre has also supported undergraduate students with the Odessa Prize for the Study of Canada (undergraduate essay prize) and more recently undergraduate students affiliated with Glendon’ Canadian Studies program and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) Black Canadian Studies certificate. With the Robarts Centre Fellowships and the journal Contemporary Kanata, the Robarts Centre is finding ways to consolidate our support and train the next generation in critical, collaborative and interdisciplinary ways.

Publishing History

As a publishing house, the Robarts Centre has constantly published various materials to disseminate cutting-edge research in the study of Canada. Besides the lectures from Robarts Chairs and publishing some books and booklets, our Centre launched its flagship publication, Canada Watch in 1992. This was a joint venture with York’s Centre for Public Law and Public Policy until 2004, and continues to be published to this day. This freely available resource has provided a practical analysis on key thematic issues relevant to understanding Canada. Written by experts in accessible language, and now fully available online, Canada Watch is known to be a wonderful pedagogical resource.

Since moving its publications online in the 2000s, the Robarts Centre has been able to multiply the types of publications, including the most recent Reflections on Research, which present some of the work conducted by our researchers, and to provide the recordings of various lectures from visiting and guest speakers, all of which make for an important source of public engagement and pedagogical resources.

Developing institutional capacity

Due to its focus on supporting and mobilizing research in the study of Canada for the York community as a whole, the Robarts Centre has led various institutional projects and initiatives in support of broader Canadian Studies networks, whether at home or internationally.

Asked by York to manage international students and scholars’ exchanges in the 1980s and 1990s, it has also been York’s key link to the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies and, through Polar Knowledge Canada’s Northern Scientific Training Program, it manages funding for graduate students conducting fieldwork in the North.

Whether through its Visiting Professorship program, its contribution to the Canadian Studies Network or its hosting of the secretariat of the International Council for Canadian Studies, the Robarts Centre views these opportunities as a way to connect York scholars with opportunities to strengthen their scholarship, make their work more visible and impactful, and situate York researchers at the Centre of the study of Canada.

Researching Canada

The interest to mobilize research on Canada at York University through a research centre has been present since the 1970s. The research priorities of the Centre have slowly developed over the years to foster a timely, historically grounded, community oriented, multi-faceted, interdisciplinary, collaborative and critical study of Canada. Often determined by key moments in the evolution of the country, such as the constitutional crises, the Robarts Centre has increasingly welcomed new ways of redefining the study of Canada, notably including transnational and comparative scholarship.

While such priorities were historically often closer to the Director’s own research agenda, the Centre’s capacity to support a growing number and increasingly diverse set of research projects has led, in recent years, to the development of interdisciplinary research clusters and internal funding opportunities to explore new project and collaboration ideas.

Besides supporting internally and externally funded projects, the Robarts Centre encourages and fosters the development of pan-University and interdisciplinary research groups that push the frontiers of what is meant by an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and critical study of Canada, notably by combining traditional research activities with networking, community-building, student training and public dissemination priorities.