Cross-border team-teaching in environmental history – it is the latest innovation in the graduate program in History, developed by Canada Research Chair Colin Coates (right) of Glendon’s Canadian Studies Program, in collaboration with History professor Susan Gray of Arizona State University (ASU). Taught in the fall term, the two graduate-level classes in North-American environmental history used the same readings, and conducted discussions via video-conferencing and in person. Students worked in pairs to complete joint papers: 1 York student + 1 ASU student per project. One of the key themes of the course was the history of landscape in North America.
Left: Prof. Susan Gray of ASU
And they finally had the opportunity of meeting face to face, when the Canadian group flew to Phoenix during the October reading break for seminars and a field trip. Among other books, they read a biography of explorer and ethnologist John Wesley Powell, preparing for the trip’s highlight: a joint excursion to the Grand Canyon, hiking into the canyon itself. “This trip allowed the group to explore further the issues raised in the readings,” Coates said, “and provided a first-hand experience of an iconic American landscape.” ASU Professor Paul Hirt, a specialist on the human landscape of the Grand Canyon, led the field trip.
Part of the Arizona group was able to return the visit, with two of the students accompanying Professor Gray from November 14 to 18. During this visit, a videoconference was set up to include those who couldn’t travel to Toronto. Complementing the field trip to the Grand Canyon, the group visited one of North America’s other iconic landscapes, Niagara Falls.
York students accompanied by Prof. Coates (far left) visiting the Grand Canyon on their field trip (photo courtesy of Paul Hirt)
“Pairing two such programs was an excellent initiative by York International”, added Coates, “and highly successful.” In fact, York International helped fund the program by footing the bill for the flight costs of the Canadians to Phoenix, with ASU covering the rest of the visit’s expenses. The visit of the American group to Toronto was supported by York International, York’s graduate history program, the dean of graduate studies, a SSHRC-funded networking grant in Environmental History and Dr Coates’ Canada Research Chair. Professor Coates feels hopeful that this great experience, a real enrichment on transnational topics, can be repeated in future joint ventures, possibly on the topic of aboriginal history or the history of migration. Students had the opportunity to learn first-hand about a very different part of the continent, as well as engage in high-level collaborative work. York and ASU, one of the largest universities in the US, proved to be an excellent match.
Fluently bilingual, Coates holds a Canada Research Chair in Canadian Cultural Landscapes. He is the winner of the Lionel Groulx-Yves Saint-Germain Foundation’s award for Heroines and History – Representations of Madeleine de Verchères and Laura Secord (co-authored with Cecilia Morgan of OISE), published by the University of Toronto Press in 2002. Coates has published several other books as well, and an impressive list of articles, chapters in collective publications, and contributions to magazines in both English and French.
Article submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny