Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to an ongoing segment here at The Daily Gumboot. It’s called “Get to Know Your Community” and, basically, it goes like this: each and every Sunday we will profile someone from a community somewhere. Each person is asked the same five questions (see below as well as in the “Ideas from Everywhere” page). At the end of the profile, the Gumbooteer (member of this blog’s Editorial Board) who found the person will list their three favourite things about the highlighted community member. Savvy?
Here are some ideas from everywhere. Here is one way that we try to build community. Have fun with it!
Jim Clifford: a man of History and Food
1. Who are you?
Jim Clifford, eternal student, historian and teacher. I’m working to finish writing a dissertation on the environmental history of a suburb, West Ham, and river, the Lea, on the eastern edge of London, England from about 1855-1935. Most people will hear a lot more about this area in a little under three years, as it’s the location of the 2012 Summer Olympics. I study and teach at York University in Toronto.
2. What do you do for fun?
Most of my life is pretty fun. I’m at that great age where I have a lot more money and comfort than when I was an undergraduate student and still don’t have the life changing young children that the majority of our friends have started creating. I like to run and
bike; eat, cook and drink; make beer, canned goods and pork products; talk about politics, food, music or just about anything else with friends; and go to concerts and take it easy with my wife Katie.
3. What is your favourite community and why?
This is a touch question, as I’ve moved a lot in the past ten or eleven years and I’ve got a very dispersed community of friends and family spread around Canada. So instead of focusing on a community of people, I think I’ll talk about the place I live. I really like Toronto. We’ve been here for over four years now and its the first place where I’ve really put down roots since leaving South Surrey in 1998. Despite the reputation for “coldness,” Toronto’s a pretty amazing city. Its a lot more complex than the world of bankers, media elite and Leaf fans seen by the rest of Canada. There are millions of
people here and a lot of them are pretty great. We don’t have the natural beauty that Vancouver has, and the city’s forefathers even managed to ruin much of the natural wonders we do have, but we do have great neighbourhoods that give many of the different areas of Toronto great character. Getting to know many of these neighbourhoods draws newcomers like Katie and I into the city and makes us feel at home.
4. What is your super power?
Does painstaking analysis of past events and communities count? How about writing and talking about this analysis? Sounds exhilarating eh?
5. How do you use it to build community?
I’ve joined together with a group of fellow historians in Canada to promote more active engagement with the communities we study and with the major problems of our time. We have a website, ActiveHistory.ca, and we are currently working with historians to publish a series of essays written for the public and posted on the website so they are accessible for anyone to read. We are continuing to think of other ways to connect historians with both the public and policy makers – op-eds. blogs, walking tours, public talks, comic books, policy papers, guerrilla-museum exhibitions and alternative historic plaques. While ActiveHistory.ca is mostly focused on Canada, I plan to use a variety of these approaches to bring the environmental history of West Ham into the growing conversation about the massive changes brought by the Olympics, connecting my active history with my dissertation research.
I think history matters, but I’m tried of the standard yearly news story about young Canadians failing a history pop quiz. We’ve got to find better ways to build a wider consciousness of the past that goes beyond remembering dates and facts from high school: who was the third prime minister, what date did the battle of Vimy Ridge take place. Knowing the answers to those questions while help you win trivia games, but they will contribute little to building a sustainable future where the economy, environment and our society can coexist for generations to come. I’m not sure if we’ve got the super powers to change and expand the historical consciousness of our culture, but we are going to try.
My three favourite things about Jim Clifford are…
1. He’s really, really interesting. The stuff above gives you an idea of how much the painstaking analysisof his academic life makes him an amazing conversationalist and ideas man. And the best thing about Jim being interesting and knowledgeable is that he’s very, very good at consistently striving to engage anyone from anywhere on an intellectual level. An ambitious pursuit to say the least. Activehistory.ca is what the kids out there are calling a “game changer” – it’s very cool, so check it out. And, remember, graduate students are not terrible people, Tina Fey!
2. He is a man of food. Not only does Jim understand the politics of food, he is also a damn fine cook who possesses a passion for local food, especially tomatoes. I am lucky enough to be visiting Toronto, Jim’s community, in about a month – what’s on the menu, my friend?
3. We have shared adventures. Jim is a guy you want in your corner when the chips are down, and I know this because we have been on road trips, midnight hikes and graduate seminars. You can trust on Jim to stand up for what he believes in and always doing what’s right. He’s a rugby player, too, so cultivating shenanigans is never a problem when out on the town with Jim.