We knew we wanted Kristine Alexander to join our gang at the search dinner. We went to our local oddity: a restaurant built inside an old water tower. The hiring committee included a historian, a neuroscientist, a biological anthropologist and a cultural anthropologist. We were giddy with the possibilities for the search. It was the culmination of all the work we had done building a multi-disciplinary group that also included people working in education and children’s literature. We began as a reading group in 2009, and then we organized a successful conference in 2011. Now, the Institute for Child and Youth Studies (or I-CYS) was a reality at the University of Lethbridge, and we had been given the go-ahead to search for a Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Multidisciplinary Studies of Children and Youth. Heady stuff. And against the usual institutional inertia around cross-disciplinary work and research on children and youth. We were excited by our growing momentum, and here was our first candidate. And she was a delight! Her research on girl guides took in several of the contemporary themes in child and youth studies: girlhood, colonial studies, the nature of historical research on the young, and visual methods. That in itself was encouragement enough! Yet, what really made everything click was Kristine’s wit, her incisive thinking on the central issues, and especially her energy and courage for confronting the obstacles to working across disciplines, faculties, frames of reference. Frankly, she was game for our grand project. And she so got us! And now more than a year later, it’s clear our choice was the right one. And the I-CYS gang is still growing…
I learned all kinds of things during my job interview at the U of L: that southern Alberta is beautiful during the summer, for starters, and that an old water tower is actually a great place to put a restaurant. I also came to understand, during my dinner with the search committee members who are now my colleagues, that joining this playful and multidisciplinary group of intellectuals – like interdisciplinary research more generally – would require trust, openness, lots of communication, and a sense of humour.
Each one of these qualities was on display in abundance throughout my visit to Lethbridge. I’d caught glimpses of the creative and scholarly energy of the place several years earlier, when I gave a paper at 2011 “Mapping the Landscapes of Childhood” conference, but it was our dinner conversation at the water tower – which ranged from the play behaviours of rats to the joys of Michael Apted’s “Up” series – that really convinced me that this place, and this group of people, was something special.
Over the past year and a half, the I-CYS gang has been busy: we’ve shown films about young people, hosted academic talks, and invited graduate students to hear about the path-breaking youth engagement work that Syrus Marcus Ware is doing at the Art Gallery of Ontario. In May 2014, we held a workshop investigating the “conjoined categories” of risk and resilience in child and youth studies that was attended by scholars, practitioners, and artists from Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. This fall, we welcomed the first I-CYS Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Erin Spring, a new scholar whose interdisciplinary work on young adult literature and place exemplifies the spirit and goals of the Institute. We’ve got a growing community of graduate and undergraduate students, and have a number of events planned – many of which will be discussed here. We’re also excited about hosting the second “Mapping the Landscapes of Childhood” conference, which will be held here in Lethbridge on May 8-10 2014.
We’ll be blogging about these and many other child and youth-related things here, so watch this space!