Digital History Essay Prize awarded to Queen's University student
Leslie Weir, President of Canadiana.org, awarded the 2015 Digital History Essay Prize to Peter Anderson, PhD Candidate at Queen's University, for demonstrating the important contributions of digital primary-source content in understanding the historical geography of the Central Experimental Farm, a major Ottawa landmark.
The prize cremony took place June 2 at the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) annual meeting held at the University of Ottawa.
The Digital History Essay Prize, co-sponsored by Canadiana.org and the CHA to recognize excellence in the emerging field of digital history, is awarded to students registered at a Canadian university who demonstrate the most compelling use of Canadiana.org digitized primary-source content in their scholarly research.
"Canadiana.org's online collections," Anderson wrote, "provided access to key resources in exploring one of the capital’s most important cultural landscapes." In particular, "the Ottawa Naturalist, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century periodical of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (OFNC) digitized in the Early Canadiana Online collection, provided accounts of excursions to the Central Experimental Farm, bird sightings, and illustrated the close relationship between dominion scientists employed at the Farm and the local scientific and civic communities. Indeed, many of the senior scientists at the Farm, such as James Fletcher, were important members of the OFNC."
Anderson supplemented his research into early Canadian periodicals with material from the Historical Debates of the Parliament of Canada (developed in partnership with the Library of Parliament), using this resource "to track parliamentary mentions, visits and debates surrounding the Central Experimental Farm, in general, and the Dominion Arboretum, in particular. From time to time Ministers of Agriculture and Members of Parliament, such as Sir John Carling and Sidney Fisher, would read excerpts of reports from Farm officials into the record or discuss observations from their own visits to the Arboretum."
According to Anderson, digitized collections "transcend some of the restrictions of microfilmed and physical archival documents," particularly by allowing researchers "to cross-reference the official and voluntary writings of dominion scientists" found in letters books, published articles, and parliamentary records. Commenting on the methodological benefits of digitized resources, Anderson described the advantages of being able to "open documents from different collections (and microfilm reels) beside each other in separate browser windows, something that is impossible on a microfilm reading machine. It is possible to use these digitized collections to immediately compare and contrast a minister’s reading of a scientist’s statement with that statement itself, without having to use multiple machines or engage in the time consuming tasks of locating documents on different reels in sequence."
In a sweeping conclusion, Anderson chronicles how these resources "provided valuable insight in mapping the historical geography of a relatively small part of the city of Ottawa onto the wider canvas of Canadian history. Linking Dominion science to urban beautification projects, these resources opened the door to a greater understanding of how visions of Canada are articulated in particular places at particular times," helping to clarify "the importance of the Central Experimental Farm and the Dominion Arboretum to national colonization projects and to local landscaping efforts."