UC connections run deep for Canadian adjunct professor
03 October 2017
Graeme Wynn looks back on his NZ past after 40 years on the faculty of The University of British Columbia
Where were you in 1974? If you were one of the remaining staff then located at the University’s central city site, you may have known Graeme Wynn. Or did you meet him when he helped develop the Staff Club at the Ilam Homestead? We interview Graeme as Adjunct Professor in the Department of History.
What is your career background?
I followed an unusual route into academia, through a naval training college and a series of serendipitous opportunities that carried me into four continents and led me from an early fascination with the history of exploration into post-graduate work in Geography.
Trained as an historical geographer I have straddled the two disciplines, holding various offices in national associations of both historians and geographers.
I spent more than 40 years as a faculty member in The University of British Columbia (where I also served as Head of Geography for ten years, as Associate Dean of Arts for six, and as Brenda and David McLean Chair in Canadian Studies) before becoming Professor Emeritus in 2016.
Defined most broadly, my research and teaching interests are in the environmental histories and geographies of “new world societies” – but this necessarily entails knowing something of the “ old world” and requires some degree of local/regional specialization; most of my research has focused on Canada between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries, but I have also worked on New Zealand topics, and published on Australia and South Africa.
How long have you been connected with UC and how did that come about?
My connection to UC goes back to 1974, when I was among the last group of staff members appointed to the old central city site, to teach in Geography and American Studies.
As a Commonwealth Scholar in Canada, I was unable to remain there on completion of my Toronto PhD, but New Zealand was a very attractive proposition for its then strong tradition of historical geographical research and (for a sometime serious player and coach) the quality of its rugby team. Though my stay was shorter than I planned (an unexpected opening at UBC beckoned in 1976), I lived through the relocation to Ilam, played a role in the development of the Staff Club at the Ilam Homestead, coached Varsity rugby with Laurie O’Reilly, and married Christchurch- born and raised Barbara Cocks.
This latter connection ensured frequent returns to New Zealand, for family and research purposes, and sustained links with UC colleagues I had come to know in 1974-76. Then, as things turned out, both our Canadian-born children attended the College of Education, and one has settled in Christchurch. Squaring the circle, I visited UC as an Erskine Fellow in the first half of 2017.
What do you hope to achieve in your work /relationship with UC?
One of my several “retirement projects” is to complete a number of now unfinished essays on various New Zealand topics and (perhaps) to pull these together in a book. Access to the UC library and opportunities to discuss the work with colleagues will be most helpful. I also anticipate occasional engagement through seminars, informal discussion and/or thesis advising with UC colleagues and post-graduate students on return visits to Christchurch.
Can you share an example of the real world impact of your work/research? How does your work improve/contribute to society?
I work in the Humanities, where the great task is not to produce widgets or “solve” specific societal problems, but to help people know themselves. To put this slightly differently, and perhaps more specifically, my work aims to help people answer the seemingly enigmatic question: “where is here?” This is to say that I hope to advance understanding of how the places we inhabit came to be and to provide folks with the tools by which they can address the great moral question of this and many previous ages: “How Shall We Live?”
What else would you like the UC staff to know about what you do, or about you personally?
I love what I do, and I feel greatly privileged that I am still able to do it.
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