Hallway photos by Petra Dolata.
Photos by Petra Dolata.

June 30, 2021

CIH Scholar-in-Residence Report

(Hi)Stories of Energy Transitions

The academic year 2020-21 was supposed to be a year of travel and archival research. Instead, it turned out to be a year of new beginnings and making new connections. During my research and scholarship leave I had envisioned to carry out further archival research in North America and Europe for my SSHRC-funded research projects on the 1970s energy crises in a transatlantic perspective and on Canada’s future energy relations with the EU and the UK after Brexit. However, the pandemic closed all archives. Luckily, just a few months before my leave began, a SSHRC Partnership grant proposal on “Deindustrialization and the Politics of Our Time” or DéPOT (deindustrialization.org), which I was part of, was successful. Led by Dr. Steven High, Professor of History at Concordia University and founding member of its Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, this 7-year $2.5 million research cluster examines the historical roots and lived experience of deindustrialization as well as the political responses to it. The partnership consists of 33 partner organizations and 24 co-investigators and collaborators from six countries in Western Europe and North America, including the Calgary Institute for the Humanities, where two Postdoctoral Associates will complete the Calgary-based team of researchers this summer. Our research group at the CIH will particularly focus on the connection between deindustrialization and energy transitions as well as oral histories of workers in the oil and gas industry. 

Depot Deindustrialization and the Politics of our time

This 7-year SSHRC partnership examines the historical roots and lived experience of deindustrialization as well as the political responses to it.

Forced to redirect our focus on virtual activities, DéPOT organized a series of Zoom workshops on key themes of the project: deindustrialization, ruination, brownfield, greening – which I moderated –, moral economy and populism. Recordings of the workshops are accessible via the DéPOT website. I also joined Dr. High at a roundtable on “Brexit, Trump, Deindustrialization & the Politics of Our Time” at the Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy in Montréal on November 27. In early October, I talked about “Energy Heritage and Energy Transitions in Alberta: The Role of (Hi)Stories” at a joint APT and National Trust for Canada online conference. These were all welcome events to kick off our exciting research collaboration. To launch the Calgary side of the DéPOT project, we were extremely fortunate to co-host a keynote by Dr. High on “History of the Present Time: The Cohabitation of Memory and History After the Postwar Boom,” which was the concluding event of a three-day SSHRC-funded conference co-organized by seven historians including myself entitled “Between Postwar and Present Day: Canada, 1970-2000, Local, National, Global”. I curated the pre-recorded talk, which will soon be posted on the CIH website, and together with Dr. Nancy Janovicek, former CIH fellow and member of the CIH executive board, I moderated the event. Attended by more than 80 participants from all over Canada, Dr. High’s talk highlighted the significance of labour history for Canada’s contemporary history and the importance of oral histories and lived experience to understanding the personal hardships but also individual and community resilience in an economy that is transitioning to a post-industrial world. These insights are particularly pertinent in Alberta, where net zero emission goals and decarbonization policies may create new rust belts in the future.

Petra Dolata’s work within DéPOT will study the connection between energy transition and deindustrialization in post-1945 West Germany

Petra Dolata’s work within DéPOT will study the connection between energy transition and deindustrialization in post-1945 West Germany

Like most of my colleagues I spent more time attending workshops, conferences and presentations online. While not always a satisfactory replacement of in-person meetings, these allowed for (re)connecting with colleagues and audiences outside Alberta and Canada. One of the most exciting new connections forged over the past academic year is a collaboration with a research group based at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS), Freiburg University, in Germany. As a FRIAS Senior External Fellow funded through a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship of the European Union, I worked on a project focusing on “Women in Energy Transitions: Agency, Resilience and Complicity” and collaborated with the FRIAS Environmental Humanities research group on their project “Building and Researching Resilience in the Environmental Humanities”. Throughout our discussions we realized that more conversations are needed between the energy humanities and environmental humanities and the concept of resilience in energy transitions would allow for such fruitful scholarly engagements. Supported by FRIAS, I successfully applied for funding from UCalgary International to pursue such collaboration over the next two years. Through an International Research Partnership Workshop Grant ($10,000), the Energy In Society working group, which I co-convene, together with the FRIAS Environmental Humanities research group will organize a series of online and in-person workshops in Calgary and Freiburg. Entitled “Societal dimensions of energy transitions: Risk, resilience and vulnerability in energy/environmental humanities,” our joint project examines the societal dimensions of energy transitions, especially to assess questions of environmental/energy justice and the social impact of these transformative changes on workers and the wider publics in specific energy regions.

2020-21 Annual Fellows, Fellowship in Applied Ethics, Graduate Student Fellow, and 2021 Public Humanities Fellows

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Calgary Institute for the Humanities Newsletter Spring 2021