Welcome to the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
As I write this message in summer 2019, we are witnessing a series of deep global and local crises, from looming climate catastrophe to the ongoing revelations of the #MeToo movement, and from discussions of South African Athlete Caster Semenya's testosterone levels to major electoral victories for authoritarian, rightist politicians. All around us Islamophobia is on the rise. We see an upsurge of surveillance and detention camps targeting specific populations — migrants, refugees, minorities, and other vulnerable populations. Grassy Narrows/Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nations still struggle to have safe drinking water, let alone control over their lands and natural resources.
These and other “current events” underscore the value of understanding issues beyond the punditry of the news cycle. Individually and combined, the six academic programs that comprise HCS — African Studies, Classical Studies, Food Studies, Global Asia Studies, History, and Women's and Gender Studies – offer a critical lens on the processes that shape our world, situating them in multiple global and local contexts.
For example, in our courses you might learn to situate the current climate crisis in relation to the push towards extractive, neoliberal economies orchestrated by the World Bank from the 1970s onwards, the UN's ineffectual Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the hypocrisy of a Global North criticizing pollution in the Global South while willfully ignoring its own massive contribution to the "Anthropocene" going back to the Industrial Revolution. In our seminars, you might discuss the plight of Grassy Narrows in the long shadow of British and then Canadian settler colonialism, and the wide repertoire of food insecurities inflicted on colonized Indigenous peoples the world over. Caster Semenya's predicament may well come up in a tutorial discussion about the racist and homophobic entanglements of professional sports with transnational corporations; it might also be addressed in a seminar paper you write on the re-entrenchment of binary categories of "male" and "female" in the face of the great fluidity of human gender and sexuality, a denial of a person's right to assert (and be recognized by) their gender of choice. You might give a presentation (or build a website) that links the resurgence of rightist politics and anti-Muslim violence both at home and abroad not only to one another (as nationalist politicians have been fanning the flames of Islamophobia) but also to the deep uncertainties brought about by new waves of refugees from the Middle East (and beyond) and growing economic inequalities.
Our courses, research projects, co-curricular activities, experiential learning initiatives, and community programming and partnerships do not offer any simple "answers" to the complex challenges human societies face. Rather, we invite you, our students, to develop the tools to ask your own questions, and, especially, to analyze a wide range of historical and cultural phenomena with depth and nuance, in order to reach your own conclusions. You will learn how to weigh evidence, how to argue and debate, how to apply cutting-edge theories, how to write convincingly and to present your research effectively in a range of media, and how to bring a multiplicity of perspectives to bear on any problem. You will gain a depth of knowledge about specific regions or themes, but at the same time you will also come to appreciate the enduring entanglements of seemingly "separate" issues and places — of the ways in which power operates globally and in the most intimate spheres, how gender, race, and class intersect, how the past is never truly past. You will learn the value of both disciplinary methods and concepts and interdisciplinary inquiry. As graduates, you will be able to apply the broad perspective, superior analytical tools, and hands-on skills you acquire through our programs to an even wider range of challenges. We do not expect our graduates to solve on their own the many crises the planet faces, but we are confident in their ability to articulate the magnitude and complexity of the challenge, and to meaningfully engage with it. We also know that employers are looking for creative, knowledgeable thinkers such as our graduates.
I welcome each and every one of you to explore our website to learn more about the fascinating courses we offer, or simply to come and talk to our amazing faculty, students, and staff. Our doors are open and we'd love to meet you!
E. Natalie Rothman, Chair