Welcome to my website! My name is Gilberto Fernandes. I am a Visiting Professor in the Department of History at York University, Toronto, Canada. My research and public history practice focuses on Portuguese and Lusophone diasporas; immigration, ethnicity and race in North America; and the working and labour organization experiences in Canada’s construction history. I am the author of This Pilgrim Nation: The Making of the Portuguese Diaspora in North America (Toronto, 2019), and various journal articles; the producer, director, curator, etc. of the multidimensional project City Builders: a History of Immigrant Construction Workers in Postwar Toronto; founder and lead director of the Portuguese Canadian History Project; creator of multiple public history initiatives; and occasional undergraduate instructor at York University of courses on Toronto history and public history. You can find more about my work on this website.
It is hard to say exactly where my interest in history comes from but I know it has something to do with the fact that I grew up in Lisbon, Portugal. There, public memory is everywhere; the past is sovereign and the present its prince, and the writing of history is always either a coup or a barricade. It is no coincidence that so many of its political actors have been professional historians. Growing up in the first generation after the Carnation Revolution of April 25, 1974, which rid Portugal of an authoritarian and colonialist regime that asserted its legitimacy on the nation’s “glorious past,” I learned to appreciate history as a fundamental venue of engaged citizenship, where power is reconstructed and challenged by way of knowledge and memory. In other words, I play for the historien engagé or “active history” team.
Whatever its provenance, my interest in history is fuelled by my love of story-telling and creative writing. Though governed by disciplinary canons, elaborate methodologies, and scholarly principles, good historical research demands a healthy dose of creativity and imagination. Not the imagination of the bard but of the detective, meticulously piecing together fragmented data, finding threads in seemingly disparate evidence, bridging gaps on the tracks with parallel clues, ultimately trying to understand what the world may have looked like from another person’s eyes, in a different time, place, and set of circumstances. At the same time, historians must maintain critical distance from their research subjects in order to carry out sound analysis, connect with the larger picture, and recognize their own personal biases. Besides developing exceptional research, time-management, and problem-solving skills, along with a remarkable capacity for critical and independent thinking, self-discipline, self-direction, and educated intuition, good historians also need to be great oral and written communicators in order to synthesize large quantities of information into intelligible parcels of knowledge that can be shared with the public.
My intellectual interest in migration started with my own experience of moving to Canada, one that displaced, challenged, and (re)defined me in multiple ways. It has made me grow into two separate vines that I have since tried to intertwine around a single identity. By removing me from the places and faces that I once took for granted, it also instantly turned me into an “old man,” as it forced me to hold on to a lifetime of memories uprooted from their context. The more I studied the topic, the more I became engrossed in the myriad of tropes associated with it and the concepts used to probe them. Like countless individuals, families, and even nations for whom migration is a fodder for individual and collective narratives, I am also fascinated by its incredibly rich human stories. Of particular interest to me are the different narratives of Portuguese migration over time, as told by those who stayed, those who left, and those who governed them.
Besides living and studying transnational lives, I dedicate much of my time to volunteering in local community initiatives in Toronto, many of them public education projects. I share the equity principles of “historians from below” by striving to democratize access to historical knowledge and redress the silences in the archival record regarding ethnic minorities and other marginalized groups. Created in January 2014, this website is another way to make my research and public history work available to a wider audience. Feel free to contact me using the email box below.
Thank you for your visit.