This section lists my ongoing research projects. For my published research see the “Publications” section, or the “Public History” for my completed digital history projects.
City Builders: An Oral History of Immigrant Construction Workers in Postwar Toronto
I am the Principal Investigator of a research and public history project associated with York University’s Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies and the Laborers International Union of North America Local 183. This project will record, examine, and divulge the history of Toronto’s immigrant construction workers after the Second World War. It will do so by gathering extensive qualitative information through filmed oral history interviews, by photographing the participants’ personal records and artifacts, and by conducting extensive research in Toronto’s archives. I am leading a team of researchers and filmmakers, who are interviewing forty retired members of Local 183, focusing on their goals, struggles, achievements, and thoughts on immigration, construction work, labour organization, Toronto, and other topics of significance. With these materials, we are producing forty short videos and one 15-minute documentary that will be featured in a multimedia exhibition. The exhibit’s launch and the screening of the documentary will coincide with the 2018 Avie Bennett Conference at York University, taking place on September 2018. All of the materials gathered and produced will be donated to the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University Libraries, once the project is completed.
Toronto the Bad: a history of riots in Canada’s “most fascinatingly boring” city*
This research project emerged out of an assignment that I gave my students in HIST4530 Development of Toronto course – a fourth-year course that I teach at York University – where they had to find, research, and write about a riot in Toronto’s past. Altogether, we I was able to find over eighty riots, big and small, throughout the city’s history. This seemingly high number contradicts the idea of a peaceful and dull “Toronto the Good,” and of Canada as a land of peace, order, and good governance, where differences have been negotiated through compromise, unlike our southern neighbours. Race, religion, political views, labour relations, social inequality, youth rebelliousness, have been the most common factors triggering these relatively short outburst of violence. In all of them, Toronto’s police forces have played a central role, as law and order enforcers, as violence instigators, or as passive bystanders. Toronto’s riot history is an important thread for weaving the story of its police forces, political rulers, inter-ethnic/racial relations, religious communities, and other significant historical agents. I have created a digital map and timeline with my ongoing research (a work in progress), which can be found here.
* Stephen Marche, “Welcome to the new Toronto: the most fascinatingly boring city in the world,” The Guardian, July 4, 2016, url: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jul/04/new-toronto-most-fascinatingly-boring-city-guardian-canada-week
Breaking the News: Portugal’s Colonialist Propaganda and Covert Lobbying in the United States, 1961-63
When the anti-colonialist John F. Kennedy became the U. S. President in 1961, Portugal-US relations entered one of its most acrimonious periods in recent history. That year, dictator António Salazar faced the most difficult period in his 36-year rule over Portugal, including a series of high-profile revolutionary actions from the emboldened democratic opposition; the annexation of Portuguese territories in India by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru; and the outbreak of the Colonial Wars in Angola, later spreading to Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea. During this period, the Estado Novo dictatorship invested a great amount of resources towards shaping American public opinion into accepting Portugal’s “historical rights” in Africa, and its colonial wars as “a fight against Soviet imperialism.” Through indirect means, the Lisbon regime unleashed a large propaganda campaign in the U.S. by hiring American public relations firms, subsidizing influential American media outlets and reporters, and recruiting Portuguese-American lobbyists. In 1962, the Manhattan-based firm Selvage & Lee and its subsidiary Portuguese-American Committee on Foreign Affairs were able to persuade twelve Republican and Democratic congressmen – some representing districts with large Portuguese populations – to publicly criticize the U.S. State Department’s anti-colonialist policy towards the Portuguese empire. These lobbyists were later found to have received direct instructions and logistic support from Portuguese diplomats, in direct contravention with international regulations regarding the non-intervention of foreign officers in American domestic politics.
Invisible Cities: the Portuguese in Toronto
“Beware of saying to them that sometimes different cities follow one another on the same site and under the same name, born or dying without knowing one another, without communication among themselves,” Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (1972). Inspired by the seminal work of Italo Calvino, and the later application to ethnic studies by the late Robert Harney, this research project seeks to produce a series of interactive historical maps of the Portuguese community’s mental map of Toronto from the 1950s to 1970s. For this, I will collect every non-residential address mentioned in the Portuguese-Canadian media in that period and cross-reference them with city directories and other sources. With the help of two students in the HIST4840 Public History course, who did their placements with the PCHP, I’ve been able to collect over 500 entries so far. Although there is much work still left to be done, the early data modelling already shows interesting patterns in the movement and growth of this community. This research will ultimately produce a digital exhibition, an academic publication, and be of research value for anyone interested in urban mobility and social geography.
The Blood of the Fallen: War Memory, Ethnic Nationalism, and the Portuguese-American Veterans, 1930s-2000s
War memory is an integral part of most national narratives, where military sacrifice is often considered indisputable proof of an individual’s devotion to his or her country. In a social, political, and economic culture that is heavily predicated on the pursuit of individual self-interest, war and the military occupy a pivotal place in American psyche, by allowing the cathartic expression of the otherwise unexpected communitarian values of fraternity and self-sacrifice. The celebration of dead combatants by the state is a process akin to secular canonization, one that is all the more powerful when the individual is stripped of his or her identity and becomes an ideological archetype. As Benedict Anderson noted, “No more arresting emblems of the modern culture of nationalism exist than cenotaphs and tombs of Unknown Soldiers… Yet void as these tombs are of identifiable mortal remains or immortal souls, they are nonetheless saturated with ghostly national imaginings.” Contrary to the national norm, ethnic leaders sometimes go to considerable lengths to (re)claim the ethnic identities of these homogenized national warriors, hoping the blood of their fallen ethnic peers can testify to their group’s full membership in the national community and put nativist fears of dual-loyalty to rest. This, however, is a departure from the official war memorialization sanctioned by the state, as it separates the particular from the whole.