Dr. Claudine Bonner
Dr. Claudine Bonner, Associate Professor of Sociology and Vice-Provost, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia
1) What is your discipline of study and what are the specific fields and sub-fields to which you contribute?
I am very much an interdisciplinary scholar. I teach in sociology and women’s and gender studies. My research is historical and I focus on African Diaspora migration in terms of community settlement, labour, and issues of identity.
2) How did you come to study these specific domains?
My PhD was in the field of gender, equity and social justice in education, and I focused on the history and narratives of a single African Canadian community as a starting point for educators who wish to learn about and make use of marginalized histories in their classroom practice. To do this I examined African Canadian narratives and the process of “restorying” to provide teachers with concrete examples of how to access and work with historical documents, or take single lives and events and discover connections, as they make sense of the experiences.
3) Tell us something about your process of study, formal and informal education, and the nature of your degrees and training. When, where, and how did you become qualified to do what you do?
It took me a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life to be honest. My parents both worked in dentistry, so I assumed that’s where I would end up. I started my undergraduate journey as a physiology student, and while I was an adequate student, I never loved the sciences. In my final undergraduate year, I took a couple social science electives and was hooked. I worked for a few years in a university registrar’s office and went back to school and completed a master’s degree in equity and social justice in education at OISE (University of Toronto). That’s where I rediscovered my love of learning, but more importantly, of research. I completed a PhD in gender, equity and social justice in education at Western University, followed by a postdoctoral research project exploring the lived experiences of African Nova Scotian community elders. Starting with my doctoral research I realized that my real passion was the exploration of historical narratives. I was fascinated by the connections I was discovering by studying and reading broadly about various African Diaspora communities. A desire to hone my research skills and to somehow legitimate my growing understanding of myself as a historian led me to a master’s degree in Canadian History at Dalhousie University, where I completed a project looking at Caribbean migration to Cape Breton.
4) What were the greatest obstacles that you had to overcome to achieve the success that you now experience? What challenges have your experienced and how have you overcome them? What goals do you have left to accomplish?
My greatest obstacles/challenges have come from processes of gatekeeping. I struggled for a long time in the academy where academic historians work hard to police the disciplinary boundaries, always arriving at “oh, so you are not a trained historian.” However, I think I have arrived at a place in life where I am unconcerned with this assessment. Additionally, the gatekeeping within communities can sometimes be difficult to navigate. Although I too am a diasporic African, I am rarely from the communities under examination, and a legacy of misuse of trust by others has resulted in my needing to build careful relationships in each community I visit. I am forever reminded of the admonition of Linda Tuhiwai Smith to always be humble in your community research practices, in addition to being ethical, respectful, critical and reflexive.
5) Did you have any role models or mentors either in your domains of work, research, and creation or outside of them? Who were they and how were they instrumental in shaping you as a person and as a professional?
I have been incredibly lucky. I have had many role models and mentors in my life, some I have known only in passing, but they have left indelible impressions on me, and on my scholarship. In my time at OISE/UofT George Sefa Dei and David Corson helped direct my interests in equity and social justice in education. I read Linda Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies as a first year PhD student, and then had the pleasure to attend a session with her at a conference in that same year. Her emphasis that Indigenous knowledge(s) should not be subordinate to dominant scholarly knowledge(s), but respected as parallel ways of knowing, shaped my perspective on the position of African Diaspora and other marginalized histories. Shannon and Bryan Prince from the community of North Buxton, David States in Nova Scotia, and academic historians Afua Cooper and Karolyn Smardz Frost have all shaped my scholarship, but my mentors beyond just scholarship are Zelda Abramson, Nina Reid Maroney and Wanda Thomas Bernard. As I said, I have several!
6) What does your process of research look like? Where and what are your archives and what artworks, artifacts, documents, or specimens do you study or examine?
My research process is interdisciplinary and combines archival work, community-based research, oral history memory projects, and the digital humanities. I spend a great deal of time in archives and libraries in Atlantic Canada and Ontario, the Caribbean and recently in the Boston area. I examine census documents, tax records, personal, business and government records, archived newspapers and magazines as well as audio and visual material previously collected.
7) What are your fundamental research questions and what defines your methodology or approach? How do you determine how you engage with your objects, individuals or communities of study?
Much of my work to date has been premised around the place of Canada in the histories of African Diaspora communities. In thinking about various parts of Canada as points of arrival (and, also as points of departure), my work explores how discourses of community, race and nation travel between geographic spaces and across borders. I am also very interested in the intersecting spaces and the temporal cleavages between communities. Something I often wonder about is what happens when diasporic people come together in new spaces.
8) What are you working on now and when and how will it be shared?
The migration of people of African descent into and out of Atlantic Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Specifically, I am continuing my exploration of African Diaspora migration in Atlantic Canada between 1880 and 1930 by looking at the pseudo-scientific conceptualization of race as contagious and unwanted, through an examination of immigration and processing records in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. I am exploring case studies of African Diaspora labour migration to Atlantic Canada and the transborder movement between Atlantic Canada and the Boston states, and in particular, the experiences of African Canadians in these spaces.
9) What are you proudest of in your career?
I am most proud of listening to my heart and leaving my first career as an administrator and going back to university to get my PhD.
10) What are you proudest of in your life?
My ability to surround myself with good people. I am proud of the people I have in my life.
11) What academic book should be essential reading?
It should come as no surprise that I consider Linda Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies (2012) to be essential reading.
Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies, 3rd ed. (NYC: Bloomsbury, 2021)
12) What TV show or film should be essential viewing?
Gary Gray, F. 1995. Friday. United States: New Line Cinema
13) How do you relax and take care of yourself?
I relax by spending time with my loved ones, surrounding myself with good friends and getting outdoors to experience nature in any way, whether it be going for a hike or a paddle. I love physical activity, the more adventurous the better.
14) What’s next?
I have several publications in the works, including a couple of book manuscripts which I have been picking at over the last few years. I would like to make the time to get these out into the world. There is an ongoing battle between my Equity Diversity and Inclusion advocacy and work, and my scholarship, and right now more of my focus is on the administrative side. But I would like to throw myself more into my research.
Dr. Claudine Bonner is a scholar of the twentieth century with a specialization in Black Canadian history. Her research and teaching interests focus on African Diaspora (im)migration and settlement in the Atlantic world, Black Canadian labour history, and diversity and equity in education. She is currently co-editing a collection of essays titled The Black Press: A Shadowed Canadian Tradition. This collection explores the history of the Black Press tradition in Ontario and the Maritimes, from the 1850s to the early twentieth century. Claudine has just completed a residency at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, USA as a Fulbright Canada Research Chair, and is researching early twentieth-century African Nova Scotian migration to the Boston States. She has given invited talks and public lectures (with, for example, the Old Sydney Society and the Nova Scotia women’s History Society) on various topics related to African Diaspora migration.
Bonner, C. (2022) ” ‘Likely to become a Public Charge’: Examining Black Migration to Eastern Canada, 1900-1930.” In Aladejebi, F. & M. Johnson. (Guest Editors). Unsettling the Great White North: African Canadian History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.