The project that lead to these books had several beginnings. One was the anecdote with which I open the books — my encounter, on a labour council-sponsored bus heading to the St. Catherine’s Day of Action, with a long-time activist, which so powerfully inspired me with a sense of connection between present and past, individual and social, action by ordinary people and changing the world. Another was the oral history interviews a friend and I did to produce a cd to accompany a showing of political cartoons in the Art Gallery of Hamilton, particularly the interview with long-time trade unionist, labour cartoonist, and brilliant storyteller Roy Carless. Yet another was the interview (used in Resisting the State) with Isabel and Frank Showler that a couple of friends and I did just because we thought it was a good idea, even though we had no idea at the time what we might use it for. Not long after, I made the leap to turning such interviews into a major, sustained project. Yet even then there were further beginnings, as it took several long cycles of work, evaluation, and re-work to reach something like the books you’ll have a chance to hold in your hand within the year.
Over four years, I conducted forty-seven interviews with a total of fifty people, in eight cities, in six provinces and one territory. Fifteen of those interviews are used as the basis of Gender and Sexuality: Canadian History Through the Stories of Activists and Resisting the State: Canadian History Through the Stories of Activists. All of the interview participants have been active in social movements for at least twenty years, with at least some of that time in Canada. Beyond that, though, it is a very diverse group — they have been active in a wide range of physical locations, in several different eras, and in quite a number of different movements. Though all perspectives from within social movements seeking justice and liberation tend to be distorted, ignored, and marginalized, that is particularly true of indigenous women and men, women and men of colour, white women, and gay, lesbian, bi, and trans people of all racial backgrounds. While I have only touched the surface of stories and voices that should be central to history from below in northern Turtle Island, I have tried, with both successes and limitations, to be conscious of and work against those exclusions.
The material is presented not as traditional oral history, but rather using the words of the participants as entry points for social movement and Canadian history. Each chapter is built around one or two interviews, but it also includes plenty of historical context and a few new, relevant ideas presented in my voice. The central themes of each volume — gender and sexuality for one, resisting the state for the other — are understood deliberately broadly, and a number of the chapters could easily have fit in either one.
On this site, you can find out much more about the books and also plenty of material beyond what is in the books themselves. When the site is complete, there will be some basic information about each interview participant. There will be sample material from the interviews presented both in audio form and written form. The audio material is particularly relevant to those who might choose to use these books in classroom settings, as two or three audio clips related to each published chapter will be put on the site as a way to give students another route into the material. You can also learn more about me, Scott Neigh, and find links to the personal/political blog I’ve maintained since 2004, and to other things I have written. You can learn about upcoming events where I will be presenting material related to the books. You can be in touch with me to ask questions, to offer suggestions, to join the project’s email update list, or to arrange an event with me in your town. As well, I will be posting links to and perhaps commentary on material that is related to the books, including history from below as well as contemporary movements. Check back regularly, as there will be frequent updates, additions, and new material from the interviews published on the site!