Constructing the Black Prairie Archives: “A Search for My Own History”

Sponsored by Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Recorded on 05/20/2020
Posted in The Authority File

Episode 127

‘Scholarly’ does not equate to detached, apathetic, or impartial. In some cases, a researcher’s emotional ties to a subject can even give the topic more weight or urgency. Karina Vernon, Associate Professor of English at the University of Toronto Scarborough, indeed felt a great pull to her subject, Black life and literature in the Canadian prairies.

Dr. Vernon, a Canadian Prairie native whose family originated from Honduras, felt that her collection, The Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology, though academic, was deeply personal: “I thought that my sister and I and our father were the only Black people to live on the prairies, and that was so deeply incorrect. So I had to research my way into an identity. The archive has become my story.”

In the third episode of this four-part series, Dr. Vernon digs into the process of her archival research, including looking in unexpected places, like memoirs of sports figures, and a few of the surprises—letters from Mildred Ware, the wife of famous cowboy John Ware—she found along the way. Perhaps most importantly, in her hunt she unearthed stories that reflected her own: “I saw myself honestly, and I saw many of us, who went to open up the book of history or literature, only to find ourselves not there.”

About the guest:

Karina Vernon
Associate Professor
University of Toronto Scarborough

Enjoy the conversation? Check out the rest of the series: