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Observing the Outports

Historian publishes treatise on Memorial’s N.L. studies scholars

Research | Books at Memorial

The years after Newfoundland’s confederation with Canada were ones of rapid social and economic change, as provincial resettlement and industrialization initiatives attempted to reshape the lives of rural Newfoundlanders.

At Memorial University in St John’s, a new generation of faculty saw the province’s transformation as a critical moment. Some hoped to solve the challenges of modernization through their research. Others hoped to document the island’s “traditional” culture before it disappeared. Between them they created the field of “Newfoundland studies.”

In Observing the Outports, Dr. Jeff A. Webb, a professor of history at Memorial, illustrates how interdisciplinary collaborations among scholars of lexicography, history, folklore, anthropology, sociology and geography laid the foundation of our understanding of Newfoundland society in an era of modernization. His extensive archival research and oral history interviews illuminate how scholars at Memorial University created an intellectual movement that paralleled the province’s cultural revival.

Dr. Robert Mellin of McGill University’s School of Architecture says Observing the Outports is an “invaluable” overview of the history of research on Newfoundland’s outports at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

“A well-written comparative history of interdisciplinary research in Newfoundland, the book situates these developments in the context of national and international academic discourse,” Dr. Mellin said.

Dr. Webb’s says one of the greatest pleasures of writing the book was the opportunity it gave him to talk to and learn from a diverse set of scholars whose work he knew but whom he had not met.

“I hope that the book provides a link between the foundational work of the first generation of scholars of Newfoundland and Labrador, and generations of scholars yet to come,” he said. “The conditions of the 1950s and 1960s that stimulated the Newfoundland studies movement are now a thing of the past, but we can learn much of value from contextualizing our predecessors.”

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