You’re doing your dissertation on… what sorry?

I turn 22 today. How the hell that has happened, I will never know. It’s odd, because even though it’s (obviously) only one year older than 21… it feels MUCH more senior in so many different ways. Allow me to explain.

22 feels… properly adult – you know? There’s more responsibility, maturity and fundamentally – progression – attached to 22 than 21. Perhaps I’m overthinking it a little. Maybe I’m being a tad dramatic. I have a tendency to do that, or so I’ve been told.

Plus, Taylor Swift wrote an entire song about how fun it is to be 22. I’m hoping it is as magical as she claims.

Anyway, I thought I’d use this opportunity to consider something I wrote that I was particularly proud of in my 21st year.

I’ve written a few fun things over the past 12 months – I had an article published for Palatinate UK (Durham University’s official student newspaper) which was pretty awesome. It was the first time I’d been published in print, and it was totally surreal seeing my name and photograph in an actual newspaper. If you’d like to have a read, you can check it out here: Reflecting on #MeToo, #TimesUp, and women in 2018.

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A very happy (and cold, classic Durham) Jess.

I wrote a piece about Body Positivity for HerCampus Durham too, and cried a lot when I read all of the comments and reactions. It was totally overwhelming. I still re-read all of the messages when I’m struggling with my body, feeling down about my skin, tummy or thighs, or just generally starting to compare myself to others. If you’d like to, you can read it here: My Journey to Body Positivity

But, after careful consideration, I realised that – ironically – the piece of writing I was most proud of, was one I had to do in order to achieve my degree – my dissertation.

I surprised myself when I came to this realisation, as those 15,000 words had caused so much stress, strain and suffering. Plus it was due at the same time M&S in Durham announced it was shutting down. Way to kick a gal when she’s down. I needed some serious profiteroles to get me through those last few weeks, and I had to go without.

It was a tough time (I realise this is a painfully 21st century predicament).

When it first came to picking a dissertation topic, I was totally and utterly clueless. I remember thinking that Margaret Thatcher would the perfect subject. I’m from Grantham (her home-town), I went to her school (Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School), and the museum has an entire exhibit on her life and rise to power. The primary sources I needed to make this work would literally be a walk away.

But no! I decided to make my life incredibly difficult, and pick a topic which not only did I know very VERY little about, but a topic whereby sources (both primary and secondary) were literally miles away. A plane-ride away. A 9-hour plane ride away.

Hence, the title of this blog: ‘You’re doing your dissertation on… what sorry?’

So here’s the full title – ready kids?

“Idle No More? Why Indigenous Canadians have never, are never, and will never – be ‘Idle’. A study of Indigenous Canadian protest and its representation in the Canadian mainstream media, 1969 – 1995.”

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I ate so much cake after this picture was taken.

I know right. Random.

But it wasn’t totally out of the blue. I have some Canadian relatives. I had studied Native American protest in my second year, and at school – and loved it. I knew I enjoyed using images, video and newspaper reports as sources. So it wasn’t a totally blind decision, but to say I knew literally nothing about my topic wouldn’t exactly be an understatement.

Put it this way, an intense two-day-trip to the British Library (thanks Dad), endless Amazon orders, document delivery requests and emails later… I somehow knew enough to write 15,000 words. I realised that this period of history was not only stunningly interesting, but embarrassingly overlooked by traditional historiography, and the Canadian education system.

The title of my project was a reference to a protest of the same name, which was formed in immediate response to the decision of the Canadian government to introduce Bill C-45 in 2012. What began as a reaction to a highly controversial piece of environmental legislation, grew into an educational movement, which sought to stimulate Canadian Aboriginals into becoming politically active, and thus true to its name: “Idle No More”.

My dissertation proved that, despite the name of this most recent wave of activism, Indigenous Canadians have never, are never, and will never, be idle in the pursuit of their rights. I could go on (and on and on and on), but I realise my topic is incredibly niche, and may not be to the interest of everyone. If anyone would like to know more, please do drop me an email. I can recommend some excellent documentaries/books/articles.

What was the most fascinating discovery, however, is two articles I found that were published by the Globe and Mail (a mainstream Canadian newspaper), forty years apart, but formed of exactly the same content.

In 1969, the paper claimed: ‘Such things as protest and minority movements, class developments and issues, the influence of art, literature and ideas, education and religion, industrial growth, and a great many other aspects of human endeavour that should be an integral part of history are virtually ignored in our schools.’

In 2009, the paper published an article entitled ‘Canada is failing history’ and states the following: ‘The facts are in. We are not teaching enough Canadian history in our schools. As a result, we are failing our students and putting our country’s future in jeopardy. We must demand better.’

As a historian, finding two articles, published in the same newspaper, forty years apart, both acknowledging this gap in a nations historical understanding, was honestly indescribable. I was the first to link these two pieces together. I’m unashamed to say (even though I recognise this is unbelievably uncool); that that was a brilliant day.

So there you have it, despite writing lots of blogs, articles, and reviews – ironically the piece of written work I feared the most, was the one, that in the end, I absolutely loved.

Here’s to another year of finding joy, intrigue and pride in the most unlikely of places.

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