It's funny what can be revealed when you begin to scratch the surface.
Anthropology professor, Dr. Jan Newberry's latest research focus is on childhood issues in the wake of a global revitalization of the study of the child and childhood. Her fieldwork in Indonesia looks at the implementation of childhood programming, focused on ages 0 to 8, that has been driven by the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and subsequent funding from the World Bank to drive childhood issues.
Back at the University of Lethbridge she took a look around campus, out of curiosity, to see who else was working on issues related to childhood. Before she knew it, she'd uncovered a broad culture of childhood research that spanned disciplines and ignited an idea. Two years later, The Childhoods Conference: Mapping the Landscapes of Childhood, was born.
"In many ways this conference has come about because I was interested in knowing who else is working on childhood in Canada, what are they looking at and what are the multiple perspectives," says Newberry. "I started talking to others around campus and found, ultimately, all these people who are dealing with childhood in some way in their own work. We put a committee together and thought, why don't we bring everybody to the University of Lethbridge?"
While the genesis of the idea was simple, the end result is anything but, and the Childhoods Conference (May 5-7) promises to be a Canadian first.
"I don't think anybody's done a conference like this before in Canada," says Newberry. "There have certainly been conferences about childhood for people who do literature or for people who are interested from an education perspective and so on, but not one that takes this multidisciplinary approach."
In that respect, the U of L is the ideal venue for hosting this initiative, and it may not stop there.
"Our deep dark secret was asking each other whether we really wanted to have it here but the more we thought about it, it was obvious," says Newberry. "First of all, we want to put our school on the map and look at all the people who are working on childhood issues here. People should come here and see what our campus and research is about. Combine that with the liberal arts idea of multidimensional approaches to the same problem in which we excel and it just made sense to bring people to Lethbridge."
The committee knew it had a winning idea when it put the call out for a keynote speaker and all six people approached said they would come. While a scheduling conflict has pared that list by one, the conference is offering an unprecedented five keynotes, along with two poster sessions over three days of concurrent panels. A trio of practitioner sessions is also on the schedule, featuring Drs. Robin Bright, Mary Dyck and Robbin Gibb, all U of L faculty members, as well as Tanya Pace Crosschild. Additionally, both graduate and undergraduate students have been involved in the planning process.
It's obvious that Newberry and company have struck a chord with the advent of this conference and it may lead to further initiatives down the line.
"We have had discussions about perhaps starting a childhood studies centre here," says Newberry. "Once we got the SSHRC grant we knew we were on to something. Having gone through this process, we will now have this network of national and international scholars that are connected to each other, possibly allowing us to serve as the hub for an interdisciplinary childhood studies institute."
And all it took was someone to look across campus and ask the question, "I wonder . . . "
GET THE FACTS
• Among the keynote speakers at the conference is Dr. Allison James, director of the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, University of Sheffield.
• Shortly after announcing their conference, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, also introduced a conference on childhood studies. "At first that was frustrating but then we looked at it as an affirmation that this is an important topic," says Newberry. Rutgers houses the Centre for Children and
• Alumnus Dez Kamara (BA '10) will present his film, The Kids of St. Michael's, at the conference. The film depicts the plight of child soldiers in Kamara's native Sierra Leone.
• The conference has had support from every faculty on campus as well as the Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy, the Women Scholars Speaker Series, the Discovery Lecture Series and the Alberta Centre for Child, Family & Community Research.
• For complete conference information, visit www.uleth.ca/conreg/childhoods
Following is the Conference Committee
Dr. Louise Barrett, Psychology
Tanya Pace Crosschild, Executive Director, Opokaa'sin Early Intervention Society
Dr. Elizabeth Galway, English
Nicholas Hanson, Theatre and Drama
Michelle Hogue, First Nations Transition Program and Chemistry & Biochemistry
Jennifer Jenson, Grad Student, Anthropology
Pinar Kocak, Grad Student, Sociology
Elyane Lacaseé, Undergrad Student, Anthropology
Dr. Heidi MacDonald, History
Dr. Josephine Mills, Art Gallery and Art Department
Dr. Susan McDaniel, The Prentice Institute and Sociology
Dr. Jan Newberry, Anthropology
Dr. Janay Nugent, History
Laura Richardson, Undergrad Student, Anthropology
Dr. Amy von Heyking, Education
To view the entire issue of the March Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.