5 questions with . . . Dr. Carol Williams

Dr. Carol Williams joined the Women's Studies Program and the Department of History at the University of Lethbridge in 2003. Today, we ask her 5 Questions about her research career.

Williams is currently completing a transnational edited collection of historical essays titled Indigenous Women's Work: from Labour to Activism. Her first monograph, Framing the West: Race, Gender and the Photographic Frontier in the Pacific Northwest, discusses women's roles in nation building and the photographic idea circulated about 'Indian' life that were used to promote Euro American settlement. Framing the West was awarded the American Historical Association-Pacific Coast Branch's Norris and Carol Hundley book prize in 2004. Her dissertation won the Lerner Scott Prize in American Women's History from the Organization of American History.

Dr. Carol Williams
Dr. Carol Williams, right, with former student and alumna Daisy Raphael.

What first piqued your interest in your research discipline?

I entered undergraduate studies in 1982 with a pre-existing record of wage employment as a waitress and organizational experience in community and cultural activism, and was intrigued by the political and cultural underpinnings of women's history.

Women, no matter their class, national affiliation or cultural ancestry, were clearly marginal, or entirely absent, from 'authorized' bodies of knowledge and from pedagogy. I enrolled in a women's history class taught by Veronica Strong Boag, now a renowned historian of Canadian women. She encouraged the interpretation of primary sources then overlooked, including women's diaries and correspondence, as well as policies and documents that had served to regulate or police women's lives.

While women's history in 1982 was not an entirely new subfield in the discipline of history, the field exhibited great intellectual and methodological innovation. Moreover, as professionals, women scholars and their male allies were building networks of support while simultaneously challenging the exclusive structures of historical associations.

Women's history introduced and tested innovative and unconventional methods; mined and interpreted unusual documents and records; recovered or retrieved voices and experiences of topics, peoples and movements previously neglected or seen as less 'history worthy'.

Women's history research, as an intellectual arm of a global movement for social change and equity, had implications beyond the narrow confines of academia.

How is your research applicable in the 'real world'?

With women statistically outnumbering men as students and administrative staff in the classrooms and administrative offices of higher education, it is valuable for students to conceive intellectually and concretely how the lives and labour of their mothers, grandmothers, great-great grandmothers and ancestors contributed to the making of our world.

Women actively participate in innovation, knowledge, and production; therefore, women deserve to be fully recognized and researched as subjects, as well as producers, of knowledge and things. Why would we expect women to understand the world without adequate and equal representation in the systems and bodies of knowledge shared or taught in our classrooms and research?

Male students equally need to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of women. Women's history and women's studies ask: "why men's production has been granted more meaningful status or privilege in education, and research?" In answering this, and other questions new consciousness is created.

What is the greatest honour you have received in your career?

To study as Canada's first, and only, Canada Research Chair in the arena of Feminist and Gender Studies, a position I held at Trent University from 2008 to 2011.

How important are students to your research endeavours?

Without students the production of knowledge is meaningless. Students, moreover, may challenge faculty by innovating and challenging existing practices and knowledge.

I have mentored and trained students as co-editors for a manuscript-in-progress, and have co-written publications with graduate students. My most recent book is dedicated to both undergraduate and graduate students who worked with me throughout the development and completion of the manuscript.

If you had unlimited funds, which areas of research would you invest?

I would invest in self-determined educational initiatives of local indigenous communities, and endeavour to mentor indigenous (FNMI) students within the university more actively in order to facilitate their greater success in higher education.

I would work on building respectful relationships with local First Nations communities and indigenous knowledge holders and scholars in order to potentially get to the table and form research collaborations.