Preserving the collective memory of Portuguese Canadians | Democratizing access to historical knowledge

Archival collections
Archival collections
Public history
Public history
Digital humanities_snapshots
Digital humanities







The Portuguese Canadian History Project | Projeto de História Luso Canadiana (PCHP | PHLC) is an incorporated, non-profit, community outreach organization founded in 2008 by Dr. Gilberto Fernandes and Dr. Susana Miranda, later joined by Dr. Raphael Costa and Dr. Emanuel da Silva, and supported by the archivist Anna St. Onge (Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, York University Libraries). Our objectives are to:

1. Preserve the collective memory of Portuguese immigrants and their descendants in Canada.
2. Democratize access to historical knowledge, both in its consumption and production.

As young scholars researching the history of Portuguese immigrants in Canada, we encountered a scarcity of records pertaining to this group in public archives. But in the course of our fieldwork, we discovered that many individuals and organizations had amassed a trove of archival records of great value to uncovering that community’ʹs history. Despite their owners’ best efforts, these collections were not maintained in optimal preservation conditions and were in some cases partially destroyed. The PCHP emerged in response to this reality and it has since worked to bridge the gap between public archives, immigrant communities, and academic scholars.

We believe that historiography, even that which is produced “from below,” remains inaccessible to most. Without undermining the importance of academic publications, we believe it is imperative for historians to explore other forms of communication in order to engage wider audiences and disseminate historical knowledge.

We are characterized by our pragmatism and collaborative spirit. Our motto is: “don’t reinvent the wheel.” In other words, instead of spending money on “bricks and mortar” we rather partner with individuals and organizations that have the resources, know-how, and desire to fulfill shared goals. Our collaborative model, based on community-development notions of mutual empowerment, has inspired the creation of similar organizations in other ethnic communities, including the Greek Canadian History Project.

In September 2009 we partnered with the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, York University Libraries (CTASC), with whom we have developed an exceptional synergy. We have enriched the CTASC’ʹs holdings by facilitating the donation of archival records from individuals and organizations associated with Toronto’s Portuguese community. Besides preserving these records for present and future generations, and making them available for consultation at Scott Library, the CTASC continues to digitize the PCHP | PHLC’s collections and make them easily and freely accessible online. Together we have developed various public history and digital humanities initiatives that have connected with the general public. Educators, researchers, students and the general public can use these tools for learning and teaching about migration, ethnicity, class, gender, linguistics, geography and other social and cultural subjects pertaining to immigrants and their descendants in Canada.

In November 2015, the PCHP | PHLC became associated with the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies at York University, which hired our co-founder and president Gilberto Fernandes as a postdoctoral visitor, responsible for implementing our strategic plan released in 2015; conducting research; and teaching an undergraduate course. This position has been made possible thanks to a generous donation from a member of the Portuguese community, resulting from an ongoing fundraising campaign led by York University’s Division of Advancement.

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