Research to explore Catholic role in British colonization across the Atlantic

A new research project at Saint Mary’s aims to fill a major gap in knowledge relating to transatlantic migration, Catholic history and British imperialism going back 250 years.


“The period we’re looking at was a period of intense anti-Catholicism,” says Dr. S. Karly Kehoe, who holds the Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Atlantic Canada Communities. “It’s not dissimilar to what’s happening in different countries in the West now, with anxiety and animosity towards specific groups.”

Titled ‘A Catholic Atlantic? Minority Agency in the British World, 1763-1860’, the project received a significant Insight Development Grant from the federal government, announced July 17 by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

“It’s going to help build research capacity with the CRC, and make it more international by bringing in Irish, Scottish and Caribbean dimensions,” says Kehoe, whose project partner is Dr. Ciaran O’Neill, Ussher Assistant Professor in Nineteenth-Century History at Trinity College Dublin.

Broad literature exists on Catholic missions to Asia and Africa in the modern period, but not much research has been done on Catholic migration in the British Atlantic context. Kehoe hopes to shed new light on the transnational character of Catholic agency in the British world, and show that links beyond just trade and migration existed between northeastern British North America and the Caribbean.

Trinidad will be a major area of focus, as it was a predominantly Catholic island with large free people of colour and slave populations that identified as Catholics. There is an Italian component as well – two collaborators in Rome will assist in working with the Vatican’s archives and other Catholic Church history sources.

The project will be a great learning opportunity for several student research assistants at SMU, who will work directly with students in Dublin.

“We’re really committed to sharing the research, so we’ll be creating blogs and podcasts,” says Kehoe. “That’s where students will really take a lead on preparing little research vignettes, interesting snippets we find that people might want to know about.”

The two-year project will include public lectures next fall at a Halifax symposium and a Dublin workshop. Kehoe will also connect this work with high school students in Mabou, Cape Breton, through the SMU Emerging Researchers Program she leads with Dr. Alexander MacLeod.

Paying more attention to minority groups in the past British Empire can help in better addressing migrant integration in today’s world, she says.

“Migration is constant. I think all academics who engage with it have a responsibility to connect what they’re doing with what’s going on now, to broaden the conversation and get people thinking about things in different ways.”

Kehoe is a strong advocate for displaced, refugee and at-risk academics, through her work with the Global Young Academy. She recently co-edited a new book, Responsibility for Refugee and Migrant Integration, which launched in April in Munich. Also in April, she was the 2019 Spring Strickland Visiting Scholar at Middle Tennessee State University.

The Canada Research Chair in Atlantic Canada Communities program at Saint Mary’s aims to raise awareness about the complex historical experience of Atlantic Canada as a way of inspiring new ideas about global networking, settler colonialism, economic assertiveness and the agency of its people and communities.

New SMU space at Volta open for business


Saint Mary’s students, faculty and researchers now have access to a new office space at Volta in downtown Halifax.

Dubbed the Entrepreneurship Connector, the bright new space can accommodate up to 6 people and puts Saint Mary’s in the heart of the Halifax innovation district, providing access to resources and allowing faculty, researchers and programs to better reach and engage with the community and local businesses.

The space and the partnership “creates a direct pathway for students, faculty and staff from across all disciplines within the university to engage in entrepreneurship and help grow and support the start-up ecosystem,” says Michael Sanderson, Director of the Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre.

Volta, now in its sixth year of operation, tripled in size last year to 60,000 square feet. Spanning across three floors of the Maritime Centre, the innovation hub is creating a place for entrepreneurs and innovators to work, learn and connect with each other.

Saint Mary’s is the first post-secondary institution to provide its students and faculty direct access to Volta’s community of innovators with a dedicated work space onsite.

Faculty and students can book the space via an online:

Unlocking overlooked history from a 2,200-year-old Roman villa

When modern technology meets buried remnants from the early Roman Empire, collaborative research has the potential to unearth new chapters of human history never previously analyzed.

That’s the thinking behind The Villa di Tito Project: Reexamining Roman Villas, helmed by Dr. Myles McCallum of Saint Mary’s University. The project received nearly two thirds of SMU’s most recent round of federal research funding, announced July 17 by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Home to an annual archaeology field school for Saint Mary’s and McMaster University students, the rural Villa site is located amid olive groves on the north slopes of the Velino river valley in central Italy, in the province of Reiti. It’s along the Via Salaria, an ancient road used to transport salt into the interior of Italy, which ran from Rome to the Adriatic. The Villa sits high above a freshwater lake that is also ripe for archaeological study – the Lago di Paterno, once considered the geographical centre of Italy and a sacred site connected to the goddess Vacuna.  

Over its five-year lifespan, the SSHRC Insight grant will – among other things – reduce costs for students participating in the field school, and allow McCallum to hire and train several undergrads each year to work as research assistants on the project. Including three this summer, plus a fourth hired with funds from SMU’s Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research.

“The research results were pretty spectacular this summer and will just get better over the next few years,” says McCallum, Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Classics. The students “did an amazing job, they worked incredibly hard, and learned a bunch of new things like using our database system, flying a drone, doing some detailed photography and photogrammetry, and more.”  

The field school also teaches the fundamentals of archaeological excavation, field surveying, drawing, and artifacts analysis. The drone footage will help to create detailed views, maps and 3D models of the area.  

“This particular structure is monumental in size. Whoever built it in the 1st century B.C. invested a lot of time and money into it. It was a showpiece in the countryside for them, and probably the local centre of the social and economic network,” says McCallum.

One of the project’s goals is to find evidence to prove the theory that the Villa was originally built by Titus (Tito), a member of the Flavian family and the Second Dynasty of the Roman Empire. More importantly, it aims to reconstruct the lives of the workers – the people who made bricks and wine, grew crops, pressed olives for oil, or engaged in mining, woodworking and metalworking.

“The historical record is highly biased toward the social elites and the aristocracy,” says McCallum. “They wrote the history for themselves and they didn’t tend to write about slaves or poor people. We want to understand the Villa as a community, as opposed to just a monument to one person or family’s wealth and prestige.”

A good portion of the two-storey structure was revealed over the summer. Other notable finds were coins, stamped tiles, ceramic pots and transport amphorae, chunks of mosaic flooring, and incredibly intact brick walls. The Villa went through a series of renovations over the centuries, and was briefly repurposed after apparently being abandoned for a few hundred years. Environmental archaeology will yield more clues about the people: collecting and analyzing soil samples for pollen, seeds, charcoal, food remains and animal bones can indicate whether diets changed over time, pre-Roman conquest to post-conquest.

“We’re beginning to understand this transition, and the role played by these villas and estates in the process of creating a homogeneous imperial culture in Italy,” says McCallum. 

The SSHRC Insight grants are designed to promote research collaboration and partnerships. The Villa di Tito project team includes researchers from McMaster, Oxford, the University of Rome, the University of Nevada and Texas A&M. McCallum has invited Saint Mary’s colleagues in Geography and Chemistry to get involved, for everything from carbon 14 dating and chemical analysis to geomorphology and ground-penetrating radar.

Recruitment is underway for next summer’s field course, and students in all disciplines are welcome. McCallum admits it’s not the most glamourous work: “You’re outside all day for eight to 10 hours. It can get hot, it can rain, and there are bugs.” Even so, most students agree it’s an unforgettable learning experience.

Follow the project on Facebook via the Villa of Titus Archaeological Research Project and the Saint Mary’s Department of Modern Languages and Classics.     

New partnership breaks down job barriers for students with disabilities

Jobs and careers are top of mind for most young people and that includes youth with disabilities.

Now, a new partnership at Saint Mary’s is making it easier for Saint Mary’s students with disabilities to overcome employment barriers.

Launched this past May, the Student Employment Initiative is a joint program from the Saint Mary’s Career Services and The Fred Smithers Centre that helps students with disabilities find part-time and summer employment that matches their career aspirations. By subsidizing a portion of their wages, the initiative removes one of the common barriers facing new job seekers.

Participating students receive resume help, interview workshops, workplace accommodations and other supports, such as regular check-ins with Job Developer Ashley Burke who assesses the student’s progress and work conditions.

“The goal is to take students out of their comfort zone, challenge them in a worthwhile way, and provide meaningful work experience,” says Donnie Jeffrey, Manager, Career Services.

The initiative recently received a grant of $200,000 from the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education, something that Donnie Jeffrey, Manager, Career Services says validates “the success of this collaboration and shows the government’s commitment to Saint Mary’s and our students.”

Open to all faculties, the program concentrates on students in upper years, but there are no strict guidelines to stop students in any year from participating. Students are required to have a documented disability with The Fred Smithers Centre and be a recipient of a Nova Scotia issued student loan.

 Student success

Though the joint initiative is new, students are finding the service immensely helpful. Fourth year psychology student Jessie Rector, who found a job as a recruiter with event and personal security firm Shadow Security, said, “The direct job experience gives me the ability to be independent while working with a team. I am developing work-related skills and building a resume.” 

Building job confidence:  Shadow Security Operations Manager Nate Martin hired psychology student Jessie Rector this summer through the Student Employment Initiative.

Building job confidence: Shadow Security Operations Manager Nate Martin hired psychology student Jessie Rector this summer through the Student Employment Initiative.

Jessie lived with anxiety as a teen, and in her first year of university noticed she was struggling writing tests and remembering information. She was later diagnosed with ADHD.

“The Fred Smithers Centre has helped me in so many ways: extra time on exams, extended paper deadlines and private examination rooms,” said Rector.

 Nate Martin, operations manager of Shadow Security also sees the value of the program.

“The program is great and Ashley has brought me a number of candidates. We screen them and they are good candidates. We do up to thirty events a week and we are expanding so we need both full-time and part-time workers,” he said. “I am so impressed with one young man that I am working on creating a position for him. I remember being 20 and I want to help young people get their start.”

Saint Mary’s has been providing support for students with disabilities for over forty years. In the early years, the Atlantic Centre, as it was known, existed to help students with hearing impairments. The Fred Smithers Centre now helps students with a range of disabilities both physical and mental health related including visual or hearing impairments, mental health issues and learning disabilities such as ADHD.

The Centre is named in honour of Dr. Fred Smithers, an entrepreneur and philanthropist whose generous support is the reason for The Centre’s recent growth and reach into the wider community. Today, The Centre helps hundreds of Saint Mary’s registered students every year and is considered the leading facility of its kind in Atlantic Canada.

 This latest grant from the provincial government will support the program through fiscal year  2019/2020. Students who may qualify and who are not currently involved with this program, or with The Fred Smithers Centre are encouraged to reach out and see if this is a service that could benefit them. For more information call 902.420.5452.