Reflections from a Summer Student

By Grace A., Summer Student

I spent the majority of my summer at the Oshawa Museum researching the city’s early Jewish community. As Jennifer Weymark shared in her post, this project aligns with the greater plan to compile the stories that have not yet been told in our local histories. As she wrote, there has been a summer student (that’s me) sifting through census records, newspaper articles and other primary source documents, trying to piece it all together. In the beginning, I delved into the 1921 Census of Canada, looking for families in Oshawa who identified as Hebrew. I recorded names, birthdates, countries of origin, dates of immigration, language, and occupation. Using this information, I went to the Oshawa City Directory from the same year to get a little more personal. I found out which houses they lived in and the businesses they may have owned. I have to admit, I felt a little invasive. Everything I looked through was public record, but I couldn’t help but wonder what they would think and whether they would have approved of me playing private investigator.

The idea of informed consent was developed in the medical and biomedical community during the 1950s. While the concept has evolved over time, it’s rooted in the belief that there should be a process of communication between the physician and patient. To simplify it, the patient has to be fully aware of what they’re getting into before they receive treatment. Conversations about research ethics over the last few decades have been influenced by the basic notion of informed consent. For example, Karen L. Potts and Leslie Brown talk about informed consent in their essay titled “Becoming an Anti-Oppressive Researcher.” In their words, informed consent “highlights our commitment to the community, our relationships to it, the data, and the process.” These processes become complicated when you’re researching past communities. Most of the time, there is no opportunity to have an open dialogue between the researcher and subject in historical studies.

Ontario Jewish Archives, 1976-6-8

This summer, I learned that in the absence of this relationship there are still ways that museums can commit themselves to anti-oppressive research. On this project, we had many conversations about the archive. This is a particularly important consideration for a research project about the early Jewish community in Oshawa. During the time periods we studied, Jewish people in Canada faced anti-Semitism and experienced a great deal of adversity as a result of colonial violence. This considered, we have to be aware of how these structures are embedded in archived material. The Ontario Jewish Archives was immensely helpful both as a source of reliable information and a partner on this project. The photograph above is from their collection, and shows a group of Oshawa children and a Rabbi at a Cheder class from 1925. “Cheder Class” was one of many photographs from the OJA’s collection which helped to visualize the history of the early Jewish community.


Sources

Research As Resistance, Second Edition: Revisiting Critical, Indigenous, and Anti-Oppressive Approaches, edited by Leslie Brown, and Susan Strega, Canadian Scholars, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.queensu.ca/lib/queen-ebooks/detail.action?docID=6282047.

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