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Queen's University
 

John Isbister

Arts '64, History, Queen's University

I was an undergraduate student in History, Arts '64. It was a wonderful class of about a dozen students, and I consider myself privileged to have been a part of it. Among my classmates were several who went on to distinguished careers as Canadian historians, including Mary Vipond at Concordia, Doug McCalla at Trent and Guelph, George Emery at Western and Bob Surtees at Nipissing. Unfortunately Bob died some years ago, but he lives on at Nipissing where one of the gyms is named after him. He was a great athlete. My passion was Canadian history, particularly Francophone-Anglophone relations. The Queen's faculty members with whom I was closest were Arthur Keppel-Jones in African history, and Sid Wise and Fred Gibson in Canadian history. I learned more from Fred than from any other teacher in my life, kindergarten through grad school. I also developed what for me was a wonderful relationship with Arthur Lower, who had just retired when I arrived in 1960, but was still very active. In the field of Canadian history, although not in the department, the Principal, W.A. Mackintosh, was important to me as well.

I went on to an academic career, but not in History. I did a Ph.D. in Economics at Princeton, with an emphasis on economic development and demography in low-income countries, then spent the next 38 years as a member of the Economics Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. What I loved about UCSC was its spirit of innovative, interdisciplinary undergraduate education. I wrote a couple of pieces on Canadian economic history, including one that has been fairly well cited comparing agricultural development in Quebec and Ontario since 1850. I wrote books on third-world development, on immigration, on economic justice and on credit unions. I was active in the Santa Cruz community, particularly as director of a credit union focusing on the financial needs of low income people and on community development. In 2006, I returned to Canada, first as Dean of Arts at Laurentian University, and since 2010 as Vice-Provost, Faculty Affairs at Ryerson. All of this has flowed directly, it seems to me now, out of my years in the Queen's History Department. It would be hard to imagine a better foundation.

 

 

December 2013

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000