Joan Mitchell Travel Award recipient explores Archives' environmental collections

When Christine Grossutti entered the doors of the Wilfrid Laurier Archives this past June, she envisioned herself as a geographer embarking on an arduous voyage of exploration with notebook in hand and camera at the ready.

A PhD Candidate at Queen’s University in the Department of Geography and Planning, Grossutti began her adventure at the Laurier Archives aided by the support of this year’s Joan Mitchell Travel Award. Her mission: to consult the Archives’ collection of primary documents related to Canadian Biosphere Reserves and its parent organization: UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program.

“The Canada MAB story is an inspiring tale about how a committed group of scientists, public servants, and private citizens worked cooperatively to put the unique concept of Biosphere Reserves into practice,” said Grossutti.

“It is a story that holds great value for understanding today’s environmental challenges because it contains lessons from decades of experience conducting collaborative social and ecological research through a place-based approach.”

Grossutti concentrated her efforts the files of the former Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association (CBRA) and the personal papers of Fred Roots and George Francis, two prominent Canada MAB scientists.

She started with Fred Roots’ papers, which helped her to understand the international debates surrounding research ethics in communities of the circumpolar north and the homegrown efforts to have indigenous knowledges recognized on the international stage.

From there, she directed her gaze toward the research of George Francis on ecosystem management and his many environmental research initiatives for the United Nations.

Finally, she moved on to the CBRA collections, which served as a lens through which to view the Canadian environment movement’s involvement with federal and provincial governments, economic development, and significant international agreements.

“The collections of CBRA documents were very helpful in understanding how MAB’s working group on Biosphere Reserves evolved,” said Grossutti. “They also gave me a deep sense of the tireless work that went into attracting adequate support for Biosphere Reserves from the Government of Canada.”

With her Archives visit completed at the end of June, Grossutti is hard at work on her dissertation, which promises to provide a comprehensive overview of this important thread of Canadian environmental history. In the meantime, she would like to encourage students to undergo their own adventure through the files and discover what lies within.

“The Archives’ resources in this area are incredibly rich trove of information for scholars like me,” she said. “Coupling that with the knowledgeable and welcoming Archives team – Julia, Cindy and Andre – made for a very valuable experience for me. I’m very grateful.”


  • Waterloo