Renowned labour historian Craig Heron received the Lee Lorch Award at CAUT’s 82nd Council meeting in recognition of his accomplished academic career.
Heron, a professor at York University, is considered to be one of the leading labour historians in the country and one of the founders of the “new labour history,” which focuses on the experiences of workers, women, and minorities in the study of history. He is a prolific researcher and the editor or author of numerous publications on Canadian social history, especially working-class history, including: Working in Steel: The Early Years in Canada, 1883–1935; The Canadian Labour Movement: A Short History; Booze: A Distilled History; The Workers’ Festival: A History of Labour Day in Canada; and the award-winning Lunch-Bucket Lives: Working-Class Hamilton, 1890–1940.
Heron served for many years as a volunteer with numerous local, regional and national initiatives, including the Workers Arts and Heritage Center, as vice-chair of the Ontario Heritage Foundation, and as president of the Canadian Historical Association. For over three decades he has been in the forefront of advocacy work around archives and museums, and collaborated in many projects in public history with a long list of unions and community groups.
“I can’t say that I remember ever setting out to be a public intellectual,” Heron told Council delegates when he received the award May 5. “I don’t recall coming down to breakfast one morning and telling my parents that that was what I wanted to be when I grew up. But in a modest way I became one.”
He said academics should be public intellectuals, despite the many roadblocks standing in their way.
“More than ever, we are being exhorted to make our teaching and research applied, quantifiable, and, where possible, commercially viable — an agonizing process for the liberal arts, whose very essence has always defied such formulations of our work,” Heron said.
“We need to continue to reassert our own versions of public engagement that retain the autonomy of our disciplinary practices and our academic institutions, that continue to allow for independent, ethically-based criticism, and that are not caught up in any neo-liberal agendas. We can’t abandon the vital role of the university as a base of independent social criticism, made possible by the academic freedom that we honour and try to nurture.”