History alumnus and curator of agriculture, food, and fisheries at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Will Knight, has written about his experiences as an environmental historian in the “Rhizomes” series of the Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE)’s blog, The Otter~La Loutre. The full article, Rhizomes: An Interview with Will Knight, is available online with a short excerpt below explaining how Carleton’s interest and specialization in public history shaped Will’s career path in significant ways.
Tell us about your path from graduate school to your current position/career. What key choices, encounters, or moments brought you to where you are today?
The path from graduate school to my current job was unplanned, a product of circumstance and distraction. Out of all the choices and moments, three are worth relating. One was deciding to narrow my dissertation from a study of Canadian natural history museums to a single one, the Canadian Fisheries Museum (1884-1918) in Ottawa. Refocusing my project led me into a deeper encounter with the working life of one curator and one museum and, more broadly, with material culture. I said to myself, at one point, “This research might be good preparation for a museum career.”
More practically speaking, I participated in two public history projects during my studies at Carleton University that both distracted me from my dissertation and set me on a museological trajectory. The first was an exhibition at Ottawa’s Bytown Museum in 2012. I helped Joanna Dean—who supervised my doctoral work—curate “Six Moments in an Urban Forest,” which was based on her research. This was my first experience in museum work, and it was a thrill to see an exhibition materialize and later engage people with key themes in environmental history. The next important moment arrived courtesy of Jim Opp, co-director of the Carleton Centre for Public History. Jim hired me to be project manager for Rideau Timescapes, an iPhone app which was launched in 2013.
Both these projects forced extra innings in my dissertation, but the experience gained was full compensation for the additional pain. And I can’t discount the element of fortunate timing and luck. I defended in late January of 2014 and the curatorial position I now hold was posted in late February. I was interviewed and hired in April and began work in June. With a then 14-month-old child about to enter daycare, the job could not have come at a better time.