Mavis Reimer

Dean of Graduate Studies, Professor, Project Director of Six Seasons of the Asiniskow Ithiniwak
Phone: 204-988-7625


1979, the year I started my M.A. studies, was a time of great excitement and great anxiety in many Canadian departments of English language and literature, with new questions being asked about why and how we might undertake literary studies. My thesis, which focused on the figure of fortune in Renaissance and Jacobean drama, involved me in traditional research and scholarship. It was in my after-hours reading as a new mother that the new questions about the relations between power and value, aesthetics and ideology, reading practices and making meaning became most interesting and most urgent for me. Only a few texts for young people fell into the category of “good literature,” as I had learned to define it. The failure of my education to that point to help me to account for the texts I was reading and watching prompted me to re-think the ways in which texts might be described, interpreted, and evaluated. When I returned to begin my doctoral work, it was to study children’s literature.

Texts for young people reveal and produce the terms of societal consensus, and solicit the agreement of readers with these terms: these seem to me the typical functions of these texts in the cultural system. Studying texts designed for young readers, then, allows me to focus on the dominant modes of seeing and shaping the world in a culture. But these texts also show the pressures on cultural agreements and the shifts in societal consensus, so that changes to the form over time can be read for articulations of residual and emergent structures of feeling. In the face of globalization — which we are repeatedly told is the inescapable condition under which we now live — mapping the pressures, the shifts, and the continuities in societal consensus revealed and produced in texts for young people seems to me an important scholarly project.

As this description suggests, my interests in the texts and cultures of young people move between the historical and the contemporary, the international and the local.

Degrees Received

1994 Ph.D. (Calgary)
1979 M.A. (Dalhousie)
1976 B.A. (Honours) (Winnipeg)

Ph.D. Thesis

“Tales Out of School: L.T. Meade and the School Story”

In my dissertation, I looked at the school stories written by L.T. Meade, a highly prolific, popular writer of girls’ books at the end of the nineteenth century. My objective was to demonstrate that a “thick” reading of even such a denigrated writer as Meade produced a new understanding and, therefore, valuation of her achievements. Using the terms Roman Jakobson uses to distinguish the different parts of the speech event to organize my dissertation (sender; message, codes, and context; and receiver), I discussed Meade’s understanding of her writing; the contexts of the first-wave feminist campaigns for the reform of girls’ education and for the raising of the age of consent; and the audience of Meade’s journalistic writing and fiction.

Current Projects

Six Seasons of the Asiniskow Ithiniwak: Reclamation, Regeneration, and Reconciliation

The overall goal of this project is to move forward the ongoing work of reclaiming Aboriginal languages, histories, and knowledges among the Asiniskow Ithiniwak (Rocky Cree), work that is taking place now in the context of the calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) for, among many other things, the revitalization of Aboriginal cultures, the “relearning of Canada’s national history,” and the reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. The objectives and activities of the project are to undertake collaborative, community-directed archaeological research in order to advance the understanding of the Rocky Cree during the protocontact period of the mid-1600s; to build a rich historical understanding of the people of the region at the time; to create a cycle of stories about the life of the Rocky Cree that is grounded in the archaeological and historical records and set during the six seasons of the Rocky Cree year; to translate the oral stories into a series of picture books directed to young people, into a series of digital texts that invite players to actively engage the Rocky Cree world, and into travelling and permanent museum exhibits; to develop teachers’ guides to support the curricular use of the narratives and to provide training for educators in culturally competent pedagogy; to document, analyze, and assess the methods of collaborative, participatory, and community-based research used by project researchers; and to mobilize the results of this meta-analysis for the purpose of advancing public policy and programming for reconciliation.

Discourses of homelessness and texts for young people

The beginning of the twenty-first century has seen an increasing number of fictional and non-fictional narratives for young readers published in Canada and internationally that are preoccupied with child subjects on the move: immigrants, refugees, runaways, exiles, tourists, travelers, vagrants, and street kids. In this book-length project, I look at various collections of texts about these young homeless subjects in terms of contemporary theories of globalization and postmodernity. In the first chapter, “No Place Like Home,” I consider Canadian Young Adult novels published after 1990, some of which exploit the category of homelessness tactically. Textbooks on homelessness used with young people in social studies classrooms are considered in conjunction with Michel Foucault’s theories of discipline, governmentality, and biopower in chapter two, “Disciplines of Home.” Theories of the city and international narrative and documentary films about street kids released after 1979, the International Year of the Child as designated by the United Nations, will be featured in chapter three: “On Location.” “The Occupy Movement” is the focus of my fourth chapter, along with theories of “the poor” and the precariat. In “Exchanges,” my concluding chapter, I reflect on young people’s texts as sites of exchange between the literal and the figurative, using a cultural studies approach to read the discursive complexity of figurations of homelessness.

Scenes of Instruction: The Subject in/of Victorian Children’s Literature

In the history of children’s literature, it has been common to identify the second half of the nineteenth century in England as the “Golden Age” of children’s literature and to claim the narrative patterns established during this period as determining many of the conventions of children’s literature that endure into the twenty-first century. Much has been made critically of the celebration of the imagination and the free play of childhood in the texts of this period. In these studies, I am looking again at some key texts of this period and re-reading them within the social, political, and cultural contexts of their production, to ask how such a practice of reading reveals a different project at the heart of these texts.

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