Research Spotlight: Dr. Brenda Trofanenko

Research Spotlight aims to shed light on the diverse research culture of Acadia University by celebrating the work and interests of our researchers. Each profile features six questions: five about research, one just for fun. Learn about what’s happening across campus and get to know the faces you see every day.

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Dr. Brenda M. Trofanenko

Canada Research Chair in Education, Culture and Community

Faculty of Professional Studies

In terms of research, what are you working on right now?

I am continuing my CRC research agenda focusing on the relationship between geography and memory and the pedagogical implications of memorial sites. The project demonstrates the importance of not only understanding lived experiences within and across particular geographic spaces and places, but also the wider conceptual engagement with ideas about identity, politics, and what is and what is to be remembered and imagined at museums, memorials, and archives. 

How does that fit with your broader research interests?

My research is focused broadly on public representations of race and culture. By utilizing a critical theoretical framework to analyze cultural heritage sites, I am able to highlight how race and culture is shaped temporally and spatially, and how such representations span identities, communities, and practices from daily to cross-generational time scales. This follows from my doctoral research that looked at how two institutions – the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and the National Museum of the American Indian in New York – defined ‘indigeneity’ and how such labels were authorized.

What most motivates you to do research?

 In its most simplistic form, research is the process of asking a question and then answering it. I work with individuals working in various cultural heritage institutions where the long-term engagement in research at these sites provides access to much that is not available to the public. These long-term connections are made more purposeful when they include collaboration with my university-based colleagues in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. This allows us to ask a wider range of questions and to seek multiple answers. It is what I have learnt from these conversations that keeps me doing research. And the easy (and free!) access into such sites is an added bonus.

What tips do you give your students when they embark on a new research project?

Find your passion and ask questions about it. It may well be something new and innovative and it may lead you into unknown areas. Keep well while enjoying the privilege of discovery! The most recent research course I offered was at Dalhousie University with a group of 11 women, many who had completed their medical degrees and who currently were engaged in post-doctoral studies. It was a wonderful experience to work with this group of highly engaged and intelligent students who grappled with the issues of research in working through the research cycle.  

Do you have any forthcoming publications, events, or talks we should look out for?

Yes, a recent publication analyzing the National Museum of African American History and Culture came out in the journal Social Science Research; a recent public presentation titled Cast in Stone: Reconsidering the Ritualization of Remembrance at Cambridge University (UK) examining the naming of public monuments; and, an upcoming paper presentation at the Historical Dialogues, Justice and Memory Network Conference Present Past: Time, Memory, and the Negotiation of Historical Justice at Columbia University on recent calls to ‘decolonize’ the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, MB in light of the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations.

 Tell me, what are you reading, watching, or listening to for fun these days?

I just finished the Bruce Springsteen autobiography and will attend his Broadway show in the new year. The next book in the queue is The Last Republicans by Mark Updegrove and Donna Brazille’s new book.

My academic reading is James Young’s (who I know from working at the National September 11 Museum and Memorial) most recent book, The Stages of Memory: Reflections on Memorial Art, Loss, and the Spaces Between.

Although not one of the three suggested ‘fun’ activities listed in the question, I will be whelping a litter of welsh springer spaniel puppies in the new year.

Contact Dr. Trofanenko
Phone: (902) 585-1381

Research Spotlight is an initiative of the Research & Graduate Studies office. If you would like to suggest someone to be featured in this series, or if you would like to be featured yourself, please contact Deborah Hemming, Research & Innovation Coordinator:

You can also download the form below, fill in your responses, and return it to Deborah by email.


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