Ph.D candidate, History
Mary Chaktsiris & the Curiosity Cruiser
by Sharday Mosurinjohn, July 2014
During the Renaissance, wealthy collectors housed strange and remarkable objects in what came to be called “cabinets of curiosity.”
Rare artifacts, works of artistic virtuosity, and exotic pieces of nature abounded in these elaborate cabinets, which often had hidden compartments and secret drawers. Today, the Research Matters “Curiosity Shop” riffs on this idea, with a view to showing people how university research can help answer questions about some of life’s burning questions, including the odd and obscure.
This summer, Queen’s own Mary Chaktsiris (PhD Candidate, History) is traveling across Ontario with the Curiosity Cruiser, a mobile version of the Curiosity Shop that offers “an interactive space where people engage with objects and ask questions related to university research.”
As the Cruiser covers ground, Chaktsiris and her fellow Curiosity Crew members collect questions from the public about everything from the environment, to transportation, to food, to religion. Curious? You can find the answers to some of these questions, provided by Ontario university researchers, at yourontarioresearch.ca.
Chaktsiris explains that the Cruiser stops at summer events across the province where she and her colleagues “engage people with university research by challenging them to guess what some ‘curious objects’ we have in the shop truly are … All of our objects relate to research being done at Ontario’s universities and illustrate the ways this research impacts everyday life.” She suggests checking out the Research Matters twitter feed (@ontarioresearch) to see what the crew are up to on the road.
Chaktsiris got involved with the Curiosity Cruiser thanks to her interest in post-secondary policy.
“I had been following Research Matters, and when the opportunity came up, I thought it would be a wonderful way to share my enthusiasm for research and for post-secondary education in Ontario. The experience of talking research so far this summer has been a lot of fun!”
While translating knowledge from the academy into other domains is a perennial challenge for many researchers, Chaktsiris says she’s as happy to talk history “in line at the coffee shop” as she is in more academic venues. “I engage the public in my research through my involvement with collaborative networks such as The History Education Network and also through volunteer work organizing seminar series and conferences that target both academic and non-academic audiences,” she says.
In her estimation, working with Research Matters is a great way to strengthen her “commitment to public engagement and service in both academic and not-strictly-academic environments.”
Chaktsiris’ main research focus is the First World War. This summer happens to be its centennial, which, according to her, “presents an important opportunity to re-examine connections between war and society, not only in the early twentieth century but right up to present-day.”
At coffee shops and festivals alike, Chaktsiris is asking questions such as: “How has war become such a fundamental part of our national understandings of what it means to be Canadian?” “How do Canadians across the country, and from different generations, understand the place of the First World War in Canada’s past?” and “When approaching the First World War on a national scale, how can we not only recognize sacrifices and mourn losses but also critically engage with the varied viewpoints about the First World War presented both today and in the past?”
“As a historian,” says Chaktsiris, “my role is to research the past so that we can better understand its complexities.” As a part of the Curiosity Shop her role is to open up dialogue to include more people in the process of discovery and knowledge creation that goes on in the university.
The Curiosity Crew Members - Simon Buckley (Carleton), Mary Chaktsiris (Queen's) and Badri Murali (Ryerson)