Program for Undergraduate Research: Punjabi Oral History project, 2019-21

Punjabi Studies Oral History Research Project and Program Development, 2019-2021

With Filmmaker Ali Kazimi (York University)

The Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE), was founded to broaden access to and enhance undergraduate research experiences at UBC. The Program is funding the Punjabi Studies Oral History Research Project and Program Development Program from 2019-2021, to further develop the fledgling Punjabi Studies Oral History Program at UBC. The Punjabi Studies Oral History Program has proceeded sporadically in different forms as an undergraduate teaching initiative since 2010 with minimal and occasional targeted funding support. (http://blogs.ubc.ca/punjabisikhstudies/oral-history/intro/) PURE funding was secured to allow for enhancement of existing curricular resources that enable undergraduate research participation, and to involve UBC undergraduates and recent graduates in hands-on research. Curricular materials developed in the project will be carried forward in future teaching and research initiatives through established classes that have, til now, provided for preliminary work along these lines. This initiative will bring these initiatives to larger scale and allow for greater development, and will link the work directly to ongoing faculty research, through Professor Anne Murphy’s SSHRC-funded research project.

In its first year of implementation (S2019 and W2019), the project focuses on the history of Punjabi language advocacy and mobilization in the lower mainland, with the aim of interviewing activists, teacher, supporters, and leaders in the Punjabi language community. In the second year of the project, the focus will shift to literary production in Punjabi. In this way, the project aims to document broadly the history of the Punjabi language in greater Vancouver, and the lives of the people who have given the language life in this region.

The training program took place from July 1-11 at UBC under the direction of Professor Anne Murphy and the coordination of recent graduate (and minor in Asian Studies) Lovneet Aujla. Student participants took part in an intensive 38 hour-long training program that included lectures on the history of the Punjabi Canadian community and its cultural production by Sukhwant Hundal (soon to retire as UBC’s Punjabi language instructor); Sadhu Binning (a writer and former UBC instructor who recently received an honorary degree at UBC); and UBC Ph.D. candidate and documentary filmmaker, Ajay Bhardwaj. Jai Birdi, of the Chetna Association of Canada, engaged students in an extended conversation about caste discrimination and how it impacts commitments to language and culture; his workshop/discussion with the students encouraged them to think carefully about unconscious  bias and how politics form language choice. Ali Kazimi (York University), documentary filmmaker and recent recipient of a UBC honorary degree, engaged in an extensive workshop with students on methods of shooting, recording, and interviewing for documentary purposes. The students engaged in exercises in interviewing and filming, to enable them to gain comfort and skill with the technology and research approach of oral history, and gained crucial background related to the history of Punjabi. They also critically evaluated oral history film projects, to understand in concrete terms how to film and interview.

With Jai Birdi and Members of the Chetna Association

This PURE project is based in a commitment to community-based learning and its importance at the University. By committing to the comprehensive documentation of the Punjabi language literary and advocacy community in BC (with the goal of completing up to seventy interviews of members of this community over two years), we demonstrate vividly UBC’s commitment to community engagement. By engaging UBC students in these interviews, we promote the engagement of Punjabi-speaking students with their own communities in concrete and substantial ways. These students also engage in and support primary research through such activities, bringing together the research and pedagogical commitments of the University.

Lecture by author and activist (and former UBC Punjabi Instructor) Sadhu Binning