The History Department is very pleased to announce that Jessica van Horssen, who will take up her 2-year CLA position in Canadian history on July 1, won this year's Eugene Forsey Prize at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association. This prize is awarded for the best doctoral dissertation in labour history defended in 2011. Dr van Horssen won it for her thesis on "Asbestos, Quebec: The Town, the Mineral, and the Local-Global Balance Between the Two". She researched and wrote this in the doctoral programme in History at the University of Western Ontario.
The official abstract of her prize-winning dissertation is as follows: From the late 19th to the late 20th century, the cities and industries of the world became increasingly reliant on fireproof materials made from asbestos. As asbestos was used more and more in building materials and household appliances, its harmful effect on human health, such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, became apparent. The dangers surrounding the mineral led to the collapse of the industry in the 1980s. While the market demand and medical rejection of asbestos were international, they were also experienced in the mining and processing communities at the core of the global industry. In the town of Asbestos, Quebec, home of the largest chrysotile asbestos mine in the world, we can see how this process of market boom and bust shaped a fierce local cultural identity. This dissertation examines the global asbestos industry from a local perspective, showing how the people of Asbestos, Quebec had international reach through the work they did and the industry they continue to support today. This thesis explores how the boundaries between humans and the environment were blurred in Asbestos as a strong cultural identity was created through the interaction between people and the natural world. This work advances our understanding of the interdependence of the local-global relationship between resource industries and international trade networks, illustrating the ways it shapes communities and how communities shape it. Bringing bodies of land, human bodies, and the body politic of Asbestos, Quebec into the history of the global asbestos trade helps demonstrate how this local cultural identity grew to influence national policy and global debates on commodity flows, occupational health, and environmental justice.