Today’s blog is written by ASM’s Dr. Michael Brescia who is on sabbatical this year. A Fulbright-Carlos Rico Award for North American Studies, under the categories of teaching and research, has taken him to two locales in North America. This past fall at the University of Western Ontario, Brescia taught a research seminar on the comparative history of North America. At the same time, he conducted research for his project, “Water Rights and Competing Legal Traditions in North America: Historical Perspectives,” which examines the historical tensions between common law and civil law in the adjudication of property rights, particularly water rights, on the continent. Dr. Brescia is now in Puebla, Mexico for part II of his Fulbright, conducting additional research in the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, a rare book library founded in 1646. He returns to ASM late this summer.
It was a poignant moment for me as I drove my Jeep Liberty on Interstate 90 into western New York to start the Canadian portion of my North American Fulbright. The vineyards on my right were ripe with Concord grapes on the peak of harvest, while on my left the shores of Lake Erie produced gentle breezes; you could hear the occasional sound of seagulls above the din of the numerous tractor trailers that monopolized the roadway. I had spent the first five years of my professional life teaching at a small liberal arts college in the area, so this trip was a homecoming of sorts for me and family. We visited with old friends, drove through the campus, walked the beach, and frequented our favorite ice cream shop every day of our stay. I allowed the nostalgia to take hold just enough so it wouldn’t overwhelm the senses.
Crossing the border into Canada consumed a mere twenty-five minutes of our time. How often does that happen at the southern border? Armed with my Fulbright letter and passport, I requested a work permit so I could teach at the University of Western Ontario, a medium-size research university of approximately 33,000 students located in the city of London, about two hours from Niagara Falls and an hour from Port Huron, Michigan. My Fulbright project has a teaching component to it; I offered to teach a research seminar on comparative methodology to graduate and undergraduate students. Not surprisingly, North America was the unit of analysis. I expected students to think transnationally, that is, to employ historical analysis in a manner unfettered by international boundaries, nation-states, and culture boxes. My students rose to the challenge and began to ask smart, comparative questions of the historical evidence that they had uncovered in the archives and library, which also pushed them to revisit conventional wisdom and posit new hypotheses about the similarities and differences in the Canadian, Mexican, and U.S. experiences.
In addition to my teaching duties, I also met with historians, political scientists, librarians, and law faculty to discuss my research into the historical tensions between the Anglo common law and European civil law traditions in North America, tensions which continue to play out in the American Southwest when disputes arise over access to and control of water sources. Folks who have visited the Arizona State Museum and walked through the Many Mexicos and Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo exhibits know that the U.S. courts are supposed to act as surrogates for the old Spanish colonial property law. What about our neighbors north of the international border? How have Canadians navigated the differences between the French civil law in Québec and the English common law that operates in the rest of the country? Interestingly enough, the relative abundance of water sources–rather than the scarcity that marks the dry expanse of the Southwest–mitigates the juridical tensions between the two legal traditions. Hydrology and ecology are just as important, therefore, as jurisprudence. I left Canada with a better appreciation of the myriad ways in which Mother Nature fashions the tempo of law and its application to natural resource management.
My family and I left Ontario for Tucson in mid-December; we saw just enough snow and experienced just enough cold to say unequivocally that we don’t miss the ‘Arctic’ temperatures of the northeastern corridors of the continent. We do miss Tim Hortons coffee, however, not to mention the wide availability and varied uses of maple syrup, the eclectic nature of the local farmers market, and the sincere friendliness that Canadians exhibit toward newcomers. We might learn a thing or two from Canadian efforts to recognize the value of bilingualism and multiculturalism. Next stop on our Fulbright adventure: Puebla, Mexico.