By Keisha Chapman, Faculty of Social Sciences
Anabelle Ragsag, a PhD student in McMaster's School of Social Work, has been announced as the inaugural recipient of the Stephen Lewis Fellowship.
Ragsag will spend the next year analyzing the Stephen Lewis archive housed at the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections at McMaster University Library to develop a deeper understanding of Lewis’s work and his contribution to social policy in Canada.
The archive comprises of documents including campaign materials, professional and personal correspondence, press releases, position papers, photographs and media clippings.
“I will investigate Lewis’s leadership and legacy beyond an individual level by studying the circumstances in his life and the broader socio-political contexts in which the policy issues he championed or resisted were situated,” said Ragsag. “I will examine the materials to determine if they can speak to that.”
Ragsag worked in international development in several countries before pursuing her PhD in Social Work at McMaster University. Like Lewis, she has focused on social policy and international development during her career. She adds that the fellowship will help her develop skills in using archival research to generate knowledge that can be useful in the field of social work and social policy studies.
“Before the fellowship, I often thought that archival research was for historians. I’m excited to analyze historical documents in this way to help study something as dynamic and fluid as social policies,” she said.
The fellowship comes after world-renowned humanitarian, diplomat and activist, Stephen Lewis, donated his life’s work to the university library in 2021. Speaking on that occasion, Lewis was enthusiastic.
“As much as McMaster may luxuriate in another archive, I’d like to say what a thrill it gives me to have McMaster’s stamp of approval," Lewis said. "I’ve lived my adult life seeking academic legitimacy. Now, finally, it comes by way of the McMaster archives. I’m palpitating with joy.”
The fellowship was created by the School of Social Work’s Engaging Social Policy initiative, through a donation from the Richard Splane Fund for Social Policy in Social Work. Splane was one of Canada’s most influential social workers and his legacy donation helps fund advances in the study of social policy in McMaster’s School of Social Work.
Saara Greene, director of the School of Social Work, adds that the fellowship creates a unique opportunity for the analysis of the shifting value frameworks and approaches within public policy.
“Stephen Lewis is one of Canada’s most inspiring and influential champions of social justice,” Greene said. “We are thrilled that Anabelle is the first recipient of the fellowship. Archival research is still relatively rare in social work, and we expect that this project will contribute to the visibility of archival research in policy studies in the discipline.”
Christopher Long, archives arrangement and description librarian, will supervise Ragsag during the fellowship, helping her identify which of the 147 boxes of materials may speak more to her research agenda. Long says he and his colleagues at archives and research collections are also excited to learn about how Ragsag’s research will highlight the diverse research potential within the archive.
“I am thrilled to be a part of her project, not only by providing research guidance and helping her navigate Stephen’s voluminous and vibrant archive but also by discussing with her the processes of archival work and how archival knowledge can be activated for future generations,” said Long.
Ragsag will also be supervised by Tara La Rose, associate professor in the School of Social Work.
“It is very interesting to look at the history of Stephen Lewis's global work, his work with the New Democratic Party as well as his father's history with the party and contribution to developing Canadian policy,” said La Rose. “In my experience, you never really know what you might find in an archive.”