50 Years, 50 Books: Terrain of Memory

Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2022


As a way to celebrate our anniversary, Acquisitions Editor Randy Schmidt reached out to fifty UBC Press authors and asked them to talk about their favourite UBC Press book. This is what we heard.

Written by Laura Ishiguro

Book cover for Terrain of Memory

Over five decades, UBC Press has published many books that have changed how I understand British Columbia and Canada. Kirsten Emiko McAllister’s Terrain of Memory: A Japanese Canadian Memorial Project is one of those – but it is also a book that has changed how I understand myself.

I could tell you about Terrain of Memory’s contributions to the scholarship on British Columbia, or its enormous significance for Japanese Canadian studies. A nuanced investigation of New Denver’s Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, it is a critical study of memory and memorialization, timely yet again amidst renewed battles over the commemoration of traumatic histories. Centering Japanese Canadian people and communities, it does much-needed justice to their diverse complexity without turning away from the challenges of doing so from McAllister’s position. And it is simply a gorgeous, evocative ode to place and time, voice and story, community and feeling. All of these points matter. But most of all I want to say this: when I find myself unmoored, Terrain of Memory is an anchor.

In the dark stretches when existential questions threaten to freeze me – who am I, what do I do, why is it mine to do, is this good or harmful, what is the point – this is a book to which I return.

At its core, this book reckons with what it means to do scholarship. McAllister grapples with the power, purpose, and responsibilities of academic work, particularly as a Japanese Canadian scholar who, in this project, was both insider and outsider in complex ways. She interrogates the impact and limits of disciplinary thinking. She confronts her own and others’ expectations. In her journey through what she calls a ‘necessary crisis’ of identity, I am reminded that the work we do should change us, and that interpretation might be a way to practice respect while also honouring one’s own voice.

In the dark stretches when existential questions threaten to freeze me – who am I, what do I do, why is it mine to do, is this good or harmful, what is the point – this is a book to which I return. It is not because McAllister has precise answers for me. Though I sometimes feel that precious, rare ‘click’ of recognition, our positions, histories, and community relationships differ, as do our academic identities, disciplines, and projects. Some of our questions might be the same, but we are not, and therefore my ‘necessary crisis’ will take a different journey.

Instead of seeking my own resolutions in the book, I return to it because, every time, I conclude that only Kirsten Emiko McAllister could have written it. These are questions that only she could have asked, answers that only she could have reached. This, for me, is the point of it all. When we reckon with the possibilities and responsibilities of our particular positions, we each have work to do – work that needs to be done and that is ours to do. As I begin to step into Nikkei studies, it is never far from my mind how much I owe to sansei women like McAllister, as well as those who came before and those who come next. As McAllister underscores, we are not alone, histories and communities live because we keep the stories moving, and there is still so much more to do and say.

So, why did I choose this book? Put simply, Terrain of Memory nourishes my courage, purpose, and hope for what is to come. For me, that is scholarship to read again and again.

Laura Ishiguro is an associate professor in the Department of History, and affiliated faculty with Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies at the University of British Columbia. She is author of Nothing to Write Home About: British Family Correspondence and the Settler Colonial Everyday (UBC Press, 2019).

Posted in 50Years50Books
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