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Perfect tragic hero.


As she investigated the effects of the mining industry on the town of Asbestos, Quebec, University of Western Ontario history student Jessica van Horssen was looking for ways to give something back to the people whose stories she was telling.

She found the opportunity to do just that via the innovative Megaprojects New Media series, and the result is a striking online multimedia presentation in the form of a graphic novel based upon van Horssen's research for her Ph.D. dissertation.

Initiated by UWO geography professor Joy Parr, who is also the Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Risk, the Megaprojects websites merge themes of environmental and community transformation as well as a range of documentary materials in a form that is "exploratory but also accessible," says collaborator Jon van der Veen of Concordia University.

Jessica van Horssen's Asbestos, Quebec takes its inspiration from Pascal Blanchet's graphic novel White Rapids, uses arresting illustrations by Radha Prema McAllister, and weaves its tale from the perspective of the Jeffrey Mine, the world's largest chrysotile asbestos mine. "The mine was the perfect tragic hero and allowed me to tell the story of the rise and fall of the town without condemnation or praise," says van Horssen.

Knowing that the residents of Asbestos are predominantly francophone, and believing that few people would be interested to pick up a lengthy academic dissertation, she sees the graphic novel--available in both French and English versions--as a creative and collaborative means of making her research accessible.

It also inspired her continued work on her dissertation, which she expects to complete this year. "The experience reminded me of what drew me to history in the first place: the people and their stories," van Horssen says.

For more images and a link to the Megaprojects site, visit

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Title Annotation:CREATIVE CLASS
Author:Koch, Phil
Publication:Canada's History
Date:Aug 1, 2010
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