Mining India’s archives was the best part of this distinguished dissertation journey

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Jill Campbell-Miller
Jill Campbell-Miller graduated with a PhD in History more than a year ago and now teaches at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. But here on campus, she is still celebrated for outstanding doctoral work with the recent announcement that her dissertation is among six international finalists for 2015 Council of Graduate Studies/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award.

“A supervisor is always happy when their student wins recognition, especially in a North America-wide competition for best thesis,” says Bruce Muirhead, her PhD supervisor and Associate VP, External Research, and Professor of History. “But in Jill’s case, I think I always suspected that something like this would happen. She was, clearly, an exceptional PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo – a real self-starter and finisher.”

The Council of Graduate Studies/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award “recognizes recent doctoral recipients who have already made unusually significant and original contributions to their fields.” Campbell-Miller’s was selected as a finalist from 71 submissions. 

Her dissertation, “The Mind of Modernity: Canadian Bilateral Foreign Assistance to India, 1950-60” explores one of Canada’s first foreign economic development programs. “There was a lot of terrain yet to be explored in terms of Canada's early history of aid and the importance of India to that history,” she says, reflecting on the choice of her topic. “And I had been interested in India's history for a long time so I really liked the idea.”

This dissertation examines the history of Canada’s early bilateral foreign assistance program to India between 1950 and 1960. With Canada’s decision to join the Colombo Plan for Co-operative Economic Development in South and Southeast Asia in 1950, India became the largest beneficiary of Canadian aid for the next decade. This dissertation argues that the ideology of high modernism permeated conventional thinking among elites in the Canadian and Indian governments, convincing officials in both countries of the rightness of modernization and industrialization.”

- from dissertation abstract

 “The most interesting part of the research was definitely my trip to India, funded by the Shastri-Indo Canadian Institute (SICI). It was an entirely new research setting, and each archive I visited (primarily the National Archives of India and the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Museum and Library) required a big learning curve,” says Campbell-Miller. “It also helped in an intangible way to experience New Delhi and northern India - even 21st century India - to gain insight and perspective into how Canadians reacted to their first experiences in the country in the 1950s.”

She credits Prof. Muirhead for encouraging her to aim high. “Bruce's expertise was incredibly helpful in a lot of ways, but I think his experience has taught him to just "go for it" when it comes to research and funding.” She followed his example and secured SICI’s not-insignificant research trip funding.

According to Prof. Muirhead, Campbell-Miller was “among the very first Canadian doctoral candidates to mine archives in India, which was one of the reasons her external reader noted ‘This is an excellent thesis.’ Jill was a pleasure to work with.”

In addition to her teaching at St. Mary’s, Campbell-Miller recently completed a chapter based on her research of the Diefenbaker era for a forthcoming publication. This year she also plans to submit a book proposal to an academic publisher based on her dissertation. As for new research, she wants to examine “the intersection between official governmental assistance and the growth of non-profit humanitarianism in the 1960s,” she says, adding, “I will probably retain a focus on India.”