Social work PhD student awarded Stephen Lewis fellowship

headshot of Annabel Ragsag.

Social work doctoral candidate Annabelle Ragsag, the inaugural recipient of the Stephen Lewis Fellowship, will explore the humanitarian and diplomat's impact on Canadian social policy by examining his detailed archive, housed at the McMaster University Library.

School of Social Work PhD student Anabelle Ragsag is the inaugural recipient of the Stephen Lewis fellowship. Ragsag will spend the next year analyzing Lewis’ archive at the McMaster University Library to develop a deeper understanding of the humanitarian’s work and his contribution to social policy in Canada.

The world-renowned humanitarian, diplomat and activist donated his life’s work to the library last year.

“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 at the time. “I’ve lived my adult life seeking academic legitimacy. Now, finally, it comes by way of the McMaster archives. I’m palpitating with joy.”

As part of the fellowship, Ragsag will study the archive’s 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,” Ragsag says.

Before pursuing her PhD in social work at McMaster, Ragsag worked in international development in several countries. Like Lewis, she focused on social policy and international development.

The fellowship will help her develop skills in using archival research that she can use in social work and social policy studies.

“Before the fellowship, I often thought that archival research was for historians,” she says. “I’m excited to analyze historical documents in this way to help study something as dynamic and fluid as social policies.”

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 the School of Social Work.

The fellowship creates a unique opportunity for the analysis of the shifting value frameworks and approaches within public policy, says Saara Greene, director of the School of Social Work.

“Stephen Lewis is one of Canada’s most inspiring and influential champions of social justice. We are thrilled that Anabelle is the first recipient of the fellowship,” Greene says.

“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.”

Archives arrangement and description librarian Christopher Long 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 the archives and research collections are excited to learn about how Ragsag’s work 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,” Long says.

Ragsag will also be supervised by social work associate professor Tara La Rose.

“It is very interesting to look at the history of Stephen Lewis’ 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,” La Rose says. “In my experience, you never really know what you might find in an archive!”

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