Staff profile: Max Dagenais – Faculty of Humanities, McMaster University

Dr. Maxime Dagenais

Position/Title: Research Program Manager, ARiEAL / Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of History

Years of Service: 8-ish years


What does your job entail and what’s the most inspiring part of your job?

Overall, amongst other things, I manage ARiEAL’s day-to-day affairs and communications, help guide its financial resources and research programmes, help develop its strategic planning and initiatives, and help our researchers with their grant applications, organize events, etc. It’s very similar to what I did at the Wilson Institute, just in another field, of course.


The most inspiring part of my job is working with graduate and undergraduate students. When I left the Wilson Institute and started working as a research facilitator/grants manager at York University and then the Faculty of Health Sciences, I missed working with students. I missed working with them on knowledge mobilization projects (like workshops and conferences), helping with their grant applications, and just generally talking about research and academia and being there if they needed any type of support.


Their enthusiasm and energy are infectious and for an older person like me, who’s energy levels are declining, I was so happy to return to the Humanities and take on a similar role at ARiEAL. Sharing a research center with the amazing group of undergraduate and graduate students at ARiEAL has been a wonderful experience and a massive boost of energy for these old bones.


You work on both the staff and academic side of things – can you explain a little about your academic research?


Without going into the weeds, since we could be here all night, I work on early America (roughly the period between the Revolution and the 1840s) and the Canadian Rebellion (no ‘s’) of 1837-38.


Specifically, my research places the Canadian Rebellion in the middle of the struggle between abolitionists and slaveholders that was taking place in the USA during this period. The threat of two independent and “free” Canadian Republics (if the Rebellion was successful, of course) terrified southern slaveholders and they did everything in their power to ensure that the Rebellion did not gain the support of the United States and thus succeed.


If you’re interested in learning more about this, check out the articles I wrote on the subject in American Review of Canadian Studies or the edited volume that I produced with my close friend Julien Mauduit, Revolutions Across Borders: Jacksonian America and the Canadian Rebellion. The cover is pretty awesome. The stuff inside is decent too.


You’ve got something interesting coming up with PBS. Tell us all about it!

Julien and I were approached by a team in Vermont to participate in a PBS documentary on Vermont, the American Revolution, and Ethan Allen. Julien and I will provide the “Canadian perspective” on Vermont, the American Revolution, and Ethan Allen.


I met with the two producers, and they assembled a great team of historians to work on this project. They are also approaching the topic from a very critical perspective and won’t rosy the story. They are very aware of the problematic nature of historical figures like Ethan Allen and that fact that his image has been coopted by many – not just the furniture store.


More importantly, according to the producers, “I HAVE to be on camera.” Apparently, I have “it” – I think “it” is referring to my beard. Everyone loves a French Canadian in flannel with a massive beard that looks like a lumberjack, allegedly.


On a more personal note, your family has recently been through some tough times. Can you tell us about it, and talk a little about what helped you get through it?

In May 2021 my son, Tristan, was diagnosed with cancer – a brain tumour. He required brain surgery and treatments. Almost two years later, he’s off treatment and *knock on wood* doing a lot better.


Since I’ve been at Mac for close to a decade, I was very aware of its massive reputation in Health Sciences. I get and read the email blasts. It was quite impressive to see that reputation in action.


Dr. Olufemi Ajani, Dr. Sheila Singh, and Dr. Adam Fleming were amazing every step of the way. They were so supportive, friendly, confident. They made us feel cared for and helped us cope with what was happening.


Whether it was Dr. Ajani giving me the thumbs up when he walked out of surgery (the best thumbs up I have ever received – sorry Patrick Roy), Dr. Singh randomly buying Seve (my partner) a coffee, or Dr. Fleming joking around when we were in for treatments, it was incredible to watch these world renown neurosurgeons and oncologists, who let’s face it have incredibly difficult and stressful jobs – and I’m talking about real life-and-death stress, not historian-type, academic stress – go above and beyond to support us. I’m not sure if they’ll read this but thank you.


Obviously, there are hundreds of people that helped us get through this: the nursing staff at Mac ER, oncology, and clinic, the social workers at MCH, the child life specialist that let Tristan slam a cream pie in her face for his birthday, the staff at campfire circle at Rainbow Lake, Debbie for sending that care package shortly after the diagnosis, my students in 2T03/2V03 for being super understanding, everyone at York and HRS, and anyone that sent us good vibes or listen to us talk about this. They were all champs.


Talking about this definitely helps. It helps us normalize what we were going through and helped us get passed the “why us” phase.


What activities do you like to participate in when you’re not working?


Does excessively shopping count? I’m obsessed with sweaters, jackets, denim, flannel, boots, shoes, Ebbets Field caps, bags … How many bags does a human being need to survive? The answer is a lot.


If it counts, then yeah, that’s my hobby. Also, since I’m here, I really want McMaster to start producing vintage-inspired crewnecks and cardigans with just an M on it. Come on Mac, you can do it!


How do you define success?


How do I define success? Are you happy? If the answer is yes, then I’d like to think that you succeeded.


What’s the best advice or career lesson you’ve learned that you could give to fellow members of the McMaster community?

Don’t stress out over the small things – they don’t matter. I used to worry so much about weird things I’d say (and as a French-Canadian I say a lot of weird things, English is hard), or mistakes in emails, or forgetting attachments. I’d over-analyze every awkward interaction. Eventually I realized that they don’t matter. Everyone is already busy enough worrying about themselves that they don’t even notice your mistakes.


Oh, that and don’t worry about your imposter syndrome, we all have imposter syndrome.


If you could meet and chat with one person (dead or alive) who would it be and why?


Probably one of many musicians. I like music. From indie, to post punk, to No Wave, to 80s, early 90s hip hop, to post rock, dream pop, lo fi, noise pop, and art rock, music has always been an important part of my life.


If I had to choose a top 5, I’d like to chat with James Lee Lindsay Jr. (aka Jay Reatard), Bob Nastanovich from Pavement, Lou Reed, Ian Curtis from Joy Division, and Calvin Johnson.


That’s not a definitive list though. If you asked me tomorrow, the top 5 would most likely change.



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