Fonds 1348 - Robert Forest Harney fonds

Identity area

Reference code

UTA 1348


Robert Forest Harney fonds


  • 1959-1994 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

1.24 m of textual material (10 boxes)

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Robert Forest Harney was born on March 5, 1939 in Salem, Massachusetts, the oldest of 8 children. He received his early education at St. James Elementary School in Salem, and St. Johns Prep in Danvers, MA. In 1957 he enrolled at Harvard University, graduating in 1960 with an A. B. (cum Laude) in history and literature. In the fall of that year he enrolled in the graduate programme at University of California (Berkeley) after marrying Diana Ohlsson on May 28, 1960. He received his M.A. in History in 1961, and then enrolled in the Ph.D programme.

It was while working on his Ph.D. in history at Berkeley that he was hired by the University of Toronto as Lecturer in the Department of History. He moved with his family to Toronto on September 4, 1964. In 1965 he was appointed Assistant Professor, a position he held until his promotion in 1971 to Associate Professor. During this period he completed his thesis entitled “the Last Crusade: the papal army of the 1860s” and was awarded his Ph.D. from the University of California in 1966.

While Associate Professor in the Department of History, Prof. Harney received a grant of $3,000,000 to establish a multicultural history collection. The result was the formation of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (MHSO) in 1976. As “founding and guiding genius” of this institution, Prof. Harney created what has been described as “ a rich and vast collection of oral histories and archival materials” [1]. As President and Academic Director of the MHSO until his death in 1989, Prof. Harney edited Polophony and published essays relating to the use of such collections in the writing of the history of ethnic institutions such as theatres, churches and benefit societies. In 1979 he was promoted to professor of history by the University.

From the late 1970s to his death, Prof. Harney published numerous articles and six books as sole or co-author. While his initial research and teaching interest was Italian history, his exposure to the cultural diversity of Toronto eventually turned his attention to North American immigration and ethnic history. One of his earliest books, Immigrants: Portrait of the Urban experience (Toronto: Van Nostrand, 1975) was co-authored with Harold Troper. This book won the Toronto Book Award in 1975. He developed courses and wrote numerous papers on immigration in general, and Italian immigration to Canada in particular. He served on the editorial boards of more than nine associations including the Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal and the Canadian Journal of Italian Studies, Journal of American Ethnic History and American Italian Historical Association, among others. As well he continued to act as General Editor of all publications of the MHSO.

His reputation in the fields of multiculturalism and immigration history made him much in demand for addresses and presentations, as well as a consultant to academic institutions, cultural centres, and governments at home and abroad. His work in this field garnered him several honours, including the already mentioned City of Toronto Book Award in 1975, the Francesco Bressani Award for the Italian language Dalle Frontiera alle Little Italies in 1986 and Certificates of commendation from the Canadian Historical Association and the American Association for State and Local History (both in 1987).

Prof. Harney’s teaching, research and publishing in this field led to the establishment of the Ethnic and Immigration Studies graduate programme at the University of Toronto in 1977. Shortly before his death, he was appointed to the newly endowed Professorship and Program in Ethnic, Immigration, and Pluralism Studies, a collaborative graduate programme. Prof. Harney died on August 22, 1989 after the failure of a heart transplant. Following his death, the chair was re-named the Robert F. Harney Professorship, with Wsevolod Isajiw, Department of Sociology, as the first appointment in 1990.


[1] “Robert Forest Harney” by Rudolph J. Vecoli. Perspectives. April 1990. American Historical Association.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

This fonds consists of one accession received in 2010 containing records created and collected by Prof. Robert F. Harney during his academic career. The records document to some extent his activities as a graduate student at the University of California (Berkeley), but mostly relate to his activities over 26 years in the Department of History at the University of Toronto. The fonds is organized into eight series and includes documentation relating to his doctoral education in the United States, correspondence with colleagues and students both at the University of Toronto and other academic and scholarly institutions and organizations, drafts of articles, papers, proposed books and research materials on Italians in Canada. Much of the correspondence from the mid 1970s on is signed in his capacity as President and /or Academic Director of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, an organization he helped to establish in 1976.

Series 5 and 6 provide only a sampling of the original scholarly work that he produced during his relatively short academic career. Series 6 does not contain any manuscripts for the six published books he authored or coauthored between 1975 and 1985. In Series 5 only a small percentage of his articles and papers listed on his curriculum vitae will be found. However, as a result of his untimely death, researchers will find the manuscript for From the shores of hunger consisting of a collection of previously published essays brought together by his son and published posthumously in 1990. No complete manuscript for Prof. Harney’s intended work on Italians in Canada has been preserved.

These records are important for their documentation of the development of one of the first programmes in ethnic, immigration and pluralism studies at the University of Toronto. Prof. Harney’s shift from a specialist in European and Italian history, to immigration and ethnic studies is well documented in the correspondence files and in the sampling of manuscript articles and papers in this fonds.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Series 4 Letters of Recommendation is closed for 30 years. See University Archivist for access details.

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Uploaded finding aid

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Related descriptions

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)



Access points

Subject access points

Place access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Description identifier

Institution identifier

Rules and/or conventions used




Accession area

Finding aid



Related subjects

Related people and organizations

Related genres

Related places