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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Sepideh Shahamati, Geography, Urban & Environmental Studies

Mapping the Invisible City: Revealing the Intangible Heritage of Parc-Extension through Narrative Cartography

Date & time
Wednesday, May 15, 2024
9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Nadeem Butt


Henry F. Hall Building
1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Room 1269-3

Wheel chair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Urban heritage includes tangible features such as buildings and infrastructure as well as the intangible: the feelings, memories, and stories associated with places that can be considered the soul of the city. In this research, I aim to reveal this intangible heritage by mapping the constellation of stories and memories that contribute to the production of places. To do so, I studied one neighbourhood in Montreal: Parc-Extension, a multi-cultural low-income neighborhood that is facing a serious loss of its intangible heritage due to a rapid gentrification process. To better understand what intangible heritage means in Parc-Extension, I engaged with local community groups, I walked in the area following auto-ethnography practices, and I conducted 19 oral history interviews with former and current residents of the neighbourhood focusing on their memories and stories about this place. I then mapped these interviews with an online narrative cartography tool, Atlascine, specifically designed to combine the visual and navigational power of maps with the emotional and personal dimensions of stories. The Atlas of Intangible Heritage of Parc-Extension gives access to these stories, to the places and events of importance, and to the memories associated with them.

Through this process, I was able to look more closely at some of the characteristics of intangible heritage in Parc-Extension. First, this research demonstrates that intangible heritage is a dynamic notion that keeps evolving over time with residents and with their experiences and memories. It is not only about romanticizing the past but also about its connection with present-day issues, including gentrification and displacement. Secondly, intangible heritage is often deeply intertwined with tangible places such as schools, parks, buildings, and houses that remain spatio-temporal anchors to these stories and memories. Thirdly, the importance of memories, stories, and the places associated with them vary between individuals and across socio-demographic groups. Therefore, to approach intangible heritage in a meaningful way, we need to constantly engage with personal and collective stories told by those whose voices are rarely heard. This involves opening a space for these stories to be shared, listened to, and made accessible. This is what has been done in this research, which ends with an audio walk. This guided tour curates the past and present stories of the residents of Parc-Extension while inviting its listeners to walk and experience the neighbourhood. It emphasizes the importance of being physically present in a place to grasp some of its intangible heritage.

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