David W. States – Doctor of Humanities (’23)

Portrait of David W. States smiling


David W. States is an esteemed historian, genealogist, scholar and dedicated public servant who has made vast contributions to scholarly and popular understanding of African Canadian history. His thorough study of historic Black families and their communities in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley is crucial to a comprehensive understanding of the African Nova Scotian experience.

States grew up in Three Mile Plains, a historic Black community near Windsor, Nova Scotia, where he attended a segregated school. He studied at Saint Mary’s University, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and anthropology in 1973. As a mature student, he returned to Saint Mary’s to earn a master’s degree in Atlantic Canada Studies in 2002 with a thesis on Black residents of Hants County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

After beginning his public service career with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and then the Nova Scotia Department of Education, States joined Parks Canada in 1991. There, his work greatly increased the visibility of the Black experience in local history. If you have read about the Jamaican Maroons’ contributions while visiting the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site or noticed the highway sign near Hantsport, Nova Scotia, paying tribute to William Hall – the first Black and first Nova Scotian recipient of the Victoria Cross – you have seen some of the fruit of his labour.

Beyond his government career, States has made numerous contributions to higher education in our region. His personal study has contributed to further scholarly work. Academic peers describe States as a mentor, an inspiration and a friend, and they call his work brilliant, innovative, and engaging. They praise his encyclopedic knowledge of local Black history. He is also known for his eagerness to assist and support the research of younger scholars. States has published several papers, including his 1996 work on William Hall, and has been a member of historical and genealogical societies in Canada and the United States. He has served as a board member of the Nova Scotia Museum, Gorsebrook Research Institute, the Genealogical Association of Nova Scotia, and the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society.

Notably, his recent work on panels investigating the connections between Dalhousie University and University of King’s College with slavery has set the stage for the difficult work post-secondary institutions must do in examining their own legacies.

In retirement, his dedication to public service continues. States does genealogy consulting, advisory work for exhibits at the Nova Scotia Archives and the Black Cultural Centre, and video productions such as Who Do You Think You Are? and Ancestors in the Attic. Some of his later research has paid particular attention to relationships between communities in Kings County, Nova Scotia, with those in New England and the Caribbean. As well, he was engaged by Glooscap First Nation to report on the African Baptist Church and the African Nova Scotian community at Lower Horton. Through such efforts, as well as lectures, presentations, interviews and other appearances, States deepens our knowledge of the diversity and richness of Black history in Atlantic Canada.

States currently lives in Halifax, his home of more than four decades.

David States will convocate on Monday, May 15, at 10 a.m.