Dr Kim Johnson, 56, has had distinguished but remarkably low-key career in research and scholarship in the fields of history, sociology and culture. He began his career as a tutor in sociology at the University of the West Indies, and continued as an academic editor for the Institute of Social and Economic Research in Trinidad, a consultant sociologist for the Caribbean Conference of Churches, for whom he produced studies of Haitian refugees in Guadeloupe and illegal Guyanese migrants in Suriname. Between the early 1990s and 2003, he worked as a journalist at the Trinidad Express and Guardian.
It was as a journalist that he began his major research project: a decade-long study of the steel-pan movement: its history, formation, imaginative character, and ultimately its future. He took this project with him to the University of the West Indies, where his Ph D thesis (2002) was an oral history of the steelband movement in Trinidad, and later to the University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT) in 2007, where he is now a Senior Research Fellow, and has continued his research in the area.
His major research achievements include, most recently, an exhibition entitled “The Audacity of the Creole Imagination”, staged at the National Museum of Trinidad & Tobago (2010), which displayed archival material in photographs and other ephemera which he collected over years from private collections and other difficult-to-reach sources. The exhibit included a 13-minute film which he scripted and produced. He is also working towards creating, along with other fellows of the UTT, a virtual online museum of Trinidad & Tobago.
Dr Johnson has also published extensively about the history and culture of Trinidad & Tobago. His earliest works are works of history (Crusoe’s Isle, (1994), and The Fragrance of Gold: Trinidad in the Age of Discovery, (1998)). His later works are focused mainly on the steel pan, but digress into history, specifically of the Chinese in Trinidad & Tobago. In 2003 he published Renegades: A History of the Renegades Steel Orchestra, a coffee-table book commissioned by the oil company BP, who are the sponsors of the Renegades.
In 2006, he published Descendants of the Dragon (a history of the Chinese in Trinidad) in commemoration of the Chinese 200-year presence in the island, and in 2007, he published If You Iron Good You is King: The Pan Pioneers. His forthcoming works include An Illustrated Story of Pan, and his Ph D thesis, The Soul in Iron: Genesis of the Steelband Movement in Trinidad and Jahaji Tempo, a study of the roots of modern Indo-Trinidadian music.
In addition to his scholarly work, Dr Johnson has also embarked upon a career as a film maker on social issues. He is (in early 2011) working on a full-length documentary film on the Steel Pan movement, and another film Tell Me No Lies, about the experiences of the hearing impaired in Trinidad.