When Blue Meets Green: A NiCHE series

Tina Adcock, an editor of the Otter blog at the Network in Canadian & Environmental history website, organized a series of posts on the intersections between environmental and labour history for the month of November. John-Henry Harter opened the series with his post “When Blue Meets Green: The Intersection of Workers and Environmentalists”. This was followed by Mark McLaughlin’s “Seeing the Forest (Workers) for the Trees: Environmental and Labour History in New Brunswick’s Forests” and “Workers as Commodities: The Case of Asbestos, Quebec” from Jessica van Horssen. The final post from Willeen Keough is being published today: “If a sealer talks about conservation, does anybody hear?” I also contributed a post titled “‘Two chemical works behind him, and a soap factory in front': Living and Working in London’s Industrial Marshlands,” which, I am republishing below.

The series asks us to rethink the simplistic rhetoric that sets workers against environmentalist. This is particularly relevant in a week where Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall is in Paris to defend oil workers instead of collaborate in reaching a strong agreement to prevent catastrophic climate change. This is effective rhetoric for a popular conservative premier who does not want to simply campaign on the behalf of big oil companies and he is correct that real action on climate change will be difficult for workers in the coal and oil industries (though the global price of oil likely has a bigger influence on the second group). It is not clear that a shift away from fossil fuels will significantly damage the wider economy over the long term and the economic cost of inaction are becoming increasingly clear.

Environmental history helps break down the simplistic workers vs environment narratives. Workers were often exposed to the same toxins that damaged the wider ecosystem and environmental destruction has hampered economic growth in the longer term. Shovel ready environmental remediation projects have  provided a lot of jobs for unemployed workers in the past and given the stubbornly low price of oil, it is possible that green energy and other retrofitting projects will provide crucial jobs to help offset the layoffs in the oil patch.

Two chemical works behind him, and a soap factory in front”: Living and Working in London’s Industrial Marshlands

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The Future of Loyalist Studies

As part of our partnership with the new early Canadian history blog Borealia, we’ll be posting highlights from that website here every Saturday in November.

By Christopher F. Minty

benjamin-west-john-eardley-wilmot-1812-yale-center-for-british-art-paul-mellon-collection“Intractable issues vex loyalist studies.” These were the words Ruma Chopra used in an essay, published in History Compass, in 2013. She’s right. As of mid-2015, loyalist studies has come to an important juncture, and the paths historians, researchers, and students go down in choosing their approaches to loyalist studies, within the next decade or so, will affect scholarship for well over a generation.[1]

To be sure, in recent years loyalist studies has made considerable strides. Scholarship by Chopra, Maya Jasanoff, Judith Van Buskirk, Phillip Papas, Keith Mason, Christopher Sparshott, and the writers and editors of The Loyal Atlantic and Loyalism and the Formation of the British World, among others, have pushed loyalist studies forward into new, exciting areas. Above all, they have placed it within an Atlantic framework and questioned what it meant to be a “loyalist.”

This scholarship, in turn, is being driven forward by a number of graduate students and junior faculty. The likes of Kimberly Nath (Delaware), Pete Walker (Columbia), Sophie Jones (Liverpool), Christina Carrick (BU), Justin Clement (UC, Davis), Rachel Hermann (Southampton), and Don Johnson (North Dakota State), among others, are bringing new methodologies and outlooks to loyalist studies or aspects of it. But with this upturn in scholarship, where are we to go from here? [Read More]

“Trustees of the Future” and the Echoes of History

By Calyssa Erb

Prime Minister Robert Borden speaking in 1915 – from Wikicommons

Prime Minister Robert Borden speaking in 1915 – from Wikicommons

On 23 October 1916, two years into the Great War, Prime Minister Robert Borden spoke to Canadians with the goal of inspiring more citizens to get involved in the war effort. Nearly a century later on 22 October 2014, following the shooting at Canada’s National War Memorial in Ottawa and fears of another attack on Canadian soil, Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the nation to encourage unity and resilience in the Canadian people by drawing upon the previous century’s rhetoric of dedication and Canadian spirit. The proximity of the dates on which each speech was made – although ninety-eight years apart – draws them closer together temporally to emphasize the parallels in prime ministerial discourse during times of heightened national anxiety. The similarities in context and rhetoric bridge the temporal distance between the speeches, connecting the past and present. In very different eras these two Conservative Prime Ministers saw fit to assert narratives of a unified Canadian identity and of Canada’s place on the global stage, when faced with moments of national crisis. The similarities are made all the more significant by Harper’s clear determination to reshape Canada’s image from its late-20th century “peacekeeping” ideal to a “warrior nation” one instead. Continue reading

Assessing the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

by Sean Carleton, Crystal Fraser, and John Milloy

National Centre For Truth and Reconciliation logo

Earlier this month, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) opened its physical and digital doors to the public. The Centre is located in Chancellor’s Hall at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and its online archive contains “Terabytes of Testimony,” including 35,000 photos, five million government, church, and school documents, 7000 survivor statements, and a host of other materials (art, poems, music, and physical items) collected by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). It is an impressive and important collection. The NCTR’s mandate is to “preserve the memory of Canada’s Residential School system and legacy. Not just for a few years, but forever.”

It is hard to believe that less than twenty years ago, the Indian Residential School (IRS) system was still operating and the vast majority of Canadians were in the dark about the history and ongoing effects of the schools. In contrast, the volume of traffic to the NCTR’s digital archive was initially so high that the site crashed on multiple occasions in its first week. People’s interest in the history of residential schools “broke” the internet, so to speak. Given the long and hard-fought battles by former students, survivors, advocates, and academics to bring Canada’s residential school system to the public’s attention to facilitate redress, the opening of the NCTR and the public’s positive response so far, is a significant step towards reconciliation and healing.

As emerging and established scholars of Canada’s IRS system, we are heartened to witness the opening of the NCTR, and we are optimistic about the Centre’s potential as a powerful resource to ensure these varied and complex histories are not forgotten. Yet, we approach the NCTR cautiously and not uncritically. Much work remains. The archive is still incomplete and it is limited in significant ways. Given the Centre’s importance, we offer an assessment of the NCTR by way of briefly tracing its background and outlining our initial thoughts on its many strengths and limitations. Our aim is to spark a conversation about how historians might critically engage with this new resource to help shape the future of residential school research and to aid meaningful reconciliation. Continue reading

History Slam Episode Seventy-Four: SHARIAsource

By Sean Graham

On November 16, parts of Harvard University were closed for a few hours following a bomb threat. Access to Harvard Yard was restricted while police searched several buildings. It was an interesting experience – the helicopter circling above was certainly unique – particularly in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Paris. Despite the fact that, at the time, there was no information about who made the threat or why, message boards were full of epithets referring to this being the product of a Muslim plot. (I don’t know why I still read the occasional message board)

Occurrences of Islamophobia have been well documented recently, with one of the prime claims being that Muslims want to impose Sharia Law in North America. Sean Hannity, for one, is obsessed with Sharia Law. What you find, though, is that a lot of these claims are inaccurate, based on extreme examples, or oversimplified. While this is partly the result of the sound bite media environment, it also speaks to the challenge of finding thorough, well rounded, and accessible English language material on Sharia.

To help counter this, the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School is launching SHARIAsource, a new website devoted to providing accurate and accessible information about Sharia Law. In working with scholars and practitioners around the world, the editors are hoping to provide a space to provide information, engage in debate, and serve as an outlet for primary sources.
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The European Extreme Right Yesterday and Today

Alban Bargain-Villéger

Logos of 11 extreme right parties. leftfutures.org

The “Europe of Nations and Freedom”: 11 extreme right parties. leftfutures.org

Studies on the European ultra-nationalist right are not exactly rare. Over the last couple of decades, many a tree has been felled and much ink has been spilled on the extreme right in our day and age and its connections (or lack thereof) with the fascist movements and parties of old. But despite the abundance of works on that topic, the ideological nature of the ultra-nationalist right, its medium-to-long-term plans, and its very location on the extreme right of the political spectrum are still subject to controversy. While not engaging directly with the debates surrounding the essence of fascism, this post focuses on some major genealogical links between several far right European parties and central facets of pre-1945 fascism.

First of all, it should be noted that the all too easy equation of the contemporary nationalist right with fascism has been rightly qualified by many eminent specialists, including Robert Paxton, whose seminal Anatomy of Fascism (2004) has opened up fresh perspectives on the subject. Continue reading

Truth and Reconciliation while teaching Canadian History?

By Thomas Peace

TRC coverFollowing the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report six months ago, universities across the country are re-evaluating our practices. Both individually (as recently seen at the University of Winnipeg and Lakehead University) and collectively through Universities Canada’s broad response to the commission’s final report, campuses across the country seem to be making a more concerted effort to respond to this call for change. Perhaps most directly for readers of ActiveHistory.ca, it is the 62nd and 65th calls to action that most directly affect our work as historians and history teachers. Call to action 62 focuses on the importance of collaboration between survivors, Indigenous peoples, educators and governments to provide resources, research and funding to equip teachers with the knowledge and skills necessary to redevelop curriculum and integrate Indigenous knowledge and pedagogies into the classroom; while 65 calls on the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, in a similarly collaborative approach, to establish a national research program focused on reconciliation.

Alongside survivor and Elder testimony, history and its practice are central to this report. In a recent talk here at Western, J.R. Miller noted that both in the TRC’s final report and the Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples, the revisionist work of academic historians feature prominently. He’s right. In addition to Miller himself, scholars like James Axtell, John Borrows, Sarah Carter, Denys Delâge, Robin Fisher, Cornelius Jaenen, Mary-Ellen Kelm, Maureen Lux, John Milloy, Toby Morantz, Daniel Paul, John Reid, Georges Sioui and Bruce Trigger among others reshaped Canadian historiography over the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Their work laid the groundwork that – in part – has caused us to rethink and revise how Canada’s history is understood.

And yet, despite this historiographical shift, its influence on the broader structure of Canadian history seems minimal. The place of Indigenous peoples and perspectives flushed out in greater detail, perhaps, but still relegated to a few key moments and periods in Canada’s past. A cursory look at a handful of textbooks in the field, for example, makes the point most clearly.[1] Though textbooks have certainly improved their overall coverage of Indigenous peoples, few have made a substantial revision to their overall structure, only featuring Indigenous peoples as a prominent part of the discussion in a handful of places: European discovery, missionaries and the fur trade, and then interspersed throughout the pre-Confederation period; discussion peters out for the most part in the post-Confederation textbooks until the 1960s/70s (some as late as the 1990s), when Indigenous resistance and political action re-emerged. In today’s post I would like to build on these observations, which are also made in the TRC’s report (pages 234-239 and 246-258), by posing a simple question: How do the TRC’s findings and calls to action shape our teaching of the Canadian history survey course?

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Being Part of Something Larger: A Review of Imprinting Britain

As part of our partnership with the new early Canadian history blog Borealia, we’ll be posting highlights from that website here every Saturday in November.

By Keith Grant

Michael Eamon, Imprinting Britain: Newspapers, Sociability, and the Shaping of British North America (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015).

Grant image“Were I to name the most striking peculiarity of our neighbours in the United States, I would say that they are set apart from the rest of mankind by a certain littleness.” So wrote the pseudonymous Verax to the Nova-Scotia Magazine in 1789. Yet for the colonial print community of Halifax and Quebec City, being British meant “being part of something larger” (19).

One of the pressing questions for provincial Britons was how to be “British” despite their distance from London, the centre of imperial power. Michael Eamon argues in Imprinting Britain that eighteenth-century residents of Quebec City and Halifax used the press and various forms of sociability to fashion a distinctive British identity. At a time when British Americans in the Thirteen Colonies were wrestling with the same questions with strikingly different results, the colonists of these two cities chose to express their commitment to British liberties alongside propriety, civility, and monarchy. While affirming their place in the British Empire, elites in Halifax and Quebec also participated in the British Enlightenment, that cultural and intellectual movement that emphasized reason, practical scientific knowledge, and the improvement of society—the British Enlightenment tending to be more moderate than some of its more radical, republican expressions. The colonial print community of Quebec and Halifax, then, managed to express their liberty while remaining part of “something larger”—the British Empire and its moderate Enlightenment.

Imprinting Britain is a meticulous study of every extant English-language newspaper printed in eighteenth-century Quebec City and Halifax (among other printed and manuscript sources). But it is not only a study of texts or readers in isolation: this is a book about print as sociability, as well as print and sociability. That is, Eamon explores how print facilitated a communal identity, and how print interacted with other sites of sociability—clubs, lodges, coffeehouses, and theatre—to define Britishness in these colonial capitals. [Continue Reading]

Science, Technology and Gender in Canada: An ActiveHistory.ca Exhibit in Collaboration with the Canadian Science and Technology Museum

By Beth A. Robertson and Dorotea Gucciardo


"Ferut" Memory Tube c.1951 (with box) CSTM Collections

“Ferut” Memory Tube c.1951 (with box) CSTM Collections

What do a glass memory tube, an electric range, a botanical painting, a player piano and two different aircrafts have in common? This first Active History exhibit dedicated to Science, Technology and Gender will provide a few answers to that question that may surprise you.

This introductory post marks the launch of a new section of the ActiveHistory.ca website entitled “Exhibits”. The purpose of the new section is to extend the partnerships between ActiveHistory.ca and other forms of “active history” primarily through collaborating with museums and archives across the country. Each online exhibit, powered through Omeka, will be organized around a theme. The exhibits will showcase a select number of objects, documents, and images from a single collection that you may or may not have heard of. Academics, public historians as well as museum professionals and archivists will be asked to place each object in context as it relates to the overarching theme. Continue reading

Who Was the Queen of the Hurricanes? The Story of Elsie Gregory MacGill (1905-1980)

By Dr. Crystal Sissons

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 9.39.07 PM

Who was the Queen of the Hurricanes? It sounds like a rather simple question doesn’t it? — and in a sense it is. The simple answer is: Elsie Gregory MacGill. But what does that really tell us about the title or the woman? Biographical research is the key to fleshing out the different facets of Elsie’s life. [1]

To begin with, Elsie Gregory MacGill was the first woman aeronautical engineer. After having earned a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Toronto in 1927, she went on to obtain a Masters degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Michigan in 1929. With her educational credentials well in hand, she should have been able to jump right into the fast-paced evolution of the aeronautical field, and she probably would have, had it not been for a sudden battle with polio just as she finished her coursework.[2] Instead of celebrating her educational and professional achievement, Elsie was struggling simply to get back on her feet. Continue reading