Recognizing Women Historians’ Expertise: An Interview with the Co-Founders of Women Also Know History

Interview by Marilou Tanguay[1], Florence Prévost-Grégoire[2] and Catherine Larochelle[3] with Emily Prifogle and Karin Wulf, two of the co-founders of Women Also Know History. This interview was originally published in French on HistoireEngagee.ca.

Last June, the historians behind the Twitter account and the hashtag #womenalsoknowhistory launched a website aimed at increasing the dissemination and use of the expertise and publications of women historians. The initiative, conceived as a way of countering the gender bias of historical discipline, is aimed at both history practitioners and journalists wishing to interview experts in the field. Since the launch of their website, almost 3,000 historians have created a profile.

As Quebecois historians working in Canada and Europe, we learned about this initiative through Twitter. The issues surrounding women’s place in academia have preoccupied us for a couple of years. Over the past few months we have begun to more intentionally investigate these questions. At HistoireEngagée.ca we have a series named “Où sont les femmes?” (“Where are the women?”) aimed at addressing links between women, the discipline of history and the narratives it produces. The launch of Women Also Know History was a key moment for us to reflect on these issues.

To learn more about this project, which is still little-known in Quebec and in the French-speaking world, we interviewed two of the co-founders, Emily Prifogle and Karin Wulf, about its beginnings, its impacts and their hopes for how this database will work to eliminate sexist bias in the practice and dissemination of history. Continue reading

You Can Blame Mackenzie King for Ford

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By Adam Coombs

Doug Ford invoking the Notwithstanding Clause to slash the size of Toronto City Council generated fiery responses from both supporters and detractors. Regardless of where one stood on the issue, all commentators were quick to argue that their side was the one protecting democratic norms and practices while their opponents were undermining them.

Premier Ford made this point in the bluntest manner possible: “I was elected,” the Premier explained, “[Justice Edward Beloboba] was appointed.” He later told CTV news that using the Notwithstanding Clause was “about preserving the will of the people, [it] is about preserving democracy.”

Other Progressive Conservative (PC) supporters expanded on Ford’s argument. Political strategist Ginny Roth told CBC News that Ford “was explicitly elected to make change and I think a key part of his mandate is to do politics differently.”

Despite claiming that the Premier has a mandate for change, it is unclear how that mandate was conferred. His PC Party won 40% of the popular vote and with only 58% of eligible voters casting their ballot, only a little under a quarter of Ontario voters elected Ford.

Importantly though, under the First Past the Post (FPTP) system the popular vote is irrelevant in determining who holds power. What matters is which party leader can command the confidence of the legislature. Having won 76 seats compared to the combined 48 seats of the NDP, Liberals and Greens, the PC Party and Ford secured a strong majority at Queen’s Park.

Yet in justifying their actions Ontario conservatives appealed not to their dominant position in the provincial parliament, their actual legal position, but rather that they were granted a mandate to speak for the people of Ontario, which is a much more objectionable statement.

Making such arguments, however, is not new in Canadian politics. Rather, to understand the roots of this rhetorical strategy we have to go back to Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and his attacks on Conservative Prime Minister Sir Arthur Meighen in 1920-21.

Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King voting in the plebiscite on the introduction of conscription for overseas military service (Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to the 1921 Federal Election Campaign, which pitted Conservative Prime Minister Meighen against newly chosen Liberal Leader Mackenzie King, the idea of a democratic mandate was alien to Canadian politics. Continue reading

Digital History in the Classroom (For Beginners!)

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Samantha Cutrara

Digital History (or Digital Humanities and/or Social Sciences, more generally) has exciting possibilities for knowledge mobilization, community engagement, and access to primary documents and secondary analysis. I see Digital History (Humanities/Social Sciences) as being more public-facing than traditional engagements in the discipline(s) because of how the emphasis on the digital forces a more networked approach to both the process and product of historical work. Digital history, or #DH, can then be thought of being part of, and developing, a greater conversation between history/historians and the public because digital tools and technologies invite more space for collaboration. As a history education strategist, I find this especially exciting for classroom practice.

York University Library

I recognize, however, that one may have felt like one needed to know programming or code to engage in #DH. But the ubiquitous presence and use of today’s digital technologies means that we can now engage in #DH without needing to know how to program. One could simply “do” DHSS by focusing on the meaning making potential of digital tools and technologies.

Many of us already do this without calling it #DH. When we ask our students to search for a website or an article, to map something on Google, to collaborate on an online document, to participate in a discussion on Facebook – these are all practices that invite students to find, collect, organize, and/or analyze using digital technologies. What makes practices explicitly #DH practices is when we’re thoughtfully and explicitly using these technologies to develop skills of critical thinking, doing, and communicating. This means that students are not just creating digital products but engaging in the process of digital development, argumentation, and presentation. Through the explicit combination of digital tools and technologies with course content, students are experientially learn how to develop and communicate their learning of history with historical evidence and for a wider audience. Continue reading

A Historian’s Reflections on the 2018 CUPE 3903 Strike

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Picket line at York University’s Keele Campus, March 2018. Photo by *Youngjin, CC BY-SA 3.0

Alban Bargain-Villéger

[T]here is a peculiar illusion incidental to all knowledge acquired in the way of education: the illusion of finality. —R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (1946).

As a rule, historians do not often question their role as historical agents. While some simply do not think about it, others seem rather reluctant to imagine themselves as objects of investigation and source-producers for future generations of researchers. As (usually avowed) bookworms, we tend to take our bird’s-eye view on the past for granted and are used to distancing ourselves from our topic. Granted, some prominent scholars, like Marc Bloch and, on the Canadian scene, Bryan Palmer, have engaged in historical reflections on a past they themselves inhabited, but these do not include conjectures on the “future perfect” dimension of their present, namely how it might be interpreted by historians in the future.[1] In that regard, the latest strike by York University’s CUPE 3903  has given me fodder for thought. The dispute, which ended on July 25, 2018, was a three-month affair for me, as contract faculty members (aka “sessionals”), of which I am one, went back to work on June 15.[2] During the time spent on the Glendon picket line as a rank-and-file member, I witnessed countless discussions, debates, and observed several changes and continuities with the previous labour disruptions I was involved in, namely the 2008-9 and 2015 strikes. The notes I took during those three months inspired me to write this somewhat unusual, experimental post, which reflects on the dizzying amount of sources that can be produced in a short amount of time.

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In our line of work, historiography is often treated as a necessary evil, a distant arena that not only enables us to locate our own work within the discipline, but also implies a certain distance from the topics under study. Simply put, historiography deals with the ways in which historians have conceived of the past, and what sources and methodologies they have used in order to make sense of it. It also investigates the various trends, schools of thought, and debates that have marked the development of history even before it became an academic discipline in its own right. Essentially, historiography straddles the realms of historical investigation and philosophy. Although I have taught historiography for the last three years at York University’s Glendon College, it only recently occurred to me that historians – and historiographers in particular – tend to adopt a totalizing view of the past, often taking an “end-of-history,” Fukuyamesque approach to their subjects. However, Collingwood’s “illusion of finality” quoted in the epigraph to this post does not systematically stem from a temptation or (sub)conscious will to see one’s field or discipline as complete and unalterable. Faced with countless sources and multiple possible approaches to any given topic, researchers have no choice but to resort to heuristic techniques and to pretend that they fully master their subject. Whereas humility is a prerequisite to any intellectual endeavour, timidity can prove as damning. Therefore, I believe that historians should not refrain from getting out of their comfort zone and embrace the present as the antechamber of history. Continue reading

Historical Practice and Media Engagement

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Newspaper boxes.

Photo by Jeremy Galliani on Unsplash

Krista McCracken

How many media interviews did I think I would do when I started working in an archive? Zero. How many media interviews have I done in the last two months? Eleven. These media interactions have included interviews for television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and online only forums. This work has centered on promoting the work of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and the recently unveiled Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall exhibition at Algoma University.

This rapid increase of interview requests got me thinking about public historians in the news and ways to work with the media. Both academic and public historians have a role to play in providing important historical context to the general public. Indeed, the mission of Activehistory.ca reflects just that desire as a website that “connects the work of historians with the wider public and the importance of the past to current events.” The desire to extend historical conversations beyond academia are something that fuels Active History, public historians, and many scholars who work in the public sphere. Continue reading

Say Cheese? The Dilemma of Photography at Traumatic Heritage Sites

Visitors in the Anne Frank House. Anne Frank House/ Cris Toala Olivares. CC BY 2.0

Kaiti Hannah

There is an ongoing debate in the field of public history regarding the acceptability of taking photographs in museums. Though history museums seem to be leaning more towards allowing or even actively encouraging photography in their galleries, there are many who object to this phenomenon. Open up any think piece about Millennials and you’re sure to see complaints about those of this generation (of which I am a member) being glued to their phones and constantly taking selfies. Selfies in most history museums seem to me to be fairly unobtrusive. Usually it only takes a few moments for people to pose in front of an interesting scene or artefact and snap a photo or two of themselves or a group of friends.

Many museums are leaning into this. Some museums (including “made-for-Instagram” museums like the New York Museum of Ice Cream or California’s Museum of Selfies), have dedicated “selfie areas” where visitors can pose in or around replica artefacts, try on period costumes, or pose with mannequins representing important historical figures. Photography in many museums is seen as a way to attract and engage visitors (especially younger visitors) and make them active participants in the museum instead of passive observers.

Photography in art museums has been discussed repeatedly, but debates have focused on the damaging influence of flash photography, the interference of photographers on the aesthetic experiences of visitors, copyright concerns, and the concern that those who photograph art see it through a lens, rather than with their own eyes, lessening their own appreciation. But history museums have their own set of issues to grapple with. There may not be such issues associated with many museums or heritage sites, but what about somber or traumatic sites of history? The Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam, for example, explicitly bans all photography out of concern that cameras could interrupt visitors’ emotions in the site. Their website also lists preservation of the building as a concern. But certainly, in a place closely tied to the Holocaust, the emotional experiences of visitors should be considered.

Consider sites such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Continue reading

Not so Accidental: Farmworkers, Car Crashes, and Capitalist Agriculture

By Edward Dunsworth 

Early last month, near the southern Italian city of Foggia, sixteen migrant farmworkers from various African countries were killed in two separate car accidents. In both cases, vans taking migrants back to camp after work collided with trucks carrying tomatoes from the very fields they had spent the day toiling in. The tragedy brought international media scrutiny to the Puglia region’s agricultural sector, where African migrants are housed in squalid camps and ferried from farm to farm by mob-connected recruiters to work dangerous jobs for minimal pay and with few protections. It also sparked resistance from farmworkers themselves, who on 8 August took the roads of the tomato district, chanting “we are not slaves, no to exploitation.”

Continue reading

Recovering Contrast in Faded Documents

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By Olivia Raiche-Tanner, Annika Vetter and Michael Robertson

It sometimes happens that ink used in the preparation of documents will fade resulting in reduced contrast between the ink and substrate (paper, parchment, pottery, etc.), often to the point where the writing is no longer readable.  Ink fading can be caused in several ways including exposure to light, chemical reactions between ink and paper and/or atmosphere, and water and fire damage.  One method for recovering contrast between the ink and substrate is to use imaging techniques involving a variety of light sources, filters and cameras.  Even though the ink may be invisible using normal indoor lighting and our eyes, residual ink may absorb, reflect or luminesce light with colours outside the normal range of human vision. In this post we’ll discuss lighting strategies that allow archivists and historians to recover information from their documents obscured by faded ink. Continue reading

Queering Social Studies Education in New Brunswick

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By Casey Burkholder

During a late fall afternoon of syllabus writing, and distracted Googling, I came across the activist archival work of Dusty Green, who has developed the New Brunswick Queer Heritage Initiative (NBQHI). The NBQHI emerged after Dusty came across pictures donated to the New Brunswick Provincial Archives of rural New Brunswick boyfriends, Leonard and Cub, photographed between 1905 and 1940. Dusty remembers,

“Len and Cub broke things open for me, and got me really excited about queer history. Most provinces have an organization that actively seeks out queer content, because it’s important. It’s been actively suppressed by institutions and society at large for a really long time, so special archives or community archives have had to really come in and pick up the slack…archives are meant to represent the whole of a place. Queer people have always been here, and trying to fill those gaps is tricky work” (Chong, 2018, p. 25).

The practice of erasing the experiences and contributions of queer people in Canadian Social Studies Curricula is not limited to New Brunswick (For example, see also: Burrows, 2013; Crocco, 2001; Graphic History Collective, 2017; Lee, 2007; Maroney, 2016; Temple, 2005). To address the gaps in New Brunswick Social Studies curricula relating to queer and female-identifying New Brunswickers, I have developed a youth-led research project, Where Are Our Histories? (2018-2020) in an effort to queer the New Brunswick Social Studies curriculum. The study builds from the absence of queer and female-identifying people in the narratives that are presented in Social Studies in New Brunswick, and is inspired by activist historians, including the Graphic History Collective (2017), the Calgary Gay History Project (2018), and Dusty Green’s work developing the New Brunswick Queer Heritage Initiative (2018).

In the project, I am looking to learn: Continue reading

Trans Mountain and the Trudeau Legacy

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By James Cullingham

In 1973 the Supreme Court of Canada sent a fundamental challenge to Canadian governments in its Calder decision. The case focused on the Aboriginal rights of Frank Calder as a representative of the Nisga’a people. The case was argued by Thomas Berger.

While the court was split and the decision did not represent an outright victory, the supremes sent a clear message to Ottawa and Victoria. Aboriginal rights exist in Canada and the crown has a duty to negotiate. Pierre Trudeau is reported to have told a group of chiefs, “perhaps you had more legal rights than we thought you had.” It was an extraordinary reversal for a prime minister who had argued at the outset of his tenure that Aboriginal rights could not be recognized because “no society can be built on historical might-have-beens.”

Last week Pierre Trudeau’s son Justin also experienced a massive set back on Indigenous policy. The Federal Court of Appeal denied approval of construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The court declared that the federal government had failed to meet a legal standard of consultation and consent in its dealing with Indigenous groups that will be affected by the project. This is a biting rebuke to a politician who built his brand on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and recognition of Canadian diversity in a “post national state.” Continue reading