A Narrow Vision: Politics in Canada in Historical Perspective

By James Cullingham

As the imbroglio concerning Jody Wilson-Raybould, Jane Philpott and the Liberal government emerged, an immediate wave of sentiment broke across social media. The panicky message can be summed up:  “In light of this scandal, Canadians will inevitably end up with an Andrew Scheer government.”

This type of thinking reflects a reductive historical and political fallacy that assumes Canadians have only two choices.

It also seems that many cannot distinguish the Conservative Party’s identity from that shaped under the tenure of Stephen Harper. The assumption that any conservative government is a right wing threat to Canadian civility seems baked into the perception of many who consider themselves progressive.

Actually it is too early at present to discern whether Scheer will discover electoral good sense and distance himself from the harder social conservative elements of his Conservative party as October’s federal election nears. From a historical perspective, however, the belief that a Liberal regime is automatically more righteous than a Conservative one is based on thin historical evidence. Continue reading

Using Infographics to Teach about Canadian History

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Krista McCracken

As part of my work at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) I’ve recently been working with a group of colleagues to update some of our handouts, educational material, and brochures. As part of this work we’ve created promotional banners, postcards, brochures, and an infographic.

The infographic we created (below) was designed to discuss the history of the Shingwauk Residential School in a way this is accessible to a wide range of audiences. We aren’t the first organization to consider using infographics to teach about Residential Schools. For example, the Alberta Teachers’ Association created one in 2014 and Athina Lavoie created a “Canada’s Indian residential schools by the numbers” infographic in 2018. Indeed, infographics have become an increasingly popular education and outreach method over the past decade.

Shingwauk IRS infographic

Creating good infographics is challenging. Infographics often condense large amounts of information or statistics and a lot of choices have to be made around content and presentation. Infographics are a type of data visualization which create narratives.

In the case of the SRSC infographic we wanted to communicate important information about the Shingwauk site, but we also recognize that this infographic will work best when contextualized. We intend to use it accompany other educational resources and programming. The legacy of Residential Schools is a complex and challenging topic that can not be neatly summarized by an infographic. Continue reading

Research Diary I: A Small Island in Low Season

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Leaving Lorient (To the left, Keroman Submarine Base). All photographs by the author.

Alban Bargain-Villéger

This post consists of excerpts from the research diary I kept during my research trip to Groix, France, in December 2018. Groix is a small island off the coast of Brittany, France’s westernmost region. This investigation into Groix’s understudied past is part of a long-haul project on three small northern European islands that I presented in a previous post. I am currently in the final phases of research for the Groix portion of the trilogy, as I have now read all of the secondary literature on the topic and scoured several Parisian and Breton archives. After another trip to the departmental archives (in Vannes) and the Lorient harbour and navy archives (also located in Lorient), I believe I will have enough material for a solid, well-documented book.

By the summer of 2018, I finally managed to scrounge up some funds for a one-week trip to the island; enough time, I believed, to peruse or photograph an unknown number of documents stored at the bottom of the town hall’s cupboard. Thus, I was well aware, before I even began writing the following pages, that a trip to Groix’s barely catalogued fonds would be a leap into the unknown. While every archive is a world of its own, ridden with idiosyncrasies, any well-organized researcher should not experience any major issue navigating such places, as long as he/she abides by the local etiquette. In the present case, however, it took me approximately two years to find out who was in charge of the municipal archives, only to realize that they were, in fact, the island’s best kept secret.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I would like to clarify that the idea of publishing excerpts from my research diary preceded the writing process. Although I tried my best to let the words flow, the outcome could be anything but the result of spontaneity. I could not adopt a stream-of-consciousness approach either, as this was intended as a research diary, not a creative writing experiment. Thus, I would not be surprised if some found the published version somewhat contrived. In my defence, I will simply answer that many primary sources historians use are also written with ulterior motives. In that regard, I plead guilty as charged: this report is artificial and has been proofread and amended. In addition to correcting the occasional typo or awkward sentence, I have taken the liberty of discarding the few paragraphs that have nothing to do with research, or history in general. In addition, although the “spirit” of the diary has been preserved, I must admit that I did censor some of its contents. Just as historians frequently engage in cherry-picking, source producers naturally select (more or less consciously) what they want to record and share with others.

That being said, I deemed it appropriate not to censor the few contemplative, frivolous moments that punctuate the diary. Since the present post purports to give a general idea of what a research trip looks like, it would have been unfair to portray historians as workhorses unconcerned with the real world. Also, not all researchers are alike, and no one trip to the archives is the same. The following pages reflect my own experiences and how I go about my business during the research phases of my projects. From the discussions I have had with various historians, I came to realize that each one of us has their own routines and strategies, which not only stem from our respective personalities, but are also shaped by the subjects we choose to investigate.

By now, you have probably realized that this diary should be treated like any other source. First of all, you should not take what follows at face value. Testimonies often are impressionistic, even when they aim for objectivity. Emplotment is, at the end of the day, a necessary evil. Secondly, please keep in mind that three simultaneously interdependent and autonomous dimensions are at play in every source, namely, (1) the intentio auctoris (the author’s intention), (2) the intentio operis (the work’s intention, or how a text can take a life of its own), and (3) the intentio lectoris (the reader’s intention).[1] While I was always aware of (1), the power and personality (so to speak) of (2) occurred to me while copying the text. As for (3), it is now your business. Continue reading

Anti-69 FAQ

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Tom Hooper, Gary Kinsman, and Karen Pearlston

(The Anti-69 Forum is taking place March 23-24, 2019 at Carleton University. See www.anti-69.ca for more information)

When we say we are Anti-69, we are referring to the mythologies surrounding the 1969 Criminal Code reform. We are not Anti-69 in all contexts. There are many important events from 1969 that deserve to be celebrated, including the Stonewall riots against police repression and the origins of the gay liberation movements around the world. Some people also really enjoy 69 as a sexual position.

1. Why are you Anti-69?

We are Anti-69 because the federal government has planned and funded several efforts at commemorating the 50th anniversary of the so-called ‘decriminalization’ of homosexuality.

These include:

We argue that no such decriminalization took place, and these efforts at commemoration only serve to perpetuate a myth. This myth is being used to legitimize Liberal governments, both past and present, as pro-Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, or Two-Spirit (LGBTQ2+).

2. What law related to homosexuality was changed in 1969?

Clause 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69 (also known as the Omnibus Bill) reformed two provisions in the Criminal Code: buggery, and gross indecency. These were not repealed. Instead, the bill added an exception clause that allowed individuals to commit these crimes under certain circumstances: they had to take place between only two adults (21 years old and older), in a strict definition of private. Continue reading

The Cold War Constraints on the Nuclear Energy Option

This is the fourth post in a collaborative series titled “Environmental Historians Debate: Can Nuclear Power Solve Climate Change?”. It is hosted by the Network in Canadian History & Environment, the Climate History Network, and ActiveHistory.ca.

By Robynne Mellor

Shortly before uranium miner Gus Frobel died of lung cancer in 1978 he said, “This is reality. If we want energy, coal or uranium, lives will be lost. And I think society wants energy and they will find men willing to go into coal or uranium.”[1]

Frobel understood that economists and governments had crunched the numbers. They had calculated how many miners died comparatively in coal and uranium production to produce a given amount of energy. They had rationally worked out that giving up Frobel’s life was worth it.

I have come across these tables in archives. They lay out in columns the number of deaths to expect per megawatt year of energy produced. They weigh the ratios of deaths in uranium mines to those in coal mines. They coolly walk through their methodology in making these conclusions.

These numbers will show you that fewer people died in uranium mines to produce a certain amount of energy. But the numbers do not include the pages and pages I have read of people remembering spouses, parents, siblings, children who died in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and so on. The numbers do not include details of these miners’ hobbies or snippets of their poetry; they don’t reveal the particulars of miners’ slow and painful wasting away. Miners are much easier to read about as death statistics.

The erasure of these people trickles into debates about nuclear energy today. Any argument that highlights the dangers of coal mining but ignores entirely the plight of uranium miners is based on this reasoning. Rationalizations that say coal is more risky are based on the reduction of lives to ratios. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 130: No Surrender

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By Sean Graham

As an undergraduate student, I remember reading about settler-Indigenous relations and how some of the problems the relationship could be attributed to cultural misunderstandings. This was a theme within some of the historiography, particularly as it related to treaty negotiations. In his new book No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous, Sheldon Krasowski challenges this idea and demonstrates how treaty negotiators for the federal government misled First Nations, particularly when it came to the surrender clause. By looking  As a result, the numbered treaties signed in the 1870s were not defined by cultural misunderstandings, but rather a concerted effort to deceive First Nations during negotiations.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Professor Krasowski about the book. We talk about the tactics used by the government, the motivations of individual agents, and how outside pressures influenced negotiations. We also talk about how treaties influence contemporary discussions and working towards Reconciliation.

Continue reading

The “role of women” in Ontario school history narratives

by Rose Fine-Meyer

In yesterday’s post, Seneca undergrad Jvalin Vijayakumaran found that there has been a cursory integration of women in the current grade 7 & 8 Ontario history curriculum. His research supports what scholars have found since the 1970s, that women’s historical experiences are either missing or are limited in their inclusion in school history textbooks and resources. The response by curriculum developers and textbook publishers over the past four decades, has been a ‘piecemeal’ approach, adding women where possible. Only a re-structuring of the history curriculum, one that allows for women’s initiatives, support of family, and their leadership within their communities can women find their own voices in the history curricula.

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The Significance of Women in the Ontario History Curriculum: The Findings of an Undergrad

In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8, and the celebration of Women’s History Month in March in both the USA and UK (Women’s History Month in Canada takes place in October), this post shares the findings of an undergraduate student from Seneca College about whether women in the grade 7 and 8 Ontario history curriculum were “significant.” Spoiler alert: They are not.

First, some background: Seneca College in Toronto, Ontario offers an Honours Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies that involves a three-semester Capstone where students engage in the proposal, collection, and analysis of primary research. I have supervised the proposal and collection courses of the Capstone since 2016.

In the fall term of 2018, one student, Jvalin Vijayakumaran, conducted research on the Grade 7 and 8 Ontario history curriculum to determine if women were “significant.” While both history curriculum and gender studies are both keen interests of mine, I was both surprised and impressed as to what Jvalin’s found in his research (for a topic I did not direct him toward despite all evidence to the contrary!). Because Jvalin is currently on placement as a requirement for his program, he provided me with his notes and analysis to share in this post.

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Beyond Inclusion – Decolonising through Self-Representation in Eeyou Istchee

Wooden building shaped like a longhouse

Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

Our research philosophy: ‘Nothing about us, without us’

For museums outside of Eeyou Istchee [1], we ask that we are consulted and treated as partners for any interpretative work on collections from our region. Museums need to understand that we are experts on all aspects of our culture.

We ask that museums, archives and heritage repositories do not reproduce or use photographs of our people without contemporary, informed consent from individuals or their descendants (especially photographs taken before the current digital / internet age). We are not objects for outsiders to interpret. The right to self-representation is guaranteed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The OCAP® principles (ownership, control, access and possession), developed by the First Nations Information Governance Centre in 2011, guide how information about First Nations should be used, disseminated, protected and collected. These standards are referred to in the Tri-Council Policy Statement for Ethical Research Involving Humans, which is used by academic funding agencies within Canada. We ask that museums everywhere adhere to the OCAP principles and apply these to historic collections and documentation.

Our research focus centers on the interests and needs of Eeyou community members. With that in mind, our research and resources give priority to research instigated by Eeyou community members.

For external researchers, we are developing a Research Policy which will ensure that research is done with approval of Eeyou community members, and that external research is of interest to, and benefits the communities. Our General Statement of Research Principles guides our research approval process while our comprehensive policy is being developed. Our goal is for all external research to be undertaken in a good way, with decolonising principles in mind.

This post, like all work done at Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute  (ACCI), is representative of our ability to self-represent, indicates our survival, and ultimately highlights community resistance to settler colonialism and assimilation. Self-curation, within the framework of contemporary museological practice, through the use of  museum exhibits as complex sites of resistance recalls the words of Metis artist / scholar David Garneau:

The primary sites of Indigenous resistance, then, are not the rare open battles between the colonized and the dominant but the every day active refusals of complete engagement with agents of assimilation. This includes speaking in one’s own way, refusing translation and full explanations, creating trade goods that imitate core culture without violating it, and refusing to be a Native informant [2].

The overall impact of ACCI is meant to demonstrate Eeyou, “…maintenance of culture, treaty, history, and self within the historical and ongoing context of settlement…Indigenous people did not lay down and die; they persist, and in so doing, they defy all expectations – working resolutely to assert their nationhood and their sovereignty against a settler political formation that would have them disappear or integrate or assimilate.” [3] Continue reading

The Unholy Trifecta of behind-the-scenes worker, museum visitor, and front-line staff

Photograph of ‘Corpus’ by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Photo by Reg Natarajan, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48098569

Alexandra Cherry

When you work at a Museum, you live in one of two professional worlds: behind the scenes, or front of house.

Front-line staff can include those working at the ticket counter, educators, security guards, cleaning staff, a person who sells memberships, or a gift shop attendant. Their jobs are shaped by visitors who react to the choices made by their colleagues behind the scenes.  The roles of staff behind the scenes can be just as varied: communications, fund development, event management, conservator, researchers, project managers, historians, and yes, even curators.

Although not always clear-cut, these worlds often put you either in service of the objects or in service of the visitors. But no matter what you do, once a person learns you work at a museum, they will inevitably ask, “Oh, so you’re a curator?” The public assumption that the only type of professional job that you could have at a museum is behind the scenes when they often only interact with front-line staff is a frustrating one. It further increases professional divisions, preventing a proper understanding of what is perceived as museum work. This disconnect creates a series of expectations from the unholy trifecta of behind-the-scenes worker, museum visitor, and front-life staff.

And it extends to the tensions experienced between the expected museum visitor and the realities of an evolving audience. Museums are trying to diversify and expand their audience, but many in back-of-house roles retain a firm set of expectations of their audience: they will be older, have a general baseline of knowledge on a subject, are able-bodied, and can afford the ticket price. In many museums, the object dictates the experience rather than being driven by the needs of a diversifying audience. Curators, historians, and researchers determine the content and flow of exhibitions and museums as a whole. Interpretive planners bridge this gap, as do advisory groups and museological literature. But most choices made behind the scenes are carried out by front-line staff. This includes dealing with the vast differences between new audience realities and the spaces created with the “expected” visitor in mind.

What could possibly go wrong? Continue reading