Archival Literacy and the Role of Universities in Archival Instruction

By Krista McCracken

Photo comic by Rebecca Goldman CC-BY-NC

Photo comic by Rebecca Goldman CC-BY-NC

Over the past few years one of the many hats I’ve worn at Algoma University has involved providing introduction to archives sessions and educational programming around our archival holdings.  This work often leaves me thinking about archival literacy and the skills historians need to be successful at archival research.

Archival research is a vital part of historical research however many history programs do not offer critical training in archives and most history majors tend to learn by trial and error how to navigate archival repositories. History classes may include a visit to the archive but these orientation sessions are often superficial and do not focus on the hands on development of research skills.

Looking back in my undergrad, archives were a bit of nebulous place that I didn’t know much about.  I had the opportunity in the third year of my undergraduate program to visit a local archives, become acquainted with the staff, and do a project that focused on the archive. However even that project was fairly artificial – it involved visiting the archive and using reading room resources but didn’t include requesting archival materials or an explanation of how to do so.  It was a good exposure to an archive but it felt very much along the lines of ‘show and tell’ and I was still left with many questions around access and how to most efficiently approach archival research. Continue reading

The Future of Public History Programs in Canada

Active History is proud to present a video each week from New Directions in Active History. The conference took place at Huron University College on October 2-4, 2015 and brought together scholars, students, professionals and community members to discuss a wide range of topics pertaining to active history.

Continuing the conversation on the future of Public History programs in Canada is Dr. John Walsh, co-ordinator of the Master’s of Public History program at Carleton University. Walsh discusses the tension often present in Public History programs between theory and practice. He advocates for programs to offer a combination of reading and hands-on projects. Walsh points out that students in the program come from all over Canada and from diverse academic backgrounds. He stresses the range of projects that students can undertake apart from a traditional thesis, including documentary film making, dance and theatre, etc. He adds that graduates from the program have gone on to work in a multitude of fields including academia, government agencies and in the private sector. Lastly, Walsh raises the point that the Public History program is at an “interesting moment” as many MA graduates are choosing to complete a PhD on a Public History topic. He questions what this would mean for the structure of a PhD program in Public History versus a traditional PhD of History.

Activehistory.ca repost – Slavery in Canada? I Never Learned That!

As part of Black History Month every Friday in February we’re featuring some of our most popular posts and podcasts on Black History.

The following post was originally featured on October 23, 2013.

Slavery advertisement from Upper Canada Gazette, 10 February 1806.

Slavery advertisement from Upper Canada Gazette, 10 February 1806.

By Natasha Henry

The highly anticipated soon-to-be-released film, 12 Years a Slave, has garnered lots of attention following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film provides a shocking but realistic depiction of American slavery. It is based on the life of Solomon Northrup, a free man, who was kidnapped from his hometown in New York and sold south into slavery. Northup is able to regain his freedom after Canadian Samuel Bass, a carpenter from Prescott, Upper Canada, writes several letters to authorities in New York on his behalf. No doubt, Canadians are proud of the usual portrayal of us as crusaders against American slavery and wear the badge of “Canadians as abolitionists” with honour. Canadians readily embrace the notion of Canada as a haven for American freedom-seekers, who were escaping the same conditions that Solomon Northup endured. Once he was freed, Northrup himself helped fugitives flee to Canada, the “Promised Land.”

But what about Canadian slavery?

Click here to read more.

 

Syrian Refugees Now and South Asian Refugees Then: Marion Dewar and the Legacy of Project 4000

By Deborah Gorham

In the biggest refugee crisis in decades, four and a half million Syrians have fled the civil war in their country.   As I write, the refugees from the Syrian civil war have become a continuing media event.   We can see refugees drowning; refugees boarding trains, or being prevented from boarding trains.  We see victims starving in Madaya, a besieged Syrian community near the Lebanese border.

Our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to bring 25,00 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015.  The number of refugees entering Canada has fallen far short of that promise.    Still, many Canadians believe the government is doing its best and they were proud when Prime Minister Trudeau met the first arrivals at Toronto airport.  “Welcome to Canada…You’re home now,” he said.

Almost 40 years ago, the world faced another refugee crisis.  After the Vietnam War ended, and Saigon fell, three million Southeast Asians fled Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.  The mayor of Ottawa was then the staunch progressive, Marion Dewar.  She launched Project 4000, one of the most ambitious local initiatives in Canada to resettle displaced people fleeing Vietnam. Continue reading

Bleeding Him White: How Canada Stole an Indigenous Veteran’s Identity

By Lynn Gehl

In the Anishinaabeg tradition dibaajimowinan, which translates to personal storytelling, is valued as a valid and legitimate method of both gaining and conveying knowledge. The dibaajimowinan method is holistic in that it values knowledge that is more than what is rational: it is emotional and spiritual too. As most know, the oral tradition was recognized in the 1997 Delgamuukw Supreme Court of Canada decision. Remaining within my ancestral knowledge tradition, it is in these ways of knowing that I offer this Algonquin Anishinaabeg history.

CFWW Gehl Figure 1 - Joseph Gagnon (Gagne) in uniform

Figure 1 – Joseph Gagnon (Gagne) in uniform.  All images are of items in the author’s possession.

Most days, and especially Remembrance Day, are a bundle of contradictions as my lived experience is laden with the genocide by colonial Canada both historical and in a contemporary sense. Through family oral history I know that my great grandfather, Joseph Gagne (also spelled Gagnon), served in the First World War (1914-1918). I was told that his mother, who is my great great grandmother, Angeline Jocko (also spelled Jacco), once resided at a mission settlement in the Lake of Two Mountains which was first established in 1721.

CFWW Gehl Figure 2 - Lynn Gehl holding wampum belt. Photo credit Nikolaus Gehl

Figure 2 – Lynn Gehl holding wampum belt. Photo credit Nikolaus Gehl.

The Lake of Two Mountains mission settlement was a place where the Algonquin, Nippissing, and Mohawk people lived together, each nation retaining their own council houses (Day and Trigger 1994). Through the oral tradition I know there is a wampum belt that represents this relationship. This belt has three human icons encoded, as well as a cross representing the three Indigenous nations and the community as a Christian settlement.[i]

Continue reading

Setting an agenda for new directions in Active History

ActiveHistory.ca Editor Krista McCracken introduces the concluding roundtable at New Directions in Active History

ActiveHistory.ca Editor Krista McCracken introduces the concluding roundtable at New Directions in Active History

It has been four months since New Directions in Active History: Institutions, Communication, and Technologies concluded. The event left many of us rejuvenated and excited for the future possibilities for this project and related projects shared during the conference. In fact, both the new exhibits and features sections were developed out of ideas initially addressed at the event. We’ve also heard from many of our readers regretting their inability to attend and present their research and projects.

Over the coming months, we are planning to create a dedicated section of the site where visitors will find short blog posts of ideas presented at the conference, videos recorded during the event (which we are posting every Saturday until April), and other ideas that might not have been presented in October but fit well with the conference themes. With this announcement we’d like to put out a call for short 800-1200 word blog posts that either reflect on the conference, propose new directions for ActiveHistory.ca, or challenge our readers to critically engage with the broader ideas of active history. Submissions or inquiries can be sent to activehistory2015@gmail.com.

Christopher Moore delivering the keynote address during the pre-conference for high school and undergraduate students

Christopher Moore delivering the keynote address during the pre-conference for high school and undergraduate students

If you presented a paper or poster at the conference, we have already been in touch (or will be shortly), but we’d also like this resource to expand on these discussions by including perspectives that might not have been present in October. To get a better sense of what took place at the conference, take a look at the following blog posts:

The Future of Public History Programs in Canada

Active history is proud to present a video each week from New Directions in Active History. The conference took place at Huron University College on October 2-4, 2015 and brought together scholars, students, professionals and community members to discuss a wide range of topics pertaining to active history.

Leading the panel on the discussion of Public History, Mike Dove, acting Coordinator of the Public History Program at the University of Western Ontario, addresses the key issues facing public history programs in Canada. In this video, Dove discusses the future of public history programs in Canada and the types of students who excel in and are drawn to public history. Over the course of the discussion Dove explores the different types of Public History delivered as part of these programs, including, archives management, digital history, and interactive exhibit design. In his closing remarks, he brings up three questions that can be used as discussion points for academic programs considering a public history stream:

  • Question 1: Do you have core Financial Support?
  • Question 2: Do you have the faculty and staff support to carry out the program?
  • Question 3: Are there jobs in the marketplace for your students and graduates to succeed?

The Revenant is Beautiful, Disappointing Art

Stacy Nation-Knapper

Stills courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Stills courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The Revenant is not history. Yes, as the film trailers, posters, and advertisements boast, the film was “inspired by true events” and it represents an amalgam of multiple historic fur trade events during the years 1820-24, and fantasy. Most of the non-Indigenous characters in the film existed. Other writers, including Clay Landry for the Museum of the Mountain Man and Alex von Tunzelmann for The Guardian, have explored the general historical accuracy of the film and I will add little to such critiques here, though there is more to be said. In the tradition of fur trade reenactors, it is possible to fact-check each scene against the historical record. Few films hold up well under such scrutiny. The nineteenth-century Missouri River fur trade is represented fairly well in The Revenant as a dirty, dangerous, ethnically diverse arm of the global economy. The paucity of evidence about Glass’s life means stories of his life are more legend than history and the film is no exception. The story of Hugh Glass is an excellent seed for artistic filmmaking because evidence is sparse and lore is abundant. In the process of creating art from that seed, however, the filmmakers made disappointing choices of appropriation and sensationalistic excess.

Much has been made of the artistic beauty of The Revenant and for good reason. It is a beautiful film. Continue reading

New Paper: Truth, Reconciliation, and the Politics of the Body in Indian Residential School History

ActiveHistory.ca is pleased to announce the publication of Evan Habkirk and Janice Forsyth’s paper Truth, Reconciliation, and the Politics of the Body in Indian Residential School History


Students playing hockey at school, Circa. 1951, “Pelican Lake Indian Residential School: Photo Album,” File. no. 130, Shelf location 2010-007-001, Algoma University Archives

Students playing hockey at school, Circa. 1951, “Pelican Lake Indian Residential School: Photo Album,” File. no. 130, Shelf location 2010-007-001, Algoma University Archives

In March 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada completed its six-year investigation into the experiences of Indian residential school students who had survived years of neglect, abuse, and trauma at these institutions. More than 6,000 witnesses testified at hearings held throughout the country. The purpose of the Commission was to collect and document the history of these schools from the perspectives of former students, bringing a voice to a group of people whose issues and concerns had long been neglected by the federal government and religious organizations, the two main institutions responsible for the establishment and maintenance of the schools. The 527-page Executive Summary was clear in its aim to help Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians move forward from a traumatic past by starting another, somewhat different, conversation: “Now that we know about residential schools and their legacies, what do we do about it?”[1]

From our perspective, as researchers who study the physically active body at Indian residential schools, the Executive Summary brought much needed attention to sport and recreation as important elements of the residential school experience, as well as the reconciliation process. Indeed, sport and recreation are discussed in three distinct sections of the Summary: “Sports and culture: It was a relief”; “Public memory: Dialogue, the arts, and commemoration”; and “Sport: Inspiring lives, healthy communities.” Each section makes it clear that attempts to address the legacies of the school system must include detailed examinations of the different types of sport and recreation opportunities that were provided at specific institutions, as well as how former students understood those opportunities. It was exciting to see an official document acknowledge the significance of this part of Indian residential school history – a history that has affected the lives of so many, across multiple generations.

But having said this, we also found the discussion somewhat inadequate. Our concern stems primarily from the lack of a theoretical approach to understanding the role of physical activity culture in the residential school system. [Read More]


Editors Note: This is the final essay published as part of our Papers Section. We will continue to run longer form essays as part of our new “Features Section.” This section shares many similarities with the former Papers Section (including hosting all of the papers we’ve published over the years) while accommodating additional resources such as our series and theme weeks.

Indigenous Peoples: A Starting Place for the History of Higher Education in Canada

Is it time to rewrite the history of higher education in Canada? (Middlesex College, UWO, Wikicommons)

Is it time to rewrite the history of higher education in Canada? (Middlesex College, UWO, Wikicommons)

By Thomas Peace

“The Bishop of Huron… applied for a grant in aid of the fund being raised by him for the foundation of a university at London, to be called the Western University of London, and intended for the training of both Indian and white students for the ministry of the Church of England in Canada.”

These words about the founding of Western University were printed in an 1879 summary of New England Company activities in Canada and the West Indies (see this document also). They record the Bishop of Huron Isaac Hellmuth’s soliciting funds for a new non-denominational university in southwestern Ontario. The reason they attracted my attention – and should attract yours – was because of the school’s supposed mandate: “the training of both Indian and white students.” This mandate seldom appears in the popular narrative of Western’s founding story, nor those of many other Canadian universities.

In our present-day discussion about First Nations, schooling and education rarely do nineteenth-century mandates like this feature into the conversation. The history of colonial schooling and higher education in Canada hardly addresses Indigenous peoples directly. When the subject arises, Indigenous peoples in schools or colleges are often marginalized and treated as exceptions rather than symbols and signs of historical processes and contexts that can inform our understanding about Canada’s colonial and imperial past (and present). The assumption is that through the assimilationist and segregationist policies of the Canadian state during the mid-to-late nineteenth century, colonists and Indigenous students had fundamentally different and separate experiences. This assumption is certainly and overwhelmingly true and a point that I am not trying to overturn here or in my broader work. Yet this approach obscures as much as it reveals.

When we look at the subject of nineteenth-century higher education with a wider lens we see some important trends that should point us towards a more critical examination of this subject. Indigenous peoples are figuratively, if not physically, often present at the beginnings of many of Canada’s post-secondary institutions. Continue reading