Canadian Historical Association: Open Letter to the Polish Prime Minister

Yesterday, Joan Sangster, the President of the Canadian Historical Association sent the following letter to Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo regarding recent legislation criminalizing historical interpretation. For broader context of this issue see Jim Clifford’s post The Polish Government, the Holocaust and Jan Grabowski and Thomas Peace’s Fake News, Global History Wars, and the Importance of Historical Thinking.

Ottawa, December 6, 2016

The Chancellery of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland
Prime Minister Beata Szydlo
00-583 Warsaw
Al. Ujazdowskie 1/3

Dear Prime Minister Szydlo,

In August 2016, the Polish cabinet approved legislation that introduces harsh legal punishment (up to three years’ imprisonment) for historians or members of the public referring to “Polish death camps” or “Polish concentration camps.” In attempting to regulate speech and thought, and by criminalizing historical interpretation it considers problematic, the Polish government is violating key principles of academic freedom which are fundamental civil liberties in democratic states. As historians, we are deeply concerned by the possibility that our Polish counterparts may face reprisal for their scholarship on Polish history during the period of Nazi occupation, the history of anti-Semitism in Poland, and the Jewish experience during the Holocaust in Poland.

The Polish government argues that it seeks through this legislation to set the historical record on concentration camps in Poland straight.  A law banning the use of terms such as “Polish concentration camps” aims to make it clear that these were a German Nazi policy, not instigated by the Polish government. Whatever the intent of the legislation, however, the proposed law is unlikely to result in improved historical awareness among Poles or internationally. Social understandings of a difficult and complex past cannot be legislated. Neither can history be written through the prism of state laws, or constituted through the suppression of counter-narratives or scholarly research that challenge the state’s current view of the past. Continue reading

Write for Us!

writing-hand-1443450529gznOver the past year, much has changed at Long time editors Ian Milligan and Kaleigh Bradley left the project as their careers have taken them in different directions, while we’ve added three new contributing editors to the team (Welcome Stephanie Bangarth, Erika Dyck, and Colin Coates!). Following New Directions in Active History, a conference we held last fall, we launched a new exhibits program and revamped our ‘papers section’ into one more focused on ‘featured projects.’ Over this time we’ve moved increasingly towards publishing series of short essays, on topics including Confederation, Indigenous history, Marijuana policy, and Canada’s history of welcoming refugees, and Technoscience. Canada’s First World War, a web series edited by Sarah Glassford, Chris Shultz, Nathan Smith and Jon Weier, has published nearly forty essays and tomorrow will launch a new partnership as part of their work (I won’t spoil the surprise here!).

As we begin a new publishing season, we want to encourage renewed participation in the project. Over the years we’ve identified weaknesses in our online publishing in areas such as Indigenous and Black-Canadian histories, histories of abilities, as well as imbalance in the cultural, class and gender of our authors. Though we have worked to rectify these gaps, as a volunteer-run and submission-based project, our content is only as rich as the diversity of our contributors. As such, we would like to broaden the team working on this project in three ways:

  • New contributors: If you have a short 800-1,200 word essay that you think would be of interest to our readership (historians and history-professionals, policymakers, journalists, and the broader public), please send it along to Submissions should be clearly-written and original, and we encourage the inclusion of images and other media. We can usually get new posts up within a couple of weeks.
  • New Regular Contributors: On Thursdays, we run posts written by people who write for us on a regular basis (4-5 times a year). Taking on this task allows you to develop ideas over time, become more familiar with the project as a whole, and, for many, provide opportunities for structured reflection on key issues facing our work as historians.
  • New Contributing Editors: This year we introduced new contributing editor positions. People who have agreed to build the project in this way help to invite new contributors to the project and/or have coordinated a theme week or web series for the site.

If you are interested in taking on any of these roles, or would like more information, please drop an e-mail to

Setting an agenda for new directions in Active History Editor Krista McCracken introduces the concluding roundtable at New Directions in Active History 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, or challenge our readers to critically engage with the broader ideas of active history. Submissions or inquiries can be sent to

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:

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

Engaging the Public at Living History Sites

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.

This week, Wendy Rowney, Assistant General Manager at Black Creek Pioneer Village and a member of our opening plenary roundtable, suggests ways to make the learning of history engaging for the public. Rowney shares insight from 2014 research in which she and a colleague investigated what attracted visitors to museums and what encouraged them to return. Rowney offers six suggestions to meaningfully engage the public at living history sites.

The Contemporary relevance of the Historical Treaties to Treaty Indian peoples

On the day after the Trudeau government revealed its five-point plan for a renewed relationship with First Nations, is pleased to announce the publication of Leon Crane Bear’s “The Contemporary relevance of the Historical Treaties to Treaty Indian peoples”

By Leon Crane Bear

In June of 1969, the federal government announced its Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy (hereafter, the White Paper), which proposed to end discrimination against Indians and to assimilate them into the Canadian body politic. The White Paper recommended the abolishment of all legal recognition of registered Indians within federal legislation including the legal status of Indians, repeal the Indian Act, and the end of treaties. In 1970, in response to the White Paper, the Chiefs of the Indian Association of Alberta (hereafter, the IAA) produced a counter document titled Citizens Plus: the Red Paper (hereafter, the Red Paper). This essay explores the frictional dynamics of the White Paper and Red Paper including their respective intent and outcomes. The radical difference in intent and vision between these two documents may be understood today as a major catalyst for a changed relationship between the two parties. That is, the issues of assimilation and the legal recognition of treaties were central to national discussion over 45 years ago and, because these issues are not settled, these issues are largely relevant today. Historical treaties are important to First Nations people as embodied in the content of the Red Paper, and treaty Indians, like myself, continue to see the treaties as significant to our contemporary relationship with the state.

The Red Paper was an act of resistance by the IAA that was predicated on two key points: first, the Red Paper emphasized the treaty connection between First Nations people and the federal government; second, the Red Paper articulated a model of “self-governance” that reinforced an Indigenous perspective.[1] Moreover, the Red Paper was generated by mutual cooperation between Indigenous leaders and members of Indigenous communities in Alberta. The key concepts of treaties and “self-sufficiency” were evident in both documents. This essay determines the essence of those differences by arguing that the differences in views, in the political significance, as well as the emergence of Indigenous community opposition with regard to the legal status of Indians, treaties, and lands is worth understanding for contemporary citizens. This comparative analysis shows that in 1970, the IAA regarded the historical treaties as sacred agreements and yet, as I imply, treaties have never lost relevance for treaty Indian people in contemporary Alberta. [Read More]

Leon Crane Bear is Siksika (Blackfoot) and is a treaty Indian. Siksika is in Southern Alberta, and is part of five First Nation’s who signed Treaty 7 in 1877. He recently received, in October 2015, his Master of Arts degree from the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta.

Editors Note: This is the penultimate essay published as part of our papers section. A new “Features” section will begin in early-2016. This section will share many commonalities 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.

The University of Victoria History Department’s Refugee Campaign

Over the past few days the History Department at the University of Victoria has been circulating the following opportunity and challenge among historians in Canada. We have reprinted it here for the interest of our readers and as a great illustration of what we envision as Active History. 


Dear Fellow Historians,

No group can better appreciate the historical significance of the current refugee crisis in the Middle East and its implications than historians. We know that this is a crisis unprecedented in our lifetimes and of a proportion rarely seen in world history.

I am sure that many of you, like a group of us at UVic, watched the growing crisis over the past summer and fall with horror and a feeling of helplessness. Recently we decided that we did not have to sit idle as the crisis deepens, and we would like to invite you to join us.

As a group of faculty, staff and students in our History Department we decided to take on the responsibility to sponsor and host a Syrian refugee family. We would like to invite you to join us and, if you can, either 1) make a contribution towards our project or 2) consider organizing among your colleagues and communities to sponsor a refugee family or, 3) both!

Through this process we have learned that we are not really helpless — that we as individuals and as a group of historians can make a real difference in the lives of suffering people, today. Now. We have also learned that these acts of generosity are bringing us closer as a community of scholars.

We invite you to join us in sponsoring a refugee family. Please go to our website where you can learn more about this project and make a donation. Through the Intercultural Association we can offer tax receipts. We are working to raise $50,000 and are half-way there.

This week one of our emeritus faculty has offered to double new contributions up to a ceiling of $5,000 so your donation will mean twice as much.

Our website:

On Facebook:

We also have the option of a gift card which will allow you to make a donation in lieu of another kind of gift to a family member or friend who perhaps has less need of your support.

Should you wish to start a group to sponsor refugees or bring a group of your colleagues/students together to support this initiative, we would be very happy to share what we have learned about the process and how we have proceeded.

Please join us in making the new year a much brighter one for a desperate family, and then, hopefully, another and another. Together we can light a candle, and in time, a bonfire, against the darkness.

With thanks and best wishes…

John Lutz, chair
On behalf of the UVic Department of History

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]

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]

New Archives of Ontario Online Exhibit: Ontario’s WWI Hospital Overseas

By Mackenzie Warner

Ontario Military Hospital ward, [ca. 1916-1917] Ontario Military Hospital photographs, F 4386, Archives of Ontario, I0007454

Ontario Military Hospital ward, [ca. 1916-1917]
Ontario Military Hospital photographs, F 4386, Archives of Ontario, I0007454

One hundred years ago – November 1915 – Canada had passed the one year mark in the Great War that would continue for another three long years. In Orpington, England, a hospital commissioned by the Government of Ontario was under construction, and applications were flowing in from Ontario doctors and nurses who hoped to serve at their new military hospital overseas.

Earlier that year, Ontario Minister of Education, R. A. Pyne, had sent a telegram to Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden stating that “the Government of Ontario has decided to offer to establish and maintain a hospital of 1,000 beds in England for Canadians.” The government paid $2 million for the construction of the Ontario Military Hospital, which officially opened in Orpington on February 19, 1916. The hospital was staffed solely by Ontario medical professionals, who treated over 25,000 soldiers there between 1916 and 1919.

In 1917, the hospital was renamed the 16th Canadian General Hospital. The original facility was torn down in the 1960s and replaced by the Orpington General Hospital, which now honours its heritage by featuring a Canada Wing and Ontario Ward.

The Archives of Ontario is commemorating the centenary of this unique Ontario Government contribution to the WWI effort by highlighting the Ontario Military Hospital in its new online exhibit. This exhibit is being launched for Remembrance Day and features the story of Dr. L. Bruce Robertson, a surgeon from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, who pioneered blood transfusions for wounded soldiers while serving in the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

To view the exhibit, please visit

This past summer, Mackenzie Warner was a Project & Communications Assistant at the Archives of Ontario. is featuring this post as part of  “Canada’s First World War: A Centennial Series on”, a multi-year series of regular posts about the history and centennial of the First World War.