Reports from New Directions in Active History: Pathways to Active Historical Engagement in High Schools

By Neil Orford

DHP logoThough it may be apocryphal, Thomas Aquinas was reputed to have said that “History is a foreign land to which  few will ever travel.” After teaching history for 30 years in the Ontario Secondary system, I believe he may have been  right.

The notion of ‘Active History” is an intriguing one – knowledge mobilization for students, designing a new robust curricula founded upon Historical Thinking Concepts, demanding 21st century digital competencies that present historical understandings in multi-dimensional ways – an idea which is rich in possibility, inventiveness and intellectual rigour.

Yet the October 2015 Conference on “New Directions, challenged me to make a frank assessment of the current state of history education, albeit from a decidedly “Ontario-Centric” perspective. The workshops, speakers and roundtable debates suggested that public history (and history education) are at a crossroads between teaching traditional narrative to establish ‘the story of Canada’ or teaching  for critical inquiry and skill-development.  True, the two ‘directions’ are not mutually exclusive and they can (& do) intersect with ease. However, within the limitations of a compulsory semester-long Grade 10 history course, which should be the ‘road  more-travelled?’

Perhaps more to the point; which provides the better chance for ‘active historical’ engagement? Continue reading

Writing is “easy”… Student Learning in the First-Year Canadian Survey Course

By Mark Leier

Making a safe space
Writing real life
Making assignments matter
Doing more with less

The assignment made all of us squirm. Some broke into a sweat; others made little nervous jokes. At a workshop on teaching writing, we — professors, graduate students, librarians, deans — were asked to take five minutes to complete a short writing exercise that we would share with others. We were seasoned veterans with countless theses, books, articles, memos, and position papers between us, yet being asked to write something made us uneasy.

The sportswriter Walter “Red” Smith is alleged to have said, “Turning out a column is easy. I just sit at my typewriter until beads of blood form on my forehead.”

I took that lesson to heart as I redesigned my first year survey course, “Canada since Confederation,” as a “writing intensive” course. The aim is not to teach writing skills such as “Our Friend the Comma” or “27 Keys to the Successful Term Paper.” Rather, writing is one of the skills we work on in the class, and writing is emphasized as a way to learn. But if a simple assignment at a voluntary workshop made us nervous, what would writing do to students who know they are about to be weighed and judged?

The problem is particularly acute in “Canada since Confederation.” Continue reading

(Re)Occupied: #OccupyINAC and British Columbia’s 1975 Militant May

By Sarah Nickel

Cover from The Trail of Broken Treaties: B.I.A. I'm Not Your Indian Any More (Akwesasne: Akwesasne Notes, 1973)

Cover from The Trail of Broken Treaties: B.I.A. I’m Not Your Indian Any More (Akwesasne: Akwesasne Notes, 1973)

When approximately thirty members of the Idle No More and Black Lives Matter movements entered the Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC) office in Toronto on April 13, 2016 to protest government inaction on the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat, the group, calling itself #OccupyINAC was drawing on long established political strategies. Indigenous peoples have occupied Indian Affairs offices before. Perhaps the most well-known was the 1972 American Indian Movement (AIM) occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) headquarters in Washington, DC. The BIA takeover concluded the Trail of Broken Treaties—a cross-country march organized to protest broken treaty promises and the poor living conditions of Native American peoples across the country. When the caravan reached Washington, 500 American Indians took over the BIA office, destroyed records, and began a seven-day occupation, during which they presented AIM’s “Twenty Point” position paper to President Nixon, listing their demands. Less well known are the occupations that occurred in British Columbia three years later. Continue reading

Lab Partners: Experimenting with Active Learning

(Editor’s note: this post first appeared in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives in April 2016)

By Gabriel Pizzorno and Heidi Tworek


Credit: Jonathan Palmer

One truism about World War I is the incompetence of German propaganda in the United States. The classic stories feature German officials forgetting briefcases with secret documents on the New York subway and ham-fistedly delivering speeches about German culture. But what if we look beyond urban centers to examine the thousands of news items from a German news agency printed in American newspapers during the war? And what if we integrate students into this research adventure?

Over the past few years, the history department at Harvard University, where one of us teaches and the other has taught, has implemented an independent-study course, History Lab, that uses active learning to offer students hands-on experience in historical research and digital methods. Conceived by Dan Smail in 2013, the course addressed a long-standing desire among undergraduates to get involved in research. It also reflected growing faculty interest in applying digital methods and teaching these skills to history majors. Participating faculty propose research projects. Students register for a project and meet weekly with the faculty member; they receive ordinary course credit and must produce a final product (for example, an online exhibition or a visualization) comparable to a major term paper. They also consult regularly with the department’s digital historian, Gabe Pizzorno, who coordinates the methodological aspects common to all the projects.

Research papers and senior theses allow students to stumble on their own; History Lab uses the collaborative nature of digital scholarship to foster collective rather than individual learning. Continue reading

History on Trial in Daniels vs. Canada

By William Wicken

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples press conference following the verdict. CAP photo

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples press conference following the verdict. CAP photo

Last week the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in the Daniels vs. Canada case. Writing for the court, Justice Abella declared that ‘Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” under section 91(24).’ Much has already been written about the decision and its possible implications. Less well known are the historical arguments which were the foundation of the trial judge’s decision, and which the Supreme Court upheld. In this post, I discuss my involvement as an historian, and the questions of law, power, and intent that were at the heart of the case.

Two principal witnesses presented the historical evidence on behalf of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the main plaintiff in the case. These witnesses were Gwynneth Jones and me. Both of us did original archival research and submitted written reports to the Court. My report was 171 pages, and Gwynneth’s report was similarly lengthy. Each of us also testified at trial before Justice Phelan of the Federal Court of Canada in May of 2011 and we were both cross-examined by federal lawyers. Afterward, the federal government presented their evidence, most of which was given by Professors Stephen Patterson and Alexander Von Gernet.

History as evidence

Why was this historical evidence important? The plaintiff sought to make the federal government recognize that they had a legal responsibility for Métis and non-status Indians. This would mean “that the Government of Canada can no longer disclaim responsibility and continue playing a game of political hot potato with the provinces over jurisdiction.”  In making this argument, the Congress’s lawyers focused their attention on section 91 of the 1867 British North America Act. Continue reading

Episodes in Canada’s arms trade: 1946 and 2016

dionBy David Webster

Foreign minister Stephane Dion is taking flak for approving the sale of military light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia despite that country’s human rights record. Dion’s response implies that Canadian restrictions on arms exports are tough, with an emphasis on ensuring that weapons made in Canada are not be used against civilian populations, and links it to what he calls the guiding principle of his foreign policy: “responsible conviction.”

The debates are evocative of the year that Canada entered the arms export business, 70 years ago. Restrictions on arms exports are not tougher today than they were at the creation of an arms export business. Reflecting on debates over military sales in 1946 and 2016 suggests that human rights are not necessarily becoming more central in policy making over time. If anything, policy makers in 1946 seem to have been more scrupulous on avoiding sales on human rights grounds, and more restrictive about selling arms that might be used, than the policy makers of today.

So how did Canada get into the arms export business, anyway? The tale goes back to the aftermath of the Second World War. Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s government was prepared to allow surplus military equipment to remain with allied governments in Europe, and to provide military goods to the United States and Great Britain. But when it came to selling to less reliable governments, and those who might actually use the weapons, King’s cabinet was more scrupulous. Cabinet approval was needed for any military sale, no matter how small, to any country other than the United States and Great Britain. The minutes of cabinet meetings are full of discussion about possible sales, and always included a question as to whether the arms were likely to be used. Cabinet held to a policy spelled out by Prime Minister Mackenzie King that “great care should be taken with respect to all sales of weapons and supplies of war to foreign governments.” If a country was at war, if it intended to use the weapons for anything other than re-equipping its defensive forces, or if there were questions about human rights, sales tended to be refused or not even submitted for cabinet consideration. Continue reading

Graffiti Is a Revolutionary Act at a South Africa University

Photo: Lihlumelo Toyana

By Rachel Hatcher

[Originally published by teleSUR]

Students rewriting the history of South Africa on buildings and statues at the University of the Free State is an important act of restorative justice.

In recent years, students in South Africa, Chile, Québec, and elsewhere, have been protesting neoliberal/neocolonial policies, including the outsourcing of workers on campus and significant hikes in tuition fees. In South Africa, protests by mostly Black students against tuition hikes took place under declarations that Fees Must Fall. Yet, students in South Africa are also protesting continued institutional racism, and even white supremacy, on university campuses and the continued colonization of higher education. Indeed, the Fees Must Fall movement is in some ways inspired by and a continuation of the Rhodes Must Fall movement that began in early 2015 and that was successful in demanding the removal of the statue of imperialist, racist, and mining magnate Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town. These protests have taken place in the larger context of widespread disappointment that the promise of 1994 has not been realized, that little has changed in South Africa since the apartheid-era ended and the first democratic elections were held, and that what changes have been made have mostly been cosmetic. Racism, especially institutional racism, remains and few structural reforms have been carried out.

At the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein, a traditionally Afrikaner university in a traditionally Afrikaner and very conservative town and province (the Free State), Fees Must Fall protests were muted in 2015, at least in comparison to other universities. In February 2016, however, the workers’ strike against outsourcing and un-liveable, low wages, which many Black students activists participated in in solidarity with the workers, morphed into protests about just those underlying issues that Fees Must Fall was about — institutional racism and a lack of transformation at the university. Continue reading

Performing For War, Hoping For Peace: Canadian Actresses’ Transnational Engagements with World War I

By Cecilia Morgan

It opened with a number of trumpet calls, followed by the boom of cannons. Then the curtain rose and the central attraction of the 1917 vaudeville production Liberty Aflame was revealed: Julia Arthur, dressed as the Statue of Liberty. According to theatre reviewer Alan Dale, “Miss Arthur stood, as all stars love to stand, in the absolute centre of the stage, and on high. Flowing robes encircled her, her brow bore Liberty’s crown, and she had a torch in uplifted hand. No other star could have revelled in anything more stellar. The storm raged around her. Glimpses of Manhattan, illuminated, might be seen in the background, but Liberty on her pedestal, a loquacious and very chatty Liberty, confronted the audience.” As Arthur spoke, a stereopticon show was displayed on the statue’s base. Featuring patriotic actors from American history – the Minute Men, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln – it then proceeded to show the audience the sinking of the Lusitania, described by Arthur as a “needless sacrifice.” The next photograph was that of Woodrow Wilson, who explained his aims in taking the United States into World War I and asked for his nation’s help, an appeal Arthur underscored with her call for the country’s young, strong, and healthy male citizens to represent liberty and win the battle. As she told readers, all of this was met with “great cheering” from the audience. After all, “Julia Arthur’s name means much to vaudeville, but her present vehicle means much to the country and its producers are doing a valuable service to Uncle Sam.”

Throughout the late winter and spring of 1917, Liberty Aflame played in vaudeville houses across the United States, where – judging from the many reviews – it was deemed a great success. While some reviewers felt it was unseemly to imitate the voices of the dying Lusitania passengers and crew on a vaudeville stage, they also recognized the “majestic dignity,” sincerity, and intensity with which Arthur endowed her character.


Fig. 1 Theatre and Silent Screen Actress Florence La Badie Digging a Victory Garden, c. 1917. Tannhouser Studio Publicity Photograph. Courtesy New York Public Library, Billie Rose Theatre Division.

Liberty Aflame was a particularly spectacular example of actresses’ promotion of wartime patriotism. Yet it was by no means an isolated event. Continue reading

Cannabis Americana: The Past, Present, and Future of Marijuana in North America

By Adam Rathge

Marijuana-Cannabis-Weed-Bud-GramJudging from recent developments in Canada, Mexico, and the United States it seems we’re on the cusp of a monumental shift in North American drug policy. Indeed, the war on drugs paradigm and its requisite enforcement agencies appear under greater attack than perhaps ever before. This is especially true for marijuana prohibition. In Canada medical marijuana has been widely available for more than a decade, while new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly promised to move toward a system of recreational legalization. In Mexico the Supreme Court recently declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for personal use, potentially paving the way for legal challenges to the nation’s current drug laws. In the United States nearly half the country now allows medical marijuana, with four states also providing a legal market for recreational marijuana and as many as six more primed to follow this year.

The road forward, however, is anything but clear. Indeed, if history is our guide, there’s a great deal of uncertainty ahead for both the medicalization and legalization of marijuana. Continue reading

Using the past to structure the future: Envisioning cannabis legalization through the lens of liquor control

By Dan Malleck

Marijuana-Cannabis-Weed-Bud-GramIt is the moment that scholars fear: the question you cannot answer, in a forum where you’re presented as an expert. Such a case happened at the recent Rise of Big Cannabis symposium held in Saskatoon in March 2016. A cannabis activist asked the panel on legalization which distribution system would be better: the “dispensary” model or the “licensed producer” model. He was looking straight at me, and I had no answer.

Pondering it on the flight home, I began to reconsider the cannabis question. In this essay I (finally) address his question and discuss how it introduces a new complexity to an already complicated issue.

Since I study the histories of alcohol regulation and drug prohibition, Continue reading