“We Are the People:” Nativism in Germany?

By Aitana Guia

PEGIDA Rally in Dresden, Fall 2014

PEGIDA Rally in Dresden, Fall 2014

On Mondays for the past 13 weeks, thousands of Germans have marched on Dresden declaring “Wir sind das Volk,” we are the people. Were it 1989 on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, these same protestors might have been those who delivered the message to the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic that its days were numbered. Instead the new menace, as these ordinary Germans see it, is not the power structure, a physical dividing line, or even a political ideology; it’s immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants.

During a televised address to the nation on New Year’s Eve, Chancellor Angela Merkel took the opportunity to criticize the emerging movement Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, PEGIDA). She told Germans that a resounding feature about their country was that “children of the persecuted can grow up here without fear” and asked them to ignore the calls of those who have “prejudice, coldness, and even hatred” in their hearts.

After various terrorist attacks in France in January 2015 that targeted the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, a kosher supermarket, and French police, and despite repeated calls by German politicians not to join the Islamophobic movement, PEGIDA’s rally in Dresden reached a record number of 25,000 attendees on Monday, January 12, 2015. Continue reading

Let’s talk about something other than Ebola

Or, the perils of teaching the history of disease amid global health crises

Casey Hurrell

Wikipedia Commons

Wikipedia Commons

This semester, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching a senior undergrad seminar, focusing on the history of disease from the time of Hippocrates to the present. Every week, in front of twenty-two energetic and curious undergrads, I wholeheartedly attempt to steer conversations away from the ongoing Ebola crisis. This is particularly challenging, as my newshound students are generally well-informed and frequently raise points of discussion that I would happily entertain in a different context.

When my students want to talk about Ebola, I resist the urge to turn our history seminar into a forum for debate about trendy health issues. I find myself thinking: let’s talk about something that matters, and let’s give it a historical context. Rather than focusing our attention on a scourge that is exceedingly unlikely to ever affect your daily lives, let’s talk about some equally harrowing disease that you all think is a relic of the past, but most certainly is not. Let’s talk about tuberculosis, and the place that diseases occupy in the historical record.

Continue reading

Birthing a Dominion

By Christa Zeller Thomas

“[Confederation …] will make us historical.”
John A. Macdonald

“History is not the province of the ladies.”
John Adams

Confederation: The Much-Fathered Youngster

Confederation: The Much-Fathered Youngster

Did Canada’s Confederation women give birth to the new dominion in 1867?

Sir John A. didn’t have women in mind when he made his statement (above) about entering history. He was mainly referring to himself.

And yet, when one thinks about the homeland (patria, female), it is often as a female figure – the mother country – and the nation itself (la nation in French and gendered female also in many other languages) is delivered by someone (also female?) capable of giving birth. So presumably women have a role to play.

And yet,…

Canada is counting down now to a big anniversary, the country’s 150th birthday, fast approaching on July 1, 2017.

Whom and what will we remember as we commemorate and celebrate this anniversary? Continue reading

John A. Macdonald’s Aryan Canada: Aboriginal Genocide and Chinese Exclusion

By Timothy J. Stanley

Racisms are central to the creation of Canada through European dominance over the vast territories of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. A case in point is provided by John Alexander Macdonald and his enactment of Asian exclusion and the genocide of the people of the southern plains.[1]

Macdonald not only excluded the Chinese, he personally introduced biological racism as a defining characteristic of Canadianness. Continue reading

The Nation-State is not what we think it is: Teaching Canadian History from a non-national perspective

By Thomas Peace

At the beginning of November I was asked to join a panel entitled “No One is International” as part of Huron College’s Centre for Global Studies‘s symposium “Critically Engaging: Global Awareness in the Academy.” As I considered the panel’s title, and the broader purpose for the conference (to critically engage with the meaning of “internationalization” for the college), I decided to frame my reflections around a central question related to my work as a historian of Canada: What does it mean to teach Canadian history (that is, the history of the nation-state) from a non-national perspective? Continue reading

MacChe? Kingston prepares for the Macdonald Bicentennial

Karen Dubinsky


John A. Macdonald, LAC.

I live in downtown Kingston, Ontario. Two doors away from me are two sweet old white ladies. They live in John A. Macdonald’s boyhood home where, according to one of the two plaques outside, he spent his “character forming” years. When I first moved to this street I noticed that during relevant occasions (Macdonald’s birthday and Canada Day), the current inhabitants put John A. dolls in their window, artfully lit so that they were visible from the street.

Next year this country, and especially my town, is preparing to celebrate the bicentennial of John A. Macdonald’s birth. Because I teach at Queen’s University and have an affiliation with the history department, I have been receiving fundraising requests from people in my town who are working hard to prepare celebrations for this event. Their funding request letters assure me that every living Canadian prime minister also encourages me to join in the festivities to honour Macdonald’s legacy. I suppose this is meant to convey that there is a range of political opinion here.

But even if everyone from former Liberal Prime Ministers to former Conservative Prime Ministers think of Macdonald as a stand-up guy, that leaves quite a few of us who don’t. Continue reading

Hashtag Heritage: Social Media, Advertising and Remembrance Day

By Angela Duffett

A rather curious promoted tweet from the Bank of Montreal appeared recently on my Twitter feed: “Join Canadians for a #DayofSocialSilence to honour those in service.” Not really grasping the connection between BMO, Remembrance Day, and staying off of social media for the day, I clicked the tweet to see what kind of response it was attracting. I continued to check in on #dayofsocialsilence occasionally in the days leading up to Remembrance Day and the hashtag didn’t really take off, nor did the original promoted tweets garner much of a response. On facebook, there was a bit more activity around the promotion, some of which was pretty hostile. Being asked by a bank to stay away from social media for twenty-four hours is not going over too well with many people.

The relationship between social media and Remembrance Day is an interesting one. Many people use social media to share stories of remembrance: photos of family members who served in various conflicts, photos from visits to memorials and battlefield sites, and opinions on war and its legacies. Given the utility of social media in sharing stories about war, it seems particularly odd that BMO would encourage us to stay away from it for an entire day in the service of remembrance. By trying to invent a new tradition that circumvents the way many people have already chosen to mark Remembrance Day, BMO’s #dayofsocialsilence comes off as particularly bizarre.

Despite the unpopularity of this particular example, BMO’s campaign reminded me that there is a long history of brands using Remembrance Day to capitalize on public sentiment surrounding war and memory. Continue reading

‘It’s history, like it or not’: the Significance of Sudbury’s Superstack

By: Mike Commito and Kaleigh Bradley

Standing at a height of 1,250 feet, the Sudbury Superstack is the second tallest chimney in the world and runner-up to the CN Tower for the tallest structure in Canada. Until 1987, Sudbury Ontario had the dubious honour of having the world’s tallest smokestack. Today, the Stack is seen by some as a marker for Sudbury’s rich mining heritage but for others, it is also part of a much larger history of health and environmental problems.


“Sudbury and the Beast.” Courtesy of local photographer Greta Clarke.

Since the nineteenth century, Sudbury’s landscape was ravaged by the effects of the mining industry; over the years the vegetation disappeared with acid rain, and farmers found themselves unable to grow crops in the highly acidic soil. The International Nickel Company (INCO) built the Superstack in 1972 to disperse sulphur dioxide (SO2) and other pollutants away from the area, thereby addressing health and environmental concerns. The Stack’s construction coincided with a community regreening movement, which has reversed some of the environmental damage. The Superstack reduced local emission rates in recent years, but one could argue that INCO simply passed the buck, and the dispersion of SO2 became somebody else’s problem. Moreover, the Sudbury area continues to have higher rates of asthma and lung cancer than other parts of Ontario. For better or for worse, the Superstack has been a landmark along the Sudbury skyline for over forty years. And when Vale (formerly INCO) recently proposed demolishing the Superstack in the local media, we watched as an interesting public debate about the significance, history, and future of the stack ensued.

Continue reading

Ignorance of History as a Site of Memory

By Raphaël Gani


Do you know who this is?

The discourse about Canadians ignoring their collective past, or not knowing their national history, is neither new (Osborne, 2003) nor limited to Canada (Wineburg, 2001). Such a view tends to be legitimized according to surveys in which people fail to identify famous events and politicians. This failure is also linked with angst about the perils of the nation and questions of citizenship. It is used to justify million-dollar investments and educational reforms.

However, there are other ways to look at peoples’ perception of the past. I will elaborate on these elements to support my main argument: discourse on historical ignorance can, itself, be considered a site of memory. Continue reading

Why I’ll wait to visit the Canadian Museum of Human Rights

aboutthemuseum-610.jpgBy B. Trofanenko

On September 20, 2014, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) opened its doors to the world. Considering the CMHR a “great national project,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper remarked how the museum will stand for “freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law” and as a “monument to Canada’s embrace of humanity’s highest ideals.”  The opening of any museum is cause for celebration. It not only affirms the permanency and monumentality of a physical structure – in this case an imposing spiral building of glass, limestone, steel and concrete – but it also advances the museum’s historic intellectual traditions of democratic, universal, and public education as well as contributing to urban revitalization and economic improvement.

Like other museums, the CMHR will use the framework of human rights to provide the public with opportunities to learn about contemporary political, social, and cultural issues facing Canadians. According to its own mandate for research, exhibition and education, the museum will seek to “enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection, dialogue, and action.” As an ‘ideas’ museum, the CMHR is less tied to collections of objects (the few included in the museum are on loan from other institutions) and more focused on the desire to ‘teach’ moral lessons and to advance, as noted in their mission statement, the “understanding of the history of and continuing global struggle to define human rights including Canada’s important role in that journey.” This provides opportunity for the museum to invite discussions about human rights issues, including past injustices and current-day violence and oppression, that realize the tension between defining human rights on a local, national, and global scale.

Notwithstanding such noble aspirations, success could be difficult to achieve in the short term. Continue reading