Like history? There’s an app for that

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I recently purchased an Apple iPhone, so that means I now enjoy texting, web browsing on the go and, of course, a higher monthly cell phone bill.  But I’m also able to use a number of great apps that relate to history.

An app (short for “application”) is essentially a computer program for a smartphone.  Apps are often created by third-party developers who combine different sources of digital information to create a new program.  Apps are usually free or cost a few dollars.

The most popular history-related apps are quiz games or “on this day” calendars.  Hey, who doesn’t like to be tested on the date of Lincoln’s assassination?  Yet there are greater prospects for historical apps, since they have the ability to integrate texts, images, and other data from (and about) the past with the mobility of smartphone technology. Continue reading

Must We Associate Innovation With National Identity?

Age of Empires III - The board game

Age of Empires boardgame. Picture by Kumar Jhuremalani, 13 December 2009.

I recently caught up with CNN’s running series, “Restoring the American Dream”, hosted by Fareed Zakaria and presented as a special edition of his Sunday morning cable show, Global Public Square. (GPS)

The inaugural installment (something of a thematic introduction) aired back in October 2010 and went on to become a recurring theme each week. Part 1 (“How to Innovate”) recently aired on 5 June 2011, with part 2 (“How to Educate America”) advertised to follow soon.

I’m sharing it here for two reasons. Continue reading

“Universal Access to All Knowledge”: The Internet Archive, Google Books, and the Haithi Trust.

Google Books even has the full text of LIFE magazine!

Organizations, activists, and laypeople are trying to put the sum of all printed knowledge on the internet. They’re facing copyright issues, ethical and moral debates, but it’s marching on nonetheless. Why should we have to travel to archival repositories, especially if they’re in an already convenient form like microfilm? Shouldn’t everybody have access to information, not just the select few who happen to have institutional affiliations? When it comes to access to information, we should be on an even playing field. Lay people interested in history, undergraduates, cash-strapped professional researchers, and all can benefit from several internet resources that put an incredible amount of information at your finger tips.

In this post, I’ll introduce people to the Internet Archive, the Haithi Trust, and Google Books. I hope to show you that there are incredible numbers of primary sources, digitized books, internet snapshots, among other things, out there. From an 1888 report on the Knights of Labor by a Canadian Legislative Committee, to the music video for the “first rap single ever released in Canada,” to American prohibition speeches, they’re all out there – free, accessible, and often downloadable.

Continue reading

Announcement: Longwoods Barn Quilt Trail

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Re-enactors, historians, and quilters have started designing two 30-block quilts telling the story of how the War of 1812 affected First Nations and settler families.  Quilt patterns will tell the story of how women were involved in the War of 1812. Women on the battlefield helped pass water to the soldiers. In the camps, they were laundresses, seamstresses, and companions to the soldiers.  This community project will connect neighbourhoods along Longwoods Road. The Queen’s Highway 2 has a long and interesting history. It is hoped that this project will build interest in the many decades of stories. Owners of heritage barns will soon be approached about sponsoring a “barn quilt” like the ones near Wardsville.

An organizing meeting is being held near Delaware to plan for the Longwoods Barn Quilt Trail. All are welcome to attend a meeting July 6, 2011 at 7 p.m. at the Longwoods Road Conservation Area, 8348 Longwoods Road, near Delaware.  Anyone interested in the War of 1812, quilting, painting, and celebrating 200 years of peace with our neighbours to the south is invited to attend the July 6 meeting.

For more information, contact Denise Corneil or 519 693-7002 or Mary Simpson at 519 287-3566 or

Avoiding Chaos: Conference and Workshop Planning

Acting as the host institution for a conference or workshops can be both a blessing and a curse.  Host organizations often experience increased interaction with participants and gain publicity in their local community.  Hosting a conference or workshop takes considerable effort and planning and can place strain on regular staff and use up time and monetary resources.

Despite planning hurdles, many heritage organizations still see value in hosting workshops and have dedicated themselves to hosting annual events. Larger conferences often require substantially more planning and resources than a small workshop, but even a single day workshop can benefit from careful advance planning. Continue reading

Do you edit Wikipedia?

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I started editing a few Wikipedia articles lately. While I’ve been interested in the project for years, I never seemed to have the time to become involved. Before this past week, I had created an account and fixed a few small details on pages directly related to my expertise, but I never added much content or actively followed pages to maintain their accuracy.

A few months ago I took part in the “Expert participation survey” and in doing so learned about the Wikimedia Research Committee‘s concern about the lack of involvement from scientists, academics and professional experts. The survey asked me to rank the importance of a number of reasons I did not edit Wikipedia more often. The major themes in these questions included lack of time, lack of professional credit/career advancement, and inability to include “original research”. I think the first two are interconnected. Should graduate students or early career historians spent time writing Wikipedia articles when they should be finishing their dissertations or working on their books/articles for peer-review? Continue reading

Remembering a Memory

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By Ronald Rudin

Remembering a Memory/Mémoire d’un souvenir directed by Robert McMahon (Royal Ontario Museum) and produced by Ronald Rudin (Concordia University), is a documentary film that tells the story of a monument whose own story has been transformed in the hundred years since its unveiling.

On 15 August 1909, a fourteen-metre tall Celtic Cross was unveiled on Grosse-Île, a tiny island in the St-Lawrence just east of Quebec City, which is the site of the largest cemetery outside Ireland for victims of the Potato Famine of the 1840s. Grosse-Île had been a quarantine station since the 1830s, and in 1847 alone over 5000 people died there.

Constructed by the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), the Cross told a number of stories in three languages on panels at its base, but the emotional punch came from the French inscription (which paid tribute to Catholic priests who had tended to the ill) and the Irish one (which declared the Famine an act of British genocide). The unveiling ceremony underscored this bicultural understanding, with speeches in both Irish and French, pointing to a shared Irish-French Canadian legacy borne out of the tragedy of the 1840s. Continue reading

Summertime in the City: Time for History in the City

Ah, summertime in the city (of Ottawa). To quote the Gershwin classic, “the livin’ is easy.”  The patios are bustling, the rollerbladers and runners are out in force and the city seems to be experiencing a mild invasion of tourists and school groups taking in the sights and sounds of the capital. Each year, over seven million tourists make their way to the region. As such Ottawa is an important showcase of what Canada and its history and people are all about. As the National Capital Commission website explains: “A capital is more than a city; it is an expression of the country in general and a gathering place for its citizens.”

Yet geographically, socially, politically and culturally, Ottawa is a very different place from the rest of Canada. Very little of the rest of the country appears in the physical space of the city. Other than provincial and territorial flags displayed at key venues such as the former Ottawa Congress Centre (host to this year’s leader debates) or the Lester B. Pearson Building at 25 Sussex Drive, (home to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) and the impressive parliament buildings nestled on the edge of rushing Ottawa River, there is little sense of Ottawa as a capital. Unless one goes into a museum explicitly dedicated to the articulation of national ideas and aspirations, such as the National Art Gallery or the Museum of Civilization, it is even harder to see how Ottawa is an expression of the country. Continue reading

Active History on the Grand: The Greenwich Mohawk site and Community History

By the early 1900s Brantford, Ontario was the third largest manufacturing centre for exported goods in all of Canada, after only Toronto and Montreal.  Once known as the “Birmingham of Canada,” and the “Combine Capital,” Brantford’s reputation as a “City of Industry” was driven by a host of industries, especially agricultural implements.  Until the 1980s Brantford was a booming industrial city, boasting the highest paid factory wages in Ontario, including the auto industry.

But by the end of 1988 Brantford had lost two of its most significant industries, and unemployment in the city sky-rocketed to 24%.  Throughout the 1990s Brantford suffered the effects of industrial decline and decay.  Over 88 acres within the city were now abandoned and contaminated post-industrial sites or brownfields.

The Greenwich Mohawk site represents this history, from booming industrial hub to abandoned contaminated factory site.  At 52 acres it is the largest of Brantford’s brownfields.  For twenty-five years the Greenwich-Mohawk brownfield has loomed large in the community’s conscience as a horrible memory of Brantford’s industrial decay, and as a symbol of Brantford’s current problems and difficulties in moving forward.  In many ways the Greenwich Mohawk site represents the intersections between industrial history and environmental history, and how both shape a community’s understanding and appreciation of its own past and its current self-image. Continue reading

Announcement: Parler Fort presents Reshaping Toronto’s Waterfront

The Parler Fort series is proud to announce the launch of Reshaping Toronto’s Waterfront (University of Toronto Press, 2011).  On Monday June 20th at 7:30 pm at Toronto’s historic Fort York Wayne Reeves, Chief Curator for the City of Toronto Museum Services, will discuss the history of Toronto’s waterfront.  Special guests include contributors to Reshaping Toronto’s Waterfront: Gene Desfor, Jennefer Laidley, Jennifer Bonnell, Susannah Bunce, Hon Q. Lu and Michael Moir.

Join Wayne Reeves and guests for a discussion of how Toronto’s waterfront has changed, and how understanding the waterfront’s history can help us ask important questions about current plans for a waterfront that could, at last, serve all Torontonians.

Parler Fort is an initiative of The Friends of Fort York, and provides a forum for citizens exploring Toronto’s past, present & future.

Admission is $10.00 for general public, and free for students compliments of University of Toronto Press.  Refreshments included.  To pre-register contact or 416-392-6907 ext. 221.