History, Heritage, and Municipal Elections

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It’s that time again.  Municipalities across Ontario are gearing up for the October 25th municipal elections.  Along with the lawn signs, debates in local community centres, door-to-door canvassing, and the usual issues of property taxes, jobs, garbage collection and pot-holes, the topic of municipal heritage preservation has entered the political landscape.

Under the Ontario Heritage Act municipalities can pass by-laws to formally designate properties of cultural heritage value or interest.  Formal designation of heritage properties is one way of publicly acknowledging a property’s heritage value to a community.  Properties can be designated individually or as part of a larger area or Heritage Conservation District.  The protection and preservation of a community’s built heritage is therefore primarily a municipal concern and varies widely from community to community.  In Ontario municipalities like Cambridge, Niagara Falls, and Toronto have adopted Heritage Master Plans to enhance their ability to protect the community’s heritage resources.  The City of Brantford, on the other hand, recently completed demolition of 41 buildings in its downtown, believed to have been the longest stretch of pre-confederation buildings left in Canada. Continue reading

The Sound of History

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PlayPlay

book cover image

A few months ago the American Radio Works posted a very interesting podcast on the art of making radio documentaries.  The podcast included a live presentation given by Stephen Smith and John Biewen about a new book Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound.  While the whole discussion is very interesting, the second half focuses on Smith’s essay in the book on making historical documentaries: “Living History”.  Smith made a number of documentaries about 20th Century American history using archival sound.  For example, he used the Presidential tapes from Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in The President Calling to show the human side of high politics, by focusing on how presidents persuaded other individuals over the phone.  In another documentary he followed the legal career of the first African American Supreme Court Justice: Thurgood Marshall: Before the court.

As these two topics suggest, using archival sound clips, instead of oral history interviews, might limit historians to focus on the great men and women of the 20th century, as most of us don’t leave hours of audio tape behind.  Smith and his co-producer Katie Ellis did a third documentary: Say It Plain: A Century of Great African American Speeches which shifts the focus away from those with power to the great orators of a social movement.  Looking through the list of documentaries on the American Radio Works Website, there are a lot of other projects that look at history in different ways, including ones that use oral history.  A particularly good one that I’ve had the chance to listen to is The Great Textbook War on the early days of the Culture Wars in West Virginia in 1974.  It does a great good job presenting both sides of the struggle through a mix of news recordings from 1974 and oral history interviews. Continue reading

Active History Announcements: Sept 26 – Oct 2

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The following upcoming events may be of interest to our readers (click on ‘continue reading’ below for full descriptions):

1)  TODAY (Sept 25)!  Unveiling of Memorial Plaques at CAMH in Toronto – 1 p.m.

2)  When the landlords became tenants: The 1828 Council at Fort York with the Mississauga – Sept 27, 7:30 p.m.

3)  Thought Exchange (History Matters) – Sept 28, 7 p.m.

4)  Approaching the Past: The Past through Place – Sept 30, 7 p.m.

5) CFP: History 2.0: Active History Roundtable on new media

6) This week in the Active History blogosphere!

If you have an announcement that you would like included in this weekly dispatch, please e-mail info@activehistory.ca. Continue reading

History on Stage: Performance Art and Commemoration of the Winnipeg General Strike

by Jamie Trepanier

Strike!Red09: The Strikers' Chorus in the 2009 annual production in Winnipeg. Photo by Andrew Sikorsky

Playwright Danny Schur is convinced that the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 has more than enough compelling storylines for a major musical production, and that its message is one that is still relevant today. “The story has all of the elements of high drama:  societal unrest, government suppression of rights, aftermath of war, dramatic death in the streets,” he wrote by e-mail, “[but] what first inspired me was the untold story of the immigrant at the epicentre of the drama – the forgotten Ukrainian everyman, Mike Sokolowski [killed by police during the violence of a June 21 protest known as “Bloody Saturday”].  It was his story that defined the period for me and lead to a new and, I believe, deeper understanding of the era – one that is relevant to us today:  that the story of the Winnipeg General Strike is a cautionary story about the dangers of nativism.” Continue reading

Stuart Henderson talks hip Yorkville history at inaugural History Matters series

Historian, journalist, and musician Stuart Henderson recently presented an engaging talk at the inaugural History Matters lecture series, sponsored by the Toronto Public Library.

In front of a standing-room audience, Henderson’s “Making the Scene in 1960s Yorkville” discussed the fascinating dynamics of a hip community of beatniks, hippies, and greasers that made up one of Canada’s most infamous counter-cultural neighbourhoods.

Henderson’s talk is available here for audio download.

The next History Matters talk takes place Tuesday, September 28th, when Craig Heron talks about the history of booze in Toronto.  Click here for more details.

Hands-on History: Are the archaeologists leading the way to a new mode of public engagement?

I have a confession.  As much as I love being a historian, I am not a huge fan of spending most of my day sitting at a desk reading.  Some days I am pretty sure that I can feel my fat cells multiplying and the muscle cells slowly decaying.  Most days I long to literally practice active – blood-flowing – history.  About seven ago, I tried to remedy this challenge by becoming involved in archaeology.  After a couple of brief glimpses into an archaeologist’s world, I found myself challenged by the practices of the discipline and increasingly by the way in which the programs of which I was a part engaged the public. Continue reading

Active History Announcements: Sept 19-25

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The following upcoming events may be of interest to our readers (click on ‘continue reading’ below for full descriptions):

1) When the landlords became tenants: The 1828 Council at Fort York with the Mississauga – Sept 27, 7:30 p.m.

2)  Thought Exchange (History Matters) – Sept 28, 7 p.m.

3)  Approaching the Past: The Past through Place – Sept 30, 7 p.m.

4) CFP: History 2.0: Active History Roundtable on new media

5) This week in the Active History blogosphere!

If you have an announcement that you would like included in this weekly dispatch, please e-mail info@activehistory.ca. Continue reading

Sharing History Through Used Books and the Internet

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Cuba Books

In honour of both the September crunch and ActiveHistory.ca‘s own expanding book review section — be sure to check out Mitch Primeau’s review of The Second Greatest Disappointment (1999) — I’ll be devoting this month’s post to some of my favourite used book websites.
History tends to involve a few more books than other disciplines — okay, a lot more.

This stems from the fact that all books — not just books about history — become relevant in new ways, as relics of their own time and place. That’s right: physicists and political memoirists alike can look forward to having their every miscalculation and narcissistic indulgence poured over by wave after wave of yet-born historians. But I digress… Continue reading

The e-Book Revolution

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I bought an iPad. Before you cheer or frown, let me tell you, I’m filled with an immense surge of guilt—not because my purchase left a hefty dent in my wallet, but because I have needlessly contributed to the e-Book revolution. As Thomas Hager explains,

Bottom line is stark: paper and ink books are on the way out. There, I said it. Printed books will still exist – like vinyl records still exist, in vanishingly small numbers, bought by collectors. Printed books – especially hardcovers — will become collectibles. Too many trends are working against print: (1) market economics (e-books are cheaper to produce, ship, and buy); (2) reader convenience (e-books offer immediate delivery, lower price, and bells and whistles like the ability to enlarge text); and (3) electronic infrastructure (a growing number of people are comfortable reading on little screens, they can do it on multiple devices (I just read my first book on my iPod Touch and the experience was fine), the little screens are getting better and cheaper and more attractive, the large-scale computing and communications systems are in place). And the technology just keeps getting better and cheaper. Three years ago, the first Kindle cost $399. Today’s improved version sells for half that. Eventually we’ll have screens you can roll up, put in your pocket, and unfurl as you lay on the couch, like the evening paper (but in full color, with video, web access, and no ink stains). Continue reading