History Podcasts

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I was interviewed last week for an environmental history podcast. I was pretty excited as I listen of all kinds of podcasts including a number of history podcasts. While there are not nearly enough high quality history podcasts, there are some really good general podcasts that deal with history on a regular basis. Two of my favorite are BBC Radio 4 shows that are re-posted online: In Our Time (iTunes) (Website) and Thinking Allowed (iTunes) (Website). In Our Time records discussions of round tables on a wide range of interesting topics. These include history, the history of science, the history of literature and the history of philosophy. They normally attracted some of the top academics in the field and the host, Melvyn Bragg, is adept at keeping his guest on track. Thinking Allowed tends to focus on sociology research, but it regularly features social and cultural history. This show interviews the authors of recently published academic papers. The host, Laurie Taylor, is skilled at picking apart these academic papers and presenting them in a highly accessible manner. The show really highlights the interesting and important research published by social scientists and would be a great model for public broadcasters or independent podcasters in North America. The BBC also posts a History Magazine podcast that I discovered when researching this blog post, but have not listened to (iTunes)(Website).

Nature's Past

Here in Canada there is a lot less to choose from. CBC’s ideas (iTunes) occasionally deals with history or the history of ideas and our popular history magazine, Canadian History (formerly the Beaver) posts some short interviews (iTunes). The Network of Canadian Environment and History produces a great podcast that I will address further below.

Two history buffs, who are not academic historians, produce interesting independent podcasts in the United States. Bruce Carlson’s My History Can Beat Your Politics (iTunes)(Website) examines many of this same political issues address by pundits on Sunday talk shows and cable news networks from a historical perceptive. It is largely the kind of “Great Men” political history rarely found in university departments now a days, but nonetheless it is often much more informative and thoughtful than the talking points and spin found in mainstream American news analysis. I believe it challenges us to think about what kind of “applied history” is useful to inform our politics and whether we can present social, cultural or environmental history in such an engaging way. A second podcast, which I’ve only listened to one episode, called Hardcore History (iTunes)(Website), was both well produced and thought provoking. Dan Carlin openly admits that he is not a historian, but he reads widely on a topic and presents a well developed argument. I plan on listening to more episodes in the future. Continue reading

Storytelling Matters: Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia University

By Christine McLaughlin

Storytelling has long been an important aspect of the historian’s craft.  The move beyond exploring traditional archival material, which privileges the voices of the literate and often the powerful, towards the collection of oral history, has been an exciting development in historical scholarship.
On the other hand, the use of oral history has been ripe with paradoxes.  Historians conduct oral interviews, which they then transcribe to written word.  From here, they pick a few, hopefully representative, quotes from multiple interviews to integrate into their work.  The completed academic project may or may not be accessible to the interviewees.
Furthermore, a significant power imbalance exists between researcher and interviewee; the historian holds ultimate authority over the story that eventually emerges from their research.  Traditionally, then, the historian, as mediator between interview material and the information that reaches the public, has been the predominant storyteller in narratives of history.
An innovative project at Concordia University seeks to revolutionize the way that oral history is collected, archived and accessed.  The Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (http://storytelling.concordia.ca/oralhistory/index.html), co-directed by two history professors, Steven High and Elana Razlogova, has been built around the idea that the stories people tell matter.  The Centre not only facilitates the collection of oral histories for researchers, but privileges storytelling in the words and voices of those who lived through historical events by digitising video and audio recordings (http://storytelling.concordia.ca/oralhistory/projects/projects.html), and by seeking alternate ways of presenting research findings that move beyond the written word.
One example of an important project the Centre is engaged in is the Life Stories of Montrealers Displaced by War, Genocide, and Other Human Rights Violations (http://www.lifestoriesmontreal.ca/).  University and community-based researchers are in the process of recording “the experiences and memories of mass violence and displacement” of over 500 migrants to Montreal.  This material is posted on the web, so that anyone with access to an internet connection can hear stories of the experiences of refugees from Cambodia, Haiti, and Europe, to name but a few, in their own voices.
Committed to the idea of “sharing authority,” the site also contains resources for oral history researchers (http://storytelling.concordia.ca/oralhistory/resources/resources.html), including ethical guidelines and training material for the interview process.  Such materials include a list of sample interview questions (http://storytelling.concordia.ca/oralhistory/resources/tips/Documents/Sample_Questions.pdf).  While questions posed by an interviewer can signficantly impact the content of the life stories recorded, the transparency of this process as it is featured on the site is admirable.   Affiliates are also welcome to use the Centre’s state of the art facilities, which provide access to technologies and equipment that aid in the collection and digitisation of life stories.
The Centre has also developed Stories Matter (http://storytelling.concordia.ca/storiesmatter/), free software that allows for “the archiving of digital video and audio materials, enabling users to annotate, analyze, evaluate and export materials, as well as tag, index, search, and browse within interviews, sessions, and clips or across entire collections.”  Currently in its second phase, they are developing “an online platform for the software, which will allow multiple users to collaborate on the creation of a single database through an online server.”
The site also includes blog updates, access to articles and databases of oral histories, among many other features.
The Centre has done an incredible amount of work since the doors were first opened by Steven High on 10 September 2007.  Those interested in oral history would do well to monitor its future developments as it continues to probe how digital technologies can highlight the power of the spoken word.  It is also an excellent resource for educators and interested community members.  In “breaching the divide between the ivory tower and the street,” as Steven High aptly puts it, this massive project serves as an excellent example of how technology can be harnessed to make history more accessible and relevant to a public audience.

Storytelling has long been an important aspect of the historian’s craft.  The move beyond exploring traditional archival material, which privileges the voices of the literate and often the powerful, towards the collection of oral history, has been an exciting development in historical scholarship.

On the other hand, the use of oral history has been ripe with paradoxes.  Historians conduct oral interviews, which they then transcribe to written word.  From here, they pick a few, hopefully representative, quotes from multiple interviews to integrate into their work.  The completed academic project may or may not be accessible to the interviewees.

Furthermore, a significant power imbalance exists between researcher and interviewee; the historian holds ultimate authority over the story that eventually emerges from their research.  Traditionally, then, the historian, as mediator between interview material and the information that reaches the public, has been the predominant storyteller in narratives of history.

An innovative project at Concordia University seeks to revolutionize the way that oral history is collected, archived and accessed.  The Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, co-directed by two history professors, Steven High and Elana Razlogova, has been built around the idea that the stories people tell matter.  The Centre not only facilitates the collection of oral histories for researchers, but privileges storytelling in the words and voices of those who lived through historical events by digitising video and audio recordings, and by seeking alternate ways of presenting research findings that move beyond the written word.

Continue reading

CFP – “We Demand”: History/Sex/Activism In Canada

Vancouver, British Columbia
August 25-28, 2011

On August 28, 1971 over two hundred lesbian and gay activists gathered on Parliament Hill to demand the federal government bring an end to laws and practices that criminalized, marginalized, and stigmatized lesbians and gays. Acting in solidarity with their central Canadian allies, Vancouver activists staged the same action on the steps of
their city’s Court House. It was the first recorded national political action undertaken by gay liberationists and lesbian feminist activists in Canada.

”We Demand” marks the fortieth anniversary of the 1971 action. The conference seeks to showcase current work on all aspects of the history of sexuality in Canada, from pre-contact to present times.

Keynote speaker: Ann Cvetkovich, author of An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures

Other confirmed speakers include Mary Louise Adams, Karen Dubinsky, Gary Kinsman, and Steven Maynard.

We are currently accepting proposals for panels, individual papers, roundtable discussions, poster sessions, and other means of communicating ideas and generating discussion. Continue reading

A Model Primary Source Blog: Paleo-Future

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By Adam Crymble

Photo of burglars robbing a house from a hovering airplaneEver since burglars learned to perform effective aerial assaults, society has been in a downward spiral (see photo). It’s unsettling to know that someone can fly in, sneak down the chimney and make off with all your hard-earned space credits. Good thing at 122 years old, you’re now considered middle aged and have some time to recoup your losses before retiring to the moon.

Historians often study what people in the past were like, but few stop to look at what they thought we’d be like. Stepping in to fill that role is St. Paul, Minnesota based writer, Matt Novak, who has kept a blog, Paleo-Future: a look into the future that never was since 2007.

With each entry, Novak guides readers onto a brief sojourn into the past where they can look forward at what our own society might have been. Inspired by a childhood trip to Disney’s out-dated “Tomorrowland” exhibit, Paleo-Future uses copies of primary sources and brief commentary to engage readers, many of whom may have grown up during the 50s, 60s and 70s, when the majority of the predictions showcased on the blog were first made.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Novak says his most popular posts are those that are “wildly inaccurate.” This no doubt includes entries such as the 1949 article in the San Antonio Light newspaper, which predicted we’d soon see the city of New York entirely roofed over. The would-be development was touted as an ingenious way for scientists to provide “climate to order.”

Even stranger is a 1960 Chicago Tribune prediction that forecast we would soon have “Man-made balls of fire” in the sky that provided 24-hour sunlight. Novak rightly placed this entry in the “why the hell would you do that?” file. Continue reading

Translated Paper: “Why is Vietnam Recovering, while Cuba is Sinking?”

Today we published a translated English version of the first paper ActiveHistory.ca “Why is Vietnam Recovering, while Cuba is Sinking?” written by Yves Montenay, and translated by Michael Poplyansky.  Here is the abstract:

Abstract

Before going their separate ways, Vietnam and Cuba followed similar political and economic paths, making the impact of economic freedom on each country’s development very clear, both directly and comparatively. This paper will not discuss full employment, because in Communist Vietnam, as in today’s Cuba, everyone theoretically had an assigned job—even if it was not the job that one hoped for, or at the location that one preferred, much less at the salary that one wanted. Nor will I evaluate the progress of “liberalism”, since the term implies political freedom; I will simply examine the consequences of legalizing formerly banned economic activities.  Click here to read full paper. Click here to read the original French version.

History for Haiti

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Today Foreign Ministers from the ‘Friends of Haiti Group’ are meeting with Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti’s Prime Minister, and UN officials in Montreal to discuss both the current situation in Haiti and longer term plans for the country’s stabilization and reconstruction. As they discuss Haiti’s future, it is important for them to also consider Haiti’s past.

Over the past two weeks, some aspects of Haitian history have been addressed in the media. With the exception of Pat Robertson’s attempt to evangelize through fire and brimstone, many of these explanations of how Haiti came to be mired in poverty had merit. They range from harsh reparations to former French slaveholders after the successful Haitian Revolution, rampant deforestation, US occupation during the middle of the twentieth century, to the brutal dictatorships of Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier.

This history has been used to explain Haiti’s poverty and why it is important to help as the nation is rebuilt. Within these snapshots of history, however, Haiti is typically envisioned as heading in a downward direction; its exercises in self government depicted as failures.

Although some discussions of Haiti’s history have delved into the deeper roots of the country’s troubles, many have primarily focused on its governance. Both the BBC‘s and CBC’s web histories of Haiti, for example, devote half of their discussion to the Duvaliers and the ousting of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. With the exception of a much better contextualized article in the Guardian, few of these reports emphasize the role that the predecessors of the leaders meeting today played in bringing about Haitian instability and poverty (France and the United States are two principal ‘friends’).

If Haiti is going to change for the better after this disaster, international leaders need to pay attention to the role that foreign involvement in Haiti has played in bringing about the current situation, and work together with Haitians towards a sustainable form of involvement that does not replicate the mistakes or deliberate interventions of the past.

One way to do this is by focusing on histories of the past that actually discuss the Haitian people, and not just how they were affected by outside forces. There have been a handful of discussions since the earthquake that have balanced the challenges that Haitians have faced with their resilience in dealing with them. TV Ontario’s The Agenda featured a rich discussion which both contextualizes the current situation in Haiti and lays out a framework for reconstruction. Last Tuesday, CBC’s The Current interviewed Rebecca Solnit. Her recent book A Paradise Built in Hell profiles five disasters during the 20th century and how the people affected responded to them. Her argument, that when faced with disasters, people tend to work together for the common good while elites tend to work towards maintaining their own control, provides a critical lesson for Haiti’s leadership if that society is going to be built differently in the coming years. Karen Dubinsky, a historian at Queen’s University, was also interviewed by The Current. She uses her research on Operation Peter Pan, which removed children from Cuba in the early 1960s, to caution foreign governments and individuals from the temptation to adopt children out of disaster zones like Haiti. Most directly, Allen Wells, a historian of the Caribbean, has argued for a reshaping of Haiti’s history in order to focus more on the resilience of the people. Continue reading

New Active History Paper: David Webster, Narratives of Colonization, Decolonization and Recolonization in Papua

We are happy to publish a paper by David Webster of the University of Regina. This is the third paper written for ActiveHistory.ca. Check back next week for a translation of our first paper: Yves Montenay, Pourquoi le Vietnam s’en tire et Cuba s’enfonce. If you would like to contribute a paper to this website please consult our Paper Guidelines

Narratives of Colonization, Decolonization and Recolonization in Papua

Abstract
After the resolution of the Aceh dispute and the independence of East Timor, Indonesia’s most serious conflict is in Papua (formerly Irian Jaya). One major stumbling block to conflict resolution is the clash of historical narratives. Papuan nationalists claim their land was “already sovereign” from the 1960s and that the Indonesian state and military have denied them the right to self-determination. The Indonesian official narrative argues that Papua exercised its right to self-determination along with the rest of Indonesia in 1945. Conflict resolution in Papua will require a dialogue between the two historical narratives in order to create a space for understanding of the other side’s case. This paper reviews each side’s narrative of the conflict’s history, using documents published by each, and assesses the clashing historical understandings. Read Full Paper Here

Cover of Kembalinya Irian Barat [West Irian’s Return] (Jakarta: Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, 2002).

Cover of Kembalinya Irian Barat

Infrastructure History: Connecting us to the Past

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It helps us quench our thirst, wash our dishes, and clean our bodies, but a sense of its past often emerges only when its use is disrupted.

Over the past week, a recent spurt of articles in Toronto newspapers reported numerous cases of leaking watermains across the city.  Corrosion is one source of the broken pipes; another is changing temperature, which impacts soil movement and creates pressure on the fragile, rusty conduits.  A recent cold spell burst an eight-inch main and cut power to 19,000 residents.

DSCF4046

Notable in these articles is how the (often temporary) failure of the infrastructure of everyday life – in this case water pipes but we can think of roads and electricity wires to name a few others – connects people to the past.

Continue reading

ActiveHistory.ca featured in York University History Department video

ActiveHistory.ca is featured in an internet video on York University’s history department.  Entitled “Making History Relevant”, the video premiered at the recent American Historical Association conference in San Diego.   Click here to view the video, located at the bottom of the right hand sidebar of the website in the “New Featured Films” section.

In the video, Jonathan Edmondson, chair of the history department, notes the important social responsibility of historians.  Similar to ActiveHistory.ca, York’s December 2009 conference – Global Football: History, Gender, and Nation – sought to connect the work of historians to a broad audience.  The conference brought together historians, soccer fans, journalists and sport officials to discuss the relationships between football and a number of important themes, such as the construction of social identities and globalization.

The video is available on Historians tv, a website that covers a variety of historical issues.  The site includes a short videos on New York’s Lower East Side Tenement Museum and African Burial Ground Monument, and an interview with historian Natalie Zemon Davis on her personal experiences of teaching history throughout her storied career.  These three videos can be viewed by clicking here and are found on the right hand sidebar of the website.

“Local Effort Brings Our Past to Life”: Halifax Chronicle-Herald

A recent article in the Halifax Chroncile-Herald discusses a fascinating project mounted by the Dartmouth Historical Association which will see 2,500 local histories of Dartmouth, Preston, Cole Harbour and Eastern Passage distributed free of charge to Halifax area students in Grades 4, 5, and 6. Local historian Harry Chapman raised an interesting point in the newspaper article:

“We were discussing history in general, and my view is that the history curriculum from Grade 4 to high school, they deal with Canadian history, Nova Scotia history, the American revolution, American civil war, the British empire, ancient Greece, but nothing of the community that the children are living and growing up in, whether it be Dartmouth or Digby or Annapolis Royal or Parrsboro,” said Chapman.

In this book, then, the Dartmouth Historical Association discussed schools, ferries, canals, street names, and the general local history of people. They’re certainly connecting “historians with the public,” as ActiveHistory.ca aims to do.

This raises several fascinating questions. Should local history have a bigger role in history curriculums? Continue reading