Copenhagen, Climate Change, and History

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Politicians from around the world are meeting this week in Copenhagen for the UN Climate Change Conference, in order to discuss global warming and propose policies to combat this social and environmental concern.  Because global warming revolves around the concept of change over time, it is a subject to which historians can make a valuable contribution.

There are at least two mutually-inclusive avenues through which historians study climate change.  Whereas some scholars attempt to measure shifts in temperature throughout space and time by critically analyzing historical evidence, others present histories of global warming as a socio-scientific construct and topic of public policy.

A number of historians – within and outside Canada – have made their work accessible to a wide audience through the internet and other forms of accessible media.  These scholars understand the need to place climate change within a historical perspective, and the importance of making this work widely available.
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The Role of Historical Monographs

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At a recent workshop in London, I had a conversation with a fellow graduate student about the relevance of history as an academic discipline. He held that the entire academic world was a farce: professors spent too little time in the classroom, producing books that nobody read, were overpaid, and basically a general waste. Beyond my initial confusion that a fellow history graduate student would have such low esteem of his profession and peers, I think its a trenchant criticism that needs to be dealt with. This echoed the recent discussion begun by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail about lazy professors, and rebutted by Clifford Orwin.

The teaching debate was played out between Wente and Orwin, and I think its an important one. But another important issue is the role of historical monographs.

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Bill Moyer uses Lyndon Johnson’s phone tapes to explore the escalation of American forces in Vietnam.

Bill Moyer, a PBS journalist and former aid in Lyndon Johnson’s White House, uses LBJ’s recorded phone calls to explore the history of the escalation of American forces in Vietnam. It is really interesting to hear LBJ struggle with a difficult situation and it is very timely as Barack Obama weighs his options in Afghanistan. This is also an amazing use of multimedia sources to explore history and a model for historians to consider as we research a past with a multitude of audio, video and photographic records.

Video: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/11202009/watch.html
Audio Podcast: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/rss/media/BMJ-1331.mp3
Time-line with audio clips: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/11202009/profile.html

Discover Canada: Historians respond to Canada’s new citizenship guide

The recent release of the primer for the Canadian citizenship test, Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, has been met with mixed reviews.  The editors of MacLean’s praise the guide for succeeding to make “Canada’s history seem both relevant and necessary.”  The Globe and Mail believes that “in telling Canada’s stories, and the conflict, characters and challenges therein, it will enhance new Canadians’ attachment to their country.”  This may be true.  But despite the contribution of the usual handful of historians (Jack Granatstein, Margaret MacMillan, etc…), many in Canada’s historical community are not so laudatory.  It has caused a flurry of activity in the history blogosphere.  Here is a brief summary:

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Notes on a Graduate Student Workshop: Publishing for a Wide Audience

How can academic historians branch out to reach broader publics?  Publishing in the popular press – whether local newspapers or nationally-circulated magazines – is one way to communicate academic research and analysis to a wider audience.  On October 20th, the Canadian Network in History and Environment (NiCHE) sponsored a full-day workshop for graduate students in history and other disciplines.  Skills taught included writing attention-catching op-eds, press releases, and magazine queries.

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PATIENT BUILT WALL TOUR

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You and anyone you wish to bring along are welcome to attend a historical tour of the 19th century patient built asylum boundary walls located at the present-day Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), 1001 Queen Street West, Toronto.

The purpose of this tour is to remember the contributions of the women and men who lived, worked, and died in the Toronto Asylum for the Insane, as is represented by the boundary walls that they built which stand as an enduring testament to their abilities, and to use the past to challenge discrimination experienced today by people who have a psychiatric history.

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ActiveHistory Roundtable Discussion Recording

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Yesterday, October 1st, the Graduate History Students Association at York University hosted their first Historians’ Craft of the year, which focused on the question of what Active History is.

The title of the forum was “Hands On History: Keeping History Relevant”. It was a round table discussion with guests Geoffrey Reaume, Victoria Freeman, Craig Heron and the members of Active History (activehistory.ca.) Some of the questions discussed were: What is the role of activists in the historical discipline? How does this affect questions of objectivity and presentism? What new methodologies are being developed in active history? What projects are being developed in the field? And please feel free to bring your own questions, concerns, and ideas about your project. As usual there will be a reception at the Underground following the discussion where some snacks will be provided.

The file is available here for download, and is ideal for those of you with long commutes, fun-filled workouts, or simply an enduring interest in Active History.

It is split into two parts due to size restrictions.

Active History Roundtable PART ONE

Active History Roundtable PART TWO

“in SANITY”, The Story Behind the Wall @ Scotiabank Nuit Blanche

Workman Arts Presents:
“in SANITY”, The Story Behind the Wall
@ Scotiabank Nuit Blanche
Saturday, October 3rd 2009 from 7pm – 7am
@ the Workman Theatre, CAMH, 1001 Queen St. W., Toronto, ON M6J 1H4

The Story Behind the Wall is a mixed-media and cross-disciplinary art-making project taken on by artists of the Workman Arts Project of Ontario.  Six artists chose six former patients from the Toronto Hospital for the Insane as depicted in the book Remembrance of Patients Past – Patient life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940 by Geoffrey Reaume. Their goal was to create figurative sculptures to creatively and expressively tell the stories of these individual patients.

Geoffrey Reaume’s careful research though the Archives of Ontario was an attempt to understand the patients as people first rather than a diagnostic label.  Working from Geoffrey’s place of respect, the six artists from the Workman Arts Project chose six patients from his book and further investigated these individuals by relating to them as people, artists, and, as people who have experience with mental health as well as the confines of the Psychiatric System and the prejudice of society.

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