On October 31st the United Nations announced the birth of the seven billionth person. Many stories were published on this event, but to me the most revealing was by David Suzuki, the venerable leader of Canada’s environmental movement. As Suzuki pointed out, the human population has increased three-fold during his lifetime. Nonetheless, he refused to blame population growth for our ecological malaise. As Suzuki argues, “most environmental devastation is not directly caused by individuals or households, but by corporations driven more by profits than human needs.” According to his line of thinking, it is overconsumption by the wealthy, not the ever-increasing population, that is causing the problem.
There was a time when population size was a central concern within the environmental movement. Stanford biologist Paul R. Ehrlich’s 1968 treatise, The Population Bomb, sat alongside Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring on environmentalists’ “must read” list. Full of doom and gloom, this book linked exponential growth of the human population with ecological destruction, resource exhaustion, mass starvation, and political instability. The only solution, according to Ehrlich, was to reduce the rate of population growth to zero percent. A variety of solutions were prescribed, including tax incentives to men that voluntarily underwent sterilization, luxury taxes on children’s goods, the promotion of abortion and other forms of birth control for women, and an end to foreign aid to countries that did not put a check on their population growth. The Population Bomb sold millions of copies, Ehrlich became a media darling, and the goal of reducing the global population became standard within the American environmental movement. Continue reading →
Surveying all of cosmic history using ChronoZoom: you can't even see human history up there in the upper right corner.
Historians aren’t always the best at crossing the hall to the sociologists across the way, let alone the astronomers, physicians, or geologists across campus. Scientists who study the Big Bang, however, are engaged in history – just a (very) different kind. Similarly, those who study the very long-term geographical forces that have shaped Earth, those who study evolutionary processes across flora and fauna, even those who study broader, galactic or universal phenomena, are often seen as very distinct from historians.
Big History, a new and emerging field, seeks to bridge these very real but also occasionally artificial disciplinary boundaries. It can be hard, however, to really establish how we can go forward and what a Big History approach might look like in real, deliverable terms (Bill Gates and David Christian have a great project also looking at how to teach these concepts to classrooms). Look no further: ChronoZoom, from the University of California-Berkeley’s Department of Earth and Planetary Science, has a working model that gives us a sense of what this might look like. Continue reading →
In the wake of this summer’s highly successful royal tour by Prince William and his new wife, Catherine – the future King and Queen of Canada – we pause to reflect on what it’s all about.
On Monday November 14th Arthur Bousfield and Garry Toffoli, co-authors of Royal Tours 1786-2010 (Dundurn, 2010) will place this most recent royal tour in the context of those that preceded it, going back to 1786! Nathan Tidridge author of Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy (Dundurn, 2011) believes there’s a crisis in our understanding of the role the Crown plays in our government. He argues that the monarchy is a rich institution integral to our ideals of democracy and parliamentary government. What do you think?
Parler Fort is a series of themed discussions that examines the impacts of past events on our lives today. Featuring novelists, historians, artists and city planners among others, each session explores a topic in a way that sparks dialogue and provides insight into issues that matter today. Fort York National Historic Site is an apt setting in which to enrich our understanding of our city and fortify our connections with one another.
In the third installment of this five-part NiCHE EHTV series, Dr. Jessica Van Horssen explores the growth of the asbestos mining industry in Quebec during the Second World War and the post-war period. In particular, she unearths the history of the adverse health effects of exposure to asbestos and the corporate and Canadian government initiatives to keep this information secret, including an international propaganda campaign. She also discusses the impact of the 1949 strike in Asbestos, Quebec.
Very recently I had the opportunity to visit the British Museum in London, England. It was a place that had long been on my “to do” list. From the scope of the building itself, to the individual objects and their imaginative presentations – the experience did not disappoint. The visit was awe inspiring and enlightening and fed my love of history and material culture. I don’t think I was alone – the faces of many of the school children there spoke volumes.
The vastness and variety of the collections of the British Museum speaks to more than just the objects themselves. These artifacts speak to how we as humans have evolved, survived, worshipped, expressed love and made war. A simple mortar and pestle tells of how we shaped the agricultural revolution and used food as a means of communion, while ancient but beautiful sculptures of people, gods, and animals show the very human impulse to create art not only for the sake of beauty, but in an earnest attempt to try to understand our environment and experiences. Continue reading →
With the bicentennial of the War of 1812 quickly approaching local history and heritage organizations are busy planning events and exhibits to commemorate the war. The Federal government recently announced funding to be administered through the Department of Canadian Heritage to assist in the commemoration. For the Conservative government these plans fit into their larger intention of “restoring military exploits to a more central role in the country’s national identity.”
However, just how the War of 1812 should be commemorated, and what this war actually meant to Canadian history, is being actively contended in the pages of the Globe and Mail. According to the Department of Canadian Heritage, the War of 1812 was a pivotal event that ultimately shaped the nation that became Canada. Many point to the “happy aftermath” of the war: the 200 years of peace with the United States, as well as the Rush-Bagot agreement of 1817 that limited military activities on the Great Lakes. Others argue that the war “was among the dumbest ever fought,” and charge the Harper Government with attempting to use the bicentennial as “contemporary nationalistic propaganda.” Alan Taylor’s recent book, The Civil War of 1812, also muddies the waters concerning why the war was fought and who was fighting it. Taylor argues that “national” identities and borders were fluid, and the war shouldn’t be seen as simply an American invasion repelled by the British military and Canadian militia. Continue reading →
“Knowing your Public(s)—The Significance of Audiences in Public History” 2013 Annual Meeting, National Council on Public History
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 17-20, 2013
In 2013 the National Council on Public History will meet at the Delta Ottawa City Centre, in the heart of downtown Ottawa, Canada, with Canada’s Parliament buildings, historic ByWard market, national museums and historic sites, river trails, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Rideau Canal, and numerous cafes and restaurants within easy walking distance. The program committee invites panel, roundtable, workshop, working group, and individual paper proposals for the conference. The Call for Poster sessions will be issued in fall 2012.
As Canada’s capital, Ottawa is the national centre of the museum, archival and heritage community, and its historical and cultural attractions draw 5 million national and international tourists annually. Ottawa’s two universities have strong connections to public and applied history. The federal government employs many history practitioners and creates a market for private consultants. With so many diverse fields of Public History theory and practice represented, Ottawa is an ideal place to consider issues and ideas associated with the theme of “Knowing your Public(s)—The Significance of Audiences in Public History.” Continue reading →
This week EHTV continues its five-part series on asbestos in Quebec with the second installation.
In Part II of “A Town Called Asbestos”, Dr. Jessica Van Horssen continues her survey of the history of asbestos in Quebec by examining the first asbestos industry boom between 1914 and 1939. The outbreak of war in Europe and the advent of aerial bombing in urban areas created a new market for the inflammable mineral. In the years after the war, asbestos found its way into a number of industrial products as both a flame retardant and as insulation. This growth in demand led to an expansion of mining activities and the establishment of large, multi-national asbestos mining corporations.
“Ottawa looks at rewriting rules on charitable giving,” the Globe and Mailannounced last Friday, kicking off a running series on the evolution of philanthropy in Canada and abroad. Federal charities policy is front page news. According to the Globe’s reporting, the federal government is proposing, among other reforms, to make changes to the tax rules governing charities in order to increase the personal tax credit for charitable giving. According to a follow-up article, the House of Commons finance committee has approved “a study of whether to change Canada’s charitable tax credits to encourage more giving […which is] expected to take a broad look at expanding the tax credit.” I believe that any discussion of changes to charitable tax policy in Canada would be the poorer for failing to consider the history of that policy. Continue reading →
Internet sources can present challenges in the university classroom, but they also offer many new, exciting, creative learning opportunities. Rather than barring internet sources altogether, we should be teaching our students to engage critically with a range of sources, including the many great digital projects available online.