Renaming Schools: A sign of a society in dialogue with its past

Editors Note: Yesterday and today offers two perspectives on the recent controversy that erupted in Halifax over the renaming of Cornwallis Junior High School.

By Thomas Peace

It should come as no surprise that the recent controversy over the renaming of a junior high school erupted in Nova Scotia.  On 22 June 2011, the Halifax Regional School Board voted unanimously to change the name of Cornwallis Junior High.  The school board was concerned about the legacy of Edward Cornwallis, the city’s founder, who in an effort to secure the town site placed a bounty on Mi’kmaq heads.  The board’s decision has caused considerable controversy and according to the media it seems that many people want the school’s name retained.  The changing of the school’s name, however, fits within a long history of name changes in Nova Scotia.  It presents a good opportunity to reflect on the diverse roots that make up Nova Scotia’s population and the province’s relationship with its past.  Renaming landmarks is a sign of a growing and evolving society that is in critical dialogue with its past. Continue reading

Renaming Schools: What Does Sanitizing History Teach Students?

Editors Note: Today and tomorrow offers two perspectives on the recent controversy that erupted in Halifax over the renaming of Cornwallis Junior High School.

By Paul W. Bennett, Schoolhouse Consulting

You cannot get more American than George Washington, the President who adorns the One Dollar bill emblazoned with “In God We Trust.” Yet in 1992 he came under attack when the parents and staff at a New Orleans school succeeded in replacing his name with that of Dr. Charles Drew, a noted black physician. The decision stemmed from a controversial Board policy calling for the renaming of all schools named after former slave owners or others who did not respect “equal opportunity for all.”

The American renaming schools controversy spread quickly to other cities and towns. Across the United States there were then 450 schools named for George Washington, including George Washington University in D.C. Hundreds of other schools were identified because they were named after American presidents who owned slaves, such as Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Mason.

That old controversy is now back in the Canadian education news. Removing the name of Halifax’s founder, Edward Cornwallis, from the masthead of a South End junior high school is perhaps the most recent and blatant example. The case against Cornwallis hangs on the fact that he issued a 1749 proclamation putting a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women, and children. Continue reading

The “Asbestos Issue” Then and Now, Again and Again


By Dr. Jessica Van Horssen

[Re-posted from NiCHE’s Group Blog, The Otter]

This past July 1st, I was fortunate to have been able to attend one of the anti-asbestos protests in London on Canada Day while in the United Kingdom for research. Why was I researching in the UK? Because the first reported death due to asbestos-related disease was a woman who worked in a textile factory outside of Manchester in the late 19th century. Why were there anti-asbestos protests across the UK and around the world on Canada Day? Because there has been global shock and outrage aimed at both Quebec and Canada over the past weeks, months, and years due to the continued support of the province’s asbestos industry.
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Writing Digital History

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As of December 2010, I have been engaged in a digital history project for the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) in New York. The project is a web history being created to coincide with the centennial of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) in 2013. The goal of the project is to create what essentially amounts to an online documentary that describes the history of the RF through both text and images, including digitized archival documents, photographs and film clips.

The potential and the challenges of this project are immense. The RF has been a philanthropic organization involved in almost every aspect of 20th century history, including (but not limited to), urbanization, public health, university development, arts and humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The daunting task is to create an over-arching narrative that tells this story, in all its facets, and to do so through the immense holdings of documentation and visual materials held at the RAC. Continue reading

Education for Sale: The Culture Industry and the Crisis in University Education

By Christine Grandy

The latest white paper on education coming out of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is one that threatens to “name and shame” “dead-end courses” in British Universities.[1] This endeavor promises to give students more value for their money and justify skyrocketing tuitions in Britain. Yet, naming and shaming neglects to do just that, as it places responsibility for the current crisis in education in both Britain and Canada on university training, rather than on other forces at work on the labour market. What needs to be named and shamed in the current crisis is the complex relationship between university education, myths of social mobility, and a capitalist economy.

Britain is undergoing a fundamental change to its university structure, one that will radically alter a system that has been in place, in the scope of British history, for a relatively short period of time but has profoundly influenced the population that benefited from that system. Britain’s investment in post-secondary education was, not unlike Canada’s, a post-war phenomenon that saw university education entrenched firmly within the public sector as part of the new welfare state.  In the heady days of post-war ‘affluence’ and a commitment by the Labour Party in 1945 to cradle-to-grave care for its citizens, and largely funded by US money through the Marshall plan, Britain was able to offer comprehensive education to members of the working and middle classes. Since then, we’ve seen Britain move from largely free university education after World War II to the imposition of moderate tuition fees in 1998 and then to the current tripling of that figure to 9,000£ (roughly 14,000$ CDN) a year for tuition that roughly two thirds of British universities are hoping to impose next year. This leap in tuition fees is to make up shortfalls resulting from deep cuts to university funding by Cameron’s government. These cuts are part of the current ‘austerity measures’ in place in Britain and include these moves towards the privatization of the university sector, a process that began with Thatcher. The recent condensed changes within the British system make its progress both horrifying and fascinating to watch, as Britain accelerates what has been happening at a much slower, protracted pace for years in North America.

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.

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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