Too Much Information: The Case for the Programming Historian

The Programming Historian

Depending on your vantage point, we have a looming opportunity – or a looming problem. Historical digital sources have reached a scale where they defy conventional analysis and now call out for computational analysis. The Internet Archive alone has 2.9 million texts, there are 2.6 million pages of historical newspapers archived at the Chronicling America site of the US Library of Congress, the McCord Museum at McGill University has over 80,000 historical photographs, and Google Books has now digitized fifteen million books out of their total goal of 130 million. Archives are increasingly committed to preserving cultural heritage materials in digital, rather than more traditional analog, forms. This is perhaps best exemplified in Canada by digitization priorities at Library and Archives Canada. The amount of accessible digital information continues to grow daily, making digital humanities projects increasingly feasible, and for that matter, necessary.

In this post, I will do two things. Firstly, I will give a sense of how much information is out there, and make the case for why Canadian historians need to start thinking about it. Secondly, I will introduce readers to the Programming Historian, a wonderful resources that at least puts you on the right track to a programming frame of mind. Continue reading

Top 10 Tips for Managing Your Organization’s Social Media Presence

by Jenn Nelson (@unmuseum)

Banting House, London, Ontario

Over the past year, I have become very passionate about social media in cultural and heritage institutions, this passion grew after attending the Museum Next 2011 Conference in Edinburgh. It still baffles me that many museums/arts organizations still do not have a social media presence. If you are one of these establishments – stop what you’re doing, put everything down and carry on reading.

I have realized that we are in a bit of a rut in the not-for-profit heritage industry. Those entering the field tend to embrace social media and encourage change. Those close to retiring from the profession, and in positions of power, often tend to be reluctant to try something new and challenge the validity of social media. I am lucky that in my experiences I have not faced this challenge when trying to push the benefits of social media, but unfortunately many of us do.

It is important to note that establishing a good social media policy is crucial before indulging in this exciting world of conversation and knowledge sharing. Most of the following points appear in the social media policy for Banting House. If you’re looking for a foundation, there are plenty social media policy templates online.

I manage the social media for Banting House National Historic Site of Canada (@BantingHouse) and based on my experience these are ten tips about managing an institutional social media presence. Continue reading

Learning from History: What is Popular is not Always Right

By  Gregory M. W. Kennedy, Assistant Professor, Université de Moncton

George Craig, “Deportation of the Acadians,” (1893), Musée acadien, Université de Moncton

According to a poll conducted for the Toronto Sun, over eighty per cent of Canadians support the decision of Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, requiring face veils to be removed during the swearing of the oath of citizenship.  These results were consistent across all age-groups, regions and political affiliations.  I had the same initial reaction to what seemed a reasonable decision.

But I started thinking about another oath of allegiance controversy.  After France ceded Acadie to Great Britain in 1713, the inhabitants were given the choice of leaving the colony or staying and becoming British subjects.  Continue reading

Active History on the Grand: Heritage Trees in Ontario

Heritage White Oak Tree in Cambridge

I think that I shall never see, A poem as lovely as a tree.

– Sergeant Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

While many of us may be familiar with the designation of built heritage properties under the Ontario Heritage Act, recently municipalities have been using the Ontario Heritage Act to designate individual trees as heritage trees.  Municipalities like Burlington, Pelham, Thorold, Cambridge, and most recently Brant, have designated individual trees under the Ontario Heritage Act.

First enacted in 1975, the Ontario Heritage Act enables municipalities to pass by-laws designating individual properties as having cultural heritage value through Part IV of the Act.  This designation provides some protection for the property from demolition, as well as regulates potential alterations to the property to maintain its heritage value.  Larger areas can be designated under Part V of the Act as Heritage Conservation Districts.

In recent years the definition of cultural heritage resources covered under the Ontario Heritage Act has been expanded to include not only the commonly understood Built Heritage Resources, defined as “one or more significant buildings (including fixtures or equipment located in or forming part of a building), structures, earthworks, monuments, installations, or remains that have cultural heritage value,” but also Cultural Heritage Landscapes.  Cultural Heritage Landscapes are defined as a “geographical area that human activity has modified and that has cultural heritage value.”  These areas can include “one or more groupings of individual heritage features, such as structures, spaces, archaeological sites, and natural elements, which together form a significant type of heritage form distinct from that of its constituent elements or parts…villages, parks, gardens, battlefields, mainstreets and neighbourhoods, cemeteries, trails, and industrial complexes of cultural heritage value.”  The addition of Cultural Heritage Landscapes as well as other amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act made in 2005, have included natural landscape features, such as trees, as integral parts of cultural heritage landscapes and built heritage properties that should be protected.
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Secret Lives, Affective Learning

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Zion Schoolhouse

On 29 November 2011, educators, curators and actors alike gathered in Zion Schoolhouse to watch three historical skits and to discuss theatrical performance as a history-education tool. What follows is a brief description of the Toronto-based theatre companies that participated in the event and their outreach programs. I conclude with my observations and recommendations as an educator-turned graduate-student. Continue reading

New Podcast: Christine McLaughlin on General Motors, History Making, and Power in Oshawa, Ontario

Gate of former GM North Plant site in Oshawa

“Sam McLaughlin’s name continues to loom large over the city of Oshawa.  But the stories of working people offer alternate versions of history.  Spaces in the city ought to be made for commemorating and remembering these stories,” historian Christine McLaughlin (no relation to Sam) recently argued during her talk at a local library in Toronto.  McLaughlin’s presentation, “Producing History in an Auto Town: Oshawa After World War II,” explored the “highly political process” of how people have made and understood the historical memory of General Motors in Oshawa. 

McLaughlin’s talk is available here for audio download.

The presentation was the last talk of the 2011 History Matters lecture series, which gave the public an opportunity to connect with working historians and discover some of the many and surprising ways in which the past shapes the present.  This year’s talks focused on two themes: labour and environmental history.  Podcasts from other talks from the series can be found here.

The Memorial Library: History without Historians

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By Andrew Nurse, Canadian Studies, Mount Allison University

Photo Credit:

The failed campaign to “Save the Memorial Library” (STML) at Mount Allison University is a fascinating study of the importance – or, lack thereof – of history in contemporary Canadian culture. For the better part of the past nine months, a small but determined group worked to stave off the demolition of Mount A’s largely unused Memorial Library building. The Library was built in the 1920s to commemorate World War I dead but has not been used as a Library for at least a generation. The campaign organized an on-line petition, wrote a never-ending stream of letters to the editor, and even urged students to make a human chain around the building to protect it. My aim is not to wade post hoc into the merits of this campaign. Instead, my goal is to look at the STML controversy from perspective of “active history”: what does this debate over the Library tell us about history and historical culture in Canada today? What can those of us interested in “active history” — the dynamics of history in contemporary life — learn from this contentious issue? Clearly, I can’t address this entire issue in one short blog, but I will suggest that there are several matters to which we should pay attention.  Continue reading

Bill C-309, Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act

My Conservative MP sent the following question to his constituents this week:

“Debate has now begun on [Conservative] MP Blake Richards’ Private Members’ Bill C-309.  The Bill proposes creating a new criminal offence for those that wear ‘a mask or other disguise to conceal their identity without lawful excuse’ during a riot or unlawful assembly.  This Bill was crafted in response to disturbances in large Canadian cities in which masked rioters assaulted civilians, destroyed public and private property and looted businesses.  So this week I ask, ‘Should it be a criminal offense to mask or conceal one’s identity without lawful excuse during a riot or unlawful assembly?’”

Bill C-309 poses a severe threat to Canadians’ right to freedom of assembly, and  threatens future protest movements. Anonymity, crowd action and protest have a long and storied history, a tradition which extends well into the present day. Crowd action is deeply rooted in anonymity, allowing an individual to blend into a larger group of people, reducing the risk of state reprisal and repression. In this post, I provide some historical context to this, arguing that we should not allow Bill C-309 to pass. Continue reading

Public History: Skills and Opportunities

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By Jo McCutcheon

Thinking about my work as a public historian and some of the recent and on-going discussions about training in history generally and doctoral training specifically have made me think about the skills and opportunities I try to provide to both students and professional consulting researchers.[1]  Mixing academic teaching with entrepreneurialism has given me the opportunity to work with a diverse group of students and researchers in a rich environment.  Teaching permits me to keep up with scholarship, conferences and academic discussions.  Historical research consulting requires a diversity of history specific knowledge, but has also included developing a research environment that meets the diverse needs of clients, while working with undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate researchers. Reflecting on the skills and opportunities of this work, these may be considered by those teaching, seeking graduate training and professional development.

The most important skill that should be taught earlier and to more students so that more of the analytical training is transferable to students is working with databases and learning to systematize research using primary documents.  Library and Archives Canada, the award winning website, Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History [2] and other extensive digitization projects in Canada and the United States assist with teaching databases and students and researchers can learn to use databases to enhance research and analysis.  Exposing students and professional researchers to the systematization of research provides them with more transferable skills that are often key to many opportunities in public history.
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From Black Tuesday to Black Friday to Everyday

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Schoonmaker veegt de vloer na de beurskrach van 1929 / Cleaner sweeping the floor after the Wall Street crash, 1929

"Cleaner sweeping the floor after the Wall Street crash, 1929," The Nationaal Archief in The Hague

Discussing money is generally afforded the same privacy as the balance of one’s bank account. Inviting an open conversation about the subject in public, from basic finance to complex economics, is thought to be rude and even poorer politics.

It is perhaps the most polarizing field of contemporary journalism because it has absolutely no means of circumventing readers’ class ties and can only clash with their compromised socio-economic opinions: what time readers could devote to the possible merits of ‘tax cuts’ or increased ‘government spending’ from one year to the next is usually put in the service of bolstering their own particular side of the trench.

And then there’s the fact that financial reporting was tasked with covering the ascendancy of “Reaganomics” in Western political discourse during the 1980s, and outright drafted to make sense of “globalization” (a vague catch-all for the apparent international prosperity brought about by free trade agreements but also the arrival of budgetary shortfalls, lapsed or eliminated regulatory provisions, and rising unemployment) since the 1990s.

To meet the demand, and keep pace with a burgeoning cottage industry of self-appointed financial experts, we borrowed more and more aloof language and overly-complicated concepts from the notoriously noncommittal (read: variable-rich) social science of economics that is inaccessible to most of us, even if we had the time between our first and now second jobs to look into it. Continue reading