The Revolution Will Be Rubbernecked

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Egypt Revolution (edited)..
Picture remix by Emad Raúf; original photograph by Yannis Behrakis of Reuters. Tahrir square, Cairo, Egypt, 29 January 2011.

While the recent protest movements in the Middle East reveal much about the present state of civic community among the people of those nations — Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt (and a growing list of others) — our reaction to them reveals more about ourselves than we should perhaps find flattering.[1]

I will explain.

Consider the Egyptian “revolution” that started with a few demonstrations on 25 January 2011 and snowballed into a national movement that came to demand the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and his thirty-year reign — and succeeded in securing it by 11 February 2011.[2]

And Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” that also ended a presidential career — the twenty-four year rule of President Ben Ali — with Ali’s resignation on 14 January 2011, some few weeks after protests broke out in December 2010.

And, of course, Iran’s “Green Revolution” that raged into 2010, long after the initial fury over electoral fraud during the June 2009 presidential election — now, admittedly, less successful by Egyptian Tunisian standards (since President Ahmadinejad has yet to resign) but presumably still simmering.

These revolutions belong to their respective peoples and nations and no one else; yet, they are being championed as proof of the inevitable march of history — aided by technology — toward progress. Continue reading

Buy Domestic, Buy Local, Buy Union? Historical Lessons for Today’s Consumer Activists

American Federation of Labor union label, circa 1900.

Published in: American Federation of Labor: History, Encyclopedia, Reference Book (Washington: American Federation of Labor, 1919); additional digital editing by Tim Davenport, no copyright claimed.

Consumer activism has a long history in Canada. From the union label campaigns of the early North American labour movement, to the more contemporary “Buy Domestic” slogan of some unions, to the “buy local” movement popularized by environmentalists, the link between activism and consumption has long been recognized. I would like to suggest that this trajectory has not been entirely progressive, and that current consumer activists need to learn from the past. It’s not enough to just buy domestically, or locally: people involved in the production process need our attention, too. For example, it is laudable to call for local, sustainable agriculture, but we cannot ignore the exploitative working conditions that can also grow in our local communities.

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Call for Proposals: “Philanthropy and the Environment”

The Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) invites proposals for a week-long workshop on “Philanthropy and the Environment” to be held in May 2011 at its location in Sleepy Hollow, NY. Proposals are invited from scholars from across a variety of disciplines and in various stages of their career, from post-comp grad students to junior or senior scholars. Participants will be given an opportunity to engage in a number of activities, including working with archival staff to identify relevant document collections, use of environmental collections held by the RAC, and engaging with other scholars across a number of disciplines that are interested in environmental issues. All expenses, including travel, lodging and meals will be covered by the RAC. A brief proposal of no more than 1000 words is due by 15 March 2011. Please see the link below for further details on the program.

Ecological Indigenization: Buffalo-Clad Imperialists at the 49th Parallel

I am going to tell you a story.  It belongs to the time before flour.  Before flintlock muskets.  Before paisley-pattered skirts and starched cotton blouses.

A man wakes up somewhere near Little Missouri National Grassland, North Dakota – except, he didn’t call it that back then.  He looks at his wife, admires the curve of her hips and her soft belly, a half-moon pushing against her buffalo robe.  “Wife,” he says, “We’ve got this river flint.  I am travelling northeast to trade.”  Maybe he wanted some miskwaabik (copper) from around Lake Superior.  Hard to say. Continue reading

New Book Review: Kurt Heinrich on John English’s Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: 1968-2000

Today we are publishing our fifth review by someone outside of academia of a book written by a professional historian. Public relations consultant and blogger, Kurt Heinrich, reviews English’s second bibliography of Trudeau. Read the full review HERE.

If you would like to review a book for please send us an email: info (at)

Watching History Online

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I have just completed a dissertation on the history of the Lower River Lea and West Ham on the eastern edge of London in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During years of research and writing I’ve looked at a wide range of sources from this time period including government documents, newspapers, photographs, maps, oral history interviews, civil engineer’s records and public health reports. Together these sources allowed me to know this area very well, but until today I’ve never seen film footage of the landscape from the late-nineteenth century.

Through pure serendipity I decided to write a post about historical films on the internet two days after the British Film Institute (BFI) uploaded a fifty-five second clip to their YouTube Channel of the launching of the HMS Albion from the Thames Ironworks Shipyard in West Ham. The HMS Ablion was one of the last battleships built on the Thames. This film records a major tragedy, as the launch created wave that capsized a jetty killing almost forty onlookers (it is not easy to figure out exactly where this takes place watching the film). While I knew about this tragedy, I was more captivated by this very short footage of the landscape I’ve been studying for more than five years. The abundance of smoke and smokestacks, the scale of the warship built near the mouth of the Lea and the huge piles of coal in the right of the frame all add to my existing knowledge of this space. This moving image, even of limited quality and length, is different from all the other sources I’ve consulted; it seems to bring history to life.

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Announcing the Mississauga Library System Speakers’ Series

We would like to extend an invitation to join the Mississauga Library System and as we feature a series of engaging history lectures. This is building on last year’s successful History Matters series with the Toronto Public Library and aims to continue and build an ongoing tradition of professional involvement with the broader community.

All talks will be held at the Mississauga Central Library, Classroom 3 on the second floor from 7:30-9 PM on the second Thursday in March, April, and May. The Central Library is located at 301 Burnhamthorpe Rd. W in Mississauga, near the Square One shopping centre and the Civic Centre. Importantly, it’s near the Square One GO Terminal and the Mississauga Transit central terminal.

Below the cut, talk descriptions and abstracts follow. Continue reading

If you go out to the woods today….From the “rest cure in a canoe” to “nature deficit disorder”

“In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.” Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder (7)

Source Glenbow Archives NA -4487-12

In Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder journalist and child activist Richard Louv defends his argument about the need to reconnect children with nature with the assertion that “nature gives itself to children – for its own sake, not as a reflection of a culture. At this level, inexplicable nature provokes humility,” (9). Amassing a veritable barrage of pedagogical, sociological and medical research, Louv argues that we are losing touch with our environment, more particularly, the “natural” world. Louv argues that this trend is particularly alarming for children raised in the modern world of the internet, wireless technologies and other forms of rapid and instantly gratifying consumption. Louv argues that reduced time playing “in the wild” has resulted in what he calls “nature deficit disorder”: Continue reading

Building Digital Literacy and the University Curriculum

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The digitization of information, and the growing technologies used to manipulate and analyze it, is rapidly changing the context of the classroom. A couple of weeks ago Ian Milligan reported on the growing debate over the use of laptops and other technology (like cell phones) during class time.  Milligan makes a compelling argument for the importance of allowing students to use their computers in the lecture hall. Although I agree with much of what he has written on the subject, the use of technology in history courses poses a more complicated problem than simply addressing whether it should or should not be used: Where does digital literacy fit in the university curriculum and how should it be taught? Continue reading

Remembering the Holocaust

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27 January 2011, Holocaust Memorial Day, marks the 66th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. 

To commemorate this anniversary, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation has launched the Intervene Now!” campaign, designed to engage people around the world in order to preserve the remains and the memory of the victims and survivors of the German Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps.  After 66 years, the camp and grounds, along with thousands of invaluable historical objects, face accelerated and irreversible deterioration and natural erosion. 

The campaign organizers are requesting public support for the conservation of this piece of history.  By never forgetting, we can better ensure that this never again happens.

For further information on this campaign, please visit their website, youtube and facebook page.