Do you edit Wikipedia?

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I started editing a few Wikipedia articles lately. While I’ve been interested in the project for years, I never seemed to have the time to become involved. Before this past week, I had created an account and fixed a few small details on pages directly related to my expertise, but I never added much content or actively followed pages to maintain their accuracy.

A few months ago I took part in the “Expert participation survey” and in doing so learned about the Wikimedia Research Committee‘s concern about the lack of involvement from scientists, academics and professional experts. The survey asked me to rank the importance of a number of reasons I did not edit Wikipedia more often. The major themes in these questions included lack of time, lack of professional credit/career advancement, and inability to include “original research”. I think the first two are interconnected. Should graduate students or early career historians spent time writing Wikipedia articles when they should be finishing their dissertations or working on their books/articles for peer-review? Continue reading

Remembering a Memory

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By Ronald Rudin

Remembering a Memory/Mémoire d’un souvenir directed by Robert McMahon (Royal Ontario Museum) and produced by Ronald Rudin (Concordia University), is a documentary film that tells the story of a monument whose own story has been transformed in the hundred years since its unveiling.

On 15 August 1909, a fourteen-metre tall Celtic Cross was unveiled on Grosse-Île, a tiny island in the St-Lawrence just east of Quebec City, which is the site of the largest cemetery outside Ireland for victims of the Potato Famine of the 1840s. Grosse-Île had been a quarantine station since the 1830s, and in 1847 alone over 5000 people died there.

Constructed by the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), the Cross told a number of stories in three languages on panels at its base, but the emotional punch came from the French inscription (which paid tribute to Catholic priests who had tended to the ill) and the Irish one (which declared the Famine an act of British genocide). The unveiling ceremony underscored this bicultural understanding, with speeches in both Irish and French, pointing to a shared Irish-French Canadian legacy borne out of the tragedy of the 1840s. Continue reading

Summertime in the City: Time for History in the City

Ah, summertime in the city (of Ottawa). To quote the Gershwin classic, “the livin’ is easy.”  The patios are bustling, the rollerbladers and runners are out in force and the city seems to be experiencing a mild invasion of tourists and school groups taking in the sights and sounds of the capital. Each year, over seven million tourists make their way to the region. As such Ottawa is an important showcase of what Canada and its history and people are all about. As the National Capital Commission website explains: “A capital is more than a city; it is an expression of the country in general and a gathering place for its citizens.”

Yet geographically, socially, politically and culturally, Ottawa is a very different place from the rest of Canada. Very little of the rest of the country appears in the physical space of the city. Other than provincial and territorial flags displayed at key venues such as the former Ottawa Congress Centre (host to this year’s leader debates) or the Lester B. Pearson Building at 25 Sussex Drive, (home to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) and the impressive parliament buildings nestled on the edge of rushing Ottawa River, there is little sense of Ottawa as a capital. Unless one goes into a museum explicitly dedicated to the articulation of national ideas and aspirations, such as the National Art Gallery or the Museum of Civilization, it is even harder to see how Ottawa is an expression of the country. Continue reading

Active History on the Grand: The Greenwich Mohawk site and Community History

By the early 1900s Brantford, Ontario was the third largest manufacturing centre for exported goods in all of Canada, after only Toronto and Montreal.  Once known as the “Birmingham of Canada,” and the “Combine Capital,” Brantford’s reputation as a “City of Industry” was driven by a host of industries, especially agricultural implements.  Until the 1980s Brantford was a booming industrial city, boasting the highest paid factory wages in Ontario, including the auto industry.

But by the end of 1988 Brantford had lost two of its most significant industries, and unemployment in the city sky-rocketed to 24%.  Throughout the 1990s Brantford suffered the effects of industrial decline and decay.  Over 88 acres within the city were now abandoned and contaminated post-industrial sites or brownfields.

The Greenwich Mohawk site represents this history, from booming industrial hub to abandoned contaminated factory site.  At 52 acres it is the largest of Brantford’s brownfields.  For twenty-five years the Greenwich-Mohawk brownfield has loomed large in the community’s conscience as a horrible memory of Brantford’s industrial decay, and as a symbol of Brantford’s current problems and difficulties in moving forward.  In many ways the Greenwich Mohawk site represents the intersections between industrial history and environmental history, and how both shape a community’s understanding and appreciation of its own past and its current self-image. Continue reading

Announcement: Parler Fort presents Reshaping Toronto’s Waterfront

The Parler Fort series is proud to announce the launch of Reshaping Toronto’s Waterfront (University of Toronto Press, 2011).  On Monday June 20th at 7:30 pm at Toronto’s historic Fort York Wayne Reeves, Chief Curator for the City of Toronto Museum Services, will discuss the history of Toronto’s waterfront.  Special guests include contributors to Reshaping Toronto’s Waterfront: Gene Desfor, Jennefer Laidley, Jennifer Bonnell, Susannah Bunce, Hon Q. Lu and Michael Moir.

Join Wayne Reeves and guests for a discussion of how Toronto’s waterfront has changed, and how understanding the waterfront’s history can help us ask important questions about current plans for a waterfront that could, at last, serve all Torontonians.

Parler Fort is an initiative of The Friends of Fort York, and provides a forum for citizens exploring Toronto’s past, present & future.

Admission is $10.00 for general public, and free for students compliments of University of Toronto Press.  Refreshments included.  To pre-register contact or 416-392-6907 ext. 221.

An Ethical Argument for Fashion

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Joel Krupa and Sali El-Sadig, Alliance Against Modern Slavery

High fashion is an integral part of everyday life in the great cities of the industrialized world. Often clustered on prestigious roads, we find the high fashion boutiques in places like Bond Street in London, Fifth Avenue in New York, and Bloor Street in Toronto regularly topping the lists of the most expensive retail spaces in the world. Of course, items like the stitched $15,000 (USD) Hermes bag or the $1,700 Louis Vuitton scarf may raise a few eyebrows among even the deepest of pockets and will remain the strict purview of oligarchs and business moguls for years to come. However, fashion has recognized its influential position and has aggressively moved into the mainstream by targeting more budget-conscious consumers and, in the process, it has become truly international and cosmopolitan. Every year, millions of people around the world casually hand over thousands of dollars for name brands like Hugo Boss, Gucci, and Prada, and hand over many times more for less prestigious names like GAP and Nike. With the emergence of luxury-hungry markets like China and India, these trends show no signs of abating in the near future. Continue reading

Inside Job: Where is the Outrage?

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The economy consistently polls as a critical issue for Canadians. Amidst a long and drawn out recession, where unemployment and underemployment exacerbate a skyrocketing cost of living alongside decreased buying power, concerns about the economy are understandable.

Yet despite popular interest in the economy, we live in an era where we are told that economic matters must be left to “experts.” As a language of expertise has been created to distance people from a clear understanding of the economic issues that impact our daily lives, we are expected to place our trust in the financers, investors, bankers and economists who claim that they alone can steer us towards economic stability and prosperity.

Having long been suspicious of the direction some of these people have been steering us, I was thus pleasantly surprised to watch the refreshingly clear, straightforward and insightful documentary Inside Job. This Academy Award winning film explores some of the factors that led to our most recent recession, how it could have been avoided, and destabilizes the myth that our economic experts are deserving of our blind trust. Perhaps most importantly, the film illustrates how the gross mismanagement of the economy will continue if we allow it. Continue reading

A Journey Through Inuit Oral Traditions: Website Review of Listening to Our Past

Listening to Our Past explores the rich cultural heritage of the people of Nunavut.  The website was created by Nunavut Arctic College and l’Association des francophones du Nunavut.  The site aims to present history recorded though oral traditions and oral histories told by Nunavut elders.  The site is tri-lingual and material is available in English, French, and Inuktitut.

Navigation Map

When first visiting the site users are presented with snippets of Nunavut history in pictorial and audio form.  The main method of navigating the site is through a pictorial mind map.  Each image  highlights a particular topic in the history of Nunavut.  Topics include child rearing practices, dream interpretation, traveling and surviving our land, and other themes which focus on the cultural and spiritual traditions of the Inuit people. The use of an imaged based menu contributes to the site’s simplified navigation and has the potential to show a glimpse into a topic in a way that a text based title cannot. Continue reading

The Last of the Coffee Table Book: The Nuba on Display

Coffee table books. We’re familiar with them; big and bulky, full of images. Not your regular book. I have a few myself that showcase a variety of random interests from famous artwork, to photographs of renowned landscapes – typical cliche coffee table books. Not much thought was put into their placement in my living room. But I digress.

Riefensthal in Africa, 1963.

Several years ago, while taking an undergraduate course entitled “Fascism on Film,” I was first introduced to Leni Riefenstahl when our professor screened Triumph of the Will (1935). What followed was a fascination with a woman who appeared to me as someone who lived an extraordinary life. The accomplished dancer and actress-turned-filmmaker pursued underwater photography at age 72 (the oldest known scuba diver until her death). She went to Las Vegas to photograph Sigfried and Roy. On her 100th birthday she released a film, Underwater Impressions and in 2003, at the age of 101, she married her partner Horst Kettner (he was 40 years younger than her). I was enthralled by her life and decided that I needed to know more. I picked up her autobiography, a few biographies and did some online research. Throughout this process it became clear that she possessed a darker side that – despite her fame and success as an artist – shrouded both her reputation and work. What follows are my reflections on her photographic book, Die Nuba. Continue reading

What John Cena Taught Me About the Practice of History: Making Connections in the Past and Present

Big Brothers and Big Sisters, in conjunction with the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (OPHEA), recently developed a new group mentoring program for teen boys, called Game On! The program is composed of evening meetings over 7 weeks with sessions built around core themes of physical activity, healthy eating, self-esteem, and communication skills. Its inspiration drew from the success of a similar program for teen girls developed in 2001, called Go Girls! Curious about the program, and wanting a new challenge (not to mention a break from dissertation work), I volunteered for the first run of the program in Kingston, ON. Excited to provide input into a new program which seemed to strike some common chords with my research topic, I entered the first week of the program with, I thought, my eyes, ears and mind wide open. What better way to use a skill set and insights gained from my academic work than to help shape a new program? Isn’t this what being an active historian is all about? Continue reading