Modern slavery, environmental stress, and lingering international imperialism – unwinding the connections between intimately linked problems

By Sali El-Sadig and Joel Krupa

There is a tendency in the social sciences to compartmentalize issues. In particular, the modern academic atmosphere in the social sciences and humanities has sliced and diced nearly every conceivable economic, social, cultural, and environmental topic into specialized categories, allocated it (or them) to the ostensibly ideal discipline, and subsequently dissected the topic at length. Too often, this lack of interdisciplinary focus has resulted in a lack of intellectual inquiry into the causative factors and intimate links behind various problems. In an increasingly seamlessly connected and globalized world, we continue to do this to our own peril – especially when analyzing interconnections between the important contemporary human rights issues of forced bondage/slavery, globalization, and environmental stress. Continue reading

The Toronto Star’s Lackluster Coverage of the American Civil War Anniversary

By Matthew Furrow

Let me tell you about a newspaper article I just read and what it taught me about history.

Apparently, this week marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. (The war started because southern forces fired the first shot, although it’s not clear why). This is a “Big Deal,” at least to certain major American newspapers. The Washington Post has set up Twitter accounts so I can follow the words of Abraham Lincoln and an obscure military leader named Anderson. (Apparently, 150 years ago, someone was shooting mortars at him, or near him, anyway.) The New York Times has created a Facebook page for the Civil War, as has the state of Virginia.

History is being brought alive to those who care about it: geeky couch-potatoes (people who watch “reruns of Ken Burns’ documentary”) and weird people who like to dress up in costume (performing “battle re-enactments”). For the rest of us, these projects should be seen as kind of interesting, but also kind of silly (what if General Lee, gleeful traitor to his country, tweeted about it? LOL!). Continue reading

Stories of Exile: Movie Review of “The Queen and I”

Sarvestani (left) and Pahlavi (right) both live in exile following the Iranian Revolution

The Queen and I (2008), directed and produced by Swedish-Iranian filmmaker Nahid Persson Sarvestani, follows the former Empress of Iran, Farah Pahlavi and Sarvestani as they discuss their life stories following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. These two women are unlikely confidants; Sarvestani is a former communist who participated in the Revolution in her youth; Pahlavi is the widow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. The documentary draws you in right from the beginning.

In 1979, the Iranian monarchy (the Pahlavi dynasty) was overthrown and was replaced by an Islamic Republic led by Ayattolah Ruholla Khomeini. The royal family chose to flee Iran and Farah Pahlavi lives in exile to this day. Following the revolution, Khomeini was quick to silence those who did not support his regime. Like the royal family, Sarvestani and her family struggled following the revolution. They were targeted as communists and escaped the country in order to survive. They eventually made it to Sweden after living underground for several years. Continue reading

New Paper: Matthew Hayday on “The History of the Recent”

Professor Matthew Hayday of the University of Guelph has written an evocative piece on some of the joys and potential pitfalls of engaging living activists in historical research. His piece, “The History of the Recent: Reflections on Social Movement History, Research Methods and the Rapid Passage of Time,” is a useful read for anybody interested in the connections between oral history, professional historians, social movements, and activists.

In mid-March, I learned that ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in New York, Spiers was a key figure in a number of Toronto’s gay liberation organizations in the 1970s, including The Body Politic collective and Toronto Gay Action. I had been trying to track Spiers down because he was one of the principal authors of “We Demand!,” arguably one of the first major political manifestos of the Canadian gay liberation movement, which was presented at the first Pride rally on Parliament Hill in 1971. A conference honouring the 40th anniversary of this event is being held this summer at Simon Fraser University. I was trying to secure permission to reprint this document in a module on gay and lesbian history that I was developing for Nelson’s Visions Canadian history reader. Spiers did grant permission to reprint the manifesto, which will (hopefully) soon be part of a number of Canadian students’ history undergraduate education. [READ MORE]

Using Word Clouds to Quickly See the Political Past

The 1933 CCF Regina Manifesto (all images produced by

With politicians out on the hustings, what better time than to go through the old political speeches, manifestos, and platforms. Using Wordle, we can throw them up and look at word clouds. They’re not just pretty, but they can let us see the evolution of political thought and what words were capturing Canadians. They also let us see what things remain the same: most Throne Speeches over the last 15 years are nearly identical, stressing ‘government,’ ‘Canada,’ ‘Canadians, ‘etc. But we can see discontinuities: the 1933 Regina Manifesto, for example, contrasted with contemporary NDP promises and platforms (‘family’ and ‘home’). Reading all the documents might be preferable, but this is quick (it takes a minute to produce the picture at left) and has great possibilities for dealing with large quantities of information. Continue reading

Upcoming Approaching the Past Workshop: Teaching the War of 1812

The next Approaching the Past workshop will be held on Wednesday April 27th at 7:oo pm at Toronto’s historic Fort York.  The theme of this workshop is “Teaching the War of 1812,” and will feature a tour of Fort York and two short presentations by Karen Dearlove and Carolyn King.  Karen will be discussing the upcoming Ontario Visual Heritage Project “Rural Raids and Divided Loyalties: Southwestern Ontario and the War of 1812.” Carolyn’s presentation will focus on including Aboriginal perspectives in teaching the War of 1812.

Approaching the Past is a workshop series that brings together teachers working in middle and high schools, universities and museums to discuss teaching history.  Approaching the Past is organized by The History Education Network (THEN/HIER) and

Please RSVP Samantha Cutrara at by April 21 to attend.

Stewart Brand and the Nuclear Renaissance that Should Not Be

Stewart Brand

By Lisa Rumiel

Note: Again, the author would like to thank Linda Richards for her helpful comments and suggestions in preparing this article.

It is time to stop claiming that a nuclear renaissance is the solution to the current environmental crisis.  I’m talking to you, Stewart Brand.  A sort of Nostradamus of technological and environmental thought, Brand is one of the most prominent environmentalists-turned-nuclear power proponents in the United States.  He is an incredibly influential public intellectual and the founder of the Long Now Foundation, an organization that celebrates stuff like this and promotes thinking along these lines.  He even invited Frank Gavin to give an inspiring lecture on the important things historians have to contribute to pressing policy discussions, which, to this historian, is pretty cool.  None of these things sits comfortably with the praise he continues to lavish upon nuclear energy technology. Continue reading

April 14th Public Lecture: “From a Pastoral Wetland to an Industrial Wasteland, and Back Again? An Environmental History of the Lower Lea River Valley, the Site of the 2012 London Olympics.”

A reminder to our readers that you are all invited to the second lecture in the Mississauga Library System’s ‘History Minds’ series, co-hosted with The second talk will be on Thursday, April 14th at 7:30PM in Classroom 3 at the Mississauga Central Library (see below the cut for directions).

“From a Pastoral Wetland to an Industrial Wasteland, and Back Again? An Environmental History of the Lower Lea River Valley, the Site of the 2012 London Olympics.” [part of the pan-Canadian NiCHE Speakers’ Series]
With Dr. Jim Clifford.

The Lower Lea Valley, currently undergoing a massive redevelopment project in perpetration for the next Summer Olympics, underwent a number of equally remarkable transformations as London’s heavy industry migrated to the city’s eastern periphery in the second half of the nineteenth century. In this talk, Jim Clifford will explore some of the findings of his recently defended PhD dissertation on the environmental problems created by half a century of urban-industrial development and discuss some of the challenges this posed for redevelopment. Continue reading

A Novel Approach to Connecting Young Canadians with the Past: Leaders and Legacies Series

Roderick Benns, The Legends of Lake on the Mountain: An Early Adventure of John A. Macdonald, foreword by Brian Mulroney (Fireside Publishing: 2011).

“It’s a dangerous thing to let just any common man have enough power to make decisions without a sober educated voice of reason.” [said the colonel] “Sometimes the common man doesn’t know what’s good for him.”

“Why does change have to happen all at once?” asked John. “Just because I’m a British subject and I’ll die a British subject some day, doesn’t mean we can’t grow. Not everything happens overnight.”

        – excerpts from The Legends of Lake on the Mountain

Canadians, particularly young Canadians, do not know much about Canada’s past. Such has been the cry coming from the likes of the Historica-Dominion Institute’s frequent surveys of Canadians’ knowledge of history, seen as well through the Conservative government’s recent attempt to rectify gaps in our historical knowledge through a rather controversial re-vamping of the Canadian immigration guide, Discover Canada: the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship (with a youth version published jointly with a youth history magazine, Kayak). Roderick Benns, Senior Writer with the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat of the Ontario Ministry of Education, has attempted to contribute to these and other efforts to raise the profile of a particularly nationalist strain of history in Canadian public life as the series editor and author of the first two instalments of the new Leaders and Legacies series. Continue reading