Music as a Gateway to Understanding Historical Practice

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By Matenadaran [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsIn the mid-1990s, the music of the Wakami Wailers set me on the path to becoming a historian.  Singing the old songs from eastern Canada’s nineteenth-century lumber shanties, this group of former Ontario Parks workers instilled in me a sense of the past and its importance for understanding present realities.  By connecting some of Ontario’s premier provincial parks and province’s lumber industry, the Wailers encouraged me to consider the complex interconnection between logging and recreation in central Ontario (i.e. Muskoka and Algonquin Park).

I have come to realize over the decade and a half since I first discovered the Wailers that popular music can serve as a useful entry point for understanding the past.  This should not come as a surprise.  Approaches to teaching and learning, such as John Bigg’s SOLO taxonomy, emphasize the importance of understanding foundational concepts before higher order thinking can take place.  Popular culture serves as an easy way to establish these concepts by capitalizing on students’ everyday experience. Continue reading

Consuming Environmental History: Rethinking Wild Game Meat

Deer steaks or venison are nearly indistinguishable from other forms of red meat. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

by Mike Commito

On December 21st 2011, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters tweeted a link to a National Post article, “Wild Game Meat not Welcome at Ontario Food Banks,” which reported that a Lanark, Ontario food bank had decided to reject donations of wild game meat. The post piqued my interest for several reasons. First, while the economy has improved since the onset of the recession three years ago, data reveals that food bank usage is still high. Food Banks Canada recently released a report entitled “Hunger Count 2011” in which it revealed that 700,000 Canadians – roughly 2% of our population – rely on food banks every month. The holidays can be a particular stressful and trying time for families and individuals in need, so the timing of the food bank’s decision was curious. Second, as an environmental historian and an avid hunter, the issue raises some intriguing concerns for me about how our society views the consumption of wild game meat. Continue reading

New Paper: Alan MacEachern’s “A Polyphony of Synthesizers: Why Every Historian of Canada Should Write a History of Canada”

Canadian history section of Chapters bookstore, North London, Ontario, May 2010. is happy to announce its first paper of 2012: “A Polyphony of Synthesizers: Why Every Historian of Canada Should Write a History of Canada,” by Alan MacEachern.

Here is Alan’s introductory blurb:

The following was my contribution to a 2010 Canadian Historical Association roundtable, So What IS the Story? Exploring Fragmentation and Synthesis in Current Canadian Historiography.” In it, I tried to a) graphically illustrate the marginalization of Canadian historical scholarship, b) argue why demography is likely only to make this problem worse, and c) suggest a response. All in under 1400 words. As far as I know, only one person was at all convinced, let alone inspired, by my presentation: me. It got me thinking about how one might go about writing a history of Canada that would necessarily cover the entire country from the beginning to the 21st century, that would treat Canada in global terms, and that would be relevant. Last month, I published a very, very early outline of such a history, “A Little Essay on Big.” In an uncharacteristic fit of confidence, I’ve dusted off my presentation and asked if they’d like it, largely unchanged. I welcome your thoughts.

You can read Alan’s paper here.

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