Thoughts on the Drummond Report

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By David Zylberberg, PhD Candidate, Department of History, York University

Last week the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services, chaired by Don Drummond, released its much anticipated report. Despite the numerous useful suggestions and rethinking of health-care delivery, this report feels like a missed opportunity. Commissions to fundamentally rethink what services governments provide and how they are delivered do not happen every decade. As such, they are unique opportunities to redesign administrative structures and improve services.

The most famous such commission was the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services, commissioned by the British government in 1941 and chaired by William Beveridge. The Beveridge Report was released in December 1942 advocating a comprehensive system of social insurance to protect Britons from want, “disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness” (6).  Its proposals included a national program of Social Insurance to help poor people, a National Health Care System, Old Age Pensions and benefits for disabled people.

This was done in trying circumstances as the report was commissioned a year after Britain had been nearly invaded and while it continued to be at war against a much larger power with only its former colonies as allies. The Committee deliberated while German tanks advanced through the Soviet Union and its final report was presented during the Battle of Stalingrad, a point when the defeat of its main ally seemed likely and its own invasion possible.

The Beveridge Report’s proposals were implemented between 1945 and 1950, a point in which the British government’s fiscal situation was much worse than Ontario’s currently is. The government owed a massive debt to the United States that was incurred to fund the war, required exports to be one-third larger than imports to meet its debt payments and had converted most of its consumer manufacturing to military needs during the war. Given what the Beveridge Report proposed and Atlee government did, Drummond could have proposed more. Continue reading

Outreach and Collections. Encouraging Community Members to Play a Role in Saving History

Unidentified “orphaned” class photo from the author’s collection

By Melissa Mannon

History by its very nature is a collaborative field. Those working in the field aim to tell the stories of communities. We aim to shed light on diverse groups; to find similarities among us; to tell stories that shed light on the constant evolution of civilization. To properly accomplish the work of history, professionals need to actively reach out to members of our communities so that we develop relationships that invite understanding. Those of us who work to maintain the “stuff” of history – the documents, artifacts, and books – need to explain the value of family items to communities and to encourage unofficial family archivists to value history through a personal lens. We do this through effective “outreach.”

The word “outreach” is an umbrella term used to discuss the work library, archives and museum professionals do to encourage community engagement. Outreach can take the forms of programming and exhibits. Or, when people say “outreach” they may mean going outside of their institution to attend a community event in order to get the word out about their work. Outreach can also mean adopting a social media strategy that encourages the public to talk about collections and cultural heritage.

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Active History on the Grand: Historic Gardens

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By Karen Dearlove

Restored tall grass prairie at Chiefswood National Historic Site

Historic house museums and other restored living history sites provide visitors with firsthand experiences of what life was like during different periods of the past.  These types of sites generally involve restored historic buildings filled with period furniture and furnishings, as well as costumed interpreters.  Many of these sites now include historic gardens and other historic landscape re-creations as part of the visitor experience.  Like historic houses and artifacts, historic gardens offer a glimpse into the past. Continue reading

In Dubious Battle: Inequity in Canada’s Migrant Work

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By Ryan Kelly
It was with a heavy heart that I read about the recent deaths of eleven workers in Hampstead, Ontario. This tragedy brought to the forefront of my mind a crisis I’ve let stir in its recesses far too often. How do we become complacent in affording migrant workers a different standard of employment than that which is provided to local workers? Specifically, why can employers of migrant workers neglect health and safety legislation, and labour practices, with the lightest of consequences?

Employers caught abusing the legislated protections of migrant workers can most severely be banned from accessing migrant labour for a year. Of the four employers charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act last year for the workplace deaths of two migrant workers, one was convicted and charged $22,500. Without sounding too insensitive to these employers, these penalties are nothing less than a license to enjoy the pleasures of property and profit over the well-being of people. Service Canada suggests we have migrant worker programs to match seasonal workers with farmers who need temporary support… when qualified Canadians or permanent residents are not available. Is this really the cooperative structure we’re led to believe it is? Why would an employer opt to hire a worker from Central America and the Caribbean instead of an un(der) employed local person? What are the defining differences between local and migrant workers? Is there a culturally-instilled work ethic, a skill set, or a physical advantage to one over another? Concerns raised by migrant workers include working for 12 to 15 hours without overtime or holiday pay, denial of necessary breaks, and use of dangerous chemicals/pesticides with no safety equipment, protection or training. Furthermore, migrant workers contribute to EI, a fund they struggle to access, and are responsible for paying a portion of their air fare. Migrant workers face many barriers in challenging health and safety violations, most especially as employers have the power to initiate deportation proceedings. This a system that prevents farm workers to unionize and collectively bargain in Canada. Continue reading

Hark! An Agent of Historical Change (and Jokes)

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by Ian Mosby

Historians are not usually known as being a very funny group of people. I can’t remember laughing out loud even once during the dozen or so hours it took me to read E.P. Thomson’s Making of the English Working Class and my own attempts at humour in lectures typically lead to more glazed eyes and groans than actual laughs.

To a certain extent, this makes sense. Most of us study some pretty serious stuff and the last thing we want to do is seem like we’re making fun of our historical subjects or being condescending towards the past. And, while academic life is often absurd, it’s usually unintentionally so and, in the current job market, often leans towards the tragic rather than the comic end of the literary spectrum.

This is what makes the work of Canadian comic book artist Kate Beaton’s work so amazing. In Beaton’s skillful hands, even Canadian history is funny. (I know!?!)  Take our Prime Ministers, for instance. Continue reading

Parliament Can Offer History More Than Just Legislation

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“It’s a difficult thing to live in a country that has erased your past.” – Teju Cole, Open City

Amnesty International is concerned about a new French law that would “…[make] it a criminal offense to publicly question events labeled ‘genocide’…”. The bill cleared the upper house of the French Parliament on 23 January 2012 and could be signed into law by President Nicolas Sarkozy as early as the end of this month.

The international human rights group notes that such “…legislation would criminalize the exercise of freedom of expression that is seen as ‘outrageously’ contesting or trivializing historical events or their characterisation.” Such legislation would also be largely redundant in the broader context of France’s current laws pertaining to freedom of expression, which can classify certain forms of historical denial as hate-speech.

The new law appears to be transparently aimed at Turkey, for the would-be European Union entrant’s longstanding refusal to acknowledge the violence directed against Armenians, from 1915-16 and through to the final days of the then Ottoman Empire in 1923, as genocidal. The Armenian Genocide, recognized by at least twenty members of the international community, resulted in significant displacement and approximately one and a half million deaths. Continue reading

You Can’t Stop the Truth: The Story of the Original Founding Members of the Sugarhill Gang

By Francesca D’Amico

When The Sugarhill Gang wrote and recorded “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979, little did they know that this single-take recording would serve as a template for establishing an audience and market for Hip Hop, and would also mark the beginning of their thirty year-long battle with contractual turmoil. This story is not new to African American artists. Rather, it has its historical antecedents in the 1920s when African American recordings first became commercially viable.

On February 16th, in its Canadian TIFF premiere, I Want My Name Back, directed by Roger Paradiso and produced by Josh Green, tells the story of the founding members of The Sugarhill Gang, Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright and Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien. Continue reading

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Visualizing the Past

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An inspiring historical visualization of Napoleon's 1812 campaign (please click to see it).

I have recently been trying to figure out good ways of representing large amounts of historical information in a way that makes sense to everybody who might stumble across my work! I think that a good graphic has the ability to draw readers into what we do, letting us convey the scope, joy, or horror of history without needing to read through often dense prose. In this post, I want to give a sense of what I think works, what doesn’t, and why we should start thinking about cool maps, graphs, and charts! Continue reading

The Shafia Murders, Immigration, and Misrepresenting Canadian Violence Against Women

By Sean Kheraj

George Cruikshank, "The Bottle" Plate VI (1848)

Public debate and media coverage of the Shafia family murder trial has obscured and misrepresented patriarchal violence against women in Canada. Following the guilty verdict last month, lead Crown prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis mistakenly proclaimed that, “[t]his verdict sends a very clear message about our Canadian values and the core principles in a free and democratic society that all Canadians enjoy and even visitors to Canada enjoy.” The verdict and public discourse surrounding this horrific case of family abuse and murder misrepresents both the historical and contemporary status of women in Canada and the prevalence of spousal violence against women. The suggestion that the verdict was a “wake-up call” and an “École Polytechnique” moment for Canadian Muslims, as Sheema Khan wrote in the Globe and Mail last month, mistakenly implies that violence against women and misogyny are not endemic throughout all of Canadian society. Continue reading

Public History at the Department of National Defence

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Unidentified sappers of the Royal Canadian Engineers (R.C.E.) examining an unexploded German 15.5 cm. shell, Caen, France, 10 July 1944 Credit: Lieut. H. Gordon Aikman / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-162666 Restrictions on use: Nil Copyright: Expired

By Dr. John Maker

I was recently involved in a major project for the Department of National Defence (DND), that epitomized some of the challenges and excitement of doing public history. It included important questions of public policy, public safety, and environmental contamination. The findings were put to use in practical and immediate ways to address areas of emergent need. The project also had its share of frustrations and barriers, which epitomized the practice of public history, especially the kind carried out for government departments. Continue reading