Boston IRA Tapes in the Courts

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Brendan Hughes

Northern Ireland experienced three decades of violent conflict until the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Many of perpetrators never faced justice and some of these individuals have been brought into the political system as a part of the peace deal. This past creates multiple tensions in the present and leaves significant questions about how the judicial system should approach the numerous unsolved murders. Historians and those interested in truth and reconciliation have their own desires to better understand this past.  Why did so many otherwise normal individuals become involved in mass murder? Can a greater knowledge of the individual motivation of IRA members help us better understand these kinds of conflicts in the future? All this leads to significant tensions between the desires of victims’ families for justice  and the demands of a political settlement and power sharing agreement that might fall apart if too many reformed political leaders are brought up on charges. An academic project to record oral histories with living IRA members, which were then to be locked away at the archives in Boston College until the interviewee passed away, has brought these tensions between the demands of justice and a search for historical understanding into the news. The Belfast Project for Boston College preformed the interviews with republicans for five years beginning in 2001. Last year, after details from the late Brenden Hughes interviews were published, the Police Service of Northern Ireland began court proceedings in the United States requesting access to the remaining interviews. Continue reading

Prospects for the Profession

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Recently, the American Historical Association (AHA) wrapped up its annual meeting in Chicago. While I did not attend the conference, I followed a number of the posted videos, blogs and websites covering the annual event. Among the usual fare offered, this year’s conference also focused many of the discussions on the future of the history profession. A number of talks revealed the anxieties and concerns plaguing the newest crop of graduates, along with some of the profession’s old guard. Among the chief concerns were those centering on prospects for employment and the impact of the digital age on the practice of history.

Overall, what stood out from these talks was the need for recent graduates to expand their scope of what it means to be an historian. As most are well aware, tenure track positions are no longer as viable, but what must be made even clearer are that the opportunities that do exist should not be conceived as some sort of consolation prize. It was said that historians need to begin to think about where they fit in outside of the university and know that it is not simply enough to say that field is “public history,” if the expectation is that “public history” means a position in a museum. Budget cuts and a glut of applicants may mean that these opportunities are limited as well. Instead, historians need to begin to conceive as to how their skills and knowledge may fit into any other number of areas, including (but certainly not limited to) government, non-government organizations, journalism, and consulting. Continue reading

War Resisters Conference Report Back Looking Back, Moving Forward: War Resisters in North America

By: Luke Stewart

Conference Poster

The conference Looking Back, Moving Forward: War Resisters in North America took place at Steelworkers Hall in Toronto, Ontario, on Friday September 23 and Saturday September 24, 2011. The gathering addressed the plight of American war resisters who fled to Canada from 2004 to the present by providing a historical context for the roots of war resistance in North America. The conference also demanded action on the part of the Government of Canada to respect immigration and refugee law in Canada by rescinding Operational Bulletin 202 and to grant sanctuary to all American war resisters who fled to Canada during the “war on terror”. “This is of more than historical interest,” said Tom Riley, a Vietnam War resister and activist in the War Resisters Support Campaign. “It’s about learning from the past so we can support resistance today and in the future.”

The purpose of the conference was to offer public education about an aspect of North American history – cross-border migration during times of conflict and war – that is increasingly under attack in Canadian political circles in the early decades of the twenty-first century. The conference deconstructed the role of citizenship, civil disobedience, and conscientious objection during times of war. Moreover, we tried to illuminate the relationship between the Canadian and the United States governments during times of war and what this means for the twenty-first century. Continue reading

Eating it up: historical perspectives, popular media, and food culture

Jamie Oliver eating Bahn Mi in east end London, from Jamie's Great Britain. Screen shot from YouTube.

Jamie Oliver has made a name for himself as a celebrity chef who has sought to improve the way we eat.  Whether it be his instructional cooking or his fight to reform school cafeterias, Oliver has spent over a decade teaching us how to make food, and urging us to think more about it.

Some of his series have explored different national food cultures.  In Jamie’s Great Italian Escape, he tried to answer why Italy has a lower GDP than the United Kingdom, yet its people enjoy a healthier diet.  Oliver traveled across the USA in Jamie’s American Road Trip, while he showed us that despite outside stereotypes of a monotonous fast-food culture the country has a diverse number of cuisines based on its many different regions, histories, and people.

His newest show is called Jamie’s Great Britain, and its argument is a historical one: the foods that many Brits see as traditionally “British” weren’t always so.  The series is one example of connections between historical perspectives and food culture in popular media. Continue reading

Sad, Empty Places? Marketing ‘Ghost Towns’ in Saskatchewan

Bents grain elevator, January 10 2012. Photo by author.

by Merle Massie

A new and fashionable trend in tourism is invading rural regions of western Canada. SUV crossovers, front windows obscured by maps and cameras, are driving down gravel backroads, sweeping around correction line curves and screeching to a stop when a wide-eyed fox creeps across to its den in the culvert.

Are lazy Sunday drives, once the mainstay of 1950s nuclear families, making a comeback? Are the drivers frantically trying to find the way to an uncle’s farm they haven’t seen since childhood?

No. The latest tourism destination is the proverbial ‘empty’ Saskatchewan landscape itself. Or, more specifically, the landscape of places that used to exist, but are no longer there.

Welcome to the latest tourism craze: hunting for ghost towns. Continue reading

New book review: Reynolds on Spooner’s Canada, the Congo Crisis, and UN Peacekeeping, 1960-64.

Today we are publishing’s tenth book review. This month Ken Reynolds, an historian with the Department of National Defence, reviews Kevin Spooner’s recent book about Canadian peacekeeping in the Congo:

Notes prepared for Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s attendance at a Commonwealth conference in March 1961 summed up Canada’s position on Africa, noting that Canada had “no territories in Africa and no territorial ambitions.  It has no financial or commercial interests in the Congo sufficient to influence its judgment.  Canada – as anyone may verify by examining our record on this issue in the United Nations – has been and remains, relatively speaking, impartial” (p.148).  So, how did Canada end up with blue berets in the Congo?

Read the Full Review

[We ask people outside of the academic history community to review books for this website. We hope this will provide a new perspective on history books not regularly found in academic journals. If you would like to review a book for, and you are not currently a graduate student or professor in a history department, please contact]

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