Active History on the Grand: History and Bricks

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Two years ago Brant County proposed selling a series of county-owned buildings that they deemed “surplus.”  According to the county, selling these eight buildings would save the county over $3 million over the next fifteen years.  The county would save on operating and capital costs, especially the costs of provincially mandated accessibility up-grades required for all public buildings.  Brant County is a mostly rural county with an overall population of approximately 36,000.  The largest community and county seat is Paris, Ontario, a scenic community on the Grand River with a population of 8,800.  The eight buildings that Brant County planned to sell are scattered throughout the county, spread throughout the small rural communities.  The Harley/Burford Township Hall, built ca. 1904, was used for a variety of purposes: weddings, dances, community celebrations, township meetings, community functions, and most recently as the home of the Burford Township Historical Society.  The St. George Memorial Hall, located in downtown St. George, was built in 1855, and is dedicated as a memorial to local war veterans.  The building currently houses the South Dumfries Historical Society Museum & Archives.   Also in St. George is the St. George Old School, built ca. 1893 as a public school, and recently used as a day care.  Community centres in Onondaga (built ca. 1874), Bethel (built ca. 1844), Pine Grove and Howell (ca.1874) and Northfield (ca.1900), were also on the surplus list.  The last building, the Langford School, built in 1886, began as a one-room school house for the surrounding community, and in 1964, became a community centre, and later housed a day care.

All these “surplus” buildings served the local communities in one use or another: school house, community centre, daycare, township hall, local museum and archives.  Continue reading

Historians, Global Warming, and the Mapping of Humanity’s Future.

Photo by Mikael Miettinen (2010).

By Dagomar Degroot

As a historical climatologist, I work in an avenue of environmental history that bridges historical and scientific methodology to reconstruct past weather, investigate societal vulnerability to climatic fluctuation, and uncover cultural representations or responses to climate. This is the second in a series of articles that explain how my training as a historian helps me engage in the ongoing discourse about global warming. In this post I’ll explore problems in the understanding of the relationship between society and climate in models of the future and descriptions of the past, before considering how historical climatologists can help forge more accurate visions of humanity on a warmer planet. Continue reading

New Paper: “Engagement and Struggle: A Response to Stuart Henderson”

By Fred Burrill, Concordia University

“The monster they’ve engendered in me will return to torment its maker, from the grave, the pit, the profoundest pit. Hurl me into the next existence, the descent into hell won’t turn me. I’ll crawl back to dog his trail forever.” (George Jackson—Soledad Brother, Black Panther, movement martyr)

The importance of educating students about past radicalisms is undeniable. In presenting prior contexts of rebellion, historians on the left seek to provide new generations with a vocabulary of revolt, to impart a sense of the vital necessity of taking up the challenge of the traditions of resistance that have shaped our social and economic world. Another undeniability is that this is no easy task: as Stuart Henderson has amply demonstrated, patterns of disappointment and ironic detachment are woven tightly into the fabric of mass culture under capitalism. And yet, I am perturbed by the tone and conclusion of Professor Henderson’s recent article, “Disappointment, Nihilism, and Engagement.”

Henderson presents his musings as an attempt to expand on what, by his own avowal, was “knee-jerk professoring”; in a response to a concerned participant in his class he condemned the seeming apathy of his other students as a kind of moral failure to face up to the mounting challenges of global environmental decay, war, corporatization, etc. His longer piece, though, seems to me to be only a slightly more charitable articulation of this line of thought. In setting himself (and by extension other self-identified “active historians”) up as the impassioned and ethically enlightened authority figure, crusading against the passivity of a generation that would rather spend the reading week playing video games than at a protest, I want to submit that Henderson in fact bypasses what seem to me to be more interesting and fundamental questions. What constitutes engagement? Can conventional historical work (lecturing on the Sixties, for example) continue to be understood as a fulfillment of our responsibilities as left historians? Where should we be looking to find active history? READ MORE

(Re)imaging 9/11: A Reflection on Photographic Representation and the Politics of Memory

“Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens, and cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function. The images say: This is what human beings are capable of doing—may volunteer to do, enthusiastically, self- righteously. Don’t forget.” – Susan Sontag

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. What struck me during the past few days leading up to the anniversary, was the overwhelming amount of historical images of 9/11 that are recirculating around social media websites, print media, news articles, and blogs.[1] With cultural media we are constantly re-imaging and re-imagining the past.

These images are for the most part used to commemorate the events and the tragic loss of life endured that day. Are photographs of 9/11 vestiges that force us to come to terms with the violence and trauma endured as a society? Although photographs are more than just ‘evidence’ of past events, they often speak to us despite their captions and accompanying text. Photographs are also a language on their own that we are versed in as consumers of media. For me, images of 9/11 prompt memory of that day and invoke feelings of fear and loss. Continue reading

H-Net and Current Events

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Last Wednesday I posted an essay by Dr. Patricia Daley that I first read on an H-Net Listserv, H- Urban. This is one of the hundreds of free email lists facilitated by the H-Net organization. Long before academic blogs, websites, and Twitter accounts, these H-Net lists were a key form of electronic communication among academic historians (and related disciplines). These email lists go back as far as 1992 and now connect with more than 100,000 people around the world. The technology remains pretty simple; historians send messages to list editors, who moderate and distribute them out over to a listserv. Some of the lists are restricted and require an application, but most are open to anyone interested in having their email flooded (most also provide an RSS feed). While many of the posts spread news about upcoming events, jobs, publications, and the perennial questions of finding affordable housing in archives London or Paris, they also provide the opportunity to discuss history and current events.

The lists are generally broken up by topics and nationality. I follow, for example, H-Albion, H-Environment, H-Urban, H-Canada, H-Labor and H-Water. This results in thousands of emails a year – which I keep segregated from my main email inbox – and try to skim a few times a week. Now and again a topic gains traction in one of these dispersed internet communities and leads to dozens of replies. The strikes in Wisconsin (H-Labor) and a potential boycott of the environmental history conference in Arizona last year (H-Environment) resulted in dozens of emails. Continue reading

My time in Hackney: Implications for youth

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Peter Trimming and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

By Patricia Daley.

[This article has already been posted on, and shared through the H-Urban email list. It was licenced on Pambazuka under Creative Commons, so we are reposting the full article here]

I spent my teenage years on the Pembury Estate in Hackney – one of the locations of last week’s riots in London. For the last 20 years, I have been an Oxford University don. I left home and Hackney in 1976. I have continued to visit friends and family in the borough. More recently, my visits have increased as I assist in the care of my elderly mother who still lives in the area.

I have listened and read members of the elite pontificating about the causes of the riots in London; most of which I find quite disturbing. The prime minister’s use of the term ‘fight back’ gives recognition to the divide in the society between Them and Us. He seems to be advocating civil war, between the morally good and the ‘bad’ – ‘the scum’ – while failing to recognise the deep schism in the society. The litany of contributory factors – whether they be unemployment, poor schooling, public spending cuts, racial profiling in stop and search, institutional racism, single mothers and poor parenting (I will say more about this later) – require radical thinking about the nature of our society and current economic policy, which our politicians do not appear equipped to handle. Continue reading

Death, politics and the memory of Jack Layton

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Nathan Philips Square, August 27 2011. Photo by author.

The passing of Jack Layton has unleashed a tremendous amount of mourning across the country.  Saturday’s state funeral, usually reserved for current or former prime ministers, Cabinet ministers, and governors general, attracted thousands of attendees inside and outside of downtown Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall.   Many more people gathered at events held this past week across Canada to remember the man.  Possibly the most dramatic act was the striking facelift of Toronto City Hall, where people etched their thoughts about Jack in coloured chalk on the concrete of Nathan Philips Square.

Mourning is about memory.  And memory is not just about the past, but also aspirations for the future.  Canadians responded to Layton’s death in diverse ways, from skepticism of its media coverage to participation in his funeral.  The contribution Layton made to public life didn’t end as the crowds dispersed on Saturday.  In fact, the memory of his life promises to influence Canadian politics and society in upcoming years. Continue reading

Returning Home: Repatriation and Missing Children

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Last week the remote Northern Ontario community of Peawanuck First Nation welcomed home Charlie Hunter.  Charlie passed away in 1974 while attending St. Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany.  He died while saving a fellow student who had fallen through ice near the school.  Following his death Charlie Hunter was buried in Moosoonee without the consent of his family.

The Hunter family has struggled for years to bring Charlie home. Earlier this year the Hunter family, the National Residential Schools Society, Keewaytinook Okimakanak, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Toronto Star began a campaign to raise money to bring Charlie to Peawanuck. Continue reading

History Matters Fall 2011 Lecture Series, Toronto Public Library

Toronto Public Library is pleased to announce the 2011 History Matters series.

This year these lectures focus on two themes—labour and environmental history in the Toronto area and beyond. Part of TPL’s Thought Exchange programming, these lively talks will give 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.

The series has been curated by Dr. Lisa Rumiel, SSHRC Post Doctoral Fellow at McMaster University. Dr. Rumiel is also the Book Review Editor for Canadian Bulletin of Medical History. We are especially grateful for the generous grant provided by The History Education Network (THEN/Hier), which has made the series possible. Continue reading

Watch The Throne as It Re-Defines Black Power

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By Francesca D’Amico

Watch the Throne Cover (from

Kanye West argues, “It’s time for us to stop and re-define black power.” Shawn Carter, declares, “Power to the people, …when you see me, see you.” But who exactly are the self-crowned Kings of Hip Hop seeing when they re-define Black Power in their track Murder to Excellence as, “ black tie, black Maybachs. … opulence, decadence. Tuxes next to the president” ? Even with references to Malcolm X and Fred Hampton, and music samples from Nina Simone and Curtis Mayfield, it appears as though visions of pride and power in their album Watch The Throne is not the sort of ‘Black Power’ that activists and culture-makers of yesteryear would recognize. Continue reading