What Do You Want to Know (about history)? Wolfram Alpha and the Computational Knowledge Engine.

What do you want to “calculate or know about,” asks Wolfram Alpha. Voted the best computer innovation of 2009 in Popular Science‘s “Best of What’s New,” Wolfram Alpha lets users interact with over 10 trillion pieces of information curated by a large research team. You just type in what you want to know, the engine tries to figure out what you’re asking it, and you’re presented with a remarkable array of information (as well as ways to refine your subsequent searches). This has tremendous historical applications, both for teaching and for historical research. I’ll show off some of these possibilities in this post, and hope that you take a moment to try it out yourself. If you find anything of particular interest, please let us know in the comments below. Continue reading

Bringing history into current immigration debates…one post at a time!

As I write, I am supposed to be hard at work on the last chapters of my doctoral thesis… The final throes are not an attractive sight to behold. And the situation is made worse by the recent rhetoric on refugees, illegal aliens and war criminals in Canada. As someone studying the history of 20th refugee policy, much of the recent debate has left me frustrated with the loose and casual way in which people, often politicians, refer to war criminals, refugees and illegal immigrants as if they were one and the same. Instead of concentrating on my final chapters, I keep having recurring conversations with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews in my head. Again, not a pretty sight. What I keep saying to them/myself is that the issues are far more complex than they make them out to be and that with their casual use of seriously loaded terms like war criminals and illegal immigrants in the same sentence, they are creating a climate of injustice with the potential for serious harm both here in Canada and abroad. Continue reading

Stepping into the Past: Everyday Places that Awaken the Historical Imagination

Like many other types of high school romances, I fell in love with history in my parents’ backyard.  A series of trails behind their house opened the door to worlds decades and centuries past.  These trails at the Head of the Lake (Dundas, Ontario) introduced me to Aboriginal canoe routes, Ontario’s nineteenth-century industrial heritage, and the area’s transportation history.  The places I visited on these trails are places with a deep connection to the past that people pass by daily, often without notice.  As summer days begin to wane, I thought that it might be interesting to compile a list of under recognized everyday places that have awakened our historical imagination.  Below, I’ve included a few of the places that cultivated an interest in the past among my friends and family.  I would like to add more places to this list.

If you have an everyday place that has helped you to engage with the past more deeply or more critically, send an e-mail to tspeace[at]gmail.com and I will add it to this post. Continue reading

Recreation to Re-creation: Restoring Natural Heritage in Public Parks

Outdoor swimming hole in Soper Park.

Growing up in Cambridge next to Soper Park, the park became an extension of my backyard.  I spent many days exploring the park, wading in the creek, catching crayfish and racing home-made boats.  As a child the creek seemed mysterious and ancient.  It was dammed with stone and concrete dams, and walled in with massive stones, broken by sets of concrete stairs that led down into the water.  I used to image they were ancient ruins.  Only as I grew older did my father tell me that the creek had been dammed and walled as an outdoor swimming hole, which he used to visit as a child.  Under the silt of thirty years, you could still uncover the concrete floor of the swimming hole.

Today the ruins of the swimming hole in Soper Park have been replaced with a vibrant, naturalized creek, which has become a thriving ecosystem for significant species such as the brown trout.  Between 1995 and 2001 the City of Cambridge undertook a naturalization of the creek in Soper Park in an effort to bring the creek back to life from a “sterilized” swimming hole, to a cold water creek.  The stone walls of the creek were largely removed, and where the creek had been straightened and dammed, the project attempted to return the creek to a more natural and historical route.  Indigenous grasses, trees and shrubs were planted alongside the creek to prevent erosion and provide habitat for animals. Continue reading

Announcements: We Demand Conference and Call for Papers Cultural Histories Conference

We Demand: History/Sex/Activism in Canada Conference is being held August 25-28, 2011 at the Coast Plaza Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia.  On-line registration is available until August 17th, and on-site registration (cash-only) will be available at the conference.  For more information about registration fees as well as the conference and film programs check out the conference website or email wedemand2011@gmail.com.  Also, don’t miss the banquet and Queer Cabaret, featuring MC Michael V. Smith, Performance Artist and Writer Amber Dawn, Singer/songwriter Kate Reid, Comic David C. Johns, Improv Theatre with The Bobbers, Hot Latin Dancers Naomi & Karen and Transgender Vocalist Jill Richards.

The organizers of the Cultural Histories: Emergent Theories, Methods and the Digital Turn Conference are now accepting proposals for conference papers.  This interdisciplinary conference is sponsored by the TransCanada Institute and the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory/ Le Collaboratoire scientifique des ecrits du Canada, to foster debate on new modes and methods of history and historiography, especially those employed or theorized by cultural historians, literary historians and critics.  Proposals of no more than 300 words for twenty-minute paper or panel proposals of three or more papers will be accepted until September 30th, 2011.  Proposals can be sent to transcan@uoguelph.ca or Cultural Histories Conference, TransCanada Institute, 9 University Avenue East, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, N1G 1MA.  The conference will take place at the University of Guelph from March 2nd to 4th, 2012.



From Andrew Carnegie to Margaret Atwood: Toronto’s “Unelected” Champions of Public Libraries.

Used with the permission of Toronto Public Library

Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, brother of city mayor Rob Ford, recently ignited public controversy over potential cuts to the city’s public library services when he claimed not to know much about author Margaret Atwood, who had spoken out against possible cuts to services and closures of library branches. Councillor Ford’s insistence that Atwood “get democratically elected” so that she could have a say in deciding library funding policy in the city was ludicrous, particularly given the Toronto Public Library’s history. Continue reading

Podcast: An Environmental History of the Lower Lea River Valley, Site of the 2012 London Olympics

The Lower Lea Valley, currently undergoing a massive redevelopment project in preparation 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 explored some of the findings of his PhD dissertation on the environmental problems created by half a century of urban-industrial development, and the challenges this history poses for redevelopment.

His 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,” is part of the pan-Canadian NiCHE Speakers’ Series and the Mississauga Library System’s ‘History Minds’ series.

Click here to listen to the talk.

IQT “Solutions”: Company Closures, Workers’ Rights, and the State of the Canadian Labour Movement

How does it feel to arrive at work one day to find the doors locked permanently? Most of us can imagine how cataclysmic an event this would be; unfortunately, 1200 more workers had to experience this recently, as IQT Solutions closed its doors in Canada. Claiming bankruptcy (no official filing could be immediately located), the call centre abruptly terminated workers, trampling rights under the provincial Employment Standards Act to notice, severance and vacation pay, refusing to even honour monies owed for hours worked. The company had plans to establish a new operation in Nashville, but the city’s mayor withdrew the 1.6 million dollars that IQT was to be given in exchange for 900 jobs in the city once he learnt of the havoc the company had wreaked upon Canadian workers.

Workers were undoubtedly shocked. Having been unorganized, mounting a challenge to this proved difficult, albeit not insurmountable. In Oshawa, where approximately 600 IQT jobs were lost, a long history of workers’ activism, linked to thousands of other communities, has shaped and supported local, provincial and national organizations of labour to safeguard the rights of working people. This history, and the forms of labour organization it has spawned, both help and hinder us as we face an increasingly common problem in many cities and towns – company closures. Continue reading

Looking Back on Pride

      2 Comments on Looking Back on Pride

Gay Picnic picture (Part of the first Pride Week events): Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives, Toronto Gay Action, Vertical File (c. 1972).

By Mathieu Brûlé

The relationship between the City of Toronto and the city’s queer communities has been a popular topic of discussion in Toronto over the past few weeks. Prompted by Mayor Rob Ford’s decision to forego Pride Week’s festivities in exchange for time at his family cottage, many, critics and supporters alike, have expressed disappointment in the mayor’s decision to forego the 16-year tradition of Toronto’s mayor’s marching in the Pride Parade. While it is true that attending Pride events is not an official duty of the mayor, it certainly is a sign of goodwill from the city’s highest elected office. Since 1995, Toronto mayors have made it a point of attending Pride. To many, this was a sign that the City, which has not always acted in the best interests of the city’s queer communities, was willing to work with them to make Toronto as inclusive as possible and celebrate sexual diversity rather than suppress it. We need to consider Rob Ford’s decision in this context. Continue reading

Renaming Schools: A sign of a society in dialogue with its past

Editors Note: Yesterday and today ActiveHistory.ca offers two perspectives on the recent controversy that erupted in Halifax over the renaming of Cornwallis Junior High School.

By Thomas Peace

It should come as no surprise that the recent controversy over the renaming of a junior high school erupted in Nova Scotia.  On 22 June 2011, the Halifax Regional School Board voted unanimously to change the name of Cornwallis Junior High.  The school board was concerned about the legacy of Edward Cornwallis, the city’s founder, who in an effort to secure the town site placed a bounty on Mi’kmaq heads.  The board’s decision has caused considerable controversy and according to the media it seems that many people want the school’s name retained.  The changing of the school’s name, however, fits within a long history of name changes in Nova Scotia.  It presents a good opportunity to reflect on the diverse roots that make up Nova Scotia’s population and the province’s relationship with its past.  Renaming landmarks is a sign of a growing and evolving society that is in critical dialogue with its past. Continue reading