Remembering and Commemorating a Complicated Past

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Nellie McClung 1910

Nellie McClung 1910

In Saturday’s Globe and Mail, reporter Patrick White wrote a national story about how a Winnipeg human-rights lawyer, David Matas, is opposing plans to erect a statue of Nellie McClung – the well-known Canadian feminist and moral reformer, perhaps best known for being one of the ‘Famous Five‘ who fought the ‘Persons Case‘ – on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature:

“It’s misconceived,” he said. “It’s minimizing and putting aside some of the things she stood for.”

While Mr. Matas doesn’t deny Ms. McClung’s influential role in gaining the vote for Canadian women, he does take umbrage at her prominent support of the eugenics movement.

“It was the scientific basis of racism,” he said. “The whole eugenics movement is very problematic.”

White continues in his article to discuss some of the basic historic contours of eugenics in Canada, noting briefly that Tommy Douglas – the social democratic father of Medicare – was a proponent, and sterilization was made provincial policy in Alberta and British Columbia. There was a long and brutal history of eugenics in Canada, with patients being sterilized without their knowledge. For example, in Alberta, Leilani Muir received appendix surgery in 1959 and was sterilized without her knowledge, a fact that she discovered only years later when she was unable to conceive. It wasn’t until 1996 that she was able to achieve some justice, setting the path for many other victims to settle with the provincial government.

In my own teaching this year, I found eugenics a tricky subject to tackle. Continue reading

Active History Announcements – Apr 24 to May 1

The following upcoming events may be of interest to our readers (click here or ‘continue reading’ below for full descriptions):

1) The Ontario Women’s History Network AGM and Conference

2) partners in running the Black Creek Community Walk

3) Approaching the Past: A series connecting people teaching history – Ruth Sandwell keynote speaker

4) CFP: “We Demand”: History/Sex/Activism In Canada Vancouver, British Columbia August 25-28, 2011

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Earth Day turns 40

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earthToday, Earth Day celebrates its 40th anniversary.  Earth Day originated as a call to arms by US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who hoped to draw on the grassroots movement for greater environmental consciousness in order to bring about positive policy changes in Washington.

Earth Day drew much of its early enthusiasm from university campuses.  Fittingly, then, NiCHE (Network in Canadian History and Environment) today published short “research snapshots” of five New Scholars who research the relationship between nature and the Canadian past.   The writings address the question of what they have learned during their research and how their research impacts current environmental concerns.  The feature contains a forward by Alan MacEachern, professor of history at the University of Western Ontario.

Interactive Exhibit Design – The Interactive Streetscape

by Tim O’Grady

Richmond Street circa 1905

Richmond Street circa 1905

Whether in an urban or a rural environment, I find built history fascinating. It’s all around us, and contains incredible stories about our past, but most people never really notice it. As part of my MA in Public History at the University of Western Ontario I had the opportunity to take a class in interactive exhibit design, taught by Professor Bill Turkel. The premise of the class was simple: create a project that teaches history in an interactive way. With this as my goal, I set about looking for a way to teach people about their local built environment, which would hopefully make them see it in a different way. I decided to accomplish this by creating a digital representation of a streetscape and showing its progression through time. Thus the interactive streetscape was born. Continue reading

Volcanoes in European history: Exploring Environmental History Podcast

The Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud at 06:00 UTC on 17 April 2010. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud at 06:00 UTC on 17 April 2010. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dr Jan Oosthoek has produced a podcast on the history of volcanoes in European history.  The podcast can be found here or you can subscribe on iTunes here.  This podcast and its supporting website are under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license, so we have republished his text introducing the volcanoes podcast and the further readings lists below:

On 14 April 2010 the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted for a second time in two month after having been dormant for just under 200 years. The second eruption caused an ash plume that was ejected into the stratosphere and transported by the wind to Northwest Europe and all air traffic was shut down. As a result the eruption became a major news story. A secondary reason why the eruption became a major news story is the fact that volcanic ash clouds have not affected Europe in such an immediate way in living memory. But looking at the historical record of volcanic eruptions it becomes clear that these events have affected Europe and other parts of the world in significant ways and sometimes even altered the course of history. This extra edition of the Exploring Environmental History podcast considers a small sample of such volcanic event events, including the 536 AD dust veil event, the Black Death and the Laki eruption of 1783. Continue reading

One year of

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Photo credit: "craft john 2" by Genealogy Photos on Flicrk, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic

Photo credit: "craft john 2" by Genealogy Photos on Flickr, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic

April marks the one-year anniversary of this website.  The steering committee of recently discussed the challenges and successes we have faced in our attempt over the past year to bridge the work of historians with a wider audience at Activism and the Academy: Struggles Against Hegemony, a two-day conference organized by the Graduate Women’s Studies Student Association at York University., originally conceived as an open space for the dissemination of short, accessible scholarly articles, has transformed to include a collective blog that focuses on topics such as history on the internet and historical perspectives on current issues, and a new book review section that features reviews of academic work by non-academics.  In line with these developments, the website has continually increased its viewership; indeed, we currently receive as many as 200 views a day.

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Jane’s Walks: community history tours

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Jane Jacobs

A Jane’s Walk

Since 2007 people have come together once a year to celebrate and remember the life of Jane Jacobs by leading or participating in walking tours of their local communities.  As Jacobs argued, walkability is essential for urban communities.  These tours seem to be a truly fitting monument to Jacob’s legacy.  The walks began in Toronto, but have since spread well beyond Jane’s adopted city, with hundreds of walks scheduled for the first weekend in May in cities around the world.  Many topics are covered during these walks, but a lot of them focus either directly or indirectly on local history.  The Jane’s Walks provide an opportunity for all our followers to experience firsthand a grassroots history project similar to those discussed in two recent posts on walking tours and street history. Continue reading

Active History, Hunt and Stoke

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Photo credit David Rayner CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

Photo credit David Rayner CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

By David Zylberberg, PhD Candidate, York University

The United Kingdom is in the midst of an election campaign with a May 6 poll. Despite numerous suggestions that this is the ‘most important election in a generation’, the limited media coverage on this side of the Atlantic has tended to focus on which opposition leader invoked recent Canadian developments as a reason to vote for their party. There are many aspects of this election that should interest Canadians but I would like to take this opportunity to discuss one that is of particular importance to the Active History project, namely, the controversy over the Labour Party nomination in the constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central.

Following the recent retirement of long-time MP Mark Fisher, the seat became vacant. Labour Party practice is to have interested candidates apply to the central party, who then send the constituency party a three person short list to vote on. Interest was high in representing the party in one of its safer seats and many applied. The resulting short list included the prominent historian Tristram Hunt, but none of the three nominees have any connection to the region. Hunt received the nomination on April 1, after which Gary Elsby, secretary of the Constituency Labour Party in Stoke-on-Trent Central, resigned from the party and is running as an independent. Similar things have happened in recent years, notably in 2005 in the South Wales constituency of Blaenau Gwent, which had been an even safer Labour seat. At that time the central party sent a short-list of three non-local women in the hopes of improving the gender balance of MPs, the local constituency got upset and has taken to returning independent socialists at every level of government since. Continue reading

Popular Publishing Writer’s Guild Expands Westward

Photo Credit: David Dennis, creative commons licensed

Photo Credit: David Dennis, creative commons licensed

By Adam Crymble

Thanks to a successful workshop held in Vancouver last month, the Popular Publishing Writer’s Guild has added a new Western Canadian chapter. The guild is a support network of new scholars who are trying to engage a wider public with their research and ideas through newspapers, magazines or online.

Every five months, the group holds an internal call for participation that encourages members to draft a submission for an editor of a popular publication. The group offers feedback and encouragement when requested – though some members have submitted content directly to editors on their own.

Originally the group consisted of a handful of members who attended the first Popular Writing workshop in London, ON in the fall of 2009. That group managed to publish six articles out of eight attempts in various Canadian publications out of the first call and many of the Active History editors are part of the team. For some participants, it was their first ever popular article. Continue reading

Street History

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Recently, I was stopped at the entrance to the Eaton Centre by a man selling a short pamphlet on Black history.  I bought a copy.  Flipping through the pages, the pamphlet shared short stories about the contributions of key Black individuals, the racism they experienced, and important moments where Canadian and American communities were open to racial and ethnic difference.

The promotion of this history at the entrance of the Eaton Centre fascinated me.  Often the public face of history is seen in museums or government issued historical plaques; but important historical narratives also exist outside of these structures, and they often tell stories that otherwise remain obscure or hidden by more official ways of historical story telling. I call this way of sharing the past street history. Continue reading