Historical 2012 Olympic Tour (1st Edition)

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By Jim Clifford

British politicians and planners are using the 2012 Olympic games to “revitalize” the Lower Lea Valley, a post-industrial landscape, situated between four inner-suburban boroughs in the East of London, including West Ham, which was the focus of my dissertation research.

A century ago R. A. Bray described West Ham “as that of a spot somewhere near London to which people went with reluctance if they had business there, and from which they returned with joy as soon as the business was over.”[1] Sadly, I don’t imagine most people would describe it any differently today.

Half a century of rapid industrial and population growth in the second half of the nineteenth century transformed the once green wetlands of the Lower Lea River and Thames Estuary into a dirty manufacturing suburb with a range of social problems that matched the extensive environmental decline. Despite this troubled history and the scarred landscape it left, I would suggest travelers to London should venture eastward and see a different side of London from the regal and imperial parks and buildings in Westminster. The Docklands Light Rail lines make it easy to travel through East London and they are above ground, so you can see where you are going. Most of the West Ham sites listed below are within walking distance of a DLR station. Continue reading

What can the past teach us about First Nations’ education?

This was originally posted on Teaching the Past.

Edited digital image from Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-3924 (b&w film copy neg.) Lithograph of Stodart & Currier, N.Y. published by B.O. Tyler, [1834 or 1835]. See Currier & Ives : a catalogue raisonné / compiled by Gale Research. Detroit, MI : Gale Research, c1983, no. 1571. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/i?pp/PPALL:@field(NUMBER+@band(cph+3a07365))

Dartmouth Hall

The Canadian press has recently been replete with stories and op-ed pieces covering the National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education, which this month wrapped up a series of roundtable discussions.  The panel, created through a partnership between the Canadian federal government and the Assembly of First Nations, has a mandate to develop options and to suggest legislation for improving on-reserve education across the country.

Inequitable funding for band-operated schools in many First Nations communities has created a crisis.  Despite education being a treaty right for many First Nations, the panel notes that “fewer than half of First Nation youth graduate from high school, compared to close to 80 per cent of other Canadian children, and some 70 per cent do not have a post secondary degree or diploma.”

As an historian of the eighteenth century studying Aboriginal engagement with European forms of higher education, these numbers startled me. In much of my research these figures are reversed. Continue reading

Sharing Archival Photographs in a Digital World

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UA archives, Upper Arlington History, Flickr Commons

Earlier this month there was considerable discussion on the ARCAN and the Archives & Archivists listserves about which photo sharing/hosting sites can best serve the needs of archival institutions.  Despite all the chatter there was little consensus on what hosting site was ideal for archival organizations.

Many cultural heritage groups are looking for affordable solutions to making their collections more accessible to the general public.  There are numerous options available but no clear winner has come across as an ideal image hosting site.

The current forerunners of the free or low cost image sharing options include:

There are three different account options available to organizations using Flickr; the free account, a professional account, and a Flickr commons account.  All three accounts have the ability to include metadata in photograph tags and include photo descriptions.  Users also have the option of limiting access to photographs or making them available to everyone. Organizations can organize photographs into collections, overlay photographs on maps, and include copyright statements.

Flickr Free Account
-Upload limit of two videos and 300MB worth of photos each calendar month.
-Only small compressed images are available to you and to the public
-Does not store high-resolution originals for you.
-Only the 200 most recent photographs will be displayed. Continue reading

Turnpikes and Toll Roads in Perspective

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by David Zylberberg

Last week I presented some of my research at a conference in Boston and drove from Toronto in order to do so. I have not driven in the north-eastern United States in a few years and was quickly surprised to learn that I-90 for most of its length from Buffalo to Boston has become a toll road known as the Thomas Dewey Thruway and the MassPike. The existence of tolls on a previously free road made me think about the relationship between how roads are paid for and other economic behavior.

The tolls to get from Buffalo to the Massachusetts border were $14 for my car, with a further $3.50 to get from the border to Boston. Gasoline Taxes are also lower in the United States, so at $3.39/gallon (rather than $1.18/litre in Toronto) it cost me about $15 less to fill the one tank required to get from Buffalo to Boston. In Canada, the added taxes that make gasoline more expensive contribute to the construction of roads, so are somewhat analogous to the tolls charged on some American highways and bridges. My car is fairly efficient on fuel, so while I paid about $3 more to drive on I-90 than a similar Canadian road, a larger and less-efficient vehicle would have paid less to drive on American turnpikes, despite the tolls. Which transactions are taxed affect behavior and it is worth noting that vehicles tend to be somewhat smaller in Ontario than in New York. To the extent that limiting gasoline consumption is important for limiting the problems of peak oil and climate change, New York would be well served to institute much higher gasoline taxes to replace tolls on the interstate. Such high taxes would also affect behavior on the many non-toll secondary highways and local roads. It would also be more efficient to increase gasoline taxes as they would not require building toll booths or having people collect small tolls, like the $0.15 charged when I made a brief stop in the suburbs of Buffalo. Continue reading

The Political Uses of Public Space: A Podcast of Craig Heron’s Talk on Labour Day Parades

Over the past few weeks, cities across Canada have evicted Occupy protesters from camping overnight in public parks.  Opinion remains divided over the tactics of the amorphous movement.  One lawyer recently defended the group by arguing in court that the occupation of Toronto’s St. James Park was a “physical manifestation of the exercise of … conscience.”  In other words, the medium is the message.  But some residents living in the area expressed that they felt threatened, and local businesses complained about a loss in revenue.  A Toronto judge ruled that the reasonable limits clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms overrides the protesters’ particular means of freedom of expression.  Last Wednesday, police evicted the final protesters from the park.

The use of public space for political protest has a long and contested history in Canada.  Historian Craig Heron recently presented a timely talk entitled “Labour on the March: 150 Years of Labour Parades in Toronto.”  He began his presentation by pointing out the Occupy movement’s uses of the street.  For example, protesters in Toronto had used their bodies to form a “99” (as in “99 percent”) at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas Streets while media helicopters hovered above.  People move through streets to communicate a message, Heron argued.  Historically, parades have been an “extremely important form of mass communication,” and it was one way in which labour demanded respect within wider Canadian society during the nineteenth and twentieth century.

Heron’s talk comes from research for his 2005 book The Workers’ Festival: A History of Labour Day in Canada, which he co-wrote with Steve Penfold.  The talk is available here for audio download.

The presentation was part of the 2011 History Matters lecture series, which gave 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.  This year’s talks focused on two themes: labour and environmental history.  Some of these presentations are now available in our podcast section. Stay tuned for recordings of subsequent talks from the series.

Announcement: Approaching the Past Workshop

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The next Approaching the Past workshop is scheduled for Tuesday November 29th, from 5-7 pm at the Zion Schoolhouse, 1091 Finch Ave East, Toronto.  The theme of this workshop is Secret Lives: Affective Learning, Using drama to teach history.  The workshop features performances and demonstrations that integrate teaching history through historical drama.  The event is free, but please RSVP to approachingthepast-toronto.com.  Approaching the Past Workshops are sponsored by THEN/HIER, in partnership with the Archives of Ontario, the City of Toronto, ActiveHistory.ca and OHASSTA.

EHTV Episode 10: A Town Called Asbestos V

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On this final episode of a five-part series on the history of asbestos mining in Quebec, Dr. Jessica Van Horssen examines the effects of the decline of the asbestos industry and its impact on the people of Asbestos, QC. Furthermore, she discusses the internationally condemned policy of the federal government to abandon the use of asbestos in Canada while simultaneously marketing the mineral in developing countries.

Viewers should also visit the website for Asbestos, QC: The Graphic Novel to further explore Dr. Van Horssen’s work on this topic.

Visit the full EHTV website at: http://niche-canada.org/ehtv

Eating Like Our Great-Grandmothers: Food Rules and the Uses of Food History

Cover Image of Michael Pollan's Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (New York: Penguin Books, 2011).

by Ian Mosby

This month’s publication of a colourfully illustrated, revised edition of Michael Pollan’s 2009 bestseller, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, once again has me thinking about the role of historians in contemporary debates about the health and environmental impacts of our current industrial food system. As a historian of food and nutrition, I often find myself getting a bit squeamish whenever I hear anyone invoking the past to either defend or critique contemporary dietary practices. And Pollan, like other critics of the food industry, makes extensive use of history to guide his analysis of our current food choices.            Continue reading

Funneling Controversy: The Keystone XL Pipeline

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By Daniel Macfarlane

Pipeline route, Kbh3rd - Aquifer Map

Transborder pipelines are nothing new. There is a long history, forgive the pun, of such enterprises in North America. In fact, Canada has historically been a pipeline pioneer. Yet the Keystone XL project has attracted what is likely unprecedented environmental opposition for a transnational pipeline, including protests featuring celebrities and arrests outside of the White House. Perhaps this pipeline has become a potent symbol of wider dissatisfaction with our current petro-regimes and environmental approaches?

The Keystone project involves several different elements: the initial Keystone oil pipeline runs from Alberta to Illinois, in part utilizing existing pipelines, while the expansion (Keystone “XL”) entails extending pipeline all the way to Texas refineries and eventually the Gulf of Mexico (see adjoining map or see a more interactive map). Both lines will be able to move over around half a million barrels of oil per day. The original Keystone line is already finished, and the extension is expected to be completed in the next few years, provided that it receives the necessary agreement from the American government. This expansion phase, however, has been greeted by visible protest.

Continue reading

Museum Closures, Heritage and Cultivating a Sense of Place in Toronto

“Places possess a marked capacity for triggering acts of self-reflection, inspiring thoughts about who one presently is, or memories of who one used to be, or musings on who one might become… When places are actively sensed, the physical landscape becomes wedded to the landscape of the mind, to the roving imagination, and where the latter may lead is anybody’s guess.” – Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 107.

Just as I read these words last week, the Toronto Star disclosed municipal plans to close three of the City of Toronto’s ten museums.  Montgomery’s Inn, Gibson House and the Zion School House – museums outside of the downtown core and closely allied with the Etobicoke and North York Historical societies – are on the chopping block due to municipal cutbacks.  This decision builds on the recently announced closure of the Air and Space Museum at Downsview Park, one of a few other museums in the north end of the city.

In an age of austerity, as Sean Kheraj noted last week, all public institutions supporting culture and heritage are vulnerable. But these cuts do not just reflect cutbacks in the culture and heritage sectors. In a city already bereft of recognized historical sites outside of the downtown core, this municipal decision reinforces urban and suburban differences in how Toronto’s past is told. If places have the power to shape our self-perception and how we situate ourselves in the world, as Basso and others have suggested, how has the uneven distribution of historical places influenced the culture and politics of Canada’s largest city? Continue reading