An Ethical Argument for Fashion

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Joel Krupa and Sali El-Sadig, Alliance Against Modern Slavery

High fashion is an integral part of everyday life in the great cities of the industrialized world. Often clustered on prestigious roads, we find the high fashion boutiques in places like Bond Street in London, Fifth Avenue in New York, and Bloor Street in Toronto regularly topping the lists of the most expensive retail spaces in the world. Of course, items like the stitched $15,000 (USD) Hermes bag or the $1,700 Louis Vuitton scarf may raise a few eyebrows among even the deepest of pockets and will remain the strict purview of oligarchs and business moguls for years to come. However, fashion has recognized its influential position and has aggressively moved into the mainstream by targeting more budget-conscious consumers and, in the process, it has become truly international and cosmopolitan. Every year, millions of people around the world casually hand over thousands of dollars for name brands like Hugo Boss, Gucci, and Prada, and hand over many times more for less prestigious names like GAP and Nike. With the emergence of luxury-hungry markets like China and India, these trends show no signs of abating in the near future. Continue reading

Inside Job: Where is the Outrage?

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The economy consistently polls as a critical issue for Canadians. Amidst a long and drawn out recession, where unemployment and underemployment exacerbate a skyrocketing cost of living alongside decreased buying power, concerns about the economy are understandable.

Yet despite popular interest in the economy, we live in an era where we are told that economic matters must be left to “experts.” As a language of expertise has been created to distance people from a clear understanding of the economic issues that impact our daily lives, we are expected to place our trust in the financers, investors, bankers and economists who claim that they alone can steer us towards economic stability and prosperity.

Having long been suspicious of the direction some of these people have been steering us, I was thus pleasantly surprised to watch the refreshingly clear, straightforward and insightful documentary Inside Job. This Academy Award winning film explores some of the factors that led to our most recent recession, how it could have been avoided, and destabilizes the myth that our economic experts are deserving of our blind trust. Perhaps most importantly, the film illustrates how the gross mismanagement of the economy will continue if we allow it. Continue reading

A Journey Through Inuit Oral Traditions: Website Review of Listening to Our Past

Listening to Our Past explores the rich cultural heritage of the people of Nunavut.  The website was created by Nunavut Arctic College and l’Association des francophones du Nunavut.  The site aims to present history recorded though oral traditions and oral histories told by Nunavut elders.  The site is tri-lingual and material is available in English, French, and Inuktitut.

Navigation Map

When first visiting the site users are presented with snippets of Nunavut history in pictorial and audio form.  The main method of navigating the site is through a pictorial mind map.  Each image  highlights a particular topic in the history of Nunavut.  Topics include child rearing practices, dream interpretation, traveling and surviving our land, and other themes which focus on the cultural and spiritual traditions of the Inuit people. The use of an imaged based menu contributes to the site’s simplified navigation and has the potential to show a glimpse into a topic in a way that a text based title cannot. Continue reading

The Last of the Coffee Table Book: The Nuba on Display

Coffee table books. We’re familiar with them; big and bulky, full of images. Not your regular book. I have a few myself that showcase a variety of random interests from famous artwork, to photographs of renowned landscapes – typical cliche coffee table books. Not much thought was put into their placement in my living room. But I digress.

Riefensthal in Africa, 1963.

Several years ago, while taking an undergraduate course entitled “Fascism on Film,” I was first introduced to Leni Riefenstahl when our professor screened Triumph of the Will (1935). What followed was a fascination with a woman who appeared to me as someone who lived an extraordinary life. The accomplished dancer and actress-turned-filmmaker pursued underwater photography at age 72 (the oldest known scuba diver until her death). She went to Las Vegas to photograph Sigfried and Roy. On her 100th birthday she released a film, Underwater Impressions and in 2003, at the age of 101, she married her partner Horst Kettner (he was 40 years younger than her). I was enthralled by her life and decided that I needed to know more. I picked up her autobiography, a few biographies and did some online research. Throughout this process it became clear that she possessed a darker side that – despite her fame and success as an artist – shrouded both her reputation and work. What follows are my reflections on her photographic book, Die Nuba. Continue reading

What John Cena Taught Me About the Practice of History: Making Connections in the Past and Present

Big Brothers and Big Sisters, in conjunction with the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (OPHEA), recently developed a new group mentoring program for teen boys, called Game On! The program is composed of evening meetings over 7 weeks with sessions built around core themes of physical activity, healthy eating, self-esteem, and communication skills. Its inspiration drew from the success of a similar program for teen girls developed in 2001, called Go Girls! Curious about the program, and wanting a new challenge (not to mention a break from dissertation work), I volunteered for the first run of the program in Kingston, ON. Excited to provide input into a new program which seemed to strike some common chords with my research topic, I entered the first week of the program with, I thought, my eyes, ears and mind wide open. What better way to use a skill set and insights gained from my academic work than to help shape a new program? Isn’t this what being an active historian is all about? Continue reading

Contesting White Supremacy: An Interview with Professor Timothy Stanley

By Yeow Tong Chia

Professor Timothy A. Stanley recently published his new book Contesting White Supremacy: School Segregation, Anti-Racism, and the Making of Chinese Canadians (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011). The launch of this book is timely, as it comes in the wake of Maclean’s Magazine TOO ASIAN article, which stereotypes Asians as nerdy and hardworking and “whites” as fun and party going people. In the light of that, I had an email interview with Professor Stanley on his views on racism, Chinese Canadian history, Asian Heritage Month and his book. Continue reading

Sir John A. Uses Twitter?

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Canada's first prime minister a tweeter?

Since starting up in 2006, Twitter has quickly become one of the most popular forms of social media.  Twitter is a website used to broadcast text messages – known as “tweets” – in 140 characters or less.  It has over 200 million accounts, and its users write more than 65 million tweets a day.  Twitter provides an opportunity for organizations, companies, individuals, and websites (like to get their message out to wider publics.

But living Canadians aren’t the only ones taking advantage of Twitter.  Dead Canadians of historical prominence are too. Continue reading

Announcements: Parler Fort Speaker Series and Sunnybrook Hospital Book Launch

This week we have two exciting events to announce: the Parler Fort Speaker Series at Fort York and a book launch for Sunnybrook Hospital: Our Veterans’ Legacy of Care, a Photographic Journey Through the Decades.

Fort York National Historic Site is hosting the talk “Dying to Vote in Canada in the Middle East” by award-winning essayist and novelist John Ralston Saul and Professor Thabit Abdullah (Professor of History, York University).  They will they engage each other and the audience in a discussion of the current state of democracy in Canada, and our nation’s role in encouraging democratic movements in other countries.  The talk will be held on Monday May 30th, 2011 at 7:00 pm.  Admission Price: $10 ($8.85 + HST).  Please R.S.V.P. to 416-392-6907 x 221 or for more information.

Also at Fort York on Monday June 20th is the launch of the new book Reshaping Toronto’s Waterfront (UTP Press, June 2011.) will have more details about this event closer to the date. is also pleased to announce the launch of the new book Sunnybrook Hospital: Our Veterans’ Legacy of Care, a Photographic Journey Through the Decades.  The book published by Dundurn Group Press captures the history of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Edited by a team led by Dr. Peeter Poldre, the book, Sunnybrook Hospital Our Veteran’s Legacy of Care, a Photographic Journey Through the Decades, chronicles the contributions of the dedicated health care professionals, staff, volunteers and veterans whose tireless efforts have made the hospital what it has become today. Together they have established internationally recognized standards of excellence in patient care, teaching and research. This legacy honours in perpetuity those service men and women, past and present, who put heir lives on the line to protect our freedom.

Sunnybrook: Our Veteran’s Legacy of Care is available for purchase in the gift shops at Sunnybrook, Chapters/Indigo book stores, and online through Dundurn Press.  For more information Please contact: Phil Gold, Archivist Sunnybrook Archives, Room KB117 Sunnybrook Health Science Centre, 2075 Bayview Avenue Toronto, Ontario M4N 3M5, 416-480-6100 ext 2571 or

“You’re gonna be glorified, unified and filled-with-pride”: Movie Review of Five on the Black Hand Side

In the 1970s a new genre of film featuring all black casts raged through urban American movie theaters. It was named “Blaxploitation,” combining “exploitation,” which were films that presented overtly violent and sexual narratives, and “black” to denote not only the racial make-up of the cast, but the centrality of “blackness” to the story lines. Melvyn Van Peebles’s 1971 Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song is often considered the first of this genre, but later crowd-pleasers such as Shaft (1971), Superfly (1972) and Cleopatra Jones (1973) more overtly capture the essence of Blaxploitation. They tell the story of African American men and women living in urban settings celebrating their blackness in defiance of a white supremacist America. While fighting crime or running drug enterprises, the main protagonists use the language most recognized in black urban environments and dress in the soul/funk style popularized in the 1970s. Filling a need for films that celebrate the black experience, as well as filling the seats in the urban movie theaters that were rapidly beginning to pale in the boom of suburban multiplexes, Blaxploitation quickly became lucrative for several major studios and iconographic for young black men and women. While they may appear frivolous to viewers in the 21st century, they astutely combined fun narrative with the growing Black Power politics of the 1970s. To their target audience, they were anything but frivolous. Continue reading

The Rise and Fall of Ideas: Having fun with Google N-Grams

Unigram comparisons for 'nationalize' and 'privatize'

Tracking the rise and fall of ideas throughout fifteen million books would have been impossible. Until now, thanks to the Google Books Ngram Viewer. Much like my previous post on Wordle tried to illustrate, we need to make sense of large quantities of information in order to do ‘big history’ and provide a context into which we can write our smaller studies. They’re also awesome for teaching or just playing around with and having (shock) fun with history.

On the chart at above right, we see a Google Ngram for two phrases: ‘nationalize’ in blue, ‘privatize’ in red. Does it surprise you? The idea of “privatize”ing is almost unheard of until the 1970s, and really picks up stream by the late 1980s and peaks in the 1990s. Conversely, nationalize slowly trends upwards until the 1970s, and then declines. This might not be surprising, but it’s an example. In this post, I’ll tell you what an ngram is, show some cool pictures, and hopefully drive you to have some fun with this. Continue reading