From Fukushima to Chernobyl: Bringing the Past to Bear on the Future

Lisa Rumiel

Note: The author would like to thank Linda Richards for her helpful comments and suggestions in preparing this article.

When asked how the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Reactor Complex accident was going to affect the nuclear industry in the long-term, World Nuclear Association Spokesman, Ian Hore Lacey, replied,

short term obviously it’ll be negative, but I think long term, when people sit down and take a good look at things, it should be positive, hopefully, and no more than neutral…If as we have reason to hope there are no fatalities or serious radiation injuries and effects from this incident, then alongside the tens of thousands of people who have been killed by the tsunami, I think people will stand back and say, “what was all the fuss about.” Okay, you’ve written off three reactors, and there’s been plenty of drama in news coverage, but at the end of the day, who has been adversely affected in any real way? [1]

There are several problems with this statement, not the least of which is Hore Lacey’s use of the devastating effects of the tsunami on Japanese people, families, and entire communities as a way of minimizing the seriousness of the Fukushima accident. But his suggestion that no one will be “affected in any real way” is completely thoughtless and untrue, that is, if you allow yourself to think about actual people.
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Book Review: Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout

Activehistory has a semi-regular book review section that features articles by non-historians writing their views on books that you might find in the history section of your bookstore or university library. This review is a little different in that I am a professional historian (don’t hold it against me), but I am reviewing a book that would not be considered your typical, or your traditional scholarly work of history.

The book in question is Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, and the reason that I chose to write this review is that having recently read this book, I can’t seem to shake it from my consciousness. Beautiful, imaginative, inspiring, whimsical, enlightening, are just some of the words that spring to mind when trying to describe this book. In short, this book rejuvenated my love of storytelling, while also challenging me to pursue my own discipline in new ways. Continue reading

Historians and Global Warming

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Rising tide on Dutch coast, 2010.

By Dagomar Degroot

It’s always been my belief that historians either consciously or unconsciously situate their histories in the context of the present. History is inevitably “active,” no matter our occasional insistence on pursuing history for history’s sake. This is no surprise to environmental historians who, more than colleagues operating in any other historical genre, explicitly address contemporary issues in their often declensionist narratives. As part of a small but growing number of environmental historians exploring the relationship between climatic changes and human affairs, I am drawn into modern debates about global warming whether I like it or not. That’s why I decided to use my first few blog posts to reflect on how my research as a historical climatologist has allowed me to address some big ideas in the discourse about global warming today. Continue reading

2012 Olympic Park: Remediating the Environmental and Social Conditions

The clock is counting down to the start of the 2012 Olympics in London. The main Olympic Park [map] is located in East London in heart of the Lower Lea Valley, which happens to be the same place I studied in my recently completed PhD. My research demonstrated the close correlation between the degraded environmental conditions and the disadvantaged social conditions in the sections of West Ham built on the wetlands. I ended my dissertation wondering whether the current  multi-billion dollar project to clean up the environment for the Olympics might result in a comparable effort to clean out the socially undesirable people from this landscape.

An article in the Guardian, “Houseboaters being ‘socially cleansed’ from Olympics area,” suggests this process might be underway. House boaters are concerned that British Waterways are going to increase the mooring costs along canals in the Lower Lea:

British Waterways, which manages 2,200 miles of canals and rivers, has put forward changes to the mooring rules on the river Lea, in east London, that could increase the cost of living on the waterway from about £600 to £7,000 a year. Residents see the move as a deliberate attempt to drive them away. A draft note from British Waterways on 6 December 2010, seen by the Guardian, says: “The urgency … relates to the objective of reducing unauthorized mooring on the Lea navigation and adjacent waterways in time for the Olympics.” Continue reading

Upcoming Event

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The next HerstoriesCafe Toronto takes place on Friday, April 8, 2011 at the Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queens Park, Glass Room, 4th floor, at 5:30 pm.  This free talk “Women and Museums,” features Janet Carding (CEO and director of the ROM); Lynn Teather (Museum Studies, University of Toronto) and Cara Krmpotich (Museum Studies, University of Toronto).

HerstoriesCafe Toronto is an exciting way to connect with the Toronto community and start conversations about local women’s history. Our events provide an opportunity to meet with a diverse group of people–history enthusiasts, historians, archivists, museum practitioners, history teachers and students. Think of it as a salon: a place to share ideas, pool historical resources, and stimulate debate in an intimate and relaxed setting. These events are free.

There is limited space for this event.  If you’d like to attend please RSVP to

This event is made possible by support from the THEN/HIER History Education Network and the Royal Ontario Museum.

Left History Theme Issue on ‘Active History,’ Launching a New Paper and Left History are delighted to announce the launch of Left History‘s theme issue on Active Histories. We are also delighted to launch our sixth short paper on our website, “Disappointment, Nihilism, and Engagement: Some Thoughts on Active History” by York University SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow Stuart Henderson.

The table of contents for the full issue are below the cut. If you are interested in receiving a copy of the Active History theme issue, we are distributing FREE copies to our readership (quantities are limited, so we will be generally operating on a first-come-first-serve basis). Please e-mail with your name, mailing address, and a brief two sentence rationale for why you’d like to receive the issue. We would then be happy to send it to you free of charge. For information on Left History or to express interest in subscribing, please e-mail Continue reading

Podcast: Ian McKay on the Right-Wing Reconceptualization of Canada

John Buchan, 1st Baron Lord Tweedsmuir

Ian McKay, professor of history at Queen’s University, recently delivered an engaging and provocative talk titled “The Empire Strikes Back: Militarism, Imperial Nostalgia, and the Right-Wing Reconceptualization of Canada”.  McKay’s talk was the keynote address of the 15th annual New Frontiers Graduate History Conference at York University.

The talk is available here for audio download.

McKay is the author numerous books, including The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia (1994) and Rebels, Reds, Radicals: Rethinking Canada’s Left History (2005).  He won the Canadian Historical Association’s MacDonald prize for his book Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People’s Enlightenment in Canada (2008). More recently, McKay co-authored In The Province of History: The Making of the Public Past in Twentieth Century Nova Scotia (2010), which was reviewed here on

Why “I Used to Love H.E.R,” Why I Still Love H.E.R: Hip Hop THEN, Hip Hop NOW

An impromptu performance held at the Hub (the area around 3rd Avenue and 156th Street) by The Mean Machine. One of the benefits of institutional neglect was that public concerts like this, common to the early days of Hip Hop, allowed artists to express themselves freely without the need for formal compliance.

By Francesca D’Amico

Chicago’s Cominskey Park on July 12th, 1979 was a scene like no other. Disco Demolition Night was a promotional event meant to protest the shift in radio programming from rock to an all-disco format. In exchange for admission, fans were asked to bring an unwanted disco LP. Following the first of a double-header game, a large crate of the collected records was detonated in center field. Against chants of “disco sucks,” 59,000 fans swarmed and vandalized the field. As the scoreboard flashed, “please return to your seats,” police in riot gear cleared the field and eventually cancelled the second game. This was the night Disco died and made way for Hip Hop. Continue reading

Upcoming Events

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Ontario Women’s History Network

The Ontario Women’s History Network Annual Meeting and Conference and Conference will be held April 1-2 in Kingston, Ontario. It is on “Canadian Women & the Second World War” and has an interesting array of speakers. Please download the conference flyer here.  Contact for more information.

Calling all History Teachers & Curriculum Leaders, Museum and Historical Site Educators:

Benchmarks of Historical Thinking will provide the methodological core of the institute’s work on curriculum, lesson, and exhibit design and development. The “Benchmarks” approach opens up the interpretive nature of history by making explicit and central such fundamental concepts as “primary source evidence,” “historical significance,” and “continuity and change.”

This summer institute is ideal for educators, whether you’re a History teacher or an educator at a museum, as well as many other applications as well.

July 4-9, 2011 at UBC Campus, Vancouver, BC.

EH-SO: A Symposium of Environmental Historians in Southern Ontario

The Toronto Environmental History Network is hosting the first annual EH-SO, an informal two day workshop Friday March 25 and Saturday March 26 in Toronto.   For more information or to attend contact Jim Clifford at

Call for Website reviewers

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As a growing number of historical resources become available online, the internet is increasingly becoming a site of serious historical research, enquiry and education. Yet it is important to approach information on the internet with caution, assessing its value with a critical eye. is expanding its review section to include scholarly analyses of websites. It is imperiative in this “digital age” to develop the tools necessary to critically engage with this expanding resource base. Continue reading