Reports from New Directions in Active History: Digitising Childhood Evacuation: A Serendipitous Pursuit of Active History

By Claire L. Halstead

As historians, we are increasingly under pressure to make our research “active” and relate to a public audience. This spurs us to discover new methods of engagement and innovative ways to present our findings. The digital revolution or “turn” has encouraged historians not only to use sources available online, but also to adopt digital tools and methods to analyse traditional sources and, in some cases, create entirely new digital sources for research. Using digital methods allows us to extract more from our sources, while increasing the potential of appealing to and engaging with the wider public. Using the study of the evacuation of British children to Canada in the Second World War as an example, this post is intended to be a source of encouragement; while digital history can appear daunting, the rewards can far outweigh the costs.

The Roots of Evacuation Continue reading

‘It Might Have Been Us’: 70 Years since the Windsor to Tecumseh Tornado

By Katrina Ackerman  

Windsor Star Photograph, 1946

Windsor Star Photo, c.1946

At the age of ten, my father, two sisters, and I were driving through Alberta when a tornado struck. We were traveling from Trail, British Columbia to Saskatchewan for a relative’s wedding when a storm materialized in High River, a few hours from our hotel. We saw the aftermath of the storm on the news from the safety of our hotel, and the memory of that moment remains imprinted on my mind.[1] This experience led to a much longer fascination of mine with tornadoes — an interest that is not unique. As Kevin Rozario argues in The Culture of Calamity: Disaster and the Making of Modern America,Spectacles of calamity command our attention because they present an occasion for processing, intellectually and emotionally, the experience of living in a world of systematic ruin and renewal, destruction and reconstruction, where technological and environmental disasters always loom.” I’ve witnessed several severe storms across Canada since that first childhood encounter, but nothing to the effect of the devastating storm that touched down in the borderland region of Detroit-Windsor seventy years ago. Continue reading

Election 2016: Super delegates in historical perspective

Oscar Winberg

US Capitol. Martin Falbisoner, Wikipedia Commons

US Capitol. Martin Falbisoner, Wikipedia Commons

One of the more common complaints about this year’s U.S. presidential nominating race has been that the process is “undemocratic.” While it has been made vocally by Donald Trump on the Republican side, it is most often made by Bernie Sanders supporters and is especially aimed at the so-called “super delegates” of the Democratic Party. After the Associated Press declared Hillary Clinton the presumptive nominee a day before the decisive primaries in California and New Jersey, the talk about a “rigged” process again surfaced. The complaints of an undemocratic nomination process are diverse, yet share the basic premise that unpledged delegates are seen as a modern equivalent of the notorious smoke-filled rooms of conventions past, undemocratically concentrating power to “party elites” over the will of the people. Historically, however, this premise is not only complicated but false. Continue reading

History Slam Episode Eighty-Six: Remaking the Rust Belt

By Sean Graham

Remaking the Rust BeltWhen I first arrived at Harvard University in August, I was introduced to the person with whom I would be sharing an office. An assistant professor at Wayne State University, Tracy Neumann has served as the other William Lyon Mackenzie King Postdoctoral Fellow in the Canada Program at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University for the 2015-2016 academic year.

An urban historian, Tracy’s new book Remaking the Rust Belt: The Postindustrial Transformation of North America, which just came out, explores urban development (or redevelopment) in the steel towns of Pittsburgh and Hamilton. Through a transnational examination, she is able to explore how concepts and strategies of urban renewal varied between these cities and how, in both cases, these processes operated within a transatlantic framework.

In this episode of the History Slam I talk with friend-of-the-show-Tracy-Neumann. We talk about the Canada Program at Harvard, industrial redevelopment in Pittsburgh and Hamilton, and some of the major differences between Canada and the United States.

Continue reading

“Deeply regret to inform you”: War and Loss in the Trapp Family

By Mike Bechthold

The loss of a loved one during the First World War was often conveyed by a telegram beginning with the life-altering preamble, “Deeply regret to inform you….” This simple piece of paper heralded the deaths of sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers leaving families to pick up the pieces.  Rudyard Kipling, writing of the loss of his son Jack, who was killed on the Western Front in September 1915, captured the sentiments of parents everywhere:

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,…[1]

The Trapp family of New Westminster, British Columbia knew the feeling of loss better than most.  Four Trapp sons went off to the First World War and only one returned.  Such terrible loss speaks to us when we look back at the war, but we should not give Kipling the last word.  In some cases comfort could be found, and for the Trapp family it came from Raymond Collishaw, one of the great aces over the Western Front, and a fellow British Columbian.

CFWW Bechtold 1

Raymond Collishaw, 1918. All images from the Raymond Collishaw Fonds, Library and Archives Canada, MG 30-E280, R2492-0-5-E.

Continue reading

Shuttering Archives: A UNESCO Recognized Collection to Close its Doors to the Public

Thomas Peace

Le Séminaire du Québec

Le Séminaire du Québec

Last month I spent two weeks working in one of my favourite archives: Le Centre de référence de l’Amérique francophone. This archive – run by Quebec’s Museum of Civilization – is one of the oldest in the country, not only holding the records of the Quebec Seminary (which begin in 1623), but also many important documents related to New France and the early relationship between the diverse peoples of northeastern North America, the French Empire and the Catholic church. The archive holds unique Indigenous language documents and is critical for anyone interested in understanding Canada’s early history. With the Centre located in the seminary buildings themselves, the archive remains more or less in situ since the French regime (bearing in mind that the complex has expanded considerably over the intervening centuries). It is these qualities that led to the collection’s 2007 registration in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program; a recognition closely linked to Quebec City’s own place on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Letters patents of the king for the establishment of the Séminaire de Québec, 1663

Letters patents of the king for the establishment of the Séminaire de Québec, 1663

It came as a shock then that upon my arrival at the Centre in early May I learned from the reference archivist that this might be my final visit to this important archival collection. On 23 June this archive is scheduled to close for an indefinite amount of time as the Museum of Civilization struggles to meet its budgetary needs. Continue reading

Reports from New Directions in Active History: Memory, Museums, and the Politics of the Past

By Jodi Giesbrecht

One of the many important conversations held during the ‘New Directions in Active History’ conference considered the evolving ways in which historical knowledge is represented and contested in public spaces and how, as historians, we might participate in such discourses and actively engage with broader audiences. My panel, “Histories, Memories and Museums,” examined the role of museums in particular as sites of mobilization and encounter, as places in which diverse publics encounter history and historiography.

In response to such ideas, my paper suggested that many museums are mapping out ‘new directions in active history’ by examining challenging and sometimes controversial subjects that bridge past and present in a dialogue geared toward social change. Using the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), located in Winnipeg MB, as a case study, I wanted to draw connections between the role of curatorial practice as a form of active history, and the broader social and political role of museums in fostering historiographical knowledge. Continue reading

Reports from New Directions in Active History: Art + History = In-site-full Collaborations

By Andrea Terry 

As a historian of Canadian Art, I hope that my research, teaching, and writing resonates with historians of all types. My most recent book Family Ties: Living History in Canadian House Museums (2015) explores how house museums anchor and transmit mythic histories. It connects the artefact to the performance of history at three “living history” house museums – Dundurn Castle in Hamilton, Ontario; the Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site of Canada in Montreal, Quebec; and the William Lyon Mackenzie House in Toronto, Ontario. The material culture in situ or, more precisely, what I call the “artefactual accuracy” endorses the institutionalized interpretation offered at each site. The primary organizing idea for the study draws on the tenets of disciplinary art history, approaching the house museum as a representational object used as a civic instrument in the practice and performance of history.

In such analyses, it is imperative to consider the sites’ practical function: their operation as tourist destinations.  The purpose of historic sites arguably depends upon their ability to generate sufficient visitation to validate their continuing operations. With the advent of Web 2.0 and social media, the need to re-invigorate historic sites has intensified, as evidenced by Parks Canada 2012 budget cuts and the subsequent development of guided tour applications. Such needs also take into account citizens’ expectations, particularly those attached to their “smart” devices, mesmerized by cyber games and seemingly dependent on social media for interaction. In the twenty-first century, American curator Lowry Stokes Sims explains, historic museums are expected “to address an appetite for unique experiences, novel experiences, and authentic experiences.”[1] Contemporary art exhibitions installed within historical sites, projects referred to in related scholarship either as “museum interventions” or, more pointedly, “artist-history interventions,” certainly satisfy this expectation. What is more, they foster opportunities for dynamic collaborations between historians, art historians, public historians, curators, artists, visitors, and the like – collaborations that, I believe, have the potential to generate far-reaching benefits. Continue reading

Digital Outreach and Wikipedia in the GLAM Sector

by Krista McCracken

Wikipedia-logo-en-bigDiscussion around the value of contributing to Wikipedia and its use as a resource has been occurring since the establishment of the collaboratively written encyclopedia in 2001. You don’t have to look very far to find someone decrying the crowdsourced material as rubbish or others proclaiming it as the best thing since sliced bread.  In between these two extremes thoughtful discussions have provoked questions about the academic implications of editing Wikipedia and historical narratives as presented via Wikipedia as truths.

A number of Active History posts have been written about how historians engage with Wikipedia as editors, academics, and public scholars.  In 2010 A.J. Rowley’s “Is Wikipedia Worth the Trouble?” evaluated Wikipedia as a user generated resource and in 2011 Jim Clifford wrote  about editing Wikipedia, challenges of academics engaging with Wikipedia, and problems around citing original research. In 2012 Ian Milligan explored the history of Canada as represented on Wikipedia and in 2013 Jonathan McQuarrie reflected on his experience editing William Beverly Murphy’s Wikipedia entry.

All of these posts bring up the issue of accuracy on Wikipedia, the potential value of contributing to public knowledge, and perceptions of history online. Trained as a public historian and as someone working outside of academia I came at Wikipedia from a different angle.  My interest developed from the perspective of someone employed in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums (GLAM) sector wishing to increase the profile of a heritage institution and highlight the material held in an archival collection. Continue reading

What does Canadian history look like? Active History at the 2016 CHA

Tom Peace & Daniel Ross

Keywords from the 2016 CHA Program

Keywords from the 2016 CHA Program

This weekend, historians from across the country will gather in Calgary for the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association (CHA). It’s one of the few opportunities for Canadian historians and historians of Canada to connect in person, share their most recent research, and discuss larger issues facing the profession. Many attendees also take advantage of the chance to learn firsthand about the history of an unfamiliar city or region and its communities.

Since 2013, we’ve been using a couple of metrics – mainly word counts and chronological markers in paper and panel titles – to provide an overview of what attendees are working on and talking about. There’s nothing particularly rigorous about our methods, but previous posts (20132014, 2015) have provided a starting point for discussions about what Canadian history looks like today, and how that profile has changed over time.

As always, this year’s line-up speaks to the breadth and creativity of historical work being done in Canada. Continue reading