Civil Affairs in Caen

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By David Borys

After a series of hard-fought battles, the first Anglo-Canadian patrols stepped foot in the rubble-strewn streets of Caen on 9 July 1944. The ancient city of William the Conqueror was a post-apocalyptic disaster zone. Two-thirds of it was utterly demolished. Parts of the city were entirely cut off and isolated due to the heaping mounds of rubble. Out of a population of 60,000 people at the beginning of 1944, 25,000 were still residing within the city with approximately 13,000 of them living in makeshift shelters and caves. Nearly 3,000 civilians lay dead and 1,500 wounded. Hundreds of bodies lay scattered in the streets and buried under rubble. There was no running water, no sanitation, no electricity, barely any medical supplies, and food was running short. The civilian population was in dire need of help and this help would come from II Canadian Corps Civil Affairs.

Engineers Clearing Roads Through Caen by Captain Orville Norman Fisher. Canadian War Museum collection 19710261-6247

The men of Civil Affairs (CA) were an unusual bunch. Continue reading

Grounded: Academic Flying in the Time of Climate Emergency

By Dr Jaymie Heilman

“I don’t like harming others, so I don’t fly” climate scientist Peter Kalmus explained, noting that airplane emissions heat the planet, imperiling humans and non-humans alike. The IPCC warns that we have only eleven years to radically reduce carbon emissions or face ever-more devastating effects of climate change, and it is time for academic flyers to be grounded by the hard truths of our climate emergency.

Rank and Flight

I got where I am professionally precisely because I flew. A lot.

I am a full professor at a major research institution. My doctorate, my university jobs, tenure, and promotions all came about because I did a ton of international flying.

Between starting graduate school in 1998 and 2014, I took an average of five round-trip international flights each year – to study, do research in Peru, visit my family, go to conferences, and go on vacation.

All that flying allowed me to write two books and a number of articles, and build ties with other scholars of Latin America, and I have benefitted professionally and personally. But since 2014, I have been steadily reducing my flying.

Ethics Review

Several climate scientists have pledged to reduce their air travels, acknowledging the hypocrisy of flying while warning about climate change and recognizing that such hypocrisy undermines their credibility.

Scholars concerned about social justice must likewise question the ethics of our flights. Take those of us horrified by Central America’s refugee crisis. Hundreds of thousands of children, women, and men have fled from in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala in recent years, trying to escape deadly gang violence, repressive governments, and devastating poverty. Climate change is making this terrible situation worse: failing crops displace families to cities unable to adequately employ and protect them. That displacement, in turn, empowers criminal gangs able to provide very particular (and bloody) forms of employment and protection to desperate youth. Failing crops also drive rural families to bypass their nations’ cities altogether, heading straight for el norte.

Is it ethical for me to fly from Edmonton to San Salvador – expending 1.73 metric tons of carbon – to research the historical roots of this refugee crisis? Probably. If the knowledge fostered by my oral history interviews and archival research somehow helps mitigate the humanitarian disaster, then all the carbon emissions from that round-trip flight — and the estimated 5 square meters of arctic ice that would melt as a consequence — are likely well spent.

Would it be ethical for me to expend 2.34 metric tons of carbon (and melt 7 square meters of arctic ice) to fly to Tokyo to give a keynote lecture about the crisis and engage interested colleagues and students? To me, the answer is clear: No.

What about expending 0.91 metric tons of carbon by flying to New York to talk about the refugee crisis at a conference? Would those emissions be justifiable, given how many people would hear my talk, and given how many insights and opportunities I’d be able to offer and receive? To me, the answer is again ‘no.’ As climate scientist Kevin Anderson puts it, “Even if our talks are riveting canters through the intellectual surf, are they really so important that we have to be there in person and in an instant, before launching off to dispense our pearls of wisdom to another packed house in another exotic location?” Continue reading

Preparing the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division for the Normandy Campaign, 1942-1944

By Caroline D’Amours

On 6 June 1944, the units of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division successfully completed one of the most challenging military operations of the Second World War: building the bridgehead on Juno Beach from which allied troops could gain a foothold on continental Europe. As historian Marc Milner recently noted, in the days following the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division’s deployment, the division took heavy casualties but succeeded in paralyzing a counterattack by the 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitler Youth). They did this with very little battle experience and only the training conveyed to them before the invasion. Under these circumstances, the quality of their training was a critical factor in making the Canadian troops effective when they arrived on Juno Beach. Though it was certainly not perfect, the training these soldiers received was not as bad as historians have suggested in the decades following the conflict.

Infantrymen of The North Nova Scotia Highlanders landing from LCI(L) 135 of the 2nd Canadian (262nd RN) Flotilla during Exercise FABIUS III, Bracklesham Bay, England, 4 May 1944. Glen M. Frankfurter / DND / LAC / PA-137005

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The Eighth Stage of Genocide

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By Daniel Rück and Valerie Deacon

According to Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, the eighth stage of genocide is denial. Perpetrators of genocides will do what they can to destroy evidence, intimidate witnesses, blame victims, block investigations, and change the narrative. No one wants to be remembered for having committed genocide, and few citizens of a country can easily reconcile their positive feelings about their country and its institutions with the fact that these same institutions have been used to commit genocide.

So when the Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Women and Girls released its report on June 3, 2019 framing its argument around the historic and ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples in Canada, it’s not surprising that the overwhelming response by mainstream commentators in Canada was denial.

Not only did it seem many prominent commentators did not read the report, many focused exclusively on the use of the term ‘genocide.’ They argued that using the term in the Canadian context is inappropriate and harmful, and that what happens in Canada does not correspond with what they understand as the definition of genocide. Most of these critics did not engage with the report’s rigorous analysis of how violence against Indigenous women and girls fits into an overall context of historical and ongoing genocide, nor with the legal definition of the word laid out in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Continue reading

Historians in the Movies

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Coming to a screen near you

Colin Coates

This summer season, Active History is providing a series of posts on historians in the movies.  These are not necessarily historical films – although we know as well as anyone that every film is a product of its time and place.  No, these are films that feature historians (and people in allied occupations) as characters.  In some cases, the character is central to the narrative, in others not so much.  If you’re looking for historians writing about the historical accuracy of films and the contemporary implications of historical films, well, Active History has done that too, as do others, like “Historians at the Movies” #HATM.   This series of posts looks at how historians have been depicted on the big screen.

A young male historian, surrounded by stacks of old newspapers, using a magnifying class to read one. The historian is wearing a bowler hat and a waistcoast. He is not cool.

Image of an historian from https://careerthoughts.com/historian-jobs/ .

When was the last time any of us looked this this, or did research using using paper copies of old newspapers??

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Teaching Life and Death Stories in University Classrooms – Part 1

Today’s post is the first in a four part series that began as different conversations about teaching Mary Jane Logan McCallum and Adele Perry’s Structures of Indifference, winner of The Indigenous History Book Prize, awarded by the Indigenous History Group of the Canadian Historical Association. Each week will will focus on one professor’s experiences teaching the book to undergraduate students and – in the final week – we conclude with a reflection on teaching the book to graduate nursing students. Because we were teaching students from different academic backgrounds and stages of career, we used different teaching strategies. But we shared the pedagogical goal of using an individual tragedy – Brian Sinclair’s death – to encourage students to grapple with the ongoing impact of settler colonialism on Indigenous communities and the structures that shape their lives.

By Karen Dubinsky

I assigned Structures of Indifference to 450 students in “Introduction to Canada and the ‘Third’ World,” which is taught in the Department of Global Development Studies. It introduces students to topics such as Canadian foreign policy, business activities, development aid, and migration policies in the Global South, and Indigenous communities here. We move constantly between past and present in this class, and I think that’s one reason the book was such a hit. Continue reading

A Pivotal Experience: Indigenous Participation in D-Day and the Second World War

By: Shawkay Ottmann

Indigenous veteran Clarence Silver once said, “When I served overseas I was a Canadian. When I came home I was an Indian.”[1] These two lines illustrate the Indigenous experience in the Second World War. Indigenous soldiers fought in all major battles Canada participated in, including D-Day, side by side with non-Indigenous soldiers. The difference was in the situation Indigenous soldiers came from and returned.

D-Day, 6 June 1944, was a pivotal day in the Second World War. When the Allied forces landed on five beaches in Normandy it signaled the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany. Likewise, the war was pivotal for Indigenous peoples in the fight for Indigenous rights and equality. In both situations, these experiences became decisive influences in the course of history. Continue reading

More Voices, New Sources: Using Historical Documents to Diversify a Survey Syllabus

By Dr. Bathsheba Demuth

I came to teach environmental history circuitously: trained as a Russian and American historian, the field was not part of my comprehensive exams. I was never a teaching assistant for an environmental history course—as close as I came was grading for a summer class on the history of energy. I read and wrote my way into the methods and questions of the field as I completed my dissertation.

As a result, teaching an environmental history survey in my first year out from graduate school was both exciting and daunting. Not only was it the first lecture course I’d ever taught, but it was going to cover over five hundred years of the global past. I didn’t have lecture notes from my advisers to use as a guide, like I would have for a standard Soviet or U.S. course. I had a lot to learn: about KoiKoi pastoralists in southern Africa, about Edo Japan, about Ming China’s need for silver and the tin smelting that connected South America, Canada, and Greenland during WWII, about environmental justice movements in India, and the Little Ice Age, well, everywhere. Writing lectures felt like prepping for that exam field I never took. My desk rapidly disappeared under piles of books and hastily underlined articles from Environmental History.

In those wordy heaps, I found plentiful guides through unfamiliar places and times. Some of them were classics I already knew, like Alfred Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange; others gave fresh eyes on key concepts like domestication, as in Marcy Norton’s “The Chicken and the Iegue.” Assembling a chapter here and an article there, they became the backbone not just for my lectures, but for readings on a syllabus without an obvious textbook. My students now love Gabrielle Hecht’s work on nuclear labor in Madagascar and the accounts of mules, mice, and miners in Thomas Andrew’s Killing for Coal. More than one person has credited Judith Carney’s Black Rice, William Cronon’s “The Trouble with Wilderness,” or Michelle Murphy’s “Alterlife and Decolonial Chemical Exposures” with changing how they see both the past and the present. The actual challenge revolves more around choosing which scholars to include, especially with new work published every year. Already I’m figuring out how to fit Elizabeth Hoover’s The River is in Us, Nick Estes’ Our History is the Future, and Kathryn Yusoff’s A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None onto the reading list next time I teach. Continue reading

“It took this long for Canada to listen:” Defining Genocide in Reclaiming Power and Place

Editors at Active History have been discussing the conclusions of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls since they were released earlier this month. In thinking of the best way to amplify the findings laid out in the report, “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls,” we have chosen to re-publish the “Defining Genocide” section. What follows in this post is, verbatim, pages two to four of the Executive Summary. By posting this here, we hope to show our support of the important work done to date by all involved as well as our solidarity in the Report’s findings. We encourage all of our readers to refer to the Final Report to learn—and listen –further.

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History Slam Episode 133: Pride, Commemoration, & Bill C-150

By Sean Graham

The theme for Toronto Pride this past weekend was ‘FREEDOM.’ The theme was selected, in part, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Widely seen as the impetus towards the modern gay rights movement, the uprising in New York City overshadows another event in the movement’s history that is being commemorated by the Canadian federal government this year. In early 1969, Bill C-150, an omnibus bill passed by the Pierre Trudeau government received Royal Assent. Among the plethora of amendments to existing laws, the bill decriminalized consensual acts in private between individuals over the age of 21.

In many press reports marking the anniversary, it has been suggested that the bill decriminalized homosexuality in Canada. Furthering this narrative, the Royal Canadian Mint is releasing a Loonie to commemorate the occasion. As has been noted here at Active History, there are people within the LGBTQ2+ community that object to the classification of Bill C-150 as decriminalizing homosexuality. With thousands of people being arrested in raids following the act’s passage, among other things, there is ample evidence to counter the narrative of decriminalization. That does raise the question, however, of whether this is an anniversary worthy of commemoration and, if so, how it should be done?

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Aaron Boyes and Corey Beaton about Bill C-150 and its contested commemoration. We talk about the bill’s contents, how politicians discussed homosexuality at the time, and the immediate impact of its passage. We also debate the 50th anniversary commemorations, how nuanced discussions fit into wider Pride events, and the need for LGBTQ2+ representation in national celebrations.

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