The Long Form Census is Back, but it is Far From Perfect

By Patricia Kmiec

census image2If you live in Canada, you have likely received your invitation to complete the 2016 Census of Population this week. The 2016 census is a celebration of sorts in Canada, with many historians, researchers, educators, policy-makers, and members of the public relieved to hear that this year’s census comprises a mandatory short-form (completed by the entire population) and a mandatory long-form (completed by approximately 25% of the population). This is unusually celebratory news as the previous Conservative government eliminated the long-form census and replaced it with a voluntary survey for our last census year, 2011. Not surprisingly, much of the data collected from the voluntary survey was found to be unreliable, and, in many ways, useless to researchers.

While it is certainly good news that the mandatory form has returned, I hope that Canadians will continue the conversation about how accurate census data is essential in providing a strong understanding of the population. Unfortunately, assumptions about Indigenous identities, race, and labour, all deeply rooted in historical biases, continue to shape how questions are posed, how information collected is categorized, and how present-day realities for many populations are made invisible. Continue reading

Reports from New Directions in Active History: Pathways to Active Historical Engagement in High Schools

By Neil Orford

DHP logoThough it may be apocryphal, Thomas Aquinas was reputed to have said that “History is a foreign land to which  few will ever travel.” After teaching history for 30 years in the Ontario Secondary system, I believe he may have been  right.

The notion of ‘Active History” is an intriguing one – knowledge mobilization for students, designing a new robust curricula founded upon Historical Thinking Concepts, demanding 21st century digital competencies that present historical understandings in multi-dimensional ways – an idea which is rich in possibility, inventiveness and intellectual rigour.

Yet the October 2015 Conference on “New Directions, challenged me to make a frank assessment of the current state of history education, albeit from a decidedly “Ontario-Centric” perspective. The workshops, speakers and roundtable debates suggested that public history (and history education) are at a crossroads between teaching traditional narrative to establish ‘the story of Canada’ or teaching  for critical inquiry and skill-development.  True, the two ‘directions’ are not mutually exclusive and they can (& do) intersect with ease. However, within the limitations of a compulsory semester-long Grade 10 history course, which should be the ‘road  more-travelled?’

Perhaps more to the point; which provides the better chance for ‘active historical’ engagement? Continue reading

Writing is “easy”… Student Learning in the First-Year Canadian Survey Course

By Mark Leier

Making a safe space
Writing real life
Making assignments matter
Doing more with less

The assignment made all of us squirm. Some broke into a sweat; others made little nervous jokes. At a workshop on teaching writing, we — professors, graduate students, librarians, deans — were asked to take five minutes to complete a short writing exercise that we would share with others. We were seasoned veterans with countless theses, books, articles, memos, and position papers between us, yet being asked to write something made us uneasy.

The sportswriter Walter “Red” Smith is alleged to have said, “Turning out a column is easy. I just sit at my typewriter until beads of blood form on my forehead.”

I took that lesson to heart as I redesigned my first year survey course, “Canada since Confederation,” as a “writing intensive” course. The aim is not to teach writing skills such as “Our Friend the Comma” or “27 Keys to the Successful Term Paper.” Rather, writing is one of the skills we work on in the class, and writing is emphasized as a way to learn. But if a simple assignment at a voluntary workshop made us nervous, what would writing do to students who know they are about to be weighed and judged?

The problem is particularly acute in “Canada since Confederation.” Continue reading

AIDS on the Wall: Reflections on the Exhibit “Positive Sex” and the AIDS Activist History Project that Made it Happen

By Beth A. Robertson


Positive Sex Event Poster

Positive Sex Event Poster

Today if you walk into MacOdrum Library at Carleton University in Ottawa, you might be forgiven for taking a double-take. Up on the wall in the main foyer is a striking display that is intended to provide a deeper understanding of what AIDS activism in Canada has looked like since the 1980s. “Positive Sex: Eroticizing Safer Sex Practices in Canada in the 1980s and 1990s,” was curated by Janna Klostermann, Sarah Rodimon and Alexis Shotwell of Carleton University. Focusing on the people on the ground who struggled with inflexible bureaucracy and homophobic stereotypes to promote safer sex practices across Canada, the exhibit features a selection of materials, photographs and quotes that are challenging and provocative.

Continue reading

Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Colonial Baggage: Past and Present

by Christo Aivalis

‘(official denial) trade value in progress’ participatory art project responding to Harper's no history of colonialism statement. Photograph by Krista McCracken.

(official denial) trade value in progress’ participatory art project responding to Harper’s no history of colonialism statement. Photograph by Krista McCracken.

Justin Trudeau—since his October 2015 electoral victory that catapulted him to the office of Prime Minister, and his Liberal Party to a majority government—has not lost much of his sheen with the Canadian public. He still embodies for many youthfulness, respectable progressivism, and what the modern Canadian state and civil society should resemble.

Additionally, Trudeau on the international scene is seen as sexy, cosmopolitan, and as an embodiment of what Canada is stereotypically thought to be, even if it isn’t the reality. Trudeau’s actions, symbolic as they mostly have been, are nevertheless speaking loudly within and beyond Canada’s borders, giving him a highly publicized pulpit from which to evangelize his brand of Canadian l/Liberalism.

In this light, it was just a few days ago at New York University where Trudeau took questions from students. But one topic that went relatively unchallenged was Trudeau’s justification for what Canada can offer the United Nations:

it’s a capacity to engage in the world in difficult places without some of the baggage that so many other Western countries have, either colonial pasts or perceptions of American imperialism, as a critique that’s often out there.”

Some people, including NDP MP Niki Ashton, keyed in on Trudeau’s disavowance of Canada’s colonial and imperial baggage. Others have made the case that this sort of statement mirrors Stephen Harper’s claim that Canada has no history of colonialism. Continue reading

Reports from New Directions in Active History: Community-based Research and Student Learning

By Megan Hertner, Amy Bell and Nina Reid-Maroney

An interview the London Fugitive Slave Chapel Project.

An interview the London Fugitive Slave Chapel Project.

Our presentation at the 2015 Active History Conference was a co-written paper reflecting on our experiences as faculty and student in two community-based learning (CBL) projects in undergraduate History courses at Huron University College. As the student who participated in both projects, Megan presented the paper at the conference. To have a student writing and presenting on her own experiences of class projects, unlike other presentations in which student projects were mediated through presentation by the professor, reinforced the democratic and transformative learning process that characterized CBL projects at Huron. Continue reading

History Slam Episode Eighty-Three: Disaster Citizenship

By Sean Graham

Disaster CitizenshipIn June 1914, the town of Salem, Massachusetts was the site of a massive fire that destroyed over 1,300 buildings. Three and a half years later in Halifax, a fire aboard the SS Mont-Blanc caused an explosion that killed approximately 2,000 people and injured 9,000 others. These two events may seem completely separate in both time and location, but comparing the responses to the disasters sheds an interesting light on the nature of relief efforts and the connections between people living in the United States and Canada.

In the case of Salem, which was home to a sizable francophone community, there wasn’t much coverage of the fire in Quebec. The Halifax explosion, on the other hand, received plenty of attention in Boston, where residents had significant ties to Nova Scotia. The way in which each disaster was met, both locally and abroad, presents not only a unique opportunity for transnational history, but also serves as a fascinating comparison of how citizens respond to disasters.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Jacob Remes about his new book Disaster Citizenship: Survivors, Solidarity, and Power in the Progressive Era. We talk about doing trans-national research, North America diaspora, and responses to disasters.

Continue reading

(Re)Occupied: #OccupyINAC and British Columbia’s 1975 Militant May

By Sarah Nickel

Cover from The Trail of Broken Treaties: B.I.A. I'm Not Your Indian Any More (Akwesasne: Akwesasne Notes, 1973)

Cover from The Trail of Broken Treaties: B.I.A. I’m Not Your Indian Any More (Akwesasne: Akwesasne Notes, 1973)

When approximately thirty members of the Idle No More and Black Lives Matter movements entered the Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC) office in Toronto on April 13, 2016 to protest government inaction on the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat, the group, calling itself #OccupyINAC was drawing on long established political strategies. Indigenous peoples have occupied Indian Affairs offices before. Perhaps the most well-known was the 1972 American Indian Movement (AIM) occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) headquarters in Washington, DC. The BIA takeover concluded the Trail of Broken Treaties—a cross-country march organized to protest broken treaty promises and the poor living conditions of Native American peoples across the country. When the caravan reached Washington, 500 American Indians took over the BIA office, destroyed records, and began a seven-day occupation, during which they presented AIM’s “Twenty Point” position paper to President Nixon, listing their demands. Less well known are the occupations that occurred in British Columbia three years later. Continue reading

Lab Partners: Experimenting with Active Learning

(Editor’s note: this post first appeared in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives in April 2016)

By Gabriel Pizzorno and Heidi Tworek


Credit: Jonathan Palmer

One truism about World War I is the incompetence of German propaganda in the United States. The classic stories feature German officials forgetting briefcases with secret documents on the New York subway and ham-fistedly delivering speeches about German culture. But what if we look beyond urban centers to examine the thousands of news items from a German news agency printed in American newspapers during the war? And what if we integrate students into this research adventure?

Over the past few years, the history department at Harvard University, where one of us teaches and the other has taught, has implemented an independent-study course, History Lab, that uses active learning to offer students hands-on experience in historical research and digital methods. Conceived by Dan Smail in 2013, the course addressed a long-standing desire among undergraduates to get involved in research. It also reflected growing faculty interest in applying digital methods and teaching these skills to history majors. Participating faculty propose research projects. Students register for a project and meet weekly with the faculty member; they receive ordinary course credit and must produce a final product (for example, an online exhibition or a visualization) comparable to a major term paper. They also consult regularly with the department’s digital historian, Gabe Pizzorno, who coordinates the methodological aspects common to all the projects.

Research papers and senior theses allow students to stumble on their own; History Lab uses the collaborative nature of digital scholarship to foster collective rather than individual learning. Continue reading

History on Trial in Daniels vs. Canada

By William Wicken

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples press conference following the verdict. CAP photo

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples press conference following the verdict. CAP photo

Last week the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in the Daniels vs. Canada case. Writing for the court, Justice Abella declared that ‘Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” under section 91(24).’ Much has already been written about the decision and its possible implications. Less well known are the historical arguments which were the foundation of the trial judge’s decision, and which the Supreme Court upheld. In this post, I discuss my involvement as an historian, and the questions of law, power, and intent that were at the heart of the case.

Two principal witnesses presented the historical evidence on behalf of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the main plaintiff in the case. These witnesses were Gwynneth Jones and me. Both of us did original archival research and submitted written reports to the Court. My report was 171 pages, and Gwynneth’s report was similarly lengthy. Each of us also testified at trial before Justice Phelan of the Federal Court of Canada in May of 2011 and we were both cross-examined by federal lawyers. Afterward, the federal government presented their evidence, most of which was given by Professors Stephen Patterson and Alexander Von Gernet.

History as evidence

Why was this historical evidence important? The plaintiff sought to make the federal government recognize that they had a legal responsibility for Métis and non-status Indians. This would mean “that the Government of Canada can no longer disclaim responsibility and continue playing a game of political hot potato with the provinces over jurisdiction.”  In making this argument, the Congress’s lawyers focused their attention on section 91 of the 1867 British North America Act. Continue reading