History Slam Episode Eighty-Two: Historically Inspired Baby Names

By Sean Graham

hello-my-name-isI am not a parent. Nor am I close to becoming a parent. That being said, one of the things that strikes me as a major challenge of early parenthood – perhaps the first challenge after a child is born – is picking a name. The challenges of finding the right name has long been a sitcom staple. And while it may seem easy to pick a name that doesn’t rhyme with a female body part, I would be overwhelmed by the options available. I can stand in the cereal aisle for 20 minutes trying to decide what to get, so the prospect of picking a name seems really intimidating.

Yet, every day people are able to name their kids. Over the past five years, I’ve had a bunch of friends who have gone through the process of naming their newborn children. The consensus seems to be that naming is easier than it seems from the outside – that while there can be and often is lots of discussion beforehand, the right name tends to be clear when the time comes.

The reasons for picking a name can vary greatly, from liking the one a name sounds to honouring a departed family member to concluding that a newborn ‘looks’ like a certain name. Less common, however, is naming your kids after prominent historical figures. While it does happen on occasion, it can be challenging to find a name that is both inspired by someone from history and also fits in the 21st century. Continue reading

In Search of Digital Literacy in Canadian History Programs

By Stacey Devlin

For both students and practicing historians, a wealth of information is often just a few clicks away. Photo by Thomas Lefebvre via unsplash.com

For both students and practicing historians, a wealth of information is often just a few clicks away. Photo by Thomas Lefebvre via unsplash.com

During the second half of my MA, my colleagues and I were tasked with preparing an exhibit about early-twentieth-century medicine. Not having a background in medical history, I began by downloading archived medical periodicals from Early Canadiana Online. I reasoned that if I could identify important conversations of the profession during the period of interest, I would have clear leads for exhibit content. What were considered standard practices? What were the pressing issues or the latest controversies? Unfortunately, I wasn’t at liberty to read the thousands of pages I had downloaded, let alone to keep an ongoing record of topics or word usage. During the previous semester, however, I had taken courses on digital history and digital research methods. After using Voyant Tools to generate a list of frequently used words in my periodicals, I put together a program to extract instances of these key words and save them in new documents for review. My processing of the periodicals ended there, but even this simple operation gave me useful direction for continued research.

In the two years since then, I’ve continued to use a variety of technologies in my work. My university training in digital history (and the willingness to embrace new technologies in general) has been helpful in finding employment opportunities outside the academy. I incorporate digital tools into my workflow because they’re illuminating, time-saving, and even fun. However, digital literacy was not a priority during most of my university career. Similarly, I have few peers that would consider themselves digital historians, despite the fact that research is routinely conducted online and the digital humanities are a frequent topic of discussion within the discipline. Continue reading

Creating the Historical Record in Literary and Personal Archives

by Krista McCracken

Part of the Brian Vallée fonds. Photograph taken by author.

Part of the Brian Vallée fonds. Photograph by author.

Archives document people, organizations, and communities from almost all walks of life and are most commonly referred to for their historical value and viewed as repositories of things of intrinsic and lasting historical value. This is also true in the case of literary archives and the personal archives of creative practitioners, but these archives have the added potential to be records of culture, provide insight into individual creative practices and elicit scholarly debate.

Until recently my exposure to literary archives had been very limited.  I knew they existed but in my case, coming to archives from a history background, literary and artistic archives were always on the periphery but were never the focus of my work.  For me archives were more about historical documentation, snapshots of time, and about telling community histories.  So, how do literary and artistic archives fit within the larger archival frameworks and how can these archives be useful to historians? Continue reading

History Slam Episode Eighty-One: The Bank War

Yesterday, Jonathan McQuarrie wrote about the smash Broadway show Hamilton. Even before the show, when most people thought about the establishment of the financial system in the United States, Hamilton was likely the first person to come to mind. President Andrew Jackson, probably wasn’t top of mind, while Nicolas Biddle remains a largely unknown figure. That’s why Paul Kahan’s new book The Bank War: Andrew Jackson, Nicolas Biddle, and the Fight for American Finance is so interesting.

The book traces the battle between Jackson and Biddle through the 1830s as the President tried to dismantle the national bank while Biddle fought to preserve the institution. Ultimately, Jackson prevailed, a result that had major implications for the American economy through the 19th century.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Paul Kahan about the book. We talk about the challenges of writing popular history, the history of America’s financial structure, and the role of personalities in early American history.

Continue reading

Hamilton: A Belated Discussion

By Jonathan McQuarrie

It turns out rap is a perfect medium for history. Hamilton has become a touchstone musical, winning laurels from a range of audiences from musical aficionados to people (like me) who are never quite sure why everyone is singing. Its wide appeal has made it a notoriously difficult ticket to get—as of this writing, the tickets are “extremely limited” and ticket resale sites ask for $500 to $700. As the New York Times reviewer noted, “I am loath to tell people to mortgage their houses and lease their children to attend a hit Broadway show. Hamilton, directed by Thomas Kail and staring [Lin-Manuel] Miranda might just be worth it[.]” For those unwilling to resort to such extreme measures (including myself), the cast recording is widely available, and captures much of the energy and power of the work. It has the feel of being one of those generational musicals with the power to define how many people understand a historically significant figure, much as Les Misérables shaped understanding of the French revolutionary period.

Hamilton is a lasting success. So, we need to pay attention to this cultural moment. Here’s why.

  • One need not read a fully footnoted work to find some analytically rich and complex material. The creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, demonstrated an impressive commitment to historical accuracy. He drew rigorously on Ron Chernow’s popular, but extensive, biography of Alexander Hamilton, and Chernow contributed as a consultant to the production. Other historians have largely praised the work’s portrayal, noting only minor omissions or confusions. Indeed, the approximately three hour work is remarkable for how much detail it does include, from Hamilton’s efforts to form a new financial system to an intricate detailing of the rules of dueling. The “Cabinet Battles” are must-listens.

Continue reading

Who Teaches Digital History in Canada?

By Sean Kheraj

Digital history is coming to York University in Fall 2016. That is to say, I finally got around to organizing and preparing to teach digital history. As I get ready to teach this course, I am surveying the landscape of digital history teaching in Canada, looking for ideas. Readers of this article, I hope, will help by posting suggestions and links to resources in the comments below.

For many years now, I have integrated digital history skills, assignments, and exercises into my history courses. Continue reading

Performing For War, Hoping For Peace: Canadian Actresses’ Transnational Engagements with World War I

By Cecilia Morgan

It opened with a number of trumpet calls, followed by the boom of cannons. Then the curtain rose and the central attraction of the 1917 vaudeville production Liberty Aflame was revealed: Julia Arthur, dressed as the Statue of Liberty. According to theatre reviewer Alan Dale, “Miss Arthur stood, as all stars love to stand, in the absolute centre of the stage, and on high. Flowing robes encircled her, her brow bore Liberty’s crown, and she had a torch in uplifted hand. No other star could have revelled in anything more stellar. The storm raged around her. Glimpses of Manhattan, illuminated, might be seen in the background, but Liberty on her pedestal, a loquacious and very chatty Liberty, confronted the audience.” As Arthur spoke, a stereopticon show was displayed on the statue’s base. Featuring patriotic actors from American history – the Minute Men, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln – it then proceeded to show the audience the sinking of the Lusitania, described by Arthur as a “needless sacrifice.” The next photograph was that of Woodrow Wilson, who explained his aims in taking the United States into World War I and asked for his nation’s help, an appeal Arthur underscored with her call for the country’s young, strong, and healthy male citizens to represent liberty and win the battle. As she told readers, all of this was met with “great cheering” from the audience. After all, “Julia Arthur’s name means much to vaudeville, but her present vehicle means much to the country and its producers are doing a valuable service to Uncle Sam.”

Throughout the late winter and spring of 1917, Liberty Aflame played in vaudeville houses across the United States, where – judging from the many reviews – it was deemed a great success. While some reviewers felt it was unseemly to imitate the voices of the dying Lusitania passengers and crew on a vaudeville stage, they also recognized the “majestic dignity,” sincerity, and intensity with which Arthur endowed her character.

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Fig. 1 Theatre and Silent Screen Actress Florence La Badie Digging a Victory Garden, c. 1917. Tannhouser Studio Publicity Photograph. Courtesy New York Public Library, Billie Rose Theatre Division.

Liberty Aflame was a particularly spectacular example of actresses’ promotion of wartime patriotism. Yet it was by no means an isolated event. Continue reading

On Wreaths and Graffiti: Reading Defacement and Nostalgia at Ottawa Monuments

Active History is proud to present a video each week from New Directions in Active History. The conference took place at Huron University College on October 2-4, 2015 and brought together scholars, students, professionals and community members to discuss a wide range of topics pertaining to active history.

This week’s video marks the last video post from the 2015 Active History Conference. Tonya Davidson, a sociologist of public memory at Ryerson Univeristy, researches the ambivalent feelings Canadians have towards monuments. She explains that although monuments are often dismissed as being “ideological tools of the state”, when something happens at the monument, or to the monument, public attention tends to be “aroused”.  She explains that part of the reason for the public outcry is that we view monuments on the one hand as, “dynamic, live witnesses…to the past”, but we also see monuments as “very active” in the present as well. Davidson goes on to speak about the defacement done to two sculptures on the Parliament buildings by peace protesters in 1985 and explains how the restoration of the vandalism can make us think about the ways in which we can grapple with monuments and multiple histories. Davidson then analyzes two other monuments in Ottawa, the Samuel De Champlain statue at Nepean Point and the Human Rights Monument located at the corner of Lisgar and Elgin. Using these two examples, Davidson explains how monuments can serve as problematic representations of nostalgia and also how they can be political statements with contemporary resonance.

Cannabis Americana: The Past, Present, and Future of Marijuana in North America

By Adam Rathge

Marijuana-Cannabis-Weed-Bud-GramJudging from recent developments in Canada, Mexico, and the United States it seems we’re on the cusp of a monumental shift in North American drug policy. Indeed, the war on drugs paradigm and its requisite enforcement agencies appear under greater attack than perhaps ever before. This is especially true for marijuana prohibition. In Canada medical marijuana has been widely available for more than a decade, while new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly promised to move toward a system of recreational legalization. In Mexico the Supreme Court recently declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for personal use, potentially paving the way for legal challenges to the nation’s current drug laws. In the United States nearly half the country now allows medical marijuana, with four states also providing a legal market for recreational marijuana and as many as six more primed to follow this year.

The road forward, however, is anything but clear. Indeed, if history is our guide, there’s a great deal of uncertainty ahead for both the medicalization and legalization of marijuana. Continue reading

Using the past to structure the future: Envisioning cannabis legalization through the lens of liquor control

By Dan Malleck

Marijuana-Cannabis-Weed-Bud-GramIt is the moment that scholars fear: the question you cannot answer, in a forum where you’re presented as an expert. Such a case happened at the recent Rise of Big Cannabis symposium held in Saskatoon in March 2016. A cannabis activist asked the panel on legalization which distribution system would be better: the “dispensary” model or the “licensed producer” model. He was looking straight at me, and I had no answer.

Pondering it on the flight home, I began to reconsider the cannabis question. In this essay I (finally) address his question and discuss how it introduces a new complexity to an already complicated issue.

Since I study the histories of alcohol regulation and drug prohibition, Continue reading