Using Word Clouds to Quickly See the Political Past

The 1933 CCF Regina Manifesto (all images produced by

With politicians out on the hustings, what better time than to go through the old political speeches, manifestos, and platforms. Using Wordle, we can throw them up and look at word clouds. They’re not just pretty, but they can let us see the evolution of political thought and what words were capturing Canadians. They also let us see what things remain the same: most Throne Speeches over the last 15 years are nearly identical, stressing ‘government,’ ‘Canada,’ ‘Canadians, ‘etc. But we can see discontinuities: the 1933 Regina Manifesto, for example, contrasted with contemporary NDP promises and platforms (‘family’ and ‘home’). Reading all the documents might be preferable, but this is quick (it takes a minute to produce the picture at left) and has great possibilities for dealing with large quantities of information. Continue reading

Upcoming Approaching the Past Workshop: Teaching the War of 1812

The next Approaching the Past workshop will be held on Wednesday April 27th at 7:oo pm at Toronto’s historic Fort York.  The theme of this workshop is “Teaching the War of 1812,” and will feature a tour of Fort York and two short presentations by Karen Dearlove and Carolyn King.  Karen will be discussing the upcoming Ontario Visual Heritage Project “Rural Raids and Divided Loyalties: Southwestern Ontario and the War of 1812.” Carolyn’s presentation will focus on including Aboriginal perspectives in teaching the War of 1812.

Approaching the Past is a workshop series that brings together teachers working in middle and high schools, universities and museums to discuss teaching history.  Approaching the Past is organized by The History Education Network (THEN/HIER) and

Please RSVP Samantha Cutrara at by April 21 to attend.

Stewart Brand and the Nuclear Renaissance that Should Not Be

Stewart Brand

By Lisa Rumiel

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

It is time to stop claiming that a nuclear renaissance is the solution to the current environmental crisis.  I’m talking to you, Stewart Brand.  A sort of Nostradamus of technological and environmental thought, Brand is one of the most prominent environmentalists-turned-nuclear power proponents in the United States.  He is an incredibly influential public intellectual and the founder of the Long Now Foundation, an organization that celebrates stuff like this and promotes thinking along these lines.  He even invited Frank Gavin to give an inspiring lecture on the important things historians have to contribute to pressing policy discussions, which, to this historian, is pretty cool.  None of these things sits comfortably with the praise he continues to lavish upon nuclear energy technology. Continue reading

April 14th Public Lecture: “From a Pastoral Wetland to an Industrial Wasteland, and Back Again? An Environmental History of the Lower Lea River Valley, the Site of the 2012 London Olympics.”

A reminder to our readers that you are all invited to the second lecture in the Mississauga Library System’s ‘History Minds’ series, co-hosted with The second talk will be on Thursday, April 14th at 7:30PM in Classroom 3 at the Mississauga Central Library (see below the cut for directions).

“From a Pastoral Wetland to an Industrial Wasteland, and Back Again? An Environmental History of the Lower Lea River Valley, the Site of the 2012 London Olympics.” [part of the pan-Canadian NiCHE Speakers’ Series]
With Dr. Jim Clifford.

The Lower Lea Valley, currently undergoing a massive redevelopment project in perpetration for the next Summer Olympics, underwent a number of equally remarkable transformations as London’s heavy industry migrated to the city’s eastern periphery in the second half of the nineteenth century. In this talk, Jim Clifford will explore some of the findings of his recently defended PhD dissertation on the environmental problems created by half a century of urban-industrial development and discuss some of the challenges this posed for redevelopment. Continue reading

A Novel Approach to Connecting Young Canadians with the Past: Leaders and Legacies Series

Roderick Benns, The Legends of Lake on the Mountain: An Early Adventure of John A. Macdonald, foreword by Brian Mulroney (Fireside Publishing: 2011).

“It’s a dangerous thing to let just any common man have enough power to make decisions without a sober educated voice of reason.” [said the colonel] “Sometimes the common man doesn’t know what’s good for him.”

“Why does change have to happen all at once?” asked John. “Just because I’m a British subject and I’ll die a British subject some day, doesn’t mean we can’t grow. Not everything happens overnight.”

        – excerpts from The Legends of Lake on the Mountain

Canadians, particularly young Canadians, do not know much about Canada’s past. Such has been the cry coming from the likes of the Historica-Dominion Institute’s frequent surveys of Canadians’ knowledge of history, seen as well through the Conservative government’s recent attempt to rectify gaps in our historical knowledge through a rather controversial re-vamping of the Canadian immigration guide, Discover Canada: the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship (with a youth version published jointly with a youth history magazine, Kayak). Roderick Benns, Senior Writer with the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat of the Ontario Ministry of Education, has attempted to contribute to these and other efforts to raise the profile of a particularly nationalist strain of history in Canadian public life as the series editor and author of the first two instalments of the new Leaders and Legacies series. Continue reading

New Book Review: Enoch on Manufacturing Meltdown: Reshaping Steel Work

Simon Enoch reviews Manufacturing Meltdown: Reshaping Steel Work by D.W. Livingstone, Dorothy E. Smith and Warren Smith:

I approached the new Fernwood release Manufacturing Meltdown: Reshaping Steel Work by D.W. Livingstone, Dorothy Smith and Warren Smith (Fernwood Publishing, 2011, paperback: $27.95) from a rather different perspective than I approach most other historical works. Manufacturing Meltdown details over thirty years of research into the steel industry in Hamilton Ontario, my hometown. As the son of a boilermaker, growing up in a working class community and surrounded by the families of steelworkers throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, the material in this collection is particularly poignant as it revealed to me the driving macro-economic factors that shaped many of the events that characterized my childhood. READ MORE

Active History on the Grand: We Are All Treaty People

Six Nations' protest at Caledonia

It’s been five years since members of the Six Nations began their protest and occupation at the site of the Douglas Creek Estates housing development in Caledonia.  The events at Caledonia garnered national attention and caused heated confrontations between both sides.  Five years later the land is vacant expect for one finished house, a burnt-out tractor trailer and Haudenosaunee flags, remnants of the Six Nations occupation.  The Ontario Government has purchased the land from the housing developer and provided financial assistance to residents of Caledonia affected by the protest and occupation.

But little has been settled.  On the five year anniversary members of the Six Nations, including the three women who started the protest, returned to the site, the land which they call Kanenhstaton or “The Protected Place.”  Many residents of Caledonia are still angry about the ongoing native land dispute, and only a few days ago took their message to Ottawa.  The recent book by Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford about the Caledonia protest and occupation, Helpless: Caledonia’s Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy, and How the Law Failed All of Us, has been dogged by controversy.  Last November Blatchford’s scheduled appearance at the University of Waterloo was canceled after protesters took to the stage claiming that Blatchford “does not explore issues central to the aboriginal occupation, such as historic land claims and treaties.” The ongoing land dispute at Caledonia, and other outstanding land claims in the Grand River Valley, as well as elsewhere in Canada, speaks to the significance of history and what Laurier Brantford’s Program Coordinator for Contemporary Studies Peter Farrugia calls “the immanence of the past in the present.” Continue reading

Movie Review: “Swedes and Scots and Sadists…Oh My”

This past weekend I watched two movies that were seemingly more different than any two movies could be. They did have things in common. Both films were intriguing and entertaining in their own way and at their heart is a similar theme: reclaiming and uncovering the “true” past. Continue reading

Some Reflections on Life Histories, Death, and Crossing between “Two Worlds”

 Collecting oral histories can pose significant challenges in crossing between the public spaces of oral history production and the professional space of the university. Bridging this divide can sometimes feel like an impossible task. It has often led me to feel that I’m moving back and forth between two worlds

When I first started doing this, I was surprised to encounter some distrust of academics. One woman shared a story with me that poignantly captured this. She had participated in an academic project once, but she hadn’t found it to be a very positive experience. When she read about a research project in the paper, she was eager to help, and she mailed some of her prized possessions – diaries and other records of her late aunt’s life – to the person conducting the research. And then she never heard from the researcher again. Continue reading