Congo: The Most Dangerous Place in the World for Women

On 21 May 2010 Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on a new round of mass killings and gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR). This is the latest in a string of now familiar reports that are attempting to shed light on a part of the world that has been seemingly left to smolder in the dark.

What has characterized this particular war has been its brutalization of civilians, including, women and children. Women and girls are routinely subjected to mutilation and repeated gang rapes. In fact, no other feature has characterized this war more than the prevalence of rape. It is estimated that throughout the Congo, approximately half a million women have been subjected to sexual violence of the most brutal sort during an over decade long war. The DCR has been called the most dangerous place in the world for women.

Martial rape is, of course, not without precedence. Historically there are many recorded incidences of the use of rape in war. The twentieth century alone has numerous examples that include the rape of women in Nanking, China by Japanese troops in 1937-38 and the rape of German women by advancing Red Army soldiers at the end of the Second World War, to the mid 1990s, which saw the use of rape as a weapon against the women of both Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Rape is more than a by-product of war, it used to further the destruction and disgrace of an enemy.   Within the Congo itself, its use was common during the Belgian colonial period where women were used to reward soldiers. But this history does not excuse its present day use, or explain its particular brand of viciousness in today’s Congo. Continue reading

Heli-skiing and cultural heritage in contested landscapes

by Jeff Slack

A recent BBC news report highlights some of the key issues in a decades-long debate over heli-skiing in the European Alps. First experimented with in British Columbia’s interior mountain ranges in the 1960s, heli-skiing entails using helicopters in lieu of chairlifts to shuttle small, guided groups of skiers to the top of otherwise difficult-to-access, and thus untracked mountain slopes.

Although this lucrative industry flourished in western North America’s wide open spaces, it also faces growing opposition, primarily over environmental concerns such as air pollution and other threats to fragile alpine ecosystems. In one recent controversy, however, opponents of a contentious heli-ski proposal voiced their concerns over potential conflicts between mechanized recreation and cultural heritage values in the region surrounding British Columbia’s highest mountain, Mount Waddington. As human demands on Canada’s natural spaces increase, such convergences of ecological and heritage concerns are likely to become a more common, and perhaps more effective, environmental strategy. Continue reading

2010 G8/G20 Summit: Upcoming Actions and Events

This photo was taken during the 2007 G8 Summit in Rostock, Germany.

This photo was taken during the 2007 G8 Summit in Rostock, Germany.

The G8 and G20 Summits are fast approaching.  G8 leaders will be meeting in Huntsville, Ontario at Deerhurst Resort on June 25, 2010; the G20 will be meeting in Toronto at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on June 26 and 27.

At a cursory glance, the G8, or Group of Eight, extends back to the 1973 oil crisis; originally called the G6, leaders from among the most powerful nations in the world met to discuss solutions to the global economic recession.  Nations included at the first meeting in 1975 were France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.  Canada was invited to join the following year, causing the group to be renamed the G7.  Russia was brought into the fold in 1997, thus creating the G8.  Continue reading

Historical Perspectives on Oil Gushers

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By Dana Johnson

At the end of April, I began a four-month internship at the Oil Museum of Canada. One of my major research projects involves examining primary source documents to gain a better understanding about the events of 1862, when Canada’s first oil gushers erupted from over thirty wells in Oil Springs, Ontario. I have discovered some interesting comparisons between accounts of those first oil gushers and the recent oil spill disaster (a British Petroleum rig exploded on April 20th, killing eleven men and causing an enormous leak into the Gulf of Mexico; thousands of barrels a day continue to spew into open waters, as containment efforts have proven inadequate to respond to the crisis.) Continue reading

Collection Access: the Toronto District School Board Artifact Loan Program

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) recently announced plans to increase access to the private art and artifact collection held by the School Board.  The collection is estimated to be worth millions of dollars, has been unavailable to the general public for years, and includes items from numerous noteworthy Canadians.

The School Board plans on increasing access to their collection through an educational loan program.  The proposed program aims to expose school children to the artwork and artifacts in an educational setting.  The program would allow school children to both learn and engage with material culture and would see items from the collection being temporarily loaned to Toronto schools.   The School Board has acknowledged the fact that in some cases preservation and security measures will have to be put in place prior to certain items being loaned to schools.  Additional information on the loan program can be found here and here. Continue reading

Campaigning with History: Wildlands and Woodlands

Last week we have two great posts by Tom and Alix on historians engaging with current issues and the value of “thinking with history” for policy development.  Both these post brought to mind a project in New England that I learned about at an environmental history conference a few  years ago.  The Wildland and Woodlands campaign is to protect 70% of New England’s land for forests:

New England forests are at a turning point. Following a 200-year resurgence, forest cover has begun to decline in every New England state. What will we do with this challenge and opportunity?

The Wildlands and Woodlands vision calls for a 50-year conservation effort to retain at least 70 percent of New England in forestland, permanently free from development.

    -90% of forests would be “Woodlands,” conserved by willing landowners and sustainably managed for multiple uses, from recreation to wood products.
    -10% of forests would be “Wildland” reserves, identified by local communities and shaped only by the natural environment. Continue reading

Active History Announcements: May 23-29

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The following upcoming events may be of interest to our readers (click on ‘continue reading’ below for full descriptions):

1) PSYCHIATRIC SURVIVOR ARCHIVES, TORONTO (PSAT) FOURTH ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING SATURDAY, JULY 3, 2010 from 1-5 PM

2) Approaching the Past: A series connecting people teaching history – Ruth Sandwell keynote speaker

3) Active History lunch at the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association – Montreal, May 30

4) Sean Mills, Karen Dubinsky, and David Austin book launch – Montreal, May 31

5) Canadian Industrial Heritage Centre (CIHC): Afternoon of History and Heritage in Brantford – June 12th

6) Digest of this week’s blog posts

7) Write for us! We are currently looking for more people interested in writing blog posts on Active History

If you have something to announce to the Active History community please contact info (at) activehistory.ca.

There will be no announcements next week. Continue reading

Re-membering a Lakeside Landscape in Japan

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PICT7029

Sagami Lake is an artificial lake located about 50 kilometers west of central Tokyo, and is an important part of the Sagami River system.  There are a number of landscapes within this river system that blur the distinctions between the rural and industrial, natural and artificial Japan.  Maybe landscape is not the word because the concrete, steel, and greenery come together in a particular kind of way.

There is nothing sublime about Sagami Lake.  It is too jagged for that.  The area around Sagami Lake, which is both a lake and a town, fits together like a jigsaw, pieced together by the crisscrossing patterns of steel bridges, concrete roads, and seasonal shops. Continue reading

The Politics of Textbooks: How Texas Wants to Educate the Nation

By Mike Green
To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful. – Edward R. Murrow
The recent changes to the ‘standards’ for history textbooks in Texas go right to the heart of academics and their legitimacy as historians.  The matter first came to my attention when the New York Times ran a story about the issue in mid-March.
These changes call into question the integrity of historians who write textbooks for publishers.  As the New York Times illustrates, these proposed changes, which will be voted on later this month, are not just about the inclusion of additional historical facts.  If that were the case, there would not be so much outrage on the part of the academic community.
Instead, the conservative majority on the State Board of Education (SBOE) is selectively excluding important bits of historical fact in an attempt to shape history to fit their own ideologies. David Bradley, the chair of the SBOE’s School Finance/Permanent School Fund committee, told the New York Times that he rejects “the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state” and that he would give $1,000 to charity in anyone could find this in the American Constitution.
Apparently Mr. Bradley was absent the day the Bill of Rights was discussed when he was in school.  Both the 6th article and the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution specifically address the role of religion in the operation of government. At least since Gitlow v. New York, the 1st Amendment has been applied to the states through the 14th Amendment.
These components of the Constitution prevent the government from establishing a dominant religion.   In 1962 Engle v. Vitale firmly illustrated that their was a wall of separation between church and state.   Referring to the decision, Justice Black stated, “In 1785-1786, those opposed to the established Church, led by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson…opposed all religious establishments by law on grounds of principle… [and believed that]… all religious groups were placed on an equal footing so far as the State was concerned.”
Don McLeroy, a former chair of the SBOE, took another stance in an interview with PBS.  He told the public broadcaster: “I would like to see the importance of religion to make sure that the role it played in the founding of our country and the acknowledgment of the founders’ dependence upon God that they wrote into the documents to make sure that that’s clearly presented.” In this spirit, the SBOE has sought to eliminate references to Jefferson, the separation of church and state, and the role of Mexican-Americans in the Civil Rights Movement.
The acts by the SBOE call into question the integrity of historians.  If historians in both Canada and the United States do not begin to address this issue we are in danger of losing our legitimacy.
The issue arising out of this revision of the SBOE curriculum is the relationship between school boards and the publishing world.  Since Texas is the second largest textbook buyer in the United States, publishers fall all over themselves to obtain the contract to publish approved textbooks.  Furthermore, because the publisher publishes so many of these books they discount the price for other schools who may be using them unaware of the changes imposed by the SBOE.
The SBOE is on track to accept these new standards by the end of this week.  However, outrage continues to grow in several sectors.  First, the California Senate has introduced a bill that will not allow schools to use textbooks published according to SBOE standards. Second, academics are beginning to prepare for a possible boycott of publishers who agree to publish according to these standards.  The Thomas Jefferson Movement has emerged as a coalition of teachers and academics who are proposing to counter these changes.  I have also proposed boycotting publishers who abide by the “standards” of the SBOE on my own blog.
Texas’s market share means that many other states also use Texas textbooks.  This is the real heart of the problem.  Considering the fact that of the almost 70% of high school graduates who go to college, only 25% will actually finish. This means that for many this will be the only history that they will receive.

By Mike Green

To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful. – Edward R. Murrow

The recent changes to the ‘standards’ for history textbooks in Texas go right to the heart of academics and their legitimacy as historians.  The matter first came to my attention when the New York Times ran a story about the issue in mid-March.

These changes call into question the integrity of historians who write textbooks for publishers.  As the New York Times illustrates, these proposed changes, which will be voted on later this month, are not just about the inclusion of additional historical facts.  If that were the case, there would not be so much outrage on the part of the academic community.

Instead, the conservative majority on the State Board of Education (SBOE) is selectively excluding important bits of historical fact in an attempt to shape history to fit their own ideologies. David Bradley, the chair of the SBOE’s School Finance/Permanent School Fund committee, told the New York Times that he rejects “the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state” and that he would give $1,000 to charity in anyone could find this in the American Constitution. Continue reading

“Tell me the story” – Thinking with History, Policy, and the Goldberg Rule

Alix Green

In my role as an adviser on policy for a university Vice-Chancellor, the UK equivalent of President, perhaps my most important job is to ask our leader to ‘tell me the story’ when he’s consulting me on some issue or another.  It seems to me that universities, along with many public sector institutions, are not always able, or inclined, to ‘think with history’ when they’re making the major policy decisions that shape their future.  That’s not to say that universities don’t have a powerful sense of history; they do.  But so often it seems a burden.  History weighs heavy on the shoulders of university leaders, who feel their capacity for action limited by the accumulation of previous decisions that have kept their institutions on a steady course to the present time.  Even at a new university like mine, which gained its status as a result of 1992 Further and Higher Education Act, history can be problematic for leaders.  As a former Polytechnic, my institution had a history to overcome – or at least to integrate into a new future  – as it strived to find its place in an expanded HE sector. Continue reading