Space and Historical Imagery: Making History Accessible

Have you ever wondered what your local intersection might have looked like in 1900? What about 1920? 1950? What has changed? What has stayed the same? A wonderful new site that we learned about at the Great Lake’s THAT Camp at Michigan State University was lookbackmaps, which makes historical imagery accessible to enthusiasts through a fascinating and accessible website.

A screenshot from lookbackmaps

Using google maps, lookbackmaps allows users to not only click on a location and see a current photograph juxtaposed against a historical one, but also to upload their own entries into the system. Right now there is a marked focus on San Francisco, where founder Jon Voss is situated, but it is spreading across the United States and hopefully soon even into Canada!  It also has an iPhone application that allows you to phase the historical imagery into your screencapture – augmented reality for historians! Check out a video demo here. What a remarkable way to engage in a historical manner with your surroundings!

Continue reading

Walking Tours: Brooklyn and Beyond

      1 Comment on Walking Tours: Brooklyn and Beyond

By Teresa Iacobelli

Chad Furrow Photo

Chad Furrow Photo

Relocating to a new city can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. Recently I have made the move from Ottawa, Ontario to Brooklyn, New York, and in the short time that I have been here I have felt a slew of emotions ranging from awe to frustration. Living in a city of this size can be challenging, however thus far the best coping mechanism that I have found is getting to know my own small neighborhood (yes, I’m quickly adapting) one block at a time, and one of the best ways of knowing a neighbourhood is to know its history.

Chad Furrow Photo

Chad Furrow Photo

I live in an area of Brooklyn called Fort Greene, and one of the first things that one notices about this community is the architecture – brownstone walk-ups on tree lined streets and grand old homes, once mansions, now divided into offices and apartments. It is the kind of architecture that makes one wonder what life used to be like here. Luckily, due to a wonderful local historical society that offers exhibits, as well as an archives and workshops for residents to research their own homes, it is easy to find out the answers to these questions. Fort Greene dates its settled origins back to its time as a military fort during the American Revolutionary War. It has been the home to many notable Americans, including literary greats Walt Whitman and Richard Wright. Fort Greene has been a center of African-American arts and culture, and it has also experienced its share of economic downturns and subsequent revivals. The neighbourhood is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, singling it out for preservation. But this isn’t an article about the storied history of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, rather it is an article about the history of any community, and the innovative ways that historians and residents are finding to share local stories. Continue reading

CAW Retirees Seek Social Justice for Seniors

      3 Comments on CAW Retirees Seek Social Justice for Seniors

Taken on April 15, 1937, this image shows approximately 500 veterans and clergymen protesting the recruitment of 200 war veterans as strike police during a General Motors strike in Oshawa. This and other images can be found online through the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.

I had the pleasure of attending a public forum on pensions in Oshawa a few weeks ago.  Organized by the retirees’ chapter of the Canadian Auto Workers’ (CAW) Local 222, over 200 bodies were in attendance.

While the theme of the evening was universal public pensions, speakers had experienced a number of social ills: a single mother who lost her home and car after being laid off from GM, now enrolled in a government re-training program as a care provider and struggling to make ends meet as a student and mother; a woman whose father had lost his workplace pension, reduced to poverty in his final years on the paltry public pensions currently paid in Canada; a former Nortel worker who recounted what it was like to lose his income security on the brink of retirement.  Following these testimonials, Sylvain Schetagne, an economist with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), gave a brief presentation on how a more generous public pension plan and ‘retirement security for everyone’ could be turned into policy.

The remaining time was then given to questions and comments from the audience, and a large line quickly formed.  I heard many positive reviews of this afterwards – to paraphrase one woman in the audience I overheard: it’s about time they gave us equal time to speak.  Again and again, people said that they just wanted to be heard.  Unfortunately, only a couple of politicians attended.  The many who were invited were represented only by a name card and an empty seat at the head table.

Continue reading

Colborne Street Breakdown: Public Protest, a University, and Academic Activism

By Karen Dearlove

It’s a story that has grown far bigger than Brantford.  Articles in the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Hamilton Spectator, and the KW Record have drawn attention to what’s happening in downtown Brantford.

It’s a story about heritage buildings, those trying to save them, a city council, a university, and academics caught in the middle.  It’s a story that raises questions about academics’ responsibilities in the community, academic freedom and activism, and the universities they work for.

Colborne Street

At risk are 41 buildings located along three blocks of Colborne Street, the main street of Brantford’s downtown.  More than half of these buildings were constructed prior to 1867, and some claim this to be the largest stretch of pre-Confederation buildings left in Ontario.  It’s true these buildings have seen better days, as with much of Brantford which has suffered hard since the closing of major industries in the 1980s.  But Brantford has experience a significant resurgence in the past decades, due in large part to the growing Laurier Brantford campus downtown.

Continue reading

New Active History Paper: Citizenship Literacy and National Self-identity by Larry A. Glassford


WrongThe content of history textbooks and curriculum is an important factor in the political socialization of succeeding generations of students. This study of representative classroom textbooks authorized for use in Ontario at three distinct eras of the 20th century shows how the main lines of interpretation have shifted over time. During the pre-World War II era, the persistent underlying tone was one of reverence for Canada’s connection to Britain. By mid-century, the main theme was Canada’s bilingual dualism within North America. As the end of the 20th century loomed, the textbook authors were focusing much more on previously marginalised groups within the Canadian multicultural mosaic. Each era produces its own historical narrative, but within the school context, an authorized interpretation impacts the beliefs of the generation to follow. The ultimate goal must be to nurture democratic citizens of the global future with a sure understanding of their own national identity.

Link to full paper

Activating Foucault for Canadian History

      2 Comments on Activating Foucault for Canadian History

by Steven Maynard

Foucault“What does a queer, sadomasochistic philosopher have to do with the study of Canada’s past?” This is the question I ask students at the beginning of my first-year survey course on Canadian history. Over the years, colleagues have suggested that first-year undergrads aren’t ready for Foucault. But experience tells me that not only are many of Foucault’s ideas readily translatable in the classroom, but that many first-year students, not always convinced that the study of Canadian history might have some connection to their present, eagerly grasp onto them. This past week was a case in point.

Continue reading

History and the Problem of Auto-referentiality

      No Comments on History and the Problem of Auto-referentiality

by Jeremy Nathan Marksblackbird

Historical writing has long suffered from the problem of auto-referentiality. Auto-referentiality, as I define it, simply means historians are writing only in reference to human subjects and human problems. I don’t mean to say that historiography is populated only by human beings but we do not currently possess an extensive literature where humans are not the protagonists.

Continue reading

Canadian Historians in the Newspaper

      1 Comment on Canadian Historians in the Newspaper

Newspaper and TeaWhat if my supervisor disagrees with what I write? What if someone in the community sends me a nasty email? What if the editor ignores my article?

There are plenty of excuses young historians turn to when they convince themselves not to write opinion pieces for the newspaper. But, there are even more good reasons why they should: what if it makes government reconsider policy related to my research? What if I can convince Canadians to think differently about a topic for which I am passionate? What if my research makes a tangible difference because I put it where people would read it? Continue reading

Active History and learning from the early-Canadian past

Two weeks ago the  Telegraph in the United Kingdom ran a story announcing that due to government cutbacks the department of history at the University of Sussex has decided to end research and in-depth teaching on topics related to pre-1700 English social history and pre-1900 European history.  Under the new paradigm, topics such as the English Civil War, French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars would no longer be a focus of study.

Appropriately these changes were met with outcry from the academic community.  The Telegraph received a letter signed by 17 historians who called the program’s restricted emphasis short-sighted and risked skewing the public’s understanding of the past.

All of this got me thinking about the state of early-Canadian history and its relationship to Active History.  As the only member of our editorial board who does not study twentieth-century history, I must admit that I reflect on this often.  How important is early-Canadian history to current issues facing Canadian society?  And how does research on early-Canadian history compare with the study of later periods? Continue reading

CFP: Left History Theme Issue on Active History

      No Comments on CFP: Left History Theme Issue on Active History

Left History is currently seeking submissions from new and established scholars for a special theme issue on the emerging field of Active History.

Working in collaboration with the editors of and drawing on the discussions that were initiated at the Active History: History for the Future Conference held at Glendon College in September 2008, Left History is looking for original articles, theoretical pieces, document analyses, and reviews that question and challenge the public responsibility of the historian. The issue will include a peer-reviewed article section, as well as a roundtable focusing on less conventional displays, examples, and short thought pieces. Continue reading