The Distance We Have Traveled: Practicing History in the Twenty-First Century

By Andrew Nurse

Practicing History in the 21st Century. Image designed by Tom Peace.

Practicing History in the 21st Century.      (Image designed by Tom Peace)

To argue that there have been improvements in the practice of history is almost a-historical, at least heuristically. After all, claims of progress are a sign of Whig historiography and something we are supposed to avoid. And, yet, after leaving the Practicing History in the 21st Century Symposium, the idea that progress had actually been made was hard – for me at least – to shake.

There are several reasons I felt this way, but I should begin by saying that Practicing History in the Twenty-First Century was a symposium organized to honour John Reid, the noted Saint Mary’s University historians. I should also say “mea culpa” because I was one of the organizers, along with Tom Peace, Peter Twohig, Elizabeth Mancke, Jeffers Lennox, and Jerry Bannister.  As organizers we wanted to do more than honour John. We wanted to craft an event that took up the ideas with which he had worked and looked forward, building on ideas that have emerged in regional, colonialism, and Canadian history over the last generation.

The symposium featured panels that looked at public history, the shifting (or, not shifting) spatial organization of Atlantic regional history, relationships between historians and other communities, historical collaboration, and the audiences to which historians speak. Continue reading

Visualizing the Past: Mapping, GIS, and Teaching Historical Consciousness

By Sasha Mullally and Siobhan Hanratty

In defining the new field of spatial history, Richard White makes the case that mapping can be more than a corollary to a historical narrative, it “is a means of doing research; it generates questions that might otherwise go unasked, it reveals historical relations that might otherwise go unnoticed, and it undermines, or substantiates, stories upon which we build our own versions of the past.” Over the winter and spring of 2014, we taught a digital history course to honours and graduate history students at the University of New Brunswick that built upon these ideas. Designed from a theoretical perspective, the course traced the evolving relationship between digital history, mapping and map-making. In so doing, the course asked students to reconsider their own research in light of the “spatial turn,” and explore/evaluate the tools of historical geographic information systems (H-GIS). Continue reading

History Slam Episode Eighty-Eight: Translation and Canadian Theatre

By Sean Graham

Nicole NoletteRemember Bon Cop, Bad Cop? It was that movie set between Ontario and Quebec where the characters spoke French half the time and English half the time. During the French sequences, English subtitles would adorn the bottom of the screen and vice versa. The movie has earned a bit of a cult following and is held up as this beautiful example of the complexity of Canada’s linguistic history. Whenever I have taught courses on the history of popular culture, invariably the movie comes up.

One of the more interesting issues the film raises is the nature of the translation. Anyone who has ever used Google Translate knows how much meaning gets lost when things are translated literally word for word (like this). Because of this, the way in which we translate between languages is very important, particularly when the meaning can be easily misconstrued.

In this episode of the History Slam I talk with Nicole Nolette, author of Jouer la traduction: Théâtre et hétérolinguisme au Canada francophone, winner of the 2016 Ann Saddlemyer Award for as the best book on Canadian theatre. We talk about translating for theatre, the challenge of overcoming regional dialects, and the nature of bilingualism in Canada.

Continue reading

Join the Confederation Debate Today!

This is the second of two posts responding to “Debating the Confederation Debates of 1865” a two-week series we ran in partnership with Canada Watch.

By Daniel Heidt

As the countdown to our country’s 150th  anniversary begins, Canadians are hungry for information about their country’s past and contemplating its future. The Confederation Debates an online and largely crowd sourced initiative – will bring the records of the Numbered Treaties (1871-1921) as well as the colonial and federal legislative debates that preceded each province’s entry into Confederation between 1865 and 1949, into the public discussion while also making them accessible to future generations. Since it is a largely crowd sourced project, anyone can contribute to the work and discussion!

The Confederation Debates posted its first “Quote of the Day” to social media on 1 July 2016. We will continue posting content from all stakeholders in both official languages for the next year. Anyone can log onto our website, transcribe a page, and flag some text for these posts.

The Confederation Debates posted its first “Quote of the Day” to social media on 1 July 2016. We will continue posting content from all stakeholders in both official languages for the next year. Anyone can log onto our website (click the image to visit the site), transcribe a page, and flag some text for these posts.

As the past two weeks of Confederation-focused essays demonstrate, Canadians will bring diverse backgrounds and conflicting perspectives to what promises to be important, and at time heated, public and private discussions. Popular imagination, and Robert Harris’ group portrait of Canada’s ‘founders,’ limits Confederation to the1860s. Even if we expand the so-called ‘Confederation years’ to encompass the entry of BC, Manitoba, and PEI by 1873, we still ignore Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and the territories. This latter date also misses nearly all of the Numbered Treaties between Indigenous Peoples and the Canadian state between 1871 and 1921. The records for a few of the provinces’ Confederation discussions are online, but they are often difficult to find, buried in thousands of pages of unrelated debates, or require a subscription to access. Other colonial debates are only accessible in archives. The Numbered Treaty records suffer from the same access issues. Continue reading

Looking at 1867 from 1967 and 2017

This is the first of two posts responding to “Debating the Confederation Debates of 1865” a two-week series we ran in partnership with Canada Watch.

By Christopher Moore

During the constitutional wrangles of the 1980s that became known as “Meech Lake,” one of the premiers supposedly remarked that the fathers of confederation were fine men for their time but didn’t know much about telecommunications or the environment. Whatever expertise the first ministers of the 1980s may have had about telco and enviro policy, however, they eventually proved themselves far less successful than the original confederation-makers in the more significant skill of actually drafting and getting ratified a constitution that might last a century and a half.

I have known and admired for years several of the authors whose essays I have been asked to comment on for this collection. All the authors have made valuable contributions to historical knowledge of Canada. But when I read these essays, I heard again that premier. Continue reading

The Robert Harris group portrait

This is the fourteenth post in a two week series in partnership with Canada Watch on the Confederation Debates

By Ged Martin

The founding, in 1880, of the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts no doubt represented a landmark in recognition and encouragement of the visual arts in the Dominion. Unfortunately, it was not easy to advance its cultural agenda, especially the central aim of creating a National Gallery. A cramped room on Ottawa’s Bank Street was designated as the Gallery’s first home in May 1882, and it may be that the idea of acquiring a large picture of national import was attractive as a means of forcing the issue of a permanent location. In April 1883, the Academy’s president, Lucius R. O’Brien, submitted a wordy memorandum to the government calling for artistic commemoration of “the meeting of the Conference at which the foundation was laid for the Confederation of the Provinces constituting the Dominion of Canada.” O’Brien did not specify which conference he had in mind, and the project began as a tribute to the meeting in Charlottetown. However, wherever it happened, O’Brien argued that it was “an event of such importance in the annals of the country” that a monumental canvas was required to keep alive the memory of the participants. O’Brien added two further points. One was a hurry-up reminder that the delegates were already dying off. The other was that Robert Harris, “a Canadian artist of ability,” had recently returned from Europe and was “fully competent to paint such a picture.”[1]

Sir John A. Macdonald’s Cabinet was apparently uncertain about how to respond to O’Brien’s plea. Continue reading

Using history to justify Confederation

This is the thirteenth post in a two week series in partnership with Canada Watch on the Confederation Debates

By Marlene Shore

History was frequently invoked in the Confederation debates by both pro-confederates and anti-confederates to justify their positions. All parties realized that they were at a pivotal juncture, when a new set of constitutional arrangements would alter the destinies of the new country’s inhabitants, even though it was politically expedient for some to downplay the prospect of change. Speakers recognized that the American Civil War and the processes of state formation in Italy and Germany constituted part of the context, but in placing the Confederation process within a larger historical narrative, most politicians did not delve very far into the past. There might have been allusions to Shakespeare and the Bible, but members generally focused on how recent concerns — the clergy reserves or political deadlock — provided a justification for Confederation. Apart from George Brown, who articulated the Confederation pact as a key historic moment, the legislative debates reflect an attitude that Confederation would come about in a sequential process responsive to circumstances.

History As Progress

Members of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly held a typically 19th-century view of history as the unfolding of progress. Continue reading

Confederation comes at a cost: Indigenous peoples and the ongoing reality of colonialism in Canada

This is the twelfth post in a two week series in partnership with Canada Watch on the Confederation Debates

By Gabrielle Slowey

In 2015 Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, declared: “Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships.”[1] Why did he point this out? The reality remains that Canada and Canadians are not respectful of our relations with Indigenous peoples. As such, the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples (termed “Indians” in 1865 — but a relationship that would also extend to and include Inuit and Métis) at present remains “unreconciled.”

A Land of Many Sovereign Nations

Today Canadians are on a journey to reconciliation because in the 1860s the Fathers of Confederation had no regard for the rights or interests of Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (what most of us call Canada). What is most striking, though not surprising, is the absence of Indigenous peoples (and perspectives) from the debates in the Canadian Parliament in 1865. At that time, Indigenous people comprised many sovereign nations, all of which had very different political, economic, and social structures. They were self-governing, with sophisticated land and resource management regimes. There were multiple Indigenous nations spread across the country, some having already negotiated “peace and friendship treaties.” In the 1860s, the Indigenous peoples in the Prairies, much of British Columbia, and the North still dominated the local economies, and maintained their access to buffalo, fish, and fur-bearing animals. This access would diminish after Confederation. Continue reading

Gender and the Confederation debates

This is the eleventh post in a two week series in partnership with Canada Watch on the Confederation Debates

By Kathryn McPherson

The participants in the 1865 Confederation debates were divided by ethnicity, region, political opinion, and religion, but they shared class privilege, a racial identity we would now call “white,” and gender. They were all men.

This latter shared identity would not come as a surprise to feminist historians. The political revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries may have eradicated (or eroded) the patriarchal authority of monarchs, but in turn invested political power in male heads of households — populist patriarchs who as fathers and sons united to exclude female participation from the body politic.[1] In the Canadas, Bettina Bradbury has shown, property-owning women struggled for and lost their voting rights in 1830s and 1840s Montreal.[2] Such processes helped consolidate the stark division between public and private that characterized 19th-century industrial societies. Elite women may have wielded considerable influence on the perspectives of husbands and sons — Gail Cuthbert Brandt argued such was the case in the 1864 Charlottetown negotiations leading up to Confederation — but influence in the social and personal realms did not translate into political power.[3] As the 1865 Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly debates reveal, deciding the political future of British North America was an all-male affair. Is, then, gender a useful category of analysis for understanding the political dialogue of 1865? Continue reading

A workingman watches

This is the tenth post in a two week series in partnership with Canada Watch on the Confederation Debates

By Craig Heron

Tabernacle! Finally they’re gone. Pity the poor caretaker! I’ve had to wait for these windbags to finish their speeches almost every night for six weeks before I could close up the Parliament Building. So, night after night, I’ve sat waiting and listening. Grab that broom and give me a hand to clean up all their mess, and I’ll tell you about what’s been going on.

So many speeches, hour after hour. All about trying to pull together the colonies to make a new country, a “new nationality,” as some of them like to call it. I must admit that a few of them really know how to pitch an idea. That D’Arcy McGee can win a few hearts. But most of them didn’t make much impact on this workingman. It’s pretty clear that they don’t care about those of us who earn our bread by the sweat of our brow anyway. Not one of them talked about how working people would benefit from this new “Confederation.” Continue reading