Introducing the History Chats Podcast Feed

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Here at, we have a terrific collection of recordings featuring world class historians. While a lot of people have found them on the site or through our YouTube channel (which has over 1,500 hours of watch time), there are so many that we decided we needed to highlight the offerings. That’s why we are excited to announce the launch of History Chats, a podcast feed that will feature new episodes weekly. Where the History Slam is conversational,  History Chats will feature recordings of public talks, conference sessions, and roundtables. These recordings are unique and a such valuable resource that we thought they deserved their own feed.

To get things started, we will feature a series of new podcasts recorded at the University of Toronto as part of its conference on Canada 150. Following those, we will feature an episode from our catalogue each week, while including new episodes as they are recorded. Episodes will be released every Saturday, with the first one dropping tomorrow.

The feed is already live on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, or wherever you get your podcasts. Once you’re subscribed, you can sit back, relax, and get your weekends started on a high note with new History Chats.

Snapshots of Canada: The Living Archive of the Sisters of Service Photograph Collection

By Claire L. Halstead

Sister Josephine Dulaska with newly-arrived immigrants at Pier 21 in Halifax, 1935. (SOSA 9-06.17.3-22-6, The Field at Home-April 1937)

At first glance, these first three photos seem unrelated. The first shows a woman standing with newly-arrived immigrants at Pier 21 in Halifax in 1935. The second captures two women collecting water by chopping ice in Sinnett, rural Saskatchewan in 1942. The third, from Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland in 1979, shows a woman and two children in front of a clothesline full of drying squid. They depict different people, times, contexts, and places in Canada. Yet, the commonality of these photos is its depiction of Sisters, women religious belonging to the Canadian Catholic community of the Institute of the Sisters of Service (SOS). While these photos are just a glimpse into the hearty work of the SOS, they are a lens through which we can explore the idea of a Living Archive exemplified by the Sisters of Service photograph collection.

Sisters Mary Roberts and Viola Mossey chop for water outside the school, Sinnett, 1942. (SOSA 9-06.43-0B44)

The SOS was founded in 1922 in Toronto in response to an influx of immigration. As an experienced professional teacher, the foundress Catherine Donnelly was inspired to go West to teach in rural and isolated settlements of Alberta. While significantly more can be said about the complexities of the SOS (my Postdoctoral Fellowship aims to do just this), the SOS charism (mission) was to help “the most abandoned” wherever there was a need and to help all people, not just those of Catholic faith. This approach and their motto of “I have come to serve” led the Sisters into the most remote areas of Canada to work as teachers, nurses, and later as social workers and other federally-employed professionals. In urban centres, they welcomed immigrants at ports of entry and established residences providing accommodation for immigrant women. The impact of their service and legacy is hugely disproportional to their small number of just 125 Sisters (fourteen of whom are still living). Continue reading

Digital History in the Classroom: Mapping Montreal Migration Stories

Daniel Ross

In this post, I’d like to provide a short overview of a recent experience integrating digital history into my teaching. This fall, I taught the course HIS4567, Histoire de l’immigration et des communautés ethnoculturelles au Québec, for the first time at the Université du Québec à Montréal. HIS4567 is a second-year undergraduate history course with a group small enough–30ish students–that we could mix lectures and discussions. It was a great learning experience, for me (and I hope for the students too), and also a chance to experiment.

One of the first things I did was think about grading and term work. As I designed the course, I was particularly interested in finding assignments that would engage students from a range of personal and disciplinary backgrounds–social work, political science, education, history, certificate programs in intercultural relations. Many, I knew, might be unused to historical research & writing, or unfamiliar with the major themes in the field. At the same time, at UQÀM, we were lucky enough to be studying immigration history in the heart of a North American metropolis whose history has been defined by migrations — I thought that was worth exploiting in this class. All the more so considering there is very little in the way of public history around Montréal’s immigrant past, although that is changing with initiatives like the Museum of Jewish Montréal.

I settled on a digital history project with low barriers in terms of technological expertise (which I don’t have anyway), a collaborative ethic, and a product designed for public consumption. Over the course of the semester, the students and I created, with only a few hiccups, a collaborative digital map of Montréal migration history using the fabulous (and free!) HistoryPin platform. We called it “Montréal : ville de migrations”. Continue reading

“The Equal and Respected Companions of Men”[1]: The Female Veteran of the Great War

By Eliza Richardson

Three years ago, famed and controversial historian Jack Granatstein claimed that Canada botched the Great War centenary. Although numerous commemorative events were planned, institutions like Heritage Canada had fewer funds to organize them. Granatstein argued that to properly commemorate the war, the Canadian government needed to invest in “TV documentaries on the war and its battles and on the events, positive and negative of the home front. We need books, conferences, lectures and displays in our national and local museums. We need to remember.”[2] Remember who, though?

Since the social turn of 1970s, the figure of the officer and gentleman has ceased to be the central subject of historical interest. Yet, the diverse roles of women in war still remains neglected. While Granatstein’s pronouncement acknowledges women’s involvement during the war, he references only their munitions factory work and the fact that some women (those related to soldiers) received the vote in 1917. The female veteran of the Great War is seldom seen, even though over 3,000 Canadian women can claim this distinction.[3] Studying these women and their lives as veterans can offer much needed insight into the ways that gender impacted veteran pension policy within a predominately male armed forces.

From left to right: Nursing Sisters Mowat, McNichol and Gullbride, c. 1914–1919. Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN No. 3395710

Continue reading

Transitions: 25 Years of Film Making & Journalism in Indigenous Communities

By James Cullingham

It is clearly a difficult moment in Indigenous-settler relations in Canada. Cases in criminal courts lead to perplexing outcomes. First Nations, various governments and major natural resource companies are pitted against one another over pipeline construction. As I write, an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women continues its work. In the cultural sphere, we are experiencing sometimes difficult, but very useful discussions about how stories get told and by whom.

In this essay, I proffer a particular experiential perspective on Indigenous–settler cultural relations as it pertains to documentary filmmaking and journalism. I want to highlight some of the collaborative works that have been produced since the 1960s and offer a reminder that while much remains to be done, some highly credible work is out there to elucidate us all.

I will argue for free expression, equality of opportunity and the need for artists and storytellers of all kinds to think outside the confines of their particular ethnicity – to venture where their imagination and curiosity leads them. The challenge to the settler imagination is to do so with sensitivity, humility and open mindedness.

My analysis and perspective are based on career experiences over the past three decades.

Continue reading

Historicizing Black Metal

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Graffiti in the basement of black metal club Helvete, Oslo, 1980s. Wikimedia Commons

Alban Bargain-Villéger

Sometime in the autumn of 2005, I decided to give black metal a chance. Until that point, I had had reservations about that type of music, which is often associated with neo-paganism, the far right, and base displays of primal machoism. A long-time classical music aficionado, it soon occurred to me that what had appeared at first as musical chaos actually involved complex, layered compositions full of breaks, tempo changes, intricate melodies, and that few of these artists are hyperviolent psychopaths. Not surprisingly, this was a lonely experience, as most of my friends failed to understand what I saw in layers of cacophonous noise topped with the ramblings of a growling animal of sorts. Indeed, like Vegemite, black metal is an acquired taste. This post does not purport to convert anyone to this type of music, which is certainly not for everyone. The rationale for writing on this particular topic stemmed from the realization that, since everything in this universe – from cat trees to reality TV – will undoubtedly (or has already) become the subject of serious historical investigation, why not attempt to lay out the basis for a political history of black metal?

Unlike protest songs, which I wrote about in a previous post, black metal (and extreme metal in general) has elicited few serious historical studies. While some anthropologists and journalists have published articles, monographs, and filmed documentaries on black metal – which often emphasize the hackneyed commonplaces of the cliquey, immature, and simultaneously (and paradoxically) good-natured and reactionary artist –, historians of music have maintained a safe distance from that topic. First of all, this type of music is not exactly of the “top 40” variety, which limits its marketability. Secondly, extreme metal bands smell of sulfur. While it is all good and well for historians to explore seventeenth-century witchcraft or Victorian esotericism, the contemporaneity of intimidating, mostly male, head-bangers has probably deterred many from focusing on that particular topic. Nonetheless, more studies of this musical genre would open up many avenues for all kinds of historical investigations, whether one is interested in the history of ideas, generational conflict, gender, religion, or politics.

Black metal first attracted massive media attention, not so much due to its musical or aesthetic characteristics, but to a series of church burnings (most infamously the 1992 arson of Bergen’s Fantoft church); the 1991 suicide of Mayhem’s singer Dead (Per Yngve Ohlin); the gruesome murder of Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth), then leader of the now legendary band Mayhem, by Count Grishnackh (Varg Vikernes) in 1993; soon followed by the arrest of Emperor’s drummer Faust (Bård Guldvik Eithun) for killing Magne Andreassen, who had solicited him for sex one year earlier. Rumors of Satanism became systematically (and unfairly) associated with the Norwegian youths who chose to grow their hair long, wear face paint and (post-)goth clothing. The tragedies that riddled that period have undoubtedly overshadowed the artistic dimension of black metal, whose fans had to deal with the stigma of ridicule, at best and, at worst, that of amorality. While all that violence is undoubtedly part of the history of the genre, the music was, until recently, often dismissed as cacophonous nonsense. Continue reading

Who is History Education for? Thinking about Canadian history curriculum

This month, I wanted to take a break from reviewing the provinces’ History and Social Studies curricula to return to a question I posed in a 2011 blog post following the data collection for my doctoral dissertation. The question is: Who is History education for? Seven years on, I feel no closer to an answer and feel like, in many ways, exploring an answer is more important than ever. We still spend time talking about what History education is for, but the who remains a question that can be brought further into dialogue. A dialogue, I think, that can lead to greater understanding of who we are, and can be, as a nation.

I look forward to your comments and would love to discuss your possible contribution to reviewing the curriculum of the remaining provinces in this series: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec.


Original Post: We often talk about what history education is for – building national narratives, civic responsibility, or even critical thinking skills – but rarely do we talk about WHO history education is for. WHO ultimately benefits, grows, and is strengthened by the narratives we hear, the skills we teach, and the voices we emphasize? Is it the bureaucrats and politicians who have the ultimate say on what the curriculum will look like? Is it the teachers who need to interpret and assess the curriculum efficiently and perhaps even interestingly? Is it the Canadian nation writ large and those who have the power and privilege to maintain their power and privilege? Is it a general Canadian student who is expected to grow up to be a critically questioning, yet respectful, citizen in a changing, but generally unproblematized nation?

An undated class photo found in a Victoria, BC thrift shop.

I have been thinking about this question of WHO history education is for while I have been gathering data for my dissertation research. I keep thinking about what student-centric history teaching would look like and why it would seem so radical, even in classrooms focused on student success. I am very much interested in narratives and the knowledge that gets produced through narratives, so I keep going back to thinking that we as a nation are so tied to certain narratives that we are worried about exploring stories that challenge the narratives that seem familiar and safe. I’m not even talking about curriculum since, from what I know from the Ontario curriculum for example, there is room for interpretation about how the objectives will be met and with what content. So coming back to narratives may seem like a fairly reductive statement for such a large question, but I can’t help thinking that the students I have met – students who are bright and articulate, although perhaps not academically successful – are almost desperately interested in stories that connect to their lives and they just aren’t hearing them.

The strategies the students use to express their dissatisfaction are often resistant in nature and rarely read as being productive to the classroom environment. This is not uncommon to any history educator who has heard history be equated to the MOST BORING SUBJECT EVER, but I rarely come across students who have said that history should completely not be taught. Anna Clarke, who did research in both Australia and Canada, found that students said it was the methods used to teach history that made it seem boring. While methods are a very large part of this question, I don’t think it is the whole answer. I don’t have an answer, I don’t even think I have a real question, but I do have a feeling that that the WHO for history education are not the kids that I have been working with and that this is a shame. These students, students who are racially and economically marginalized, need a past to build on and stories to grow from and they are just not getting them in one of the only places where they would learn history.

So I return to my original question: Who is history education for? And if it is not for the students and their unique needs for the future, then why not?

NOTE: Further exploration of the data from my doctoral dissertation will be published this year in a manuscript for UBCPress titled Imagining a New “We”: Canadian history education for the 21st century.

Dr. Samantha Cutrara is a History Education Strategist. She currently teaches Exhibit Design at Centennial College and is managing a large Digital Humanities and Social Studies curriculum project for York University that will result in four online archives and exhibits featuring narratives of migration, displacement, and settlement. Find more information about her consulting and academic work on her website

The author would like to acknowledge that this work was created on land that is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, the Métis, and most recently, the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit River. The territory was the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. This territory is also covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Today, the meeting place of Toronto (from the Haudenosaunee word Tkaronto) is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and the author is grateful to have the opportunity to write, study, teach, and learn in the community, on this territory.

“Rooting for Everybody Black” and the Subversive Politics of Black History Month in Canada

Issa Rae, creator and star of HBO’s “Insecure,” at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, September 2017. Variety.

Funke Aladejebi 

At the 69th Annual Emmy awards held on September 17, 2017, Issa Rae, creator and star of HBO’s widely popular television show “Insecure,” responded to a red-carpet question by proclaiming she was “rooting for everybody Black!”  Rae’s comments, which went viral, articulated a sense of collective excitement about the growing recognition and achievements of African American Emmy nominees at the award show. Her comments also alluded to broader reflections about Black identity across the diaspora, the varied places that African descended peoples call home, and a collective spirit of resilience despite the considerable challenges facing Black communities. At the same time, Issa Rae’s declaration can also be understood within the broader context of increasing discussions around anti-Black racism and the heightened policing and incarceration of African descended peoples globally.

For scholars of Black Canadian history, similar concerns surrounding the collective mobilization and activism against anti-Black racism continue to mark our discussions about identity and belonging to the nation. During the month of February in particular, scholars of Black History in Canada are invited to rethink the frameworks of what it means to “root for everybody Black” as they work to fight against the historical erasures and silencing of their communities. While there still seems to be much debate around whether or not Black History month is still relevant, or if it serves as a superficial acknowledgement of Black achievement in North America, I argue that there is much subversion in the collective response of “rooting for everybody Black”. This concept can be used as an entry point to discuss what it means to be Black in a society where racial equality stands as the marker of Canadian identity despite systemic and institutional barriers facing diverse racialized populations. For me, “rooting for everybody Black” can be understood as a political act given the trajectory and experiences of African descended peoples in Canada. That in fact, “rooting for everybody Black” can become a political necessity when considering the national silencing of Canada’s long history of racial indifference and separation.[1]

To understand the complexity of Black Canadian history and why rooting for everybody Black becomes an important statement of identity and political affirmation, we must begin by examining the myth of Canadian racial equality and how it structures Blackness within broader national narratives. Within this mythology stands the idea that it was only south of the border where Blacks were subjected to violence, denied their citizenship rights, and forced into residential and educational ghettoes.[2] The popular saying, ‘at least we’re not as bad as the United States’ is a consistent and important talking point when comparing the histories of African descended peoples in Canada and the United States. And yet, scholars of Black Canadian history highlight the contradictions of this mythology and argue that Blackness in Canada has and continues to reflect parallel experiences of enslavement and racial separation.[3] What this has translated into is a historical silencing of the long-standing contributions and presence of Blacks in Canada.

As a result, much of our understanding of Black historical figures in Canadian society still seems to be deeply rooted in conceptions of the North Star and the Underground Railroad. Continue reading

Spartans on the Canadian Prairie

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Sparta Leonidas Monument

A modern memorial for king Leonidas in Sparta, inscribed with “molon labe.” Photo by author.

Matthew A. Sears

It is not uncommon to see the Ancient Greek phrase “molon labeemblazoned on shirts, posters, and placards in today’s North America. Meaning roughly “come and get them,” the phrase was a Spartan king’s response to the Persians’ request for the Greeks to lay down their arms at Thermopylae in 480 BCE. Now the phrase is used, unsurprisingly, by those arguing for expanded access to firearms, but also by those trumpeting a hardy, self-reliant lifestyle more generally.

The ancient Spartans have an enduring allure today. Where the more famous Athenians are held up as an example of democracy, free expression, and cultural sophistication, the Spartans provide a model of republican restraint, of discipline and moderation, and of simple and noble courage. Yet, just as the Athenian legacy is tarnished by slavery, misogyny, and imperialism, the ideal image of Sparta whitewashes the sobering fact that the Spartans’ entire way of life was only possible because of the ruthless stealing of lands and the brutal and ongoing suppression of those lands’ native inhabitants. The not-guilty verdict for white farmer Gerald Stanley in his trial for the killing of Colten Boushie, a young Cree man, in Battleford, Saskatchewan, makes me wonder whether this Spartan tradition is still alive and well in Canada. Continue reading

Neil Richards, 1949-2018: activist and historian

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By V.J. Korinek

Photo credit: David Bindle

Saskatchewan lost an important community historian when William Neil Richards passed away on January 12, 2018. Neil Richards was born in Ontario and raised there, but in 1972 he came west to Saskatoon, and the University of Saskatchewan, where he accepted a position in the University’s Murray Library. He formally retired from the University’s Archives and Special Collections in 2002, but he never really left. Any regular visitor would have seen him working away at his computer, holding court with students and scholars, or planning his latest acquisition and exhibits literally right up until a few days before he passed away. While Neil’s sudden death, from heart disease, has been a deep shock to his family and friends, I have no doubt that for Neil this was the way he would have wanted to go—engaged in his passions, boots on, right until the end.

Neil Richards, University of Saskatchewan, 1975. Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan (PAS) Photo S-B13399

Neil Richards never set out to be famous, rather he was in his own words a “furious collector” of papers, journals, magazines, posters and art. His passion for collecting an archive of material many might have dismissed as ephemeral has now become a legacy holding at the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan (PAS) and the University of Saskatchewan Archives and Special Collections. Rather unassumingly, he set out to collect documents from organizations with which he was a member, and gay activist. Mr. Richards played an important role in Saskatoon gay activism, spearheading various initiatives, involved in protest marches and pickets, and he was an inveterate letter writer with many letters published in the local paper critiquing homophobic treatment of provincial gays and lesbians. Such activism was never easy, put it was doubly challenging in the 1970s, an era where speaking out on behalf of gays and lesbians could risk one’s employment, housing and family. Continue reading