Embodying Anti-German Sentiment during the Great War: An Archival Moment

By Sarah Glassford

Can toilet paper have archival value?

Within the eclectic collections that comprise MC300 (York-Sunbury Historical Society) at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, we find just such an artifact. (I hesitate to call it a “document” although it is, in fact, ink on paper.) It is tantalizingly described in the finding aid as “#21 ‘Do Your Bit’ – toilet paper – World War I,” and is rather amusingly included in Series 58: “Military Papers.”[1]

Upon receiving the corresponding box and opening the file, the curious researcher encounters an ordinary plain envelope, similarly labelled. Inside, as promised, rests a single, incredibly thin, translucent square of toilet tissue. On it (also as promised) is printed the phrase “Do Your Bit” … and an evocatively detailed, if cartoonish, image of German Kaiser Wilhelm II.

One of the “military papers” held at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. (Used with permission.)


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History Slam Episode 120: Decoding Monuments and Memorials

By Sean Graham

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Tonya Davidson of Carleton University about the meaning of monuments. We talk about monuments from a sociological perspective, the controversies around taking monuments down, and whether we should have monuments to individual people. We also visit two monuments in downtown Ottawa to talk about their designs meaning, and use in public spaces.

In addition to teaching at Carleton, Tonya also does walking tours of downtown Ottawa where she takes groups to various monuments to discuss their role as pieces of public history and sociology. She runs her tours through (De)Tours, so the next time you’re in the nation’s capital, be sure to check them out.

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Canada Docks and Quebec Pond

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By Jim Clifford
[This post was originally published on the Network in Canadian History & Environment site.]

Canada Water is a small lake and wildlife refuge in the heart of Rotherhithe in South London. It is one of the few remaining parts of the once extensive Surrey Commercial Docks that covered much of the Rotherhithe Peninsula during the nineteenth century. Canada Water was Canada Dock, the centre of the timber trade in London, where timber was unloaded into the water and formed into rafts that were stored in Canada Pond and Quebec Pond (see the map below).

Map of Canada Dock, Canada Pond and Quebec Pond

London Sheet VII.99, David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

British Empire Dockyards and Ports, 1909 (Public Domain)

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Remember/Resist/Redraw #16: Radical Bookshops in 1930s Montréal

In the spring, the Graphic History Collective re-launched Remember / Resist / Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project as an ongoing series.

Earlier this week, we released RRR poster #16 by Adèle Clapperton-Richard and Andrée Lévesque, a bilingual poster that looks at radical bookshops in 1930s Montréal as important spaces of activist education and organizing.

We also created a list of radical bookshops (included at the bottom of this post) in operation today in what is currently Canada, and we are encouraging people to seek them out this summer. Many radical bookshops have excellent history sections, accenting people’s history and histories of the marginalized and dispossessed that you won’t find at corporate bookstores. So, instead of (or maybe in addition to??) completing the #InMyFeelingsChallenge this summer, we are challenging you to check out your local radical bookshop.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for social change. Learn more about how you can support the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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Fire in the Belly: A Short Reflection on the Late Stan Rogers

By Ann Walton

Recently, I’ve started to view Stan Rogers through a different prism.

Listen to the late folk singer’s music and you’ll discover not only a stunning songwriter, but a passionate historian whose work was inseparable from the history of his country.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s two young brothers from Hamilton toured Canada and the United States, singing songs like Northwest Passage and Fogarty’s Cove in every kind of venue imaginable. When I listen to the recordings now, it’s hard to imagine that life on the road was anything but lively gigs in theatres and bars all bursting at the seams with joyful spectators. But back then, long before Stan Rogers’ tragic death transformed him into the “voice of Canada,” and then the “legend” that he is today, he was, in every way, a working-class musician, often horrendously represented by some incompetent publicist, playing to half-empty rooms with his younger brother Garnet, and just hoping to make enough money to fill the tank.

“It wasn’t like today, where there is some little room in nearly every town,” Garnet Rogers explains in his wonderful memoir, Night Drive: Travels with my Brother (2016). The folk revival of another decade was all but a memory, and there simply were no gigs. “If you presented yourself as a songwriter,” he recalls, “you were met with puzzled silence.” There were only a handful of places to play, and only rumours here and there of others, though they didn’t pay well, if anything at all.  “You watched and you waited,” writes Garnet, “and you played where you could, and you tried to make it count.”[1] Night after night with their instruments, the two brothers and their bassist climbed into their van, playing shows for over a decade together.

But just why did they stick with it for so long? Why didn’t they just go back to Hamilton, and throw in the towel already? Get ‘real’ jobs and lead ‘normal’ lives? Continue reading

Newfoundland’s 1948 Referendum: A People’s Victory?

The Responsible Government League attempted to scare the electorate in the referendum campaigns by emphasizing how Confederation with Canada would result in the imposition of a wide range of taxes. The Independent, April 5, 1948.

Raymond B. Blake

Referendums are blunt instrument to measure public sentiments. They take complex issues and reduce them to simple yes or no answers. They allow charismatic politicians to seize the public stage and rally voters for or against a particular public policy option through the greater use of fear, distorted realities, and appeals to emotion than is generally normal during regular elections. Yet, there has been a resurgence recently in the use of referendums, and the consequences have been considerable.[i] In 2016, for instance, British voters opted to have their country leave the European Union and Colombians rejected a peace deal to end 52 years of war with Farc guerrillas. We often regret the choices citizens make in referendums and conclude that if they were as wise as we, then they would have voted differently. Do voters really know what they are voting on in referendums?

An important referendum took place 70 years ago this week, when on 22 July 1948 Newfoundlanders were asked to decide between becoming Canada’s 10th province or remaining an independent dominion.  It took two referendums to settle the question but both had much of what we see with such instruments of direct democracy. A diversity of actors entered the fray to promote their own interests. Negative advertising predominated with the major groups attacking each other, often with misinformation and exaggerated claims. Special interests groups, notably the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the leadership of the Loyal Orange Lodge, attempted to rally the faithful to their cause. There was also an attempt to exploit the regional and class divisions that had long marked Newfoundland.  The Confederates, lead by Gordon Bradley and Joseph R. Smallwood, played the anti-establishment card, presenting themselves as ‘outsiders’, standing up for ordinary citizens against an elite and a system of government that, they claimed, had largely ignored the needs of the people. They promised that Confederation would usher in a new relationship between state and citizen, elevating the social and economic status of all Newfoundlanders and providing all with a measure of protection from the vicissitudes of the international economy upon which the country depended for its well-being. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 119: Pierre Trudeau, the Constant Liberal

By Sean Graham

The 2015 election of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party, along with the 50th anniversary of his father’s election as Liberal leader, has generated plenty of renewed interest in the life and career of Pierre Elliot Trudeau. The popular conception of the elder Trudeau has been that he is very much a leftist figure, a sentiment that is, partly, the product of his social policies. In economic and business, matters, however, the situation is more vague. This is where Christo Aivalis’ new book The Constant Liberal: Pierre Trudeau, Organized Labour, the Canadian Social Democratic Left comes in. Avalis argues that Trudeau was much less a left wing figure that is typically believed and, in fact, he was at odds with leftist economic beliefs.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Christo about the book. We talk about the renewed interest in Pierre Trudeau, the difference between Liberal and liberal in Canadian political parlance, and Pierre’s social policies. We also talk about Canada’s economic structure, Pierre’s policies, and whether the electorate supports leftist reforms. Continue reading

Top Tips for Research Trips: Making the Most of Your Visit to the Archives

Stacey N. Gilkinson

Classes have finished, exams are over and it’s finally summer, which means it is now time for many researchers to embark on trips to the archives! To the novice academic or researcher, archival institutions can be uncharted territory. You might be wondering how you should approach an institution, what to bring with you or how to navigate a sea of files in a limited amount of time. As an archivist, I am not just a ‘gatekeeper’ to the collection. A large part of my job is to act as a facilitator, bridging the gap between you, the researcher, and the materials for which you are looking.  It is through an extension of that role that I offer these tips to help you make the most of your time in the archives.

Choose an institution early

Archives are extremely diverse. Take the time to consider the kind of archives you need to visit. They can be large, publicly funded national institutions with hundreds of staff or small, volunteer-run community spaces that rely on donations. Factors like these will inevitably affect the research experience. Continue reading

The Babylon of Interwar Berlin

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Gereon Rath and Charlotte Ritter. Still from babylon Berlin.

Alban Bargain-Villéger

When I first set eyes on the Netflix ad for Babylon Berlin, I could not help but feel skeptical. I had indeed seen my fair share of mediocre, sensationalist, sloppy fictions and documentaries on Weimar Germany. Nonetheless, the trailer was enticing enough to prompt me to fall down that rabbit hole. A mix of historical fiction, political drama, spy story, and crime thriller, the series takes place in the spring of 1929, on the eve of a series of crises that eventually led to the fall of the republican regime and the advent of the Nazis in January-March 1933. The story follows Gereon Rath, a vice detective recently transferred from the Cologne homicide squad, and Charlotte Ritter, a young woman from the city’s working-class district of Wedding juggling a night job as a prostitute at a cabaret and her precarious stenographer position at police headquarters. The detective, who initially investigates the blackmail of an important Cologne politician by means of compromising pornographic pictures and films, soon ends up picking up the scent of a highly coveted wagon loaded with gold ingots. In the meantime, Ritter, who has made inquiries of her own, soon discovers that the bounty was originally stolen from the Sorokins, a Russian aristocratic family liquidated during the October 1917 Revolution. Originally in the possession of the Red Fortress, a Trotskyist organisation, the wagon attracts the attention of the Soviet secret service, a gang of Armenian mobsters, and a underground paramilitary group of far-right war veterans and ex-military personnel known as the Black Reichswehr.[1] Occurring in the context of the Blutmai (Bloody May Day) riots, the Sorokin gold story appears more as an excuse to walk the uninitiated audience through the unstable political climate of the Weimar Republic than as a plot in its own right. This series is a success, offering a strikingly subtle kaleidoscope of late-1920s German society.

Based on Volker Kutscher’s Gereon Rath Series, which comprises six books and an illustrated prequel (2017), the first and second seasons of Babylon Berlin follows rather faithfully the plot of the first novel, entitled Der nasse Fisch (The Wet Fish)[2], published in 2008. Continue reading

“Government Mail Free of Postage”: Scholars’ letters to Parliament Hill

Johannes Vermeer, Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid (detail), c. 1670. Wikimedia Commons.

Erin Corber

In the introduction to his 1993 Reith lectures, Edward Said reflects on the role and representations of the intellectual. Taking Gramsci’s inclusive vision of a broad and expansive intellectual class populated increasingly not only by producers but also by distributors of knowledge, Said argues that the intellectual’s role in society “cannot be reduced simply to being a faceless profession,” but rather, that they possess the tools and training to present ideas, messages, and truths to a public. This role is risky, he points out. An intellectual must be prepared not only to confront? fortified barriers, but also to make personal enemies when they stand up publicly. Yet the task is an important one, as the intellectual’s public role is motivated, Said argues, by a commitment to truth. There are universal standards and principles that protect human beings’ rights to “decent standards of behavior concerning freedom and justice from worldly powers or nations,” he points out, violations against which “need to be fought against courageously.”[1]

In an era in which “fake” and “alternative” revisionist truths and falsehoods proliferate in public discourse, Said’s argument is more relevant than ever. As scholars, and intellectuals, the responsibility for representing truths may seem like a no-brainer to historians. Yet public history and what John Tosh has labeled “practical historicism,” or “applied history” in policy-making still largely remains in a category separate from the academy.[2] We teach our students to be critical thinkers and engaged citizens, but are in danger of failing to engage effectively in public conversations.

We face danger from multiple fronts. First, from persistent assumptions held within the academy that somehow critical distance and objectivity are anathema to engagement and politics: that historians somehow stand “outside” of history, and that “relevance” means “bending one’s research to the fickle fashions of the day and by extension the dereliction of one’s primary obligation to scholarly objectivity.”[3] Aside from this are the practical professional concerns: junior scholars’ vulnerability on an uncertain academic job market, faculty’s increasing helplessness in universities where tenure revocation has become more than anecdotal, and a creeping general climate of distrust of specialists and academics that makes public voices – especially those most marginal and marginalized – easy targets for both cyber and real-life violence. Standing up and speaking out can have real consequences for an intellectual’s career and life. Yet, as Said reminds us, this has, to an extent, always been the case.

Scholars’ voices can be made to be heard in a number of ways. Continue reading