In Praise of Peter Green(baum)

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By James Cullingham

Peter Green’s death was announced by a British law firm on July 25, 2020.  The news elicited an outpouring of grief and admiring statements from his musical peers. Like Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys or Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, Peter Green is viewed alternatively as a prime musical casualty of the psychedelic moment, or as a trailblazer who produced shape-shifting and era-defining work before he was thirty years of age.

Peter Green c. 1970 (Wikimedia Commons)

Without question Green was one of the most accomplished and fascinating composers, guitarists and bandleaders among the great swell of British musicians who emerged in the 1960s.

Born in 1946 as Peter Greenbaum, the son of a Jewish butcher in London, Peter Green became a professional musician as a teenager. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 156: For Home and Empire

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By Sean Graham

When we talk about the First World War, it is usually in national terms. In Canada, there is discussion of national mobilization efforts and the federal government’s implementation of programs and policies to support the war effort. These efforts, though, took place at a local level. Battalions within the Canadian Expeditionary Force, for instance, were typically distinguished by where they were from – The Nova Scotia Highlanders, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, or the Saskatchewan Dragoons come immediately to mind. There were similar localized efforts when it came to raising money, rationing, and wartime production.

These local efforts within national programs were not unique to Canada, as Australia and New Zealand saw similar distribution of wartime mobilization. This is the subject of Steve Marti’s new book For Home and Empire: Voluntary Mobilization in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand During the First World War. In the book, Marti explores how federal governments relied on local, voluntary efforts to support national military operations. In doing so, communal bonds were strengthened, but so too were class, race, and gender boundaries.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Steve Marti about the book. We talk about the similarities between Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, why federal governments relied on local efforts, and the impact on local communities. We also chat about those who were excluded from local programs, the impact on fundraising, and how communities commemorated their war efforts.

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The Sounds of Solidarity: An Oral History of Rhythm Activism’s Oka and Oka II

Sean Carleton 

To mark the 30th anniversary of the siege of Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawá:ke, commonly known as the 1990 “Oka Crisis,” I have been interviewing a number of non-Indigenous musicians about the music they made in solidarity with the Mohawk land struggle.

I’ve spoken with Chris Hannah from the thrash punk band Propagandhi and hip hop artist Maestro Fresh-Wes about their musical contributions in the years after the standoff. But what did solidarity sound like during the summer of 1990?

I recently spoke with Norman Nawrocki of the Montreal band Rhythm Activism. The band put out two underground cassette tapes Oka (1990) and Oka II (1992). In particular, Rhythm Activism’s song “Oka Polka” was released in September 1990 and was actually played behind the Mohawk barricades as part of the resistance that summer. My conversation with Norman sheds light on the extent of anti-Indigenous racism in Quebec in 1990 as well as the importance of non-Indigenous solidarity efforts to counter that racism, then and now.

All photos provided by Norman Nawrocki.

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Remember/Resist/Redraw #24: 30 Years Since the Siege of Kanehsatà:ke

Earlier this month, to mark the 30th anniversary of the so-called “Oka Crisis,” the Graphic History Collective released Remember/Resist/Redraw poster #24 by Ellen Gabriel and Sean Carleton.

The poster depicts the start of the police siege of Kanehsatà:ke on 11 July 1990 from a Mohawk perspective and makes clear that the fight against colonial land fraud in the community continues today.

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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History Slam Episode 155: Cataloguing Culture

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By Sean Graham

The Smithsonian Institute bills itself as “the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex.” In an average year, 22 million people visit the 19 Smithsonian museums, galleries, and gardens. The portfolio even includes the National Zoo. These sites can make for great days exploring the history of the United States, but it’s likely that not many visitors ask about how the Institute collects artifacts. And even fewer think about how the information is cataloged and whether that influences the way in which exhibits are presented.

Fortunately, there is Cataloguing Culture: Legacies of Colonialism in Museum Documentation, a new book by Hannah Turner that explores how categories were used in sorting material culture and the way in which the Smithsonian’s process came to be the standard in national collecting organizations. In doing so, the Institution imposed a colonial structure of classifying, organizing, and naming the millions of artifacts from Indigenous peoples in its collection. As a result, incorrect classifications and terminology made its way into its database and, because of the Institution’s status, that colonial process was replicated in other influential museums.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Professor Turner about the book. We discuss the Smithsonian’s collection process, its relationships with the communities from which it took objects, and how its database was built. We also chat about the importance of terminology, the repatriation of objects from the collection, and how museum guests benefit from learning about the museum’s history.

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Race Relations, Psychological Testing, and Resistance to Change: The Toronto Police, 1970s-1980s

Toronto police in riot gear block intersection of Gould and Yonge Streets, 1992. Jim Wilkes, Toronto Star Archive tspa_0012135f.

David M. K. Sheinin

As a city changes, as tensions grow between the police and the communities they serve, how can we know if a candidate has what it takes to lead a major police force? Is it possible to predict success (or failure)? Those questions are at the core of a debate that has raged for decades on whether institutional racism exists, on possible improvements, and on implementing changes in policing.

In the mid-1970s, as Toronto faced such challenges, Reva Gerstein emerged as a strong voice for reform. She believed we could scientifically forecast hiring and promotion outcomes. Gerstein began to work closely with the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force toward that end. An eminent psychologist, Gerstein wrote a report in 1976 for the Law Reform Commission of Canada on the use of psychological tests in recruiting and promoting police officers.[1]

In 1982, the Metropolitan Toronto Police Commission asked Gerstein to conduct a psychological assessment of an extremely bright, fast-rising forty-nine-year-old superintendent; William J. McCormack was a candidate for deputy police chief. Gerstein’s assessment offers strikingly few insights into McCormack beyond what those who worked with him would already have known. She sidestepped racism on the force and poor police-community relations — precisely the problems Gerstein herself had highlighted for years as resolvable through the effective psychological evaluation of officers.

Since the 1960s, tensions had escalated between racialized communities and the police in Toronto and in other North American cities. Racism on the Toronto force was reflected in the pages of News & Views, the newsletter of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Association. In a 1979 issue, retired constable Ken Peglar complained that he wished he were “a Black man or a Pakistani or Jewish….” Unemployment, inflation, and neglected children, he went on, were among many problems that concerned him. “But nobody expects a Black man,” Peglar wrote, “to think of anything but his colour or a Jew to concern himself with anything but his Jewishness. And you know something, they seldom do.”

These and other cases of casual, malevolent police discrimination appalled Mayor John Sewell, Alderman Allan Sparrow and many others who voiced their outrage. But repeatedly, the Toronto police rebuffed, diminished, or whitewashed community efforts to make the police more accountable to the public and better equipped to combat police racism. Gerstein’s report contributed to the institutional culture of police insistence that at worst, racism was a very minor problem, and that a purportedly hostile media, unspecified political radicals, and minority community members were the true cause of police tensions with minority communities.

The Psychologist

 By the mid-1970s, Reva Gerstein had earned dozens of accolades, including membership in the Order of Canada, for her cutting edge research on children’s mental health and on the shift to treating mental illness outside psychiatric hospitals. She moved in social circles with high-ranking police officers and other movers and shakers. In December 1980, for example, Gerstein’s friends organized a dinner in her honour at the Royal York Hotel. Guests included the federal Leader of the Opposition Joe Clark, Ontario Premier William Davis, and Toronto Chief of Police Jack Ackroyd.

Gerstein pictured with federal Opposition Leader Joe Clark and Ontario Premier Bill Davis in 1980. Dick Darrell, Toronto Star Archive, tspa_0049723f.

She worked regularly as a paid consultant to the Toronto police and in 1979, she chaired the three-member provincial government Task Force on the Racial and Ethnic Implications of Police Hiring, Training, Promotion and Career Development. Gerstein wrote the task force report. Its most important findings backed the police on alleged racism; there was no evidence, Gerstein argued, that Ontario police forces discriminated against minorities in hiring. The media, she went on, projected an anti-police bias and played a major role in promoting tensions between minority groups and the police. Asked to give examples where the press had exacerbated police-community tensions, Gerstein demurred. That there were few minority group members on police forces in Ontario was the fault of minorities themselves; they refused to join. Gerstein told reporters that she was surprised to hear that racialized communities in Toronto were afraid of the police. “When I asked [minority community members] why, they said it was because of TV and newspaper reports.” Toronto media found Gerstein out of touch, insensitive to the concerns of minority communities, and too close to the police.[2]

The Assessment

In October 1978, the Toronto Police Commission adopted a psychological assessment program to screen out racially prejudiced and anti-social recruits. Continue reading

Material Culture Theme Week

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Material Culture Theme week

Edited by Krista McCracken this series initially ran the week of March 23, 2020. This series aimed to deepen discussions between material culture professionals, historians, and those working in the community.

Indigenous histories on Wikipedia

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wikipedia screenshot

Screenshot of a Wikipedia article worked on by students.

Madeline Knickerbocker [1]

My earliest memories of Wikipedia in an academic context relate to being told not to use it. Profs and peers viewed Wikipedia as problematic, and certainly not a legitimate source for academic work. While these critiques still endure amongst some academics today, things have also changed: a few semesters ago, I had my students write contributions to Wikipedia as the major assignment for a 300-level Indigenous history survey.

This post focuses on using Wikipedia in the postsecondary classroom; I briefly discuss Wikipedia and pedagogy in general, and then explain my own experience of having students contribute to Wikipedia for their major class project. I’ll also talk about student responses and share some of their feedback, as well as the assignment description I used for the class, and my own reflections on what could make the process go more smoothly in the future.[2]

Wikipedia and Pedagogy

While I certainly agree with most that Wikipedia absolutely should not be the only source students consult while doing academic work, I think we do have to recognize its usefulness. Most of us use it frequently as a reference source (“what year did that happen in again?”), and so we should allow our students the similar convenience of using it as a jumping off point for deeper engagement with their own academic work.  As Andrea Eidinger commented to me when we were talking about the idea for this post, there is a double standard, where some scholars use Wikipedia “behind the scenes” but don’t recognize its role as a site for publicizing and disseminating academic knowledge.

Certainly, Wikipedia does not practice academic peer review, and it is by definition not original scholarly work. That said, Wikipedia entries do have their own community-based review process, and they are consistently assessed by Wikipedia users. Moreover, writing a new entry or contributing to an existing one can require significant intellectual lifting, and should be recognized as such. A strong entry can lay bare the scholarship done on any given topic in accessible language and provide an overview of information most often locked up behind journal paywalls.

This type of work is especially important when it centers the knowledges and experiences of marginalized communities. Indeed, the other main critique of Wikipedia is that it emphasizes the voices of the most privileged, both in terms of its content and authorship. Any Wikipedia user would do well to learn more about Wikipedia’s issues such as gender bias and systemic racism. Given that Wikipedia clearly needs to add more diversity to both its entries and its editors, it seems to me that contributing to Wikipedia from a social justice standpoint, as Art+Feminism does, for example, can challenge the online encyclopedia’s whiteness and maleness. The popularity of Wikipedia editathons speaks to the growing awareness that the platform’s content and contributors need to be more inclusive.

These two concerns about Wikipedia – of legitimacy and of representation – can both be addressed through a better understanding of the platform’s pedagogical and political potential. We can use Wikipedia to teach students important skills such as critical assessment of written work, translation of academic discourse into more accessible language, and the step-by-step work of using online publishing tools. Doing this work can feel more significant for students than writing (yet another) primary source analysis, and can certainly hold more real-world value, by enhancing public awareness of scholarly knowledge. When that information also challenges top-down narratives and provides digital space for the histories of marginalized peoples, historical education can also act as a form of online social justice.  

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To Put Finish to the War: Armistice in Korea, 27 July 1953

The United Nations and North Korean delegates sign English, Chinese, and Korean copies of the armistice agreement in a shelter built for the occasion. The signing was over in ten minutes and both representatives promptly left without ceremony. UN Photo 188574

Andrew Burtch

This year, 2020, marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. This conflict, classified at the time in North America as a “police action” for political convenience was of course anything but. Though three years of bitter fighting followed, the Korean War has been rightly classified as a “forgotten war”, unfolding as it did against a backdrop of a “postwar” domestic economic boom at home, far away, in a country few Canadians understood or cared much about outside of its status as a Cold War battleground. Perhaps the most forgotten aspect of the war is how it ended, sixty-seven years ago today, though the impact of a divided Korea is still very much present.

The fighting in the Korean War ended on 27 July 1953 in an armistice signed at Panmunjom, Korea. American Lieutenant-General William K. Harrison Jr. sat at a wide table in a clapboard building. Twenty feet away, North Korean General Nam Il sat at a similar table. Harrison, representing the United Nations Command, and Nam Il, representing the North Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers, barely acknowledging each other as they signed eighteen copies of the armistice agreement, six in English, six in Korean, and six in Chinese. The document was the product of more than two years and 158 meetings where the delegates sparred over how best to end the war that began when North Korean invaded South Korea to unify the peninsula by force on 25 June 1950. The agreement established a military armistice commission which would oversee a demilitarized zone which separates North and South Korea to this day, and arrange for the exchange of prisoners of war taken by both sides during three years of combat.

The unceremonious, if somber, signing ceremony reflected the mood further down in the stalemated defensive lines in Korea where the United Nations forces, including the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade (25 CIB), had continued to fight vicious battles in the two years since the armistice talks had begun. As the war diarist for 25 CIB Signals Troop summarized the day of the armistice signing, it was much like any other: “There was a heavy artillery duel all afternoon to put finish to the war. The [Royal Canadian Regiment] received a good portion of the incoming rounds and their only casualty was line communication which was completely taken out.” The military police noted that one of the last Chinese artillery shells to fall in their area, a dud, had crashed into a section cook-house, and that they made arrangements to have it retrieved, defused, and sent on to their museum. Already the war was becoming history.

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K’jipuktuk to Halifax and back: Decolonization in the Council Chamber

By Thomas Peace

For nearly nine decades visitors to Halifax, arriving by boat or train, were welcomed to the city by Edward Cornwallis. Encased in bronze, Cornwallis stood tall, his stern face peering towards travelers pouring out from the city’s main train station and the famed Pier 21, site of first arrival to Canada for over 1.5 million immigrants. In 2018, Cornwallis was removed from his prominent perch at the south end of Barrington Street. Yesterday evening, Halifax Regional Council solidified that decision, voting to accept a report from an expert task force on the Commemoration of Edward Cornwallis and Commemoration of Indigenous History.

The Edward Cornwallis statue, in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia, on July 15, 2017. (Ben MacLeod, Wikimedia Commons)

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