A Triptych of Thoughts on the Knowledge of Land/T’sing ninaagaadek ezhi naanaagdoowendming wih kendmauzihwin zhi weh ‘kiing

Nunda ezhibiigaadegin d’goh biigaadehknown ezhi debaahdedek nungwa manda neebing Mnidoo Mnising Neebing gah Bizh’ezhiwaybuck zhaazhi  gonda behbaandih kenjih’gehjik.

This essay is part of an ongoing series reflecting on this summer’s Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute (MISHI).

By Benjamin J. Kapron

In her book, Pathways for Remembering and Recognizing Indigenous Thought in Education, Sandra Styres writes about how conceptualizations of ‘space’ differ from conceptualizations of ‘place.’

[S]pace is a continuous area or expanse which is free, available, or unoccupied… [whereas place is] a particular position, point, or area in space?a linear and general perspective, particularly as it relates to time… Space, then, is an empty generality; however, place is particular, it is storied, it is experienced (Styres 45-47).

Such a distinction draws attention to the significance of particularity in the 2017 Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute’s (MISHI) guiding question: “does wisdom sit in places?” Instead of an abstract inquiry into relations between location and knowledge, this question called me, and all of MISHI’s participants, to engage with the wisdom that sits in Manitoulin in particular.

Moreover, according to Styres, Indigenous understandings of Land, or Iethi’nihsténha Ohwentsia’kékha[1] in Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk), go even deeper than understandings of place:

Iethi’nihsténha Ohwentsia’kékha embodies principles, philosophies, and ontologies that transcend the material construct of place. With this understanding in mind, Land is spiritual, emotional, and relational; Land is experiential; Land is conscious?Land is a fundamental living being (47; Styres’ italics).

Such understandings of Land call for more deeply developed relations with Manitoulin, likely deeper than would be possible over the one week of MISHI, though perhaps MISHI might serve as a starting place for prefiguring processes for engaging with Land, building relations with Land, and learning with Land. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 114: The Silence of Others

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By Sean Graham

The Silence of Others tells the story of the struggle for justice in Spain following the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

The Silence of Others has its North American premiere on Friday April 27 at 6:30pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 in Toronto. It is also being shown on Saturday April 28 at 12:30pm at TIFF Bell LIghtbox 3. The directors and individuals featured in the film will be at both these showings and available for discussion and questions. There is a third showing on Saturday May 5 at 11:45am at Scotiabank Theatre, Cinema 3. A wide Canadian release is also planned.

On November 20, 1975, Francisco Franco died, ending his nearly 40 year rule of Spain. While his death marked the end of his dictatorship, it also started the long process of coming to terms with the violence and suppression that marked those years. To address this, the Spanish government passed an amnesty law in 1977. The law not only provided amnesty to those who had been imprisoned for political reasons, but also those who had been part of the ruling party.

As a result, those who had perpetrated violence, including murder, throughout the Franco years would never be brought to justice. The overarching motivation for the amnesty law was that the country needed to forget what happened in order to overcome the political and social divides forged over the previous 40 years. ‘Why rehash the past?’ people would ask. ‘Just forget about it and move on.’

For the victims and their families, however, simply forgetting and moving on was not an option. Those who had been tortured for their political views or had loved ones murdered by a repressive regime were subjected a new form of suppression. Not willing to accept this, however, a dedicated group started to challenge the law and in using universal justice, a court in Argentina decided to hear their stories.

The movement and the subsequent lawsuit is the subject of the new documentary The Silence of Others. Following survivors and family members of those murdered by the regime, it tells a powerful story. It follows the highs and lows of fighting a battle through the courts in a country where a sizable percentage of the population has no desire to litigate the past. The raw emotion of those profiled, however, highlights the need to understand and remember what happened.

While the film is about Spain, it contains many universal truths. Similar stories where marginalized individuals struggle for recognition and justice could be told in pretty much every country around the world. The Silence of Others, therefore, has a message that will resonate with audiences far beyond Spanish borders.

Continue reading

Reflecting on Critical Making in Digital History: The #hist3812 Experience, Part Two

Editors Note: This is the second post in a two-part post exploring a digital history course taught at Carleton University in Winter 2018. Part one explains the premise behind #hist3812.

Anderson, E., Bitar, M., Burgstaller, M., Ellerington, S., Grunksy, K., Lee, J., Mawko, A., Petrie, E., Rashid, A., Saravia, K. A., Weymann, R., and Graham, S.

In part one, Graham explained the rationale and unfurling of HIST3812, Critical Making in Digital History. At the end of the course, he invited the students to craft a collaboratively written ‘exit ticket’ that explored their understanding of what the course accomplished. This exit ticket was not graded, although the students could incorporate it into their end-of-term portfolio of work.

The exit ticket was written on the final day of class (a 1.5 hr block of time) through a student-directed discussion and division of labour on an open Google document. Graham prepared the shell of the document before hand with suggested headers (which the students left largely intact). Graham observed the discussion, but periodically left the classroom, so that the students could discuss issues openly without him. 

The Exit Ticket

What We Were Supposed to Learn

The first thing that we were supposed to learn in the course was how the medium being changed can alter someone’s perception of history and alter how artefacts are thought about. 

The second facet of the course was on the contextualization of history. This means that understanding how historical narratives can present different meanings, and the need to question the impact of changing things from physical to digital.

The third thing we were supposed to learn was how to recognize when an artefact is changed or remixed, either intentionally or accidentally, to fit narratives.  Lastly, we were also supposed to learn how authority of original objects can change, as they change from physical to digital and vice versa.  

What we Actually Learned

We learned about the concept of “productive failure”, the way in which we could draw lessons for future projects out of the failures of the present one. We used new technologies to construct different historical perspectives and engage the historical perspectives of others. In this, we gained a better understanding of working in groups towards specific goals, sharing knowledge and specific technical information.

We learned to critically interrogate our own historical perspectives – to ask ourselves what is and what isn’t being said in our projects. We had the opportunity to closely inspect our work methods and outcomes. Not only did we learn to make use of new digital technologies to explore history, we also learned about methods of investigating the digital as historical – such as examining digital preservation from a historical perspective, noting when things break or become “obsolete” and why. Continue reading

Reflecting on Critical Making in Digital History: The #hist3812 Experience, Part One

Editors Note: This is the first post in a two-part post exploring a digital history course taught at Carleton University in Winter 2018.  

Anderson, E., Bitar, M., Burgstaller, M., Ellerington, S., Grunksy, K., Lee, J., Mawko, A., Petrie, E., Rashid, A., Saravia, K. A., Weymann, R., and Graham, S.

What happens to history as it gets digitized? That is, what does history look like, what happens to our materials, and the stories we tell or the questions we ask, as we abstract further and further away from ‘In Real Life’? What does ‘digital history’ really mean?

These were the questions with which HIST3812/DIGH3812 began. This class was a cross-listed History and Digital Humanities course at Carleton University in the Winter 2018 term. The course website may be found at https://shawngraham.github.io/hist3812w18/ and the course FAQ at https://github.com/shawngraham/hist3812w18/wiki/FAQ .

The question is: was it successful? What were its productive failures, its glorious accidents? Did we actually learn anything, and if so, what? Finally, are there lessons for other instructors in our experience?

The connective tissue in the course was a series of modules that built on the previous module; each module was built around a further abstraction of digitized data from the real world.

  • Module 1 was built around ‘scanning’ a physical object and constructing a 3d model from it.
  • Module 2 involved remixing that digital data with other kinds of digital data.
  • Module 3 translated the digital artefact into an immersive environment.
  • Module 4 returned the digital artefact to the real world via 3d printing or augmented reality.

Often in digital history classes we deal with self-evidently digitized historical materials: OCR’d newspapers and old photographs for instance. Graham sought to make the digital unfamiliar so that when the process or software or digital artefact broke, the breakages would reveal assumptions about working with digitized materials (see Croxall and Warnick in ‘Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities’ on a ‘failure as epistemology‘) Continue reading

In Pursuit of Excellence: The Importance of Mentorship in Academia

Fence with a sign saying 'This Way' with an arrow

Photo by Jamie Templeton on Unsplash

Katrina Ackerman

As the winter semester comes to an end and students prepare to enter graduate programs in September, I have thought a lot about the students who turned to me as a mentor and the ways in which professors helped students from lower socioeconomic groups, like me, navigate academia. In the current academic market, mentors should prepare their students for a non-academic career, and this is increasingly important for lower class students who rely on loans to fund their education.

As my SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship came to an end in November 2017, I reflected on the professors who shaped me as a scholar. I remember the day my professor, Deanne Schultz from Vancouver Island University, planted the kernel that I could strive for a graduate level education. Coming from a working class background, obtaining an undergraduate education was my goal and I had not considered teaching beyond secondary schools. Although I always wanted to be a modern-day Anne Shirley, I never considered a career in university teaching.

Fortunately, my history professors at Vancouver Island University informed me of the SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarships Program Master’s Scholarships, which paved the way for my graduate education. Unlike many graduate students from working class backgrounds, I received sufficient financial support throughout my graduate education to conduct my research and complete my theses.[1] However, where I attended school was always determined by financial support. Rather than attending universities in major cities where the cost of living was higher, I always looked to smaller universities that had lower rent and tuition. Because of significant advice from mentors and my good fortune of receiving SSHRC funding, I avoided having to take out loans to complete my graduate education, unlike many graduate students from working and lower class backgrounds.[2]

In addition to financial considerations, where I attended school was also largely influenced by the reputation of the supervisor. Continue reading

Open Pedagogy: The Time is Now

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By Thomas Peace

I’ve been a rather slow convert to the open-access movement. Though ActiveHistory.ca operates under a Creative Commons Attribution, non-commercial ShareALike copyright license whereby you’re free to repost this (or any other essay you find here) so long as you provide us with attribution and do not profit, this was my sole venture into the world of open access.

OER Global Logo by Jonathas Mello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Unported 3.0 License

Then in 2015, Thompson Rivers University historian John Belshaw approached us about promoting his new two-volume open Canadian history textbook (click here for pre-Confederation and here for post-Confederation) published as part of the BC Open Textbook Project (we ran two posts about it here and here). Belshaw’s books were the first open access textbooks I encountered. I was excited and – having gradually moved away from textbooks in my teaching – integrated them as support material for my Canadian history courses.

Until recently, these were the only open projects with which I have been involved. Though I was never fully resistant to the idea, I also never pursued it with much interest. I have been fortunate enough to move from academic contract to academic contract in such a way that only for a few months have I ever been without full access to a university’s library subscription services. From my vantage point, as a student then professor, all of the on-campus resources I used were free.

This, of course, is not true. Continue reading

Podcast: A Tale of Two Empires: Race and Revolution in the 1860s Caribbean

On April 22, 2017, Melanie Newton delivered her talk “A Tale of Two Empires: Race and Revolution in the 1860s Caribbean.” The talk was part of “The Other 60s: A Decade that Shaped Canada and the World,” a symposium hosted by the Department of History at the University of Toronto as part of its Canada 150 events.

This talk is part of our History Chats podcast series. You can subscribe to the History Chats feed wherever you get your podcasts.

“I have never seen anything finer”: First Impressions and Sightseeing in Depression-Era Soviet Union

This post is part of a series, a virtual tour of the Depression-era Soviet Union, in part through the eyes of Canadians who traveled there and, in part, through Kirk Niergarth’s eyes as he attempted to retrace some of their steps during a trip to Russia in 2014. The previous installment is available here

By Kirk Niergarth

What do you pack for a visit to the Soviet Union in the 1930s? There is the luggage to be inspected at the border, the hard currency to be declared, but there is other, invisible baggage, too (and I am not referring to something clandestine, like the revolver that Saskatchewan farmer George Williams managed to sneak through customs in 1931). The baggage carried in our minds plays a defining role in shaping the Soviet experience, even if it is never unpacked. What we know or think we know about the USSR shapes what we see there, just as it did for Canadians in the 1930s.

For example, in the 1930s, Canadian Communists knew before they ever left Canada that socialism had triumphed in the Soviet Union and they were eager to observe the fruits of victory. As the German train he was on in 1932, crossed the Soviet border, “tears of joy” streamed down prominent-Communist Party of Canada member, the Rev. A. E. Smith’s face. He was overwhelmed with the realization that he would finally have the opportunity to see the “Land of Socialism.” For Young Communist Dave Kashtan, it was the banner at the border reading “Workers of the World Unite,” that convinced him he had arrived at a country that “shared his hopes.”

Figure 1 Advertisement from The Worker, 18 January 1930, 4.

These hopes prepared Canadian Communists to observe the USSR in “particular, mediated ways” that amounted, in Lisa Kirschenbaum’s phrase, to a “communist way of seeing: measuring the bright Soviet future against both the backward Russian past and the grim capitalist present.” The USSR, Kirshenbaum continues, “could be ‘seen’ in its ‘marvelous’ form only if the true communist heart somehow filtered the raw data captured by the speciously accurate eye.” For Canadian communists “revolutionary truth structured their observational truth.” Or, as Kirschenbaum’s metaphor would have it, “they saw not with their eyes, but with their hearts.”[1]

The opposite was also true: Continue reading

Assessing Critical Reading Assessments at Huron University College

Students sitting at tables in a library.

Students in the library of a British Columbia high school, 1930-1960. Library and Archives Canada. MIKAN 4369768

Geoff Read, Tom Peace, and Tim Compeau

As the most recent professors in Huron University College’s signature first-year course, History 1801E, “Controversies in Global History,” we have struggled for several years with an issue that appears to plague university instructors far and wide: many of our students are not doing the readings for their weekly tutorials. This poses quite a problem since the premise of the tutorials is that through discussion of the readings, students will learn how to identify and assess arguments, particularly through the critical evaluation of the historical evidence upon which they are based. Students who do not do the readings for the tutorials, therefore, not only cannot participate in, or contribute to, the discussion, but actually cannot even follow the course of the conversation. They essentially learn nothing in the process.

So what to do? We increased the participation grade to 15% of the final mark to emphasize that we valued this component of the course. This had no apparent effect. We incorporated student-led discussions hoping that class members would feel obliged to help each other out by doing the readings thereby enabling them to answer each other’s questions. Again: this had at most a negligible impact on students’ reading and participation. For a few years we instituted content-based quizzes at the start of each tutorial. This made some difference but was labour-intensive for the professors and encouraged the kind of rote-learning that was at odds with our desire to encourage students to think of History as more than just the memorization of facts.

Then in 2016-17, following the Historians Teaching History Conference at Mount Royal University, we tried a new approach, requiring the students to fill out a critical reading assessment form available below for every tutorial where a reading was discussed. This assessment would then count for half the participation grade each applicable week. We hoped to convey several messages with this mechanism.

First, we wanted our expectations to be clear – we require students to come to class prepared, having done and reflected upon the assigned reading in a rigorous way.

Second, we hoped that by encouraging students to prepare properly, we would not only ensure that a critical mass of them would do the reading, but that they would be ready to discuss it at a relatively sophisticated level.

Third, we designed the forms to reinforce our in-class teachings. The form asks students to identify the thesis, the sources on which the argument is based, the author(s)’ position in the historiography, connections to other class materials, and three strengths and three weaknesses of the argument. Further, the form requires students to explain why, or why not, they found the argument convincing.

Fourth, we hypothesized that part of the culture of not preparing properly for classes was a general sense students had of disengagement from the course. Accordingly, we hoped that the continual evaluation and feedback provided on the assessments would be one means of keeping students engaged in the class material. Continue reading

Podcast: British North America and International Law in the 1860s

It’s a special mid-week History Chat!

On April 22, 2017, Brad Miller delivered his talk “British North America and International Law in the 1860s.” The talk was part of “The Other 60s: A Decade that Shaped Canada and the World,” a symposium hosted by the Department of History at the University of Toronto as part of its Canada 150 events.

This talk is part of our History Chats podcast series. You can subscribe to the History Chats feed wherever you get your podcasts.

Continue reading