Podcast: We Get a Piece and We Get a Say: Approaching Confederation from the Perspective of the Métis Nation of the North-West

On April 22, 2017, Jean Teillet delivered her talk “We Get a Piece and We Get a Say: Approaching Confederation from the Perspective of the Métis Nation of the North-West.” 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.

Remember/Resist/Redraw #15: Class Conflict in 1920s Cape Breton

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

Earlier this week, on William Davis Miners’ Memorial Day (June 11), we released RRR poster #15  by Karen Jeane Mills and David Frank that looks at class conflict, including the killing of coal miner William Davis, in 1920s Cape Breton.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for radical 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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Curious about Learning: Teaching Postcolonial Theory to First-Year History Students

Curious George sitting on a chair and trying on clothing.

Curious George illustrations.

Susan Joudrey

I like theory, but I know not everyone feels this way. Undergraduate students, in particular, expect theory to be dry or difficult even if they’ve never actually encountered it. In order to ease students into theoretical practice, I’ve relied on active learning strategies to teach postcolonial theory in a first-year Canadian History course.

Through a number of iterations of teaching Canada: Confederation to Present, I completely reorganized the course to focus on colonialism as a central theme. One of my course outcomes is for students to be able to identify the effects of colonialism in Canada and recognize how colonial assumptions impact society. I assess this outcome at various points during the course through primary source analysis and with the inclusion of an essay question on the final exam that requires them to describe aspects of the colonial “civilizing” process using examples from the course. I provide them with four different possible essay questions and ask them to respond to two. The last time I taught this course almost every student elected to write an essay about Canadian colonial legacy in the mid-19th and 20th centuries.

For most of the students, this course is the first time they’re required to consider the long-lasting effects of colonialism or engage with postcolonial theory. I also found that many of them really didn’t understand the mechanisms of racism and weren’t able to identify why something might be racist. I decided to devote a class early in the semester to focus on critical race theory and postcolonial theory, and then I reinforced these concepts throughout the course.

There’s a general misconception that in the first year we need to teach students in a way that relies on the first two levels of Benjamin Bloom’s cognitive learning domains, remember and understand, both of which depend on an ability to recall information rather than apply knowledge.[1] Typically this approach to using Bloom’s theory perpetuates the idea that foundational learning in introductory survey courses is primarily achieved through passive reception of information and assessed using methods that rely on memorization. Sometimes our classes provide many opportunities for students to remember or understand but ignore the possibility for application or creation. When you consider how theory is learned or understood, the need to use it becomes even more apparent. The ability to recall or provide a definition of a theory is very different than attempting to apply it.

So, how do you teach postcolonial theory to first-year undergraduate students? By making it accessible. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 117: Breaching the Peace

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By Sean Graham

There are a couple things that are universal in political campaigns. Candidates will talk about creating new jobs and stress the need to leave a legacy for our kids and grand-kids (we do all for the kids, after all). In recent years, with environmentalism becoming increasingly popular politically, politicians have combined these two things in an effort to create green jobs. This has included everything from wind turbines to solar farms to hydro-electricity. It’s not so simple, however, as the concept of green energy and green jobs needs further examination.

One such example comes from the Site C Dam in the Peace Valley of Northern British Columbia. In 2010, the provincial government announced its plan to build a new dam, the third one on the river. In promoting the project, the government highlighted new jobs and green energy as key benefits to the project. For many local to the area, however, the project’s benefits were not so clear cut.

For many First Nations in the area, the dam would destroy land significant from both a cultural and ecological value. At the same time, there were questions about the province’s need for more hydro-electric energy.

Three years after the initial announcement, Sarah Cox started travelling to the Peace Valley to investigate the dam. The product of that research is her new book Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand Against Big Hydro. Cox examines the project in an effort to determine its true cost, both from a financial and cultural perspective. She explores the urban-rural divide, settler colonialism, and how power and political expediency shape these types of decisions.

With Breaching the Peace, Cox movingly challenges the reader to examine the underlying motivation for public projects and consider how they can change lives for those directly influenced. While not a historical work, Cox makes tremendous use of historic precedents and trends in exploring the Site C project. As a result, the book is an outstanding of Active History and how understanding the past can help us make sense of the present.

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Repurposing a Map of Greater London’s Industry (1893-5)


A few years ago, I worked with some students to develop a database of all the factories we could find on very detailed 5 feet to the mile maps of London from the second half of the nineteenth century. This database is central to my academic research on the environmental history of industrialization in Greater London. I created maps using this historical GIS database for my first book and I’m busy working on a second major project with this spatial data at its centre. But I’ve also been thinking of how to make the HGIS data accessible and interesting to a wider public audience. I’ve created a number of interactive maps using Carto.com and StoryMaps and shared them over social media. Each time they are shared by other historians, but the statistics suggest they’ve not reached a large audience. I’m hoping this post might elicit suggestions from public historians on whether these interactive maps are worthy of more effort on my part to reach a wider audience and how I might succeed in doing so. Build it and they will come is clearly not working.

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The Meaning of DoFo – how Doug Ford took Ontario


James Cullingham

Ontario – wake up and sniff the kitty litter. Doug Ford aka DoFo, is premier-elect of Canada’s most populous province. That will make DoFo arguably the second most powerful politician in the country after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. There can be no denying the political accomplishment and screaming yelp for CHANGE this proclaims. Doug Ford, elder brother of the late drug-addled, scandal-ridden and infamously world-renowned Toronto mayor Rob Ford, took Ontario in a resounding way and will lead a majority Progressive Conservative government. He obliterated 15 years of Liberal rule in the province and left the New Democratic Party (NDP), which will become the official opposition in his wake, as he racked up a significant majority. In the end, it was a PC landslide.

How did we get here? Continue reading

Quebec History Curriculum: Un programme tout en incohérences

This month’s post on Quebec’s history curriculum was written by Catherine Déry, a PhD candidate at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. Click here for an English translation: Quebec History Curriculum: A Program with Inconsistencies


Au Québec, en septembre 2016, un nouveau programme d’Histoire du Québec et du Canada entre en vigueur en troisième secondaire. Le programme, applicable sur deux ans, couvre chronologiquement la période de 1500 à aujourd’hui. Quinze ans après l’application du renouveau pédagogique, introduisant une perspective socioconstructiviste et l’évaluation par compétences, et neuf ans après l’entrée en vigueur du programme d’Histoire et éducation à la citoyenneté au deuxième cycle du secondaire, qu’est-ce qui justifie une nouvelle réforme du programme de deuxième cycle? Pourquoi ce programme fait-il l’objet de débats animés dans la sphère publique alors que celui du premier cycle n’a jamais soulevé les passions?

Dans un collectif paru récemment, Éthier, Boutonnet, Demers et Lefrançois (2017) analysent et critiquent le nouveau programme d’Histoire du Québec et du Canada. Ce changement de programme en histoire au Québec a été à la fois le résultat et le déclencheur de débats concernant le sens de l’histoire et les finalités de son enseignement (Éthier et Lefrançois, 2017). Seul le programme d’histoire nationale a été ciblé parce qu’il est à l’intersection des demandes sociales concernant la mémoire collective, l’identité et la citoyenneté ainsi que la pensée critique. Continue reading

A Provoking Sort of Puzzle:  The Narrative of a Soviet Tour

By Kirk Niergarth

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 installments are available here and here

In retrospect, my linguistic preparation for my Russian journey was woefully inadequate.  My online “learn to speak Russian” lessons were not especially effective in real-world application.  Even when I could formulate an appropriate question I very rarely understand the answer without elaborate miming.

My limited ability to communicate with ordinary Russians was not unlike that of many Canadians who traveled to the Soviet Union during the Depression.  Some, such as Toronto social worker Margaret Gould, spoke Russian fluently; others, such as the agricultural expert Andrew Cairns, had enough knowledge of the language to engage in conversation.

For most visitors, however, conversations with Soviet citizens were mediated by an interpreter or guide.  These guides in most cases, were provided by one of the Soviet tourist agencies, Intourist or VOKS. The scholar/journalist Ella Smith hired her own interpreter in England to travel with her for her second research expedition to the Soviet Union in 1932, but she was an exceptional case.

I had more conversations with other tourists with whom I took English-language guided walking tours than with ordinary Muscovites, comparing notes with a meat-packing executive from Italy, a crew from a Korean airline, and a honeymooning couple from England (odd as it might seem in retrospect, Eric and Josepha Adams of Montreal spent their honeymoon in the Soviet Union in the summer of 1934).

Certainly Canadian travelers in the 1930s were likewise sharing their experience with other tourists, whose expectations and impressions might influence their own. Continue reading

Podcast: Recolonizing Confederation: Indigenous Policy and the Making of Canada

On April 22, 2017, Brian Gettler delivered his talk “Recolonizing Confederation: Indigenous Policy and the Making of Canada.” 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.

Teaching the Work Process and “Deskilling” with the Paper Airplane Game

Classic Paper Airplane

Classic Paper Airplane

Mark Leier

Understanding that the division of labour as a function of class and power rather than technology and efficiency is crucial to understanding historical and contemporary capitalism.  Because the division of labour is fundamental to capitalism, practically everyone who works has some familiarity with it. We can use the ‘Paper Airplane Game’ as a way to draw on that individual experience and have some fun while teaching about labour and capitalism.

The division of labour is so important to capitalism that Adam Smith begins The Wealth of Nations with it, observing “The greatest improvements in the productive powers of labour… seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.” His well-known example of the pin factory then demonstrates how artisans were replaced by workers, each confined to one small task, the work “divided into about eighteen distinct operations.” Smith, however, was also keenly aware of the terrible effects of such work, noting

In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of… the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations; frequently to one or two….The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations….generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.[i]

Karl Marx too observed this dual nature of the division of labour. While the gains in productivity were undeniable, he pointed out that

The division of labour, introduced by capital and continually increased, compels the workers to compete among themselves….As the division of labour increases, labour is simplified. The special skill of the labourer becomes worthless. He becomes transformed into a simple, monotonous productive force that does not have to use intense bodily or intellectual faculties. His labour becomes a labour that anyone can perform…. Therefore, as labour becomes more unsatisfying, more repulsive, competition increases and wages decrease.[ii]

In Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, Harry Braverman shows how the labour of people as diverse as machinists, clerical workers, and retail servers has been divided and deskilled. This process has only intensified since Braverman’s book was published in 1974, and readers of ActiveHistory.ca will be keenly aware of how university administrators make full use of it.[iii]

One way to demonstrate the nature of power and class in the division of labour is with a revised version of the “Paper Airplane Simulation” by William Bigelow and Norman Diamond in The Power in Our Hands: A Curriculum on the History of Work and Workers in the United States. The game can be completed in 50 minutes or over a longer period. My version goes like this:
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