Historical Practice and Media Engagement

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Newspaper boxes.

Photo by Jeremy Galliani on Unsplash

Krista McCracken

How many media interviews did I think I would do when I started working in an archive? Zero. How many media interviews have I done in the last two months? Eleven. These media interactions have included interviews for television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and online only forums. This work has centered on promoting the work of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and the recently unveiled Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall exhibition at Algoma University.

This rapid increase of interview requests got me thinking about public historians in the news and ways to work with the media. Both academic and public historians have a role to play in providing important historical context to the general public. Indeed, the mission of Activehistory.ca reflects just that desire as a website that “connects the work of historians with the wider public and the importance of the past to current events.” The desire to extend historical conversations beyond academia are something that fuels Active History, public historians, and many scholars who work in the public sphere. Continue reading

Say Cheese? The Dilemma of Photography at Traumatic Heritage Sites

Visitors in the Anne Frank House. Anne Frank House/ Cris Toala Olivares. CC BY 2.0

Kaiti Hannah

There is an ongoing debate in the field of public history regarding the acceptability of taking photographs in museums. Though history museums seem to be leaning more towards allowing or even actively encouraging photography in their galleries, there are many who object to this phenomenon. Open up any think piece about Millennials and you’re sure to see complaints about those of this generation (of which I am a member) being glued to their phones and constantly taking selfies. Selfies in most history museums seem to me to be fairly unobtrusive. Usually it only takes a few moments for people to pose in front of an interesting scene or artefact and snap a photo or two of themselves or a group of friends.

Many museums are leaning into this. Some museums (including “made-for-Instagram” museums like the New York Museum of Ice Cream or California’s Museum of Selfies), have dedicated “selfie areas” where visitors can pose in or around replica artefacts, try on period costumes, or pose with mannequins representing important historical figures. Photography in many museums is seen as a way to attract and engage visitors (especially younger visitors) and make them active participants in the museum instead of passive observers.

Photography in art museums has been discussed repeatedly, but debates have focused on the damaging influence of flash photography, the interference of photographers on the aesthetic experiences of visitors, copyright concerns, and the concern that those who photograph art see it through a lens, rather than with their own eyes, lessening their own appreciation. But history museums have their own set of issues to grapple with. There may not be such issues associated with many museums or heritage sites, but what about somber or traumatic sites of history? The Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam, for example, explicitly bans all photography out of concern that cameras could interrupt visitors’ emotions in the site. Their website also lists preservation of the building as a concern. But certainly, in a place closely tied to the Holocaust, the emotional experiences of visitors should be considered.

Consider sites such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Continue reading

Not so Accidental: Farmworkers, Car Crashes, and Capitalist Agriculture

By Edward Dunsworth 

Early last month, near the southern Italian city of Foggia, sixteen migrant farmworkers from various African countries were killed in two separate car accidents. In both cases, vans taking migrants back to camp after work collided with trucks carrying tomatoes from the very fields they had spent the day toiling in. The tragedy brought international media scrutiny to the Puglia region’s agricultural sector, where African migrants are housed in squalid camps and ferried from farm to farm by mob-connected recruiters to work dangerous jobs for minimal pay and with few protections. It also sparked resistance from farmworkers themselves, who on 8 August took the roads of the tomato district, chanting “we are not slaves, no to exploitation.”

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Recovering Contrast in Faded Documents

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By Olivia Raiche-Tanner, Annika Vetter and Michael Robertson

It sometimes happens that ink used in the preparation of documents will fade resulting in reduced contrast between the ink and substrate (paper, parchment, pottery, etc.), often to the point where the writing is no longer readable.  Ink fading can be caused in several ways including exposure to light, chemical reactions between ink and paper and/or atmosphere, and water and fire damage.  One method for recovering contrast between the ink and substrate is to use imaging techniques involving a variety of light sources, filters and cameras.  Even though the ink may be invisible using normal indoor lighting and our eyes, residual ink may absorb, reflect or luminesce light with colours outside the normal range of human vision. In this post we’ll discuss lighting strategies that allow archivists and historians to recover information from their documents obscured by faded ink. Continue reading

Queering Social Studies Education in New Brunswick

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By Casey Burkholder

During a late fall afternoon of syllabus writing, and distracted Googling, I came across the activist archival work of Dusty Green, who has developed the New Brunswick Queer Heritage Initiative (NBQHI). The NBQHI emerged after Dusty came across pictures donated to the New Brunswick Provincial Archives of rural New Brunswick boyfriends, Leonard and Cub, photographed between 1905 and 1940. Dusty remembers,

“Len and Cub broke things open for me, and got me really excited about queer history. Most provinces have an organization that actively seeks out queer content, because it’s important. It’s been actively suppressed by institutions and society at large for a really long time, so special archives or community archives have had to really come in and pick up the slack…archives are meant to represent the whole of a place. Queer people have always been here, and trying to fill those gaps is tricky work” (Chong, 2018, p. 25).

The practice of erasing the experiences and contributions of queer people in Canadian Social Studies Curricula is not limited to New Brunswick (For example, see also: Burrows, 2013; Crocco, 2001; Graphic History Collective, 2017; Lee, 2007; Maroney, 2016; Temple, 2005). To address the gaps in New Brunswick Social Studies curricula relating to queer and female-identifying New Brunswickers, I have developed a youth-led research project, Where Are Our Histories? (2018-2020) in an effort to queer the New Brunswick Social Studies curriculum. The study builds from the absence of queer and female-identifying people in the narratives that are presented in Social Studies in New Brunswick, and is inspired by activist historians, including the Graphic History Collective (2017), the Calgary Gay History Project (2018), and Dusty Green’s work developing the New Brunswick Queer Heritage Initiative (2018).

In the project, I am looking to learn: Continue reading

Trans Mountain and the Trudeau Legacy

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By James Cullingham

In 1973 the Supreme Court of Canada sent a fundamental challenge to Canadian governments in its Calder decision. The case focused on the Aboriginal rights of Frank Calder as a representative of the Nisga’a people. The case was argued by Thomas Berger.

While the court was split and the decision did not represent an outright victory, the supremes sent a clear message to Ottawa and Victoria. Aboriginal rights exist in Canada and the crown has a duty to negotiate. Pierre Trudeau is reported to have told a group of chiefs, “perhaps you had more legal rights than we thought you had.” It was an extraordinary reversal for a prime minister who had argued at the outset of his tenure that Aboriginal rights could not be recognized because “no society can be built on historical might-have-beens.”

Last week Pierre Trudeau’s son Justin also experienced a massive set back on Indigenous policy. The Federal Court of Appeal denied approval of construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The court declared that the federal government had failed to meet a legal standard of consultation and consent in its dealing with Indigenous groups that will be affected by the project. This is a biting rebuke to a politician who built his brand on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and recognition of Canadian diversity in a “post national state.” Continue reading

A monument for the Maroons

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By Afua Cooper

One walks in vain through the public spaces of Halifax to see a plaque or any other sort of memorialization to the Black presence in the city. Take the waterfront, for example. This was a site to and from which different collectivities of African-descended people—including enslaved Africans, free and enslaved Black Loyalists, self-emancipated Blacks on the Underground Railroad, Caribbean seamen and their families—arrived and departed. Yet there is nothing on that seafront marking the presence of the Black experience. A presence that is at least 300 years old.

The Jamaican Maroons were one such African Diaspora group that arrived in Halifax on the waterfront. Continue reading

Reconciliation in the Classroom: The #150 Acts as a Pedagogical Tool

Les autrices de la liste, Crystal Fraser (droite) et Sara Komarnisky (gauche)

Crystal Gail Fraser and Sara Komarnisky. Photo credit: Sara Komarnisky.

This post originally appeared in French on Histoire Engagée on June 7, 2018.  Many thanks to Andrea Eidinger for her work translating this post.

Catherine Larochelle

In the winter of 2018, I had the opportunity to teach HST2444, Autochtones, État et société au Canada at the Université de Montréal. Over the course of the entire semester, I relied extensively on media in both my classes and weekly discussions, including the poster series Remember/Resist/Redraw, and some of the short videos from Wapikoni mobile. Both proved to be extremely useful pedagogical tools that resulted in vigorous, and I would add, necessary, conversations about Canadian historical narratives. Towards the end of the semester, I had my students read the 150 Acts of Reconciliation, by Crystal Gail Fraser and Sara Komarnisky. Originally published on ActiveHistory (and later in French on HistoireEngagée.ca) in summer 2017, #150Acts listed out 150 acts of reconciliation that any Canadians could undertake in the last 150 days of the Canada150 celebrations. As Fraser and Komarnisky noted, the TRC’s Calls to Action were mostly aimed at institutions, and many Canadians did not feel that they applied to them personally. Instead, Fraser and Komarnisky wanted to illustrate that reconciliation can be practiced in different ways and at multiple levels.

Today I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on my experience using this list in a classroom setting, and in doing so explain why I believe that it is such a valuable and useful tool for talking about reconciliation with students, regardless of the subject matter of the course.

Two Exercises for Reflection on Reconciliation

Even though I had required that students read the list prior to coming to class, I began the day’s discussion by distributing hard copies of it, and asking students to reread it and identify which actions:

A – were accomplished within the course

B – had already been completed by reading the list

C – seemed impossible or difficult to complete

D – they did not understand

E – they hoped to complete in the short or medium term.

I had several goals in mind when designing this exercise. Namely, I wanted my students to think critically about the material I covered in class within a larger social and political perspective. My students were able to see how much of the historical knowledge that was covered in HST 244 (for example, in actions #57, #60, #81 or #83[1]) would be required for the decolonization of traditional narratives of Canadian and Quebec history, a decolonization that is essential for true reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (North America). My students were both shocked, and frustrated, to learn about the many aspects of Canadian history that they had never been exposed to in their previous educational experience. Continue reading

History and Interdisciplinarity

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By Adam Chapnick

I work in what must be one of the most interdisciplinary academic departments in the country.

For the last decade, the Royal Military College of Canada’s Department of Defence Studies has included eleven full-time faculty.  One has a PhD in chemistry; one is a defence economist; one is a psychologist; one is a military sociologist; two of us are historians; and there are five political scientists.  One of those political scientists has an MBA.  Another has a master’s degree in studies in law.  A third has an MA in War Studies.  A fourth has one in international affairs (as do I).  Two of the political scientists are francophones, as is our military sociologist.  The defence economist and psychologist are both military veterans.

In spite, or perhaps because, of this disciplinary diversity, we also publish together quite often.  Over the last decade, our collaborations have resulted in three textbooks, at least two peer-reviewed articles, and a number of opinion pieces in military and civilian outlets.

What we have in common, it seems, is a collective commitment to professional military education, and to academic collegiality.  When we think about “fit” here, our primary consideration is how potential colleagues’ scholarship might benefit our curriculum, practically and directly.

This past spring, we had the rare opportunity to add two new permanent faculty.  Our job ad stipulated that candidates had to have “a Ph.D. in military history, strategic studies/defence and security studies or war studies, or a relevant doctoral degree in the humanities or social sciences with a research/teaching focus on the conduct, consequences, complexity, and practices of conflict.”

Although I did not serve on the hiring committee, I attended all of the job talks.  I have also debriefed with the committee itself.  I share my observations here to support historians who are contemplating applications for interdisciplinary faculty positions now or in the future. Continue reading

“Tom’s Return” — or A Girl’s Heroic Adventure? Great War Fiction by a Canadian Schoolgirl

By Sarah Glassford

What did Canadian children think of the Great War? We know they played with war-themed toys and games, read adventure stories and acted out dramas with wartime plots, contributed money and labour to war-related causes, and in some cases lied about their ages in order to enlist[1]… but accessing their youthful thoughts, feelings, and imaginings about the war in their own words is difficult. Norah Lewis’s study of children’s wartime letters to the children’s pages of family-oriented Canadian periodicals offers a rare and valuable example,[2] but locating unpublished materials by children of the Great War period in the archives is a real challenge. Children create relatively few written records to begin with, and those that they do create rarely survive beyond childhood; traditionally, even fewer have passed the “historical significance” test and been preserved in publicly-accessible archives. Those that do often form a very small part of larger family fonds, and are more likely to be discovered by accident than by deliberate searching.

Montreal schoolgirl Kathleen Barry’s 1917 war story was precisely this sort of accidental discovery. Included in one of her schoolbooks, it is housed in the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, as part of the MC3519 (Janet Toole) fonds. I came across it while processing a new accession to the fonds, during my summer 2017 co-op internship at the archives. MC3519 is a sprawling family collection, comprised of materials relating to Janet and Barry Toole, their ancestors, descendants, and other close relatives. Kathleen Barry was a relative of Barry Toole’s, and a few momentoes of her Montreal childhood and education were passed down to his family.

The cover of Barry’s notebook, part of the MC3519 (Janet Toole) fonds, Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. All images by Sarah Glassford with archival permission.

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