19th Century Legacies in 21st Century Historical Research Practice

By Colleen Burgess and Thomas Peace

In 1898, T. Watson Smith delivered a detailed lecture on the history of slavery in Canada to the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society. In it he lamented:

Our historians have almost wholly ignored the existence of slavery in Canada. A few references to it are all that can be found in Kingsford’s ten volumes; Haliburton devotes a little more than a half-page to it; Murdoch contents himself with the reproduction of a few slave advertisements; Clement, the author of the school history accepted by nearly all the provinces, dismisses it with a single sentence; and in the long manuscript catalogue of Canadian books, pamphlets and papers gathered during a long life-time by the late Dr. T. B. Akins – a large and very valuable collection – the word “slavery” nowhere appears, even as a sub-heading.

The end of this quotation is perhaps most direct. In 1898, Watson Smith is saying: most historians do not see slavery as a subject requiring independent study.

The work of historians like Afua Cooper, Karolyn Smardz-Frost, Marcel Trudel, James W. St. G. Walker, and Amani Whitfield (among many others) demonstrates that nearly 120 years later this is no longer the case.

Last month, though, following the publishing here of a piece about treaties and public memory in Ontario that drew on Drew Lopenzina’s concept of Unwitnessing, and a presentation about the Library of Congress classification system run by Colleen in Tom’s North American history course, we began to think that perhaps things haven’t changed as much as we thought they had.

The Library of Congress Classification system (LCC) and the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) continue to reflect the world Watson Smith so severely critiqued. Scholarship has changed, but the frames within which it has been placed have not. If we are going to witness the way past assumptions about the world continue to structure our present, we feel a need to make these biases even more transparent. Continue reading

Fifth Annual (?) Year in Review (100 Years Later)

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By Aaron Boyes and Sean Graham

We give our two cents about the most important events from 1917

Four years ago, we had an idea for a post that came from our frustration with year end columns definitively declaring winners and losers for the previous twelve months while also predicting what the year’s ultimate legacy would be. As historians, though, we felt that these columns could not be written in the moment, as we need time to truly assess the important moments that come to define a give year.

With that, the Year in Review (100 Years Later) was born. (You can catch up on 1914, 1915 and 1916 before jumping into 1917) We adopted a March Madness style bracket and each year we select 16 finalists and narrow it down through a series of head-to-head match-ups to determine the most important event from that year.

Certain trends have emerged through the years. The first, and most important, is that we have eliminated all things from the First World War. We’ve done this for a couple reasons: first, our friends at Canada’s First World War have you covered on all things Great War. Second, the war would dominate the bracket and we want to highlight some lesser known developments that still influence our lives today – although to my great disappointment there is nothing aviation related this year.

Our brackets this year are the International Bracket, the Cultural Bracket, the Politics Bracket, and, everyone’s favourite, the Potpourri Bracket.

Round One

Potpourri Bracket

1) Order of the British Empire Inaugurated v. 4) Honus Wagner Retires

Sean: The first time I submitted a SSHRC application, I was applying to do a Master’s degree in England and actually wrote the words that it would be interesting to go to school in “the mother country.” It was a simpler time back then. Although, maybe I was just starting my campaign to be appointed to the Order of the British Empire. The OBE celebrates its 100th anniversary this year after being established by King George V during the First World War as a way to commemorate contributions to British society. With its five classes, two of which make you a knight or a dame, OBE appointments are made from recommendations by the United Kingdom and participating Commonwealth countries. Canada, though, not longer makes nominations because of the establishment of the Order of Canada. India, Pakistan, and Nigeria have similarly created their own honours.

Honus Wagner retired from baseball in 1917 after a 21-year career. Playing most of his career in Pittsburgh, Wagner won 8 batting titles and was part of the 1909 World Series champions. Apart from his Hall of Fame exploits on the field, however, Wagner may be better known today for his T206 baseball card, which is the rarest sport collectable in the world. With few copies remaining, the card rarely goes up for option, but when it does look out. A copy sold last year for $3.12 million, or as well call it around these parts, Aaron’s bar tab.

Between these two, I have to throw my support to Honus Wagner. The OBE has provided some cool things, like Dame Edna (she’s in it right?), but it’s a vestige of a by-gone era of British colonialism that has lost much of its relevance today. Wagner on the other hand, is still held up as one of the best players of all time and the story of his card will ensure that his name remains part of the culture in the future.

Slumming on Park AvenueAaron: What?!? Honus Wagner?!? I think you used by bar tab to come up with this conclusion. I have never heard of Honus Wagner and his 21-year career is no match for the OBE. I am no monarchist, but I believe that the Order of the British Empire is more important. What bothers me more is that you truly believe that Wagner is more important…

Sean: I really do. The OBE has been, too often, a way for rich people to celebrate other rich Slumming on Park Avenuepeople. It’s the Oscars of national awards. Plus, it’s part of a colonial tradition that rewards behaviour that has been damaging to millions of people. Wagner, on the other hand, was a terrific ballplayer who has remained a standard bearer for judging hitters. That is card is still relevant and sought after – not to mention subject to this terrific short documentary – tells me that he is more relevant to the average person in 2017 than the OBE.

Honus Wagner Retires Wins (75-74)

2) John F. Kennedy Born v. 3) First Synagogue Built in Madrid in 425 Years

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The Great Christmas Bake-Off: Kitschy Americana vs. Canadian Victoriana

Butterhorns displayed on a section of log in Canadian Living. I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired.

During the holidays, the food we eat is often as loaded with meaning as it is butter and sugar, which is good news for those of us looking to eat as many cookies and candies as possible in the coming weeks: it’s not over consumption, you see. It’s research. Holiday cooking is part of a web of meaning, tradition, and history, both personal and, as it turns out, national. This year, while engaging in my long-standing family tradition of purchasing the Canadian Living Holiday Baking collector’s edition and planning my Christmas baking, I realized that Canada’s Christmas food culture is deeply rooted in our imperial past, with ingredients and processes that tend toward the classically British.[1] In fact, the desserts in Canadian Living would not be wholly unfamiliar to Sir John A Macdonald. The most recent issues of Canadian Living Holiday Baking (a fixture in my childhood home that I’ve maintained) demonstrate this clearly through the promotion of a particular vision of the holidays that is situated firmly in the Victorian era.  The connection between Britishness, tradition, and the holidays is especially clear when recent recipe collections from Canada are compared to those from the United States.

The recipes in Canadian Living, one of the more popular Canadian holiday baking publications, are decidedly British in flavour and have a nineteenth-century feel in both the simplicity of the ingredients and the way they are presented in the photos; evidently, Canadian culture continues to look to Britain as the source of all things traditional. The recipes in Canadian Living are predominantly twists on classic British foods like shortbread, gingerbread, and trifle, many of which were associated with Christmas in the Victorian era after the holiday was revived after being passé for many years. According to a BBC article on the history of Christmas, “the transformation happened quickly, and came from all sectors of society” and introduced many of the traditions we now regard as integral to the holiday, including roast turkey, Christmas crackers, and the obligation to see family members that one spends the rest of the year actively avoiding. Scholars generally attribute the revival of Christmas to the cult of the Christian family that Queen Victoria perpetuated after her marriage to Prince Albert.

While many of the rituals surrounding Christmas are derived from the Victorian era, the Christmas treats seem to be some of the most enduring. Continue reading

Community Engagement and Public History at the North Pacific Cannery

Photos by Benjamin Bryce

Benjamin Bryce

In late August 2017, I taught an experiential and service learning course at the North Pacific Cannery in Port Edward, BC, a former salmon cannery and now a national historic site. Sixteen history majors from the University of Northern British Columbia travelled 700 km from Prince George in central BC to the north Pacific coast at mouth of the Skeena River.

Students learned about labour, migration, and environmental transformation in British Columbia and the Pacific world, and the experience of being on site gave them new perspectives on public history and community engagement. That engagement was driven both by a desire to bring the university to the communities it serves (in UNBC’s case, essentially the northern half of British Columbia) and by a conviction that we can do more to help undergraduates convert the abilities acquired in the humanities into marketable skills in the world after university. In sharing some of my experiences from this course, I hope colleagues elsewhere will consider undertaking similar activities themselves.

During the six days we spent living at the cannery, Continue reading

Beyond Whiteness: Rethinking Aryan Nationalisms in Multicultural Canada

By Sanober Umar

Since his recent election, Federal New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh has been asked in mainstream platforms to voice his opinion about the Air India Bombings of 1985. Even though he had nothing to do with the event that occurred more than thirty years ago, these questions are being asked simply because of his Sikh identity. We do not demand such accountability from white politicians.

Jagmeet Singh at Toronto Labour Day Parade 2014. Photo by OFL Communication Department

Little has been written about those who seek to demean Singh. It may astonish many that some of Singh’s fiercest critics are other South Asian figures. Bearing this in mind, it is important to emphasize the growing alliance between the Hindu Nationalist diaspora in North America and their alignment with controversial White Nationalists (including with the President of the United States, Donald Trump) under masquerading discourses of secularism and model minority aspirations.

This is especially pertinent for historians working on topics of race, citizenship, and the politics of belonging. Continue reading

East, West, North: Lessons for collaborative Canadian History curriculum

By Samantha Cutrara

Should Canadian students be taught with the same history curriculum across the country?

I often hear this question posed – sometimes in jest, sometimes in seriousness – at the end of a conference or symposium or in the comments section of an article. It is not currently a very active debate, but this question always seems to teeter on the edge of history education conversations in Canada. History teaches complexity – would greater collaboration across the country lead to more complexity in Canada or less? Continue reading

Bill C-66: Historians Speak Out

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Nov. 28/2017

Patrizia Gentile, Tom Hooper, Gary Kinsman, Steven Maynard

When, on November 28th, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered the federal government’s apology to Canada’s LGBTQ2S+ communities, a key component included legislation that would provide a process to clear historical convictions for certain same-sex offences. Bill C-66, known as the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act, was introduced in the House of Commons on the same day the Prime Minister delivered the apology. No consultation with LGBTQ2S+ community advocates with expertise in areas covered by the bill preceded its preparation, and now, having passed second reading, the standing committee charged with studying the bill has stated there will be no opportunity for experts to submit written briefs or appear before the committee, for the government wants the bill back in the House for third and final reading as early as this week.

As researchers who have done considerable investigation into the criminalization of same-sex sexual practices in Canadian history, we believe Bill C-66 has serious flaws and raises many questions that must be addressed. We are very concerned that the customary process of soliciting public input and amending a bill to address its deficiencies is being overridden to rush Bill C-66 through Parliament so that the government’s apologetic words can be seen to be backed up by action. However, if this bill is to work as a meaningful part of the apology process, particularly for those for whom expungement is desired and needed, it requires much more careful consideration and amendment. Continue reading

Settler Records, Indigenous Histories: Challenges in Indigenous Genealogical Research

Census listing

1881 Census for Moose Factory

Stacey Devlin and Emily Cuggy

Genealogy is having a moment; from genealogy websites and DNA test kits to television series like Who Do You Think You Are and Genealogy Roadshow, it’s undeniable that genealogical research and the underlying desire to discover one’s personal and familial identity are more popular than ever before. There are countless resources available to both the professional and amateur genealogist making it seem easy to trace your family tree back to its roots; and in particular, many marketing campaigns for genealogy and DNA services put particular emphasis on Indigenous ancestry. But is identifying Indigenous ancestors really this simple? [1]

When done well, genealogy involves using primary documents to connect each generation in a family tree. Ideally, these documents will provide information such as full name, age, names of immediate relatives, location, religion, and occupation—details that together help prove an individual’s identity and their place within the tree.

However, genealogists and family historians can run into numerous obstacles when trying to obtain the necessary primary documents. These obstacles arise from two main sources: gaps in the historical record, and legal restrictions preventing access to documents that are more recent. These issues are amplified for researchers of Indigenous family history, further complicating what can already be a difficult process, and perpetuating colonial systems of administration and its definitions of ethnicity. Continue reading

Remember / Resist / Redraw #12: Sacred Rivers Within and Idle No More

In January, the Graphic History Collective (GHC) launched Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project as a year-long artistic intervention in the Canada 150 conversation.

Last week we released Poster #12 by Fanny Aishaa, which – to mark the 5th anniversary of Idle No More – looks at INM co-organizer and water defender Melissa Mollen Dupuis.

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 in 2017 and beyond. 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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Africa’s War: Anti-colonial Movements and Repression in First World War French West Africa

Thomas Vennes

Early on the morning of the 4th of May 1916, a military column in French West Africa set out to quell a rebellion. Their mission was one small part of World War I in Africa, about which little is said in Canada. This post helps illuminate the under-appreciated global and colonial ramifications of the First World War.

The column, led by cercle commandant Henri Maubert, was composed of 759 men, mainly African mercenaries, a few tirailleurs sénégalais and handful of European officers. Marching out of Bobo-Dioulasso, situated to the south west of actual Burkina-Faso, it was heading for the rebellious village of Boho, 42 kilometres away. The column’s objective was clear: attack and destroy the fortified village and its defenders. Arriving on the 6th of May, Maubert started bombarding the strong hold which he describes in his carnet de route: “Le travail de destruction devient formidable, sans toutefois causer la moindre émotion parmi les rebelles dont le courage est véritablement superbe, ils occupent toutes les ouvertures pratiquées dans les murs, et notre feu fait des trouées terribles dans leurs masses profondes ”[1]. A first assault on the walls failed and the column, running out of ammunition and water, had to abort its second assault and retreated to the nearest French outpost of Kofila a few kilometres away. The next morning, Mauberts sent out a scouting party to Boho which they found abandoned. On hearing the news, Maubert promptly dispatched a 600 strong demolition team to raze the fortifications and the village to the ground. Towards 5:30 pm, a messenger arrived at Kofila and described what had been found in the village : “les rebelles ont laissé dans le Boho, plus d’un millier de cadavres, trois caveaux funéraires archi-combles, dans plusieurs salles mesurant à peine 3 mètres de côté, on peut compter jusqu’à 40 corps etc. Et encore, la partie centrale de la soukala laissé debout, n’a-t-elle pas été visitée”[2]. Among the dead were many women and children. Mahir Saul and Patrick Royer, authors of the sole monograph on this conflict[3], state that the death toll could have been as high as 3 000. On the French side, 70 men were injured and 10 were killed.

The Belgian Force Publique pictured in East Africa in 1918. Image from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_theatre_of_World_War_I#/media/File:Congo_belge_campagne_1918.jpg

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