History Slam Episode 116: History’s Future

      1 Comment on History Slam Episode 116: History’s Future

By Sean Graham

For the past three days, historians from across the country have been gathered in Regina for the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association. In the past, we have done recap episodes following Congress to highlight some of the trends that are shaping the profession. In essence, Congress has served as a spring cleaning of sorts, where we can get a fresh sense of history and its future.

While the podcast was unable to travel to Regina this year, I wanted to highlight some new trends in historical scholarship. Fortunately, Professor John Bonnett of Brock University was recently the keynote speaker at the University of Ottawa’s public history open house. In discussing the ‘animal turn’ in history, Professor Bonnett highlighted some of the opportunities presented to historians not only by this new approach, but also by digitization, big data, and VR.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Professor Bonnett about history’s future. We talk about the animal turn, ascribing sentience to all living things, and the challenges this presents to the humanities. We also talk about how this challenges traditional historical methods, how historians can incorporate this into their work, and how students respond to these changing approaches. We finish the show by talking about big data and VR’s influence on history, how this will change the historical profession, and the difference between micro and macro histories. As an added bonus, we also answer the age-old question of why Harold Innis is so hard to read.

Continue reading

Lessons from High School: Assessing Differently in the University Classroom

Black and white classroom filled with wooden desks.

High school classroom, 1901. Public Domain Image.

Janis Thiessen

I taught high school students for a decade and a half before my current university career. I obtained my B.Ed. in the early 1990s, at the height of K-12 educators’ interest in constructivism and alternative assessment. The phrase “alternative assessment” was eventually replaced by “authentic assessment” and finally the term became simply “assessment” (at least at the K-12 level). The change in terminology reflected a change in understanding: alternatives to traditional paper-and-pencil testing should not be considered “alternatives” but as central methods of assessing students. Those methods should be “authentic” in that they reflect actual real-world (i.e., outside of school) tasks, and should require the demonstration or performance of skills. As these ideas increasingly became the norm among secondary school teachers, the adjectives “alternative” and “authentic” fell away.

And so when I taught high school chemistry, I replaced the final paper-and-pen examination that required calculations and recall of memorized facts with a final multi-day unstructured lab activity. In my grade eleven courses, students were given a list of 20-30 chemicals, and then provided an unlabeled sample of one of them. They were required to research the physical and chemical properties of the list of chemicals, perform appropriate tests of their own choosing on their unknown sample, and thereby determine its identity. In so doing, they demonstrated their ability to research, experiment, and draw conclusions. My grade twelve students were given a hydrated salt whose identity they had to determine by evaporating away its water content. They, too, were required to generate their own lab process.

Yet when I began teaching university history students, I reverted to tests and final exams. When I found myself in April grading not only an end-of-term research essay but also three essays from the exam each student had written, I realized something had to change. I did not need four essays at the end of the year to determine whether students had acquired the skills the course was designed to teach them. Nor was there much value in my writing comments and offering suggestions for improvement on exams that would not be returned, or on final essays that most students would choose not to pick up.

So I have stopped giving exams in my university History courses. Continue reading

“So, What Will That Get You?”

      1 Comment on “So, What Will That Get You?”

This post is one of several discussing the 2018 annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association at the University of Regina, May 28-30, 2018.

Carly Ciufo

When I decided to pursue a PhD in history, I did not intend to remain in academia. Although now I sometimes daydream of being on the tenure-track, it’s hard to realistically envision a future where I will be able to make a stable living as an academic.

Before returning to university in 2016, I was happily working in museums, archives, and libraries across the country. I was collaborating with people, listening to their stories, and seeking out content for some incredibly interesting collections and exhibitions. It was everything I wanted my life as a historian to be.

But every now and then, I would be hit with the hard reality that contract-to-contract life was getting harder and harder to keep up. I could not move ahead in the work that I loved when competing applicants were equipped with the doctorate degree that I did not have. So, I started my PhD in the hopes that the degree would make me more competitive and better prepared for the secure senior research and curator positions that I desired.

Alas, becoming a historian is not so straightforward.

Now finishing up my second year of doctoral studies, it has become increasingly apparent that my post-graduate life will not be so seamless. Graduate students are regularly abandoning their degrees unfinished; some, with their PhD in hand, are leaving academia behind altogether for decidedly non-academic routes. Whether I choose to stay in or leave the university for research in the arts, culture, and heritage industry, these trends make me think that contract employment and precariousness may very well remain my only constant.

Can any professional historian position realistically offer me the job security and permanence that I desire? And, to that end, how can history department cultures change to promote professional roles beyond the tenure-track professorships that today’s universities can rarely support? Continue reading

Podcast: Why We Shouldn’t Talk About Confederation in 2017

On April 22, 2017, Steve Penfold delivered his talk “Why We Shouldn’t Talk About Confederation in 2017.” 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.

Where Knowledge Resides: Strong Indigenous Women and Experiential Education/Zhiiweh temguck kinoomaadziiwnun: Zoongaabwewuk Anishinaabe Kwek miinwaa niinda kendaan’naa ah kinomaadziiwnun

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 Violet King

I came to Manitoulin Island as a part of MISHI not knowing what to expect. As a person of Mi’kmaw ancestry living away from my territory, I often feel a strong sense of dislocation in my day-to-day life. University and academic settings are no different. MISHI, however, was a different kind of academic setting, drastically different than every other institutional educational experience I have experienced. My days on Manitoulin Island were spent getting to know different parts of the land, gratefully listening to Anishaabeg stories and teachings, experiencing their art, and hearing their histories.

Violet King untangling sweet grass in the ruins of the priest’s house in WIkwemikong.

I came to Manitoulin Island and joined MISHI at the very end of my degree from York University. Learning some of my own history and the histories of other nations in an institutional setting was difficult at times. However, I am grateful to have studied under a few incredible professors who were generous with their time and offered me inspiring examples of academic vigor and personal integrity.

So much of academic learning is a solo mission, and much of my learning has taken place between stacks of books and searching online archives and journals. Continue reading

From Wanting In to Opting Out: Home Sewing and Fashion Then and Now

My mom’s first project was cut from this pattern.

Cayley Bower

I’m a third generation home sewist.[i] My grandmother lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War—the height of the make do and mend movement—and made clothes for herself and her family with such skill that they were indistinguishable from store-bought items yet came at a fraction of the cost. My mother started sewing in 1970 at age 11 when it became clear that the family’s clothing budget couldn’t possibly keep up with her desire to dress like Goldie Hawn on Laugh In. My mom remembers her first project vividly: After choosing a pattern (a shift dress with short sleeves and a Peter Pan collar) she laid out the paper pattern pieces and cut the fabric—the dress was made from fabric salvaged from the skirt of one of my grandma’s old dresses—and then sewed the pieces together, though she had to pick out the side seam and re-sew it eleven times before it was straight. In the end, though, she got the Goldie Hawn dress of her dreams and the skills to have a wardrobe of fashion-forward clothes at a fraction of the cost of store-bought. My mother, like countless women, since the sewing machine first emerged for sale over a hundred years before, sewed her own clothes so that she could participate in and gain entry into a consumer fashion market that was beyond her financial means.

The desire for fashionable clothes that were otherwise prohibitively expensive was a significant motivation for home sewing from its inception in the 1860s and 70s until the early 1990s when foreign manufacturing made ready-to-wear fashion dramatically cheaper. When I started sewing in the early 2000s, the pastime was thoroughly passé, but this has changed in recent years as sewing has experienced a resurgence. This resurgence, however, comes with a major shift; home sewing appears to be characterized less by women wanting into the consumer fashion market and more about opting out.

A graded pattern has multiple sizes on the same pattern.

Using fashion as an expression of class and individual taste is nothing new.   Continue reading

What We’ve Learned About Ontario’s Multicultural History

By Allana Mayer

There are lots of digital divides. There is a literacy divide (understanding the production of the things you see), an access divide (having the infrastructure in the first place), and then there are representation divides – seeing people like you in the materials that circulate online. As archives and heritage organizations increasingly digitize and share their unique historical collections, it can sometimes feel like we’re widening that gap in representation, not closing it. I experienced this firsthand on a recent historical research project focusing on Ontario’s multicultural history.

OurDigitalWorld is a nonprofit that works with hundreds of Ontario libraries, archives, historical societies, and interest groups to make digitized historical materials online and accessible. With funding from the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, we are undertaking a series of projects bringing together materials from across Ontario to explore the histories of women and multicultural communities. We’ve assembled three virtual exhibits: one on Ontario’s women’s history, one on black history, and one on Japanese history.  These exhibits include artifacts, photos, news clippings, manuscripts, maps, and drawings from over 50 cultural heritage organizations in Ontario.

The first stage of the project was to build the virtual exhibits and to show what can be done when we bring hundreds of heritage collections together. The next stage will allow for an expansion of these virtual exhibits and develop curriculum resources which will  allow Ontario public school educators to bring these primary sources into the classroom. We plan to produce a range of educational resources including: exercises and activities, homework assignments, assessment rubrics, presentation slides and handouts, and multimedia modules that students can explore, appropriate for a variety of grade levels.  All of this material will be made openly available under Creative Commons licenses, so that people can reuse and adapt them however they want.

I’m a regular reader of Active History and always find myself inspired by its content. In fact, after reading about Ontario’s history curriculum, I reached out to Dr. Samantha Cutrara to talk about this stage of our project. We’ll be working together this summer, schedules permitting, on ways to bring primary sources to Ontario students. I also spoke to teachers, archivists, and librarians who have experience using primary materials in the classroom—to talk about archival literacy and how best to share and teach with materials that deal with trauma, such as oppression of and discrimination against underrepresented groups.

Continue reading

What Does Canadian History Look Like? A Peek into University Classrooms before CHA 2018

By Thomas Peace

It’s that time of the year again.

Over the coming weekend, historians will join our colleagues in the social sciences and humanities in Regina for the annual Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities, during which the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) will meet.

This year, the CHA has been organized around the theme of “Gathering Diversities,” reflecting upon how both our understanding of the past and historical methods have been shaped by diverse and divergent perspectives. You can read the program here.

For the past several years I have examined the words most commonly used in the titles presenters have assigned to their papers, transforming the conference program into word clouds, in an effort to provide a cursory overview of the breadth of subjects being presented at the meeting. Occasionally, I have complemented this analysis with some sort of parallel examination of another aspect of the Canadian historian’s craft. One year it was abstracts from journal articles, another year it was past CHA programs, and last year it was a flash-in-the-pan #Canada150 TV special called The Story of Us.

Figure 1. Common words used in Canadian-history course descriptions.

This year, as I was preparing for my own CHA presentation, which is based on our decision at Huron University College to stop teaching the pre-Confederation Canadian History survey course, I decided to look at academic calendar descriptions of first- and second-year introductory courses to Canadian history in order to get a better sense about how Canadian history is being taught across the country. Here’s what I discovered: Continue reading

Podcast: The Broader Significance of the 1860s

On April 22, 2017, Heidi Bohaker and Paula Hastings  delivered their talk “The Broader Significance of 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.

The “Lost Stories” Project: A Tool for Introducing Students to Questions about Historical Markers, Public Memory, and Commemoration

This is the final essay in a five part series featuring the Lost Stories Project.

By Scott Pollock

It seems as of late that whenever I turn on the news, or pick up a newspaper, I am confronted with another story about historical markers, public memory, and commemoration. Recent examples range from the debate over the possible re-naming of Sir John A. Macdonald public schools, to the on-going controversy over the Langevin Block in Parliament, and the confrontations that have occurred as a result of the removal of Confederate statues in some areas of the United States. Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, I have also found that many of my high school students are engrossed in these issues, which they will quite happily debate with one another. This seems to me to be something of a pedagogical opportunity — a moment in which teachers can, ever so carefully, encourage their students to think more deeply about what “history” is, how it is constructed, and why we choose to remember particular stories.

The idea of engaging in this sort of discussion may be somewhat frightening (perhaps very frightening) to some of my colleagues teaching in K-12 classrooms. This is understandable as philosophic discussions about the nature of history, commemoration, and historical consciousness have not traditionally been a part of K-12 history education (often they aren’t part of an undergraduate history education either, but that is a topic for another day). There is, however, an ever-growing body of research both within Canada [1] and the rest of the world [2] that indicates students are capable of understanding and thinking critically about these issues when they are given appropriate support. In fact, the existing research seems to indicate not only that students can deal with these sorts of questions, but that they enjoy the opportunity to do so [3]. Given this, I think it is time for K-12 history teachers within Canada to devote time and space within their crowded curricula to raise questions about public memory and commemoration. The challenge is to figure out how to do so.

The Lost Stories Project is in the process of developing a set of resources for teachers who are interested in addressing these issues with their students. Continue reading