History Slam Episode 113: Studying and Interpreting the Bible

By Sean Graham

In the world of history, so much of the work we do is based on interpretation. Whenever we walk into a museum, read a book, and visit a historic monument, we are consuming, at least a little, somebody else’s interpretation of what happened. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, but rather something that should always be kept in mind when studying the past.

The same is true of religion. Various individuals have read the same religious texts and come to incredibly different interpretations. All one has to do is look at the Crusades as an example of how this can negatively influence a society. But at the same time, interpretation has led to positive developments for some religious organizations. Just like with any other historical study, therefore, it is essential to understand the context in which the texts were written and how that can shape our interpretation.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Rev. Canon Rob Park from St. George’s Anglican Church in Georgetown, Ontario. With Passover and Easter over the weekend, it seemed like the perfect time to talk about the way in which Priests are taught the Bible, the way in which personal experience shapes interpretation, and the differences between the gospels.

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“Ditch the Highlighter”: What the Research Suggests about Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

Andrew Nurse

This is the second post in a two-part series on STLHE by Andrew Nurse. Read part one here.

Lego storm trooper holding a paintbrush next to an easel.

Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash

How can we — how should we — teach history at the university level? This question has been the subject of a great deal of discussion. The perspective that I’m trying to introduce here is influenced by the scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education (STLHE). If the STLHE is about evidence-based changes that can make for more effective university-based teaching, what are changes that historians can make? James Lang’s Small Teaching is an easy and accessible guide. His blog and periodic column in The Chronicle of Higher Education provide a set of nicely-organized suggestions that can point university instructors toward STLHE-informed educational strategies. These suggestions are not a series of tips per se, or even best practices, but what Lang calls “classroom practices,” or ways in which we can reorganize classroom time and pedagogy guided by research into teaching and learning. Following some of Lang’s work, let me suggest three small changes to classroom practice that seem to make a difference in learning. You might already have implemented these changes, or some variant of them. If this is the case … good! I hope I can provide some positive reinforcement.

First, the according to Lang, the STLHE  suggests that we should make better use of the first few minutes of a class. I’ve tried a whole series of different ways of starting class, from what I had hoped were stirring — nay, arresting — opening words, to due date reminders, announcements about co-curricular activities, admonitions or congratulations about test or paper scores, to explanations of assignments. Lang thinks we don’t make good use of the beginning of class time, particularly in the age of social media, when students come to class already distracted by the gadgets in their hands. I’m not certain any of my ways of starting class are bad, but the research we have suggests that a more effective way to begin class is to get students thinking right away. Begin with what a colleague of mine calls “orienting questions” and don’t just use those questions as an outline. Have students take a few minutes to work in, say, pairs or small groups to answer them. Continue reading

Podcast: The 1860s and the Origins of Canada’s Transitions to Fossil Fuels

On April 22, 2017, Ruth Sandwell delivered her talk “The 1860s and the Origins of Canada’s Transition to Fossil Fuels.” 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.

Fake News Canada 1922: Designed to Diminish and Deceive

By Veronica Strong-Boag

Canada’s official and popular histories supply their share of well-told lies. Think of the representation of the Northwest Rebellions as proof positive of Métis and Indian barbarism or the story of the Canadian sergeant crucified by blood-thirsty Huns during World War One.

Nellie L. McClung was not immune to those deceptions but she understood the assault on truth when it came to suffragists. Her classic volume In Times Likes These (1915) skewered “hardy perennials,” her term for fake news, those “prejudices regarding women that have been exploded and blown to pieces many, many times and yet walk among us today in the fullness of life and vigor.”

Enfranchisement during and after World War One and the appearance of the first female legislators did not halt anti-suffrage propaganda. Even as misogyny genuflected before women’s patriotic sacrifices, its Conservative, Liberal, and left-wing champions maintained their defense of men’s right to rule.

Like Donald Trump’s 21st century resort to the distraction of a female press secretary (in effect making women complicit in their own victimization), early Canadian reactionaries enjoyed pitting women against one another. In the process, they celebrated their preferred version of ‘real women,’ a type less flatteringly summed up by McClung as “selfish women who have no more thought for the underprivileged women than a pussy cat in a sunny window for the starving kitten in the street.”[1]

Such was the case in June 1922, when MacLean’s, self-titled ‘Canada’s National Magazine’ and would-be arbiter of mainstream Anglo-Canadian culture, published “The Confessions of a She-Politician.” Continue reading

Can Prison Farms Be Saved?

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Cameron Willis

On February 27, 2018, the federal Liberal government announced the gradual reopening of two prison farms in Kingston, Ontario, at the Joyceville and Collins Bay institutions. This announcement marked the successful culmination of a local grassroots campaign which began soon after the initial closure was announced in 2009, and aimed first to save, then later restore, the farms.  Dianne Dowling, a key figure in the campaign as a member of the Save Our Prison Farms (SOPF) committee, concluded that success came from the diversity of the cause’s supporters: “Some people liked the idea that inmates were contributing food to the prison system. Others saw it as good employment training, or as a rehabilitation program, particularly through working with animals.” Although many other issues – from public land use to food security – galvanized members of SOPF, the rehabilitative nature of farming has remained central to the local support for the prison farms.

Perhaps best summarized on the now-defunct Save Our Prison Farms website, this support suggested that “farming provides rehabilitation and therapy through working with and caring for plants and animals.” There is a long history to this view. In fact, claims that prison farming rehabilitates inmates have remained remarkably consistent over more than a century. The reopening of these prison farms provides a necessary opportunity to reflect on where these continuing claims come from, and why, if farming can rehabilitate criminals, it has not succeeded even when part of widespread official policy. More importantly, can prison farming be relevant today, when it is historically rooted in fears of the urban population, an assumption that farms are inherent repositories of moral virtue, and a reliance on coerced labour?

The conviction that farm labour could effectively produce reformed citizens from convicted criminals has, historically, been widespread. Continue reading

Indigenous Veterans, the Indian Act, and the Origins of National Aboriginal Veterans Day

Eric Story

The inaugural National Aboriginal Veterans Day took place on 8 November 1993, and the monument of the same name was unveiled in Ottawa the following year. Since its inauguration, National Aboriginal Veterans Day has grown, as ceremonies are now being held in various cities across Canada with larger crowds each year. With that growth, however, disagreement has arisen. There are competing beliefs amongst those participating in National Aboriginal Veterans Day about what it is meant to represent. Some believe it should be a day devoted solely to remembrance, while others think it should also be about the Indigenous veterans who “fell through the cracks” after the war, being denied benefits that other (non-Indigenous) veterans received.[1] The roots of those who support the latter vision of National Aboriginal Veterans Day can be traced back to the aftermath of the Great War in Canada. It was then that Indigenous ex-servicemen, for the first time in such large numbers, encountered the reality of being first and foremost, an “Indian,” while at the same time, a veteran.

The National Aboriginal Veterans Monument in Ottawa, Ontario. It was unveiled on National Aboriginal Day––21 June 2001. From Wikipedia.

Pension eligibility revolved around the concept of attributability. A veteran had to prove––through evidence derived from his official service record––that his (or her) disability was attributable to some injury incurred while on active duty.[2] The determination of eligibility for a veteran’s pension was also affected by the Pension Act’s “theatre of actual war” clause, creating differing levels of military service according to the theatre in which an ex-serviceman had served. For example, those who served in an active theatre such as France were eligible for a pension, while those in a non-active theatre like Canada, were not.[3] These conditions of eligibility reflect the state’s anxieties surrounding masculinity at the time. By limiting pensions to only those who had been injured in battle and had validated their masculinity as combat soldiers––those held in highest regard––the state could parry any challenge to manliness the pension system might have otherwise imposed.[4] Continue reading

Podcast – Uncomfortable Pews: British North America’s Religious Groups Ponder Confederation

On April 22, 2017, Mark McGowan delivered his talk “Uncomfortable Pews: British North America’s Religious Groups Ponder Confederation.” 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.

On the Importance of Caribou Stories/Ezhiik k’chi piitendaagwuk aadik debaajmiigziiw’nun

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 Katherine MacDonald

My childhood summers were spent on the shores of Lake Huron, visiting my grandmother in Amberley.  Together with my brother, we would explore the woods and play by the water’s edge, collecting shells and feathers, and listen to the stories told by those around us.  We learned about the Clay Pond, and the Clam Pond and why they were important for us.  We learned how to watch, and respect the power of the Lake.  And we learned the names of important landscape features around us, becoming more familiar with them, having them become more a part of us, with every telling.  At the end of the summer, we would go back to the city, but the feathers and the shells in our pockets would continue to connect us to our place, and remind us of what we had learned, and of who we were.

But there are always new stories to hear and new places to learn about.

For while I had learned from my grandmother about the places and things we could see, the Ponds, the Lake, and sites in the landscape, she never shared stories with us about the places and things we couldn’t see, the spirits, the emotions, the presence of history, the myths that are real.  This cultural knowledge is not often shared.  When it is, it is usually quickly dismissed by western science. Continue reading

Brexit Ambiguities

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By Stephen Brooke

On Friday, 23 June 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union, with 51.89% in favour of leaving and 48.11% in favour of remaining.  And thus Britain embarked on what was certainly the most important political decision of the past forty years (going back to the 1975 referendum which approved membership in what was then called the European Economic Community by 67.2% to 32.7%) and just as certainly the most complicated political, economic and legal course taken by the nation since the Second World War.

There is a certain weary tone to British political commentators that one can discern with each passing week: “do we have to talk about Brexit this week?”  And, of course, they do, as they will be doing from now until 29 March 2019 (when the negotiation period formally ends) and well beyond.  The period of political and legal adjustment for Brexit is estimated to stretch into the next decade, and the economic cost will measure out even longer.

European Union Flag

The European Union Flag, missing one star for the UK

Before thinking about the relationship between history and Brexit, it’s worth remembering why the referendum even happened.  Given the scale of the decision, the immediate justification for the referendum seems criminally capricious at best.  In 2013, facing a Conservative Party that had long tortured itself with membership of the EU, often to the indifference of the general public, and with a threat from the right emerging from the United Kingdom Independence Party (a party led by a someone who was, coincidentally, a member of the European Parliament), the hapless Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron committed to an ‘in-out’ referendum on EU membership.  To be clear: it is likely in 2013 that no one outside the Conservative Party particularly cared about a referendum. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 112: Use and Abuse of Patriotism in Sports

By Sean Graham

The 2018 Paralympic Games came to a close on Sunday, thus completing another Olympic cycle. The next major international sporting event comes this summer when Russia hosts the FIFA World Cup. And right now, March Madness, one of the most bet-upon sporting events on the calendar, has the NCAA in the spotlight.

What’s interesting about these events is that, during the competitions, the athletes are at the forefront of the media attention. The stories that emerged from Pyeongchang over the past month have been remarkable. From Scott Moir and Tessa VIrtue’s triumph to the gut-wrenching semi-final loss of the Canadian wheelchair curling team, these sporting events are wrought with emotion. From the elation of winning to the pain of losing, people from around the world wave their countries’ flags in support of their athletes – and in the NCAA case, people root for their alma mater.

All the while, companies capitalize on the emotional attachment to the events to try to sell us stuff. The Olympics, World Cup, and March Madness all feature targeted ads based off our patriotism (most professional and collegiate teams refer to themselves as ‘nations’) while at the same time highlighting the amazing performances of the athletes.

What gets left out, however, is the backdrop against which these events take place. The International Olympic Committee has been known to have executives made outlandish demands of host committees while at the same time demonstrating a remarkable level of disinterest in the host cities’ financial state, so much so that they are having difficulty finding places that want to host the Games. FIFA has had plenty of examples of corruption and bribery, particularly when it comes to the next two World Cups. As for the NCAA, the highest paid employee in 39 of the 50 states is a men’s basketball or football coach. The players, however, don’t get paid and, in a lot of cases, are subject to tougher restrictions on movement and outside financial opportunities than the adults who are, allegedly, teaching them about responsibility.

But these things don’t get the same attention or scrutiny as the games and results. I’ve often wondered if that’s because these sports so effectively capitalize on patriotism to draw us in. By doing so, we are not watching somebody else. Instead, we are included in the action, which is why so many people talk about how many medals ‘we’ won when referring to their home country. By creating an environment in which the audience has a vested interest, it becomes much easier, if not a necessity, to ignore the seedy underside of these events.

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