Untethered: Precarity, Place, and People

      9 Comments on Untethered: Precarity, Place, and People
Treed area with a bridge crossing water

Yitzhak Rabin Park in Montreal. Photo by author.

Andrea Eidinger

On April 3rd, I was on my way to class, when I received a phone call from my husband. It was the last day of the winter semester, and my students had organized a potluck to celebrate. My husband has battled Crohn’s Disease for the better part of ten years, and had decided to stay home that day because his symptoms were severe. Over the course of those ten years, we’ve been through several flares (as they are called), and knew what to do. So my husband calling me right before class time was quite out of character. And for good reason: he called to tell me that he needed to go to the hospital. After a brief discussion (he wanted me to go to class, I told him he was being ridiculous), I popped into class to explain what was going on, and then ran to catch the bus. That was one of the longest commutes my entire life, both literally and figuratively. I arrived at the hospital to find my husband curled up on the benches in the Emergency Room. While I didn’t know it at the time, we had just entered a two-month-long hell-scape that involved multiple emergency room visits, two major surgeries, and a lot of waiting. I’m happy to report that my husband is now doing fine, but the entire ordeal has highlighted the invisible costs of precarious academia, particularly those costs that arise from academic relocation.

The past year has seen increasing discussion about academic relocation, addressing issues like the financial cost, the emotional impact of frequent moves, and the impact of moving on families. I have been particularly touched by Environmental History Now’s ongoing series, “Problems of Place,” which has featured work by numerous academics reflecting on the importance of place from a personal and historical perspective. For many years, my sense of self was intimately tied to my sense of place. In many respects, I had an unusual upbringing. I lived in the same house from the ages of two to twenty-two. My lived experiences were firmly grounded in my childhood landscapes. Even now, I can close my eyes and see myself standing on the walkway of the tiny waterfall at my favourite park (pictured above). But, as Jessica DeWitt eloquently noted, early career academics are constantly told not to put down roots. We are expected to be ready and willing to move anywhere at any time in pursuit of work, temporary or permanent. This is particularly the case for single academics without children, who are supposedly “unattached.”

But, as DeWitt noted, no one is unattached. To call someone “unattached” is to negate their humanity.” Though we are forced to move far away from our biological families, we create new ones, chosen ones. Graduate school takes time. We forge strong connections to our cohorts, we find romantic and non-romantic partners, and we put down roots. When I think about my time in Victoria, I remember the long walks that I took with my husband in our neighbourhood and the coffee shop where my knitting group would meet every Friday night.  And much like roots, these families and communities are very much tied to physical places, and when we move, they wither. Continue reading

Next Generation Nuclear?

      1 Comment on Next Generation Nuclear?

This is the second post in a collaborative series titled “Environmental Historians Debate: Can Nuclear Power Solve Climate Change?“. It is hosted by the Network in Canadian History & Environment, the Climate History Network, and ActiveHistory.ca.

By Kate Brown

Climate change is here to stay. So too for the next several millennia is radioactive fallout from nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. Earthlings will also live with radioactive products from the production and testing of nuclear weapons.  The question as to whether next generation technologies of nuclear power plants will be, as their promoters suggest, “perfectly safe” appears to decline in importance as we consider the catastrophic outcome of continued use of carbon-based fuels. Sea levels rising 10 feet, temperatures warming 3 degrees Celsius, tens of millions of climate refugees on the move. These predicted climate change catastrophes make nuclear accidents such as the 1986 Chernobyl accident look like a tiny blip in planetary time.

Or maybe not. It is hard to compare an event in the past to one in the future that has not yet occurred. I have found researching for the past four years the medical and environmental history of the Chernobyl disaster that the health consequences were far greater than has been generally acknowledged. Rather than 35 to 54 fatalities recorded by UN agencies, the count in Ukraine alone (which received the least amount of radioactive fallout of the three affected Soviet republics) ranges between 35,000 and 150,000 fatalities from exposures to Chernobyl radioactivity. Instead of 200 people hospitalized after the accident, my tally from the de-classified archives is at least 40,000 people in the three most affected republics just in the summer months following the disaster.

We don’t have to focus just on human health to worry about the future of humans on earth. Following biologists around the Chernobyl Zone the past few years, I learned that in the most contaminated territories of the Chernobyl Zone radioactivity has knocked out insects and microbes that are essential for the job of decomposition and pollination. Biologists Tim Mousseau and Anders Møller found radical decreases in pollinators in highly contaminated areas; the fruit flies, bees, butterflies and dragonflies were decimated by radioactivity in soils where they lay their eggs. They found that fewer pollinators meant less productive fruit trees. With less fruit, fruit-eating birds like thrushes and warblers suffered demographically and declined in number. With few frugivores, fewer fruit trees and shrubs took root and grew. The team investigated 19 villages in a 15-kilometer circle around the blown plant and found that just two apple trees had seed in two decades after the 1986 explosion.?1 The loss of insects, especially pollinators, we know, spells doom for humans on earth.?2 There are, apparently, many ways for our species to go extinct. Climate change is just one possibility. Continue reading

Thinking about Labour and the Carceral State in Canada

      1 Comment on Thinking about Labour and the Carceral State in Canada

Kassandra Luciuk

Early one morning in January 1917, the internees of Fort Henry awoke to find a call to arms pinned to a wall in the Lower Square of the Fort. “Comrades! The continual stream of harsh orders that descend to us day after day should bring us to our senses at last. Let us unite against the Commandant and show him that those who have duties have rights as well. Now is the hour of opportunity,” urged the note, “before the Major and his trusties establish beyond question this rule of oppression. Let men from all the rooms get together and take counsel!”

The author of the declaration, a Prussian man named Raden, was soon discovered and was let off with a warning. But the disciplining of Raden could not disguise that a real crisis was brewing in the internment camp. The recent appointment of Major W.E. Date as Commandant had marked a perceptible shift in the Fort’s administration. In contrast to the relatively lenient and obliging regime that the internees had grown accustomed to, the reign of Date was orderly and harsh. Gone were the days of morning coffee at the internee-run Café Hindenburg and afternoon theatre in the Lower Square.

The Lower Square at Fort Henry. Source: InfoUkes

Continue reading

Remember/Resist/Redraw #18: The Sir George Williams Protest

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Sir George Williams student protest—often referred to as an “affair” or “riot”—that took place in Montreal between 29 January and 11 February 1969.

As part of Black History Month, the Graphic History Collective released RRR poster #18 this week by Lateef Martin and Funké Aladejebi. The poster examines the protest and contextualizes it in the wider histories of 1960s student radicalism and Black activism.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for social change. Learn more about how you can support the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Continue reading

What Are You Listening To? Talking History Podcasts

      1 Comment on What Are You Listening To? Talking History Podcasts

Edward Dunsworth

The other night, out to dinner with my aunt, uncle, and cousins, my wife Vanessa began comparing notes with my cousins on some of their favourite podcasts.

“What’s that?” my uncle interjected.

Assuming the appropriate tone for a nephew explaining something technological to his uncle, I began to respond. He quickly cut me off. “Oh, podcasts. Yeah, I’m on one of those.” Not only did he know full well what podcasts are (he just hadn’t heard correctly), but he in fact co-hosts one on classic rock.

As far as I can see, there are two morals to this story. One, stop being ageist. And two, literally everyone has a podcast these days.

Continue reading

History Slam Episode 129: The Making of the October Crisis

By Sean Graham

The few times that I have taught the introductory survey in Canadian history, one of the issues that students have struggled with is the Quiet Revolution and October Crisis. There are a few reasons for this, including that I teach in Ontario, where Quebec history doesn’t get a lot of coverage in high schools. A much larger issue, though, is that the October Crisis can be inherently confusing as there are a lot of moving parts, from the kidnappings to the War Measures Act to the larger ideological shifts in French Canadian culture. Trying to piece all this together as part of a broad survey can, as a result, be challenging.

In his new book, The Making of the October Crisis: Canada’s Long Nightmare of Terrorism at the Hand of the FLQ, D’Arcy Jenish provides a very useful overview that not only uses new material to explain what happened, but also explains the connection to today. A journalist and author of a variety of non-fiction books, Jenish makes great use of oral history in telling the story of the process that led to October 1970. When reading the book, Jenish’s journalism background comes through clearly as he weaves together a narrative that is engaging, clear, and informative, that has received a number of positive reviews.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with D’Arcy about the book. We talk about his approach to the subject, the historical literature on the October Crisis, and the FLQ’s rise. We also talk about terrorism, the linguistic divide, and how the book connects past and present.

Continue reading

Doing Active History: Introducing the 2019 Small Grants Recipients

In addition to our work online, ActiveHistory.ca is committed to supporting and developing engaged historical practice in the material world. As such, drawing on funds donated to our project, in December we launched a new funding program to support the development of Active History projects with small grants. Several wonderful projects were put forward for our consideration, making selection difficult. Today, we are pleased to announce our support for Matthew Hayes’s podcast project South Mountain and Arpita Bajpeyi and Sinead Cox’s Staging our Histories.

South Mountain

South Mountain is a mini-series podcast about the Goler Clan, a poor three-generation family that lived together on a compound with no running water or electricity in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. In 1984, one of the Goler daughters admitted to her teacher that she had been the victim of sexual abuse by her family members. This admission sparked an investigation that revealed ongoing abuse and deplorable living conditions in an area of Nova Scotia just a short drive from the affluent university town of Wolfville. The case became a national scandal that resulted in prison sentences for nearly all of the adult Golers, and adoptions for all of the children. But, just as soon as it exploded, the case seemingly died away, and it is now difficult to find much information about it at all.

Through interviews with Nova Scotians, the podcast will tell the history of the case itself – and the mystery of its press and ongoing life inside and outside the province – as well as explore regionalism and class in Canada, the latter being at the root of the story. Also wrapped up in this story is the idea of Come From Aways – specifically for Hayes in telling this story as an outsider, from Ontario (albeit one who lived in Nova Scotia for a time). The podcast will unravel the story bit by bit, through the voices of Nova Scotians, and explore its connections with these broader themes. If you are familiar with the story and would be interested in speaking with Hayes for the podcast, please get in touch with him through email – freefoodfilms [at] gmail [dot] com – or Twitter @freefoodfilms.

Matthew Hayes

Matthew Hayes is in the final year of the Canadian Studies PhD program at Trent University, for which he has written a history of Canada’s UFO investigation. He is also an independent filmmaker, having completed over a dozen films, including Pushbacka feature length documentary about homelessness and poverty.

Staging Our Histories

Staging Our Histories puts diverse histories and voices in conversation with each other for a live audience. Our next event, New Histories/Old Roots, features diverse histories of ‘home’ relevant to rural Southwestern Ontario today, selected from responses to an open call. The four live performances and short films selected will be presented, accompanied by talkback sessions, on March 23rd at the Livery Theatre in Goderich, ON (click here for tickets). This edition of Staging Our Histories is curated with local audiences, including growing newcomer and Syrian refugee communities and is accessible to Huron County audiences who may not have access to histories that reflect their own experiences, as well as audiences unfamiliar with gaps in local and national narratives. New Histories/Old Roots offers a transformative experience for both the audiences and artists involved by opening up and sustaining dialogue with multiple narratives that illustrate how the home we share is enriched by our diverse histories.

Co-directors of Staging our Stories Arpita Bajpeyi and Sinead Cox with co-founder Marie-Anne Gagnon.

Staging Our Histories is coordinated by Arpita Bajpeyi and Sinead Cox. Arpita is a public historian (Carleton University, 2014) and kathak dancer whose work lies at the intersection of performance and the past. Her storytelling and scholarship endeavours to bring these two practices together by finding histories in moving bodies and dance repertoires. She is currently based in Ottawa, ON. Sinead Cox is Curator of Engagement & Dialogue at the Huron County Museum and Historic Gaol, and a volunteer with Goderich’s Welcome Project: Syria. Sinead is passionate about amplifying lesser heard stories from rural southwestern Ontario, including those that connect to newcomer communities. She has a Master’s Degree in Public History from Carleton University, Ottawa, and an Honours B.A. from the University of Western Ontario, with one year spent abroad at the University of Leeds, U.K. Sinead lives in Goderich, Ontario.

ActiveHistory.ca is a volunteer run project that operates through your support of time and resources. We are able to support these projects through the generous financial support of our donors. Click here for more information about how you can support this work. 

What Black History Month Can Teach the Rest of the Year

      1 Comment on What Black History Month Can Teach the Rest of the Year

February is one of my favourite months. Not only do red and pink hearts predominate, but there is a proliferation of events, displays, and articles celebrating the contributions of Black Canadians as part of Black History Month.

Black History Month 2019 Poster

Growing up in the southern United States and in the Caribbean, I was introduced to the richness of Black history as a young White Canadian who quickly had to learn the historicized dynamics of race in ways I had not encountered in Canada. Reading and learning about Black people in American and Caribbean history – or, better said, in reading about American and Caribbean history from the perspectives of people from the African diaspora – I was introduced to the complicated and intersectional dynamics of history that explained both the overt pride and visceral anger I saw in the quasi-segregated schools I attended. Learning history from these perspectives allowed me to see a richness and explanation in history in ways I hope to have carried with me in my own work as an educator and historian in Canada. Continue reading

Closing Nuclear Plants Will Increase Climate Risks

      2 Comments on Closing Nuclear Plants Will Increase Climate Risks

By Nancy Langston

This is the first post in a collaborative series titled “Environmental Historians Debate: Can Nuclear Power Solve Climate Change?” hosted by the Network in Canadian History & Environment, the Historical Climatology and ActiveHistory.ca.

On March 28, 1979, I woke up late and rushed to catch the bus to my suburban high school in Rockville MD. So it wasn’t until I found my friends clustered around the radio in the cafeteria that I learned seventy-seven miles upwind of us, Three Mile Island Reactor Unit 2 was in partial meltdown.

Three Mile Island, Reactor Unit 2. Credit: Rowen’s Photography, (Creative Commons CC BY-ND 2.0).

Two months after the disaster, when the containment of its radioactivity was still in dispute, I was chosen as a finalist for a National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored competition to showcase emerging young scientists. The prize was a tour of Australia, where we were expected to promote the stellar safety record and wondrous technology of the U.S. nuclear program. The timing wasn’t perfect, to put it mildly. At the finalists’ interview, I ended up in a lively argument with the NSF judges when they told me that the public’s nuclear anxieties were irrational, and I replied that NSF’s certainties of safety were even more irrational, given the measurable risks of a meltdown and the failure of the U.S. to promote energy conservation as an alternative.

To no one’s surprise, I was not chosen to represent America in that summer’s nuclear wonders tour. Instead, I marched against nuclear power. When the movie China Syndrome came out the following spring, all my worst suspicions about nuclear risks found fictional confirmation.

Four decades later I now teach the problematic history of nuclear power. Students use the emerging field of discard studies to explore the structural context of a society that creates vast volumes of toxic waste, designating certain landscapes as sacrifice zones. We turn to Traci Voyles’ insights in Wastelanding to understand the appalling history of uranium mining, exploring how the Dine (Navaho) were made into disposable peoples by the nuclear mining industry.[1] We watch a few of the “Duck and Cover” movies from 1950s to show how an enormous gap developed between potential nuclear hazards and possible individual responses.[2] When we examine the three major disasters in the history of nuclear energy—Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima—we use Diane Vaughan’s concept of “the normalization of deviance” to explore the ways “disasters are socially organized and systematically produced by social structures” in high risk industries.[3] After glancing at the risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism, we finally turn to the challenges of high level waste transport and storage.

This is hardly an eco-modernist paean to the promise of nuclear power. I sound less like Robert Stone in his 2013 pro-nuclear documentary Pandora’s Promise and much more like the younger Robert Stone in his 1988 documentary Radio Bikini, which focuses on the horrors of nuclear weapons testing and fallout.[4]

Mushroom cloud, Ivy Mike. U.S. nuclear weapon test MIKE of Operation Ivy, 31 Oct 1952, the first test of a thermonuclear weapon (hydrogen bomb). Credit: National Nuclear Security Administeration Nevada Site Office Photo Library IVY-52-05

By the end of the segments on nuclear, my students fully expect me to call for an end to nuclear power. But I do the opposite: I call for continuing, not shuttering, nuclear power plants. Why? Because the risks of climate change are overwhelmingly greater than the risks of all stages of the nuclear cycle combined. I am convinced that to have a chance of avoiding the existential threat of runaway climate change, we must keep the globe’s clunky, aging, awkwardly designed 451 nuclear reactors limping along for the foreseeable future. Until renewables have replaced all existing fossil fuels, closing aging nuclear plants would mean game over for keeping warming to less than 2º C.[5] To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s comments on democracy: existing forms of nuclear power are the worst form of non-renewable energy—except for all the other forms ever yet tried.

Continue reading

Environmental Historians Debate: Can Nuclear Power Solve Climate Change?

The first light bulbs ever lit by electricity generated by nuclear power at EBR-1 at Argonne National Laboratory-West, December 20, 1951.

This is the introductory post to a collaborative series titled “Environmental Historians Debate: Can Nuclear Power Solve Climate Change? hosted by the Network in Canadian History & Environment, the Historical Climatology and ActiveHistory.ca.

Is nuclear power a saving grace – or the next step in humanity’s proverbial fall from grace?

This series focuses on what environmental and energy historians can bring to discussions about nuclear power. It is a tripartite effort between Active History, the Climate History Network (CHN), and the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE), and will be cross-posted across all three platforms. Reflecting this hydra-headed approach, this series is co-edited by a member of each of those websites: Jim Clifford (Active History), Dagomar Degroot (CHN/HistoricalClimatology.com), and Daniel Macfarlane (NiCHE).

Why a series on historians, nuclear power, and the future? After all, predicting the future is pretty much a fool’s errand, and one that historians tend to avoid. But this isn’t so much about prognosticating what is to come as using the knowledge and wisdom of history to inform dialogue about the present and future.

It all started on Twitter, as these things often do. Daniel Macfarlane was tweeting back and forth with Sean Kheraj about some energy history books they had recently read. Daniel was lamenting that one ended with an arrogant screed about how nuclear energy was the only hope for the future, and anyone who didn’t think so was deluded. This led them to wonder – on Twitter, mind you – what environmental historians, and those who studied energy history in particular, thought of nuclear energy’s prospects.

Some other scholars, many of whom will be represented in this series (Dagomar Degroot, Andrew Watson, Nancy Langston, Robynne Mellor), began chiming in online. The exchanges remained very collegial, but it was clear that there were some sharply diverging positions. This mirrored the stark divides one often finds among environmentalists and environmental studies students. To some, nuclear energy is just another dead end, like fossil fuels; to others, it offers humanity its only real hope of addressing climate change.

The three editors of this series themselves project differently across a spectrum running from anti-nuclear to pro-nuclear, with an in-between that might best be called anti-anti-nuclear. Daniel Macfarlane is decidedly a nuclear pessimist, Dagomar Degroot sees an enduring role for nuclear fission on a limited scale, and Jim Clifford is not sure how to engage the nuclear debate within the context of continued inaction on carbon emissions. Each of the three will explain their basic positions below (in the first-person voice for the sake of coherence). Continue reading