Three Tools for the Web-Savvy Historian: Memento, Zotero, and WebCite

Over 200,000 citations or references to these websites exist in Google Books, and this is basically what you'll get.

Over 200,000 citations or references to these websites exist in Google Books, and this is basically what you’ll get when you follow them. There’s no excuse for this anymore.

By Ian Milligan

“Sorry, the page you were looking for is no longer available.” In everyday web browsing, a frustration. In recreating or retracing the steps of a scholarly paper, it’s a potential nightmare. Luckily, three tools exist that users should be using to properly cite, store, and retrieve web information – before it’s too late and the material is gone!

Historians, writers, and users of the Web cite and draw on web-based material every day. Journal articles are replete with cited (and almost certainly uncited) digital material: websites, blogs, online newspapers, all pointing towards URLs. Many of these links will die. I don’t write this to be morbid, but to point out a fact. For example, if we search “” in Google Books we receive 247,000 results. Most of those are references to sites hosted on GeoCities that are now dead. If you follow those links, you’ll get the error that the “GeoCities web site you were trying to reach is no longer available.

What can we do? We can use three tools. Memento to retrieve archived web pages from multiple sources, WebCite to properly cite and store archived material, and Zotero to create your own personal database of archived snapshots. Let’s look at them all in turn. Continue reading

From the Classroom to the Front Lines of Heritage Preservation

By Christine McLaughlin

Plaque commemorating the designation of the Cliff Pilkey Waterfront Trail in Oshawa Ontario. Cliff Pilkey was a past UAW Local 222 President, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, and MPP for Oshawa. Photo Credit: Robert T. Bell

Plaque commemorating the designation of the Cliff Pilkey Waterfront Trail in Oshawa Ontario. Cliff Pilkey was a past UAW Local 222 President, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, and MPP for Oshawa.
Photo Credit: Robert T. Bell

I’ve spent many years in a university classrooms studying and teaching history. In true academic fashion, I’ve published an article that critically analyzes public history production and memory in a postwar industrial city. My recent appointment to Heritage Oshawa by City Council has offered me the opportunity to translate this theoretical engagement into concrete action. This has been a challenging and rewarding experience.

The Municipal Heritage Committee is made up of citizen volunteers who advise on matters of local heritage and assist Council in carrying out its heritage conservation program. It is governed by the Ontario Heritage Act. Unlike academic work which requires a high degree of specialization, participation on a municipal heritage committee requires broad knowledge of a diverse range of subjects: architecture, engineering, planning, construction, law, local history and heritage. Making informed decisions on such a wide array of topics can create a steep learning curve; so too does this offer learning and training opportunities on a range of topics relating to heritage preservation. Continue reading

Commemorative Controversies: Edward Cornwallis, Collective Contention, and Historical Memory

“Cornwallis Park, Halifax, Nova Scotia,” 12 July 2011. Photo by Hantsheroes.

“Cornwallis Park, Halifax, Nova Scotia,” 12 July 2011. Photo by Hantsheroes.

By Lachlan MacKinnon

On 30 May 2013, the controversial statue of Edward Cornwallis standing in downtown Halifax was once again thrust into public debate. That morning, the rear of the monument’s base was found to have been graffitotagged with the word “fake.” Similarly, the plaque bearing Cornwallis’s name was defaced with the words “self-righteous ass.” This was the latest salvo in a contentious discussion about the role of public commemoration in Halifax, the importance of these sites in our historical memory, and contestations over “whose history” is memorialized, commemorated, and glorified.

Continue reading

Ottawa House: Public History and Active History

By Andrew Nurse, Mount Allison University

Ottawa House by the Sea is a museum on the Parrsboro shore in Nova Scotia.  It is anything but polished. Ottawa House is old, at least by Canadian standards, and it did serve as Sir Charles Tupper’s summer home for nearly two decades. But, it is a far cry from the Georgian-styled “mansion” promised on tourist web sites. One could, in fact, argue that Ottawa House epitomizes everything that is wrong with small-town historic houses.

I don’t want to make this argument. Nor do I simply look to contend that local history sites are potential venues for active history. This point is self evident. Instead, this post tries to make the case that Ottawa House is already the site of a very interesting type of active history, even if that history might not be immediately recognizable as such. Continue reading

Active History on the Grand: Historic Gardens

By Karen Dearlove

Restored tall grass prairie at Chiefswood National Historic Site

Historic house museums and other restored living history sites provide visitors with firsthand experiences of what life was like during different periods of the past.  These types of sites generally involve restored historic buildings filled with period furniture and furnishings, as well as costumed interpreters.  Many of these sites now include historic gardens and other historic landscape re-creations as part of the visitor experience.  Like historic houses and artifacts, historic gardens offer a glimpse into the past. Continue reading

Active History on the Grand: Heritage Trees in Ontario

Heritage White Oak Tree in Cambridge

I think that I shall never see, A poem as lovely as a tree.

– Sergeant Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

While many of us may be familiar with the designation of built heritage properties under the Ontario Heritage Act, recently municipalities have been using the Ontario Heritage Act to designate individual trees as heritage trees.  Municipalities like Burlington, Pelham, Thorold, Cambridge, and most recently Brant, have designated individual trees under the Ontario Heritage Act.

First enacted in 1975, the Ontario Heritage Act enables municipalities to pass by-laws designating individual properties as having cultural heritage value through Part IV of the Act.  This designation provides some protection for the property from demolition, as well as regulates potential alterations to the property to maintain its heritage value.  Larger areas can be designated under Part V of the Act as Heritage Conservation Districts.

In recent years the definition of cultural heritage resources covered under the Ontario Heritage Act has been expanded to include not only the commonly understood Built Heritage Resources, defined as “one or more significant buildings (including fixtures or equipment located in or forming part of a building), structures, earthworks, monuments, installations, or remains that have cultural heritage value,” but also Cultural Heritage Landscapes.  Cultural Heritage Landscapes are defined as a “geographical area that human activity has modified and that has cultural heritage value.”  These areas can include “one or more groupings of individual heritage features, such as structures, spaces, archaeological sites, and natural elements, which together form a significant type of heritage form distinct from that of its constituent elements or parts…villages, parks, gardens, battlefields, mainstreets and neighbourhoods, cemeteries, trails, and industrial complexes of cultural heritage value.”  The addition of Cultural Heritage Landscapes as well as other amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act made in 2005, have included natural landscape features, such as trees, as integral parts of cultural heritage landscapes and built heritage properties that should be protected.
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The Memorial Library: History without Historians

By Andrew Nurse, Canadian Studies, Mount Allison University

Photo Credit:

The failed campaign to “Save the Memorial Library” (STML) at Mount Allison University is a fascinating study of the importance – or, lack thereof – of history in contemporary Canadian culture. For the better part of the past nine months, a small but determined group worked to stave off the demolition of Mount A’s largely unused Memorial Library building. The Library was built in the 1920s to commemorate World War I dead but has not been used as a Library for at least a generation. The campaign organized an on-line petition, wrote a never-ending stream of letters to the editor, and even urged students to make a human chain around the building to protect it. My aim is not to wade post hoc into the merits of this campaign. Instead, my goal is to look at the STML controversy from perspective of “active history”: what does this debate over the Library tell us about history and historical culture in Canada today? What can those of us interested in “active history” — the dynamics of history in contemporary life — learn from this contentious issue? Clearly, I can’t address this entire issue in one short blog, but I will suggest that there are several matters to which we should pay attention.  Continue reading

Active History on the Grand: History and Bricks

Two years ago Brant County proposed selling a series of county-owned buildings that they deemed “surplus.”  According to the county, selling these eight buildings would save the county over $3 million over the next fifteen years.  The county would save on operating and capital costs, especially the costs of provincially mandated accessibility up-grades required for all public buildings.  Brant County is a mostly rural county with an overall population of approximately 36,000.  The largest community and county seat is Paris, Ontario, a scenic community on the Grand River with a population of 8,800.  The eight buildings that Brant County planned to sell are scattered throughout the county, spread throughout the small rural communities.  The Harley/Burford Township Hall, built ca. 1904, was used for a variety of purposes: weddings, dances, community celebrations, township meetings, community functions, and most recently as the home of the Burford Township Historical Society.  The St. George Memorial Hall, located in downtown St. George, was built in 1855, and is dedicated as a memorial to local war veterans.  The building currently houses the South Dumfries Historical Society Museum & Archives.   Also in St. George is the St. George Old School, built ca. 1893 as a public school, and recently used as a day care.  Community centres in Onondaga (built ca. 1874), Bethel (built ca. 1844), Pine Grove and Howell (ca.1874) and Northfield (ca.1900), were also on the surplus list.  The last building, the Langford School, built in 1886, began as a one-room school house for the surrounding community, and in 1964, became a community centre, and later housed a day care.

All these “surplus” buildings served the local communities in one use or another: school house, community centre, daycare, township hall, local museum and archives.  Continue reading

Recreation to Re-creation: Restoring Natural Heritage in Public Parks

Outdoor swimming hole in Soper Park.

Growing up in Cambridge next to Soper Park, the park became an extension of my backyard.  I spent many days exploring the park, wading in the creek, catching crayfish and racing home-made boats.  As a child the creek seemed mysterious and ancient.  It was dammed with stone and concrete dams, and walled in with massive stones, broken by sets of concrete stairs that led down into the water.  I used to image they were ancient ruins.  Only as I grew older did my father tell me that the creek had been dammed and walled as an outdoor swimming hole, which he used to visit as a child.  Under the silt of thirty years, you could still uncover the concrete floor of the swimming hole.

Today the ruins of the swimming hole in Soper Park have been replaced with a vibrant, naturalized creek, which has become a thriving ecosystem for significant species such as the brown trout.  Between 1995 and 2001 the City of Cambridge undertook a naturalization of the creek in Soper Park in an effort to bring the creek back to life from a “sterilized” swimming hole, to a cold water creek.  The stone walls of the creek were largely removed, and where the creek had been straightened and dammed, the project attempted to return the creek to a more natural and historical route.  Indigenous grasses, trees and shrubs were planted alongside the creek to prevent erosion and provide habitat for animals. Continue reading

Renaming Schools: A sign of a society in dialogue with its past

Editors Note: Yesterday and today offers two perspectives on the recent controversy that erupted in Halifax over the renaming of Cornwallis Junior High School.

It should come as no surprise that the recent controversy over the renaming of a junior high school erupted in Nova Scotia.  On 22 June 2011, the Halifax Regional School Board voted unanimously to change the name of Cornwallis Junior High.  The school board was concerned about the legacy of Edward Cornwallis, the city’s founder, who in an effort to secure the town site placed a bounty on Mi’kmaq heads.  The board’s decision has caused considerable controversy and according to the media it seems that many people want the school’s name retained.  The changing of the school’s name, however, fits within a long history of name changes in Nova Scotia.  It presents a good opportunity to reflect on the diverse roots that make up Nova Scotia’s population and the province’s relationship with its past.  Renaming landmarks is a sign of a growing and evolving society that is in critical dialogue with its past. Continue reading