Building Digital Literacy and the University Curriculum

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The digitization of information, and the growing technologies used to manipulate and analyze it, is rapidly changing the context of the classroom. A couple of weeks ago Ian Milligan reported on the growing debate over the use of laptops and other technology (like cell phones) during class time.  Milligan makes a compelling argument for the importance of allowing students to use their computers in the lecture hall. Although I agree with much of what he has written on the subject, the use of technology in history courses poses a more complicated problem than simply addressing whether it should or should not be used: Where does digital literacy fit in the university curriculum and how should it be taught? Continue reading

Remembering the Holocaust

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27 January 2011, Holocaust Memorial Day, marks the 66th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. 

To commemorate this anniversary, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation has launched the Intervene Now!” campaign, designed to engage people around the world in order to preserve the remains and the memory of the victims and survivors of the German Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps.  After 66 years, the camp and grounds, along with thousands of invaluable historical objects, face accelerated and irreversible deterioration and natural erosion. 

The campaign organizers are requesting public support for the conservation of this piece of history.  By never forgetting, we can better ensure that this never again happens.

For further information on this campaign, please visit their website, youtube and facebook page.

Digital Accessibility of Canadian History

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The desire to make Canadian history more accessible to the general public is nothing new. Accessibility takes many forms: educational programming, the use of photographs to spur interest in a subject, opening archives to the general public, and the use of technology to bring history resources to a wider audience.

Technology is used widely in the heritage field to increase accessibility.  Technology has facilitated the creation of publicly available history databases, an increased digital presence of heritage institutions, and the development of heritage specific digital tools. Continue reading

Making History More Than Your Story

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I recently attended a conference about the state of African American studies at the Shomburg Center in New York City. Many of the panels were a traditional array of graduate students and professors presenting their own research. But several innovative panels discussed pedagogy in African American studies. I was thrilled by a presentation in which a professor spoke about how she was working through including New York City’s recent immigrant groups in her more traditional syllabus for African American history classes. The recognition that history has an important and complex relationship with the present and the future is integral if we as educators want to keep history “active.”

I was less than thrilled however when the next day I listened to a room full of professors complain about how they are “terrified” for today’s youth because they have no political activism, no sense of their community’s history, and even no taste in music. What is the world coming to when our students are listening to Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair”? The End Is Nigh!! This discussion bothered me on two levels; it indicated that these professors had no sense of their own past (isn’t this the same thing your parents were saying about you when you were growing your hair long and listening to Rock and Roll and Funk?) and it reeked of the kind of mentality that makes history as inactive as possible for our students. Continue reading

Resident Historians: Researching the History of Your Home


William James, “Smallest house, on Davenport Road at Albany,” ca. 1925 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, item 4118); Flickr, Attribution 2.0 Generic.

By Jay Young

During the many hours I spent conducting research for my dissertation at the City of Toronto Archives, I was struck by the number of people who wanted to know the history of their home. Everyday, individuals came into the archives for the first time and quickly became engaged in the process of historical research: viewing and comparing old documents to answer questions based on change and continuity over time. Along with researching family history, uncovering the history of a home is one of the most common experiences that non-professionals have with archival research.  What explains the popular desire to know the history of a home? Continue reading

Slavery Affects 27 Million Lives Today: Legal Abolition vs. Effective Emancipation

Slavery was one of the grossest violations of human rights and dignity in human history. It permeated, at one time or another, every inch of the globe: from the sugar plantations, and mines of the Americas, to the harems of the Ottoman Empire and the armies of the Sokoto Caliphate, slavery was an incredibly diverse and global institution.  

Reduced to expendable chattel, slaves were divorced from their homelands, sold and bought, and forcibly taken to new sites of exploitation where, under the threat of violence, were made to work for the financial accruement of others. By various emancipatory decrees and proclamations throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, slavery gradually declined and eventually ceased to exist. Or did it? Continue reading

Where Did You Get That From?

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I shall unburden myself this month by confessing to a past (though no less alarming) professional transgression and expose you, dear reader, to the very same charge at the same time: we are complicit in the appropriation of images without crediting the proper owners, arbiters, and originators.

We do this (and succeed) because our celebration of the written word is often eclipsed by an insatiable infatuation with the image. Continue reading

An Invitation to a Free Oral History Workshop in Montreal

The Montreal Life Stories Project and Concordia’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling will be holding a special one day English-language training workshop on Friday January 28 for faculty, students and community-based researchers interested in our oral history interviewing methodology and ethics. It is free but folks have to reserve a place beforehand, as places are limited. Our training manual is available online.

The next French language training is to be announced.

Please contact Marylin Bernard for registration: Continue reading

Alliance Against Modern Slavery: Benefit Concert and Inaugural Conference

It is our pleasure to announce the official launch of a new NGO – Alliance Against Modern Slavery (AAMS) – in Toronto on January 28-29, 2011. AAMS is incorporated in Canada on a not-for -profit basis as “Canadians Against Slavery/Canadiens Contre l’Esclavage”, and dedicated to raising awareness about and combating modern slavery, a practice which affects 27 million lives worldwide.

Get your tickets now for an inspiring, uplifting benefit concert for freedom on January 28 (7pm-10 pm) in the beautiful Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre at York University where So You Think You Can Dance Canada was filmed. The freedom concert features motivational speaker Roger Cram as MC, TED Speaker and AAMS board member Kevin Bales who is one of the world’s leading experts on modern slavery, Survivor Natasha Falle, Glendene Grant (Mother of Missing Human Trafficking Victim Jessie Foster), Actress Singer Songwriter Kate Todd, Guitar Player Jeff Gunn and Janelle Belgrave of Peace Concept, Samba Elegua Drummers, an Anti-Slavery Art Auction, the Fashion Studio 7 filming crew, and much more. Continue reading

Laptops in the Classroom

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Do laptops have a place in the lecture hall? An ongoing debate has raged over whether they do. At York University, the on-campus newspaper Excalibur noted that many history professors were opposed to the use of laptops in lecture halls, a discussion continued by a large departmental meeting in early January. This has not been an isolated discussion, however. In this post, I hope to provide some background to the debate by noting some of the other sites of discussion, and then break it down into what I see as the two main issues: civility and the role of the professor, as well as learning and the role of technology. Keeping this in mind, I believe that we need to reframe our teaching approach as adult education and adapt to the use of technology. Certainly, there will be times when we should close our laptops and enter into discussion, but this does not need to lead to a blanket ban of technology in our classrooms. Continue reading