The Sound of History

      1 Comment on The Sound of History

book cover image

A few months ago the American Radio Works posted a very interesting podcast on the art of making radio documentaries.  The podcast included a live presentation given by Stephen Smith and John Biewen about a new book Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound.  While the whole discussion is very interesting, the second half focuses on Smith’s essay in the book on making historical documentaries: “Living History”.  Smith made a number of documentaries about 20th Century American history using archival sound.  For example, he used the Presidential tapes from Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in The President Calling to show the human side of high politics, by focusing on how presidents persuaded other individuals over the phone.  In another documentary he followed the legal career of the first African American Supreme Court Justice: Thurgood Marshall: Before the court.

As these two topics suggest, using archival sound clips, instead of oral history interviews, might limit historians to focus on the great men and women of the 20th century, as most of us don’t leave hours of audio tape behind.  Smith and his co-producer Katie Ellis did a third documentary: Say It Plain: A Century of Great African American Speeches which shifts the focus away from those with power to the great orators of a social movement.  Looking through the list of documentaries on the American Radio Works Website, there are a lot of other projects that look at history in different ways, including ones that use oral history.  A particularly good one that I’ve had the chance to listen to is The Great Textbook War on the early days of the Culture Wars in West Virginia in 1974.  It does a great good job presenting both sides of the struggle through a mix of news recordings from 1974 and oral history interviews. Continue reading

Active History Announcements: Sept 26 – Oct 2

      No Comments on Active History Announcements: Sept 26 – Oct 2

The following upcoming events may be of interest to our readers (click on ‘continue reading’ below for full descriptions):

1)  TODAY (Sept 25)!  Unveiling of Memorial Plaques at CAMH in Toronto – 1 p.m.

2)  When the landlords became tenants: The 1828 Council at Fort York with the Mississauga – Sept 27, 7:30 p.m.

3)  Thought Exchange (History Matters) – Sept 28, 7 p.m.

4)  Approaching the Past: The Past through Place – Sept 30, 7 p.m.

5) CFP: History 2.0: Active History Roundtable on new media

6) This week in the Active History blogosphere!

If you have an announcement that you would like included in this weekly dispatch, please e-mail Continue reading

History on Stage: Performance Art and Commemoration of the Winnipeg General Strike

by Jamie Trepanier

Strike!Red09: The Strikers' Chorus in the 2009 annual production in Winnipeg. Photo by Andrew Sikorsky

Playwright Danny Schur is convinced that the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 has more than enough compelling storylines for a major musical production, and that its message is one that is still relevant today. “The story has all of the elements of high drama:  societal unrest, government suppression of rights, aftermath of war, dramatic death in the streets,” he wrote by e-mail, “[but] what first inspired me was the untold story of the immigrant at the epicentre of the drama – the forgotten Ukrainian everyman, Mike Sokolowski [killed by police during the violence of a June 21 protest known as “Bloody Saturday”].  It was his story that defined the period for me and lead to a new and, I believe, deeper understanding of the era – one that is relevant to us today:  that the story of the Winnipeg General Strike is a cautionary story about the dangers of nativism.” Continue reading

Stuart Henderson talks hip Yorkville history at inaugural History Matters series

Historian, journalist, and musician Stuart Henderson recently presented an engaging talk at the inaugural History Matters lecture series, sponsored by the Toronto Public Library.

In front of a standing-room audience, Henderson’s “Making the Scene in 1960s Yorkville” discussed the fascinating dynamics of a hip community of beatniks, hippies, and greasers that made up one of Canada’s most infamous counter-cultural neighbourhoods.

Henderson’s talk is available here for audio download.

The next History Matters talk takes place Tuesday, September 28th, when Craig Heron talks about the history of booze in Toronto.  Click here for more details.

Hands-on History: Are the archaeologists leading the way to a new mode of public engagement?

I have a confession.  As much as I love being a historian, I am not a huge fan of spending most of my day sitting at a desk reading.  Some days I am pretty sure that I can feel my fat cells multiplying and the muscle cells slowly decaying.  Most days I long to literally practice active – blood-flowing – history.  About seven ago, I tried to remedy this challenge by becoming involved in archaeology.  After a couple of brief glimpses into an archaeologist’s world, I found myself challenged by the practices of the discipline and increasingly by the way in which the programs of which I was a part engaged the public. Continue reading

Active History Announcements: Sept 19-25

      No Comments on Active History Announcements: Sept 19-25

The following upcoming events may be of interest to our readers (click on ‘continue reading’ below for full descriptions):

1) When the landlords became tenants: The 1828 Council at Fort York with the Mississauga – Sept 27, 7:30 p.m.

2)  Thought Exchange (History Matters) – Sept 28, 7 p.m.

3)  Approaching the Past: The Past through Place – Sept 30, 7 p.m.

4) CFP: History 2.0: Active History Roundtable on new media

5) This week in the Active History blogosphere!

If you have an announcement that you would like included in this weekly dispatch, please e-mail Continue reading

Sharing History Through Used Books and the Internet

      2 Comments on Sharing History Through Used Books and the Internet

Cuba Books

In honour of both the September crunch and‘s own expanding book review section — be sure to check out Mitch Primeau’s review of The Second Greatest Disappointment (1999) — I’ll be devoting this month’s post to some of my favourite used book websites.
History tends to involve a few more books than other disciplines — okay, a lot more.

This stems from the fact that all books — not just books about history — become relevant in new ways, as relics of their own time and place. That’s right: physicists and political memoirists alike can look forward to having their every miscalculation and narcissistic indulgence poured over by wave after wave of yet-born historians. But I digress… Continue reading

The e-Book Revolution

      2 Comments on The e-Book Revolution

I bought an iPad. Before you cheer or frown, let me tell you, I’m filled with an immense surge of guilt—not because my purchase left a hefty dent in my wallet, but because I have needlessly contributed to the e-Book revolution. As Thomas Hager explains,

Bottom line is stark: paper and ink books are on the way out. There, I said it. Printed books will still exist – like vinyl records still exist, in vanishingly small numbers, bought by collectors. Printed books – especially hardcovers — will become collectibles. Too many trends are working against print: (1) market economics (e-books are cheaper to produce, ship, and buy); (2) reader convenience (e-books offer immediate delivery, lower price, and bells and whistles like the ability to enlarge text); and (3) electronic infrastructure (a growing number of people are comfortable reading on little screens, they can do it on multiple devices (I just read my first book on my iPod Touch and the experience was fine), the little screens are getting better and cheaper and more attractive, the large-scale computing and communications systems are in place). And the technology just keeps getting better and cheaper. Three years ago, the first Kindle cost $399. Today’s improved version sells for half that. Eventually we’ll have screens you can roll up, put in your pocket, and unfurl as you lay on the couch, like the evening paper (but in full color, with video, web access, and no ink stains). Continue reading

Reflection: 9/11

      1 Comment on Reflection: 9/11

Photo Credit: Chad FurrowToday I write this on 12 September 2010, one day after 11 September 2010, and 9 years after 11 September 2001. In the midst of my first year of living in New York City, this date has caused me special occasion to pause and to take note of the nine year anniversary as I get to know the neighbourhoods and residents of this city. While the events of 11 September obviously had a global impact, the people of New York City have a special relationship to this date and they choose to commemorate it in a myriad of ways. This past Saturday witnessed a number of memorial services at churches, firehouses and an official ceremony at Zuccotti Park near the WTC site. There were also many other events across the city including poetry readings and a floating lantern ceremony at the Hudson River put on by New York’s Buddhist community. Many of these ceremonies were inter-faith and all welcoming, a message that may have been overlooked by a media more closely focused on the controversy over the proposed Islamic center blocks away from Ground Zero. Continue reading

2010 is Year of the British Home Child in Canada but Some Descendants Want More from Ottawa

“British immigrant children from Dr. Bernardo’s Homes at landing stage, Saint John, N.B.”, n.d., photo by Isaac Erb, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN no. 3193366. Copy of an official work published by the Government of Canada, not produced in affiliation with, or with the endorsement of the Government of Canada

The Government of Canada has declared 2010 to be the Year of the British Home Child.  Earlier this month, Canada Post released a commemorative stamp to honour this recognition.

The stamp, designed by Debbie Adams of Adams+Associates Design Consultants, contains three images: the SS Sardinian, on which home children migrated from Britain to Canada; a photograph of a home child engaged in farm labour; a portrait of a newly-arrived boy passing through Halifax en route to Hamilton.  The young boy, looking directly at the camera and whose image is enclosed by a metal frame, emerges as the main focus of the stamp.  Such a visual device is intentional, as Adams notes that the frame represents the “relationships” home children developed in Canada: “It shows that someone cared enough about this child to preserve and display his image.” Continue reading