Active History, Hunt and Stoke

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Photo credit David Rayner CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

Photo credit David Rayner CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

By David Zylberberg, PhD Candidate, York University

The United Kingdom is in the midst of an election campaign with a May 6 poll. Despite numerous suggestions that this is the ‘most important election in a generation’, the limited media coverage on this side of the Atlantic has tended to focus on which opposition leader invoked recent Canadian developments as a reason to vote for their party. There are many aspects of this election that should interest Canadians but I would like to take this opportunity to discuss one that is of particular importance to the Active History project, namely, the controversy over the Labour Party nomination in the constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central.

Following the recent retirement of long-time MP Mark Fisher, the seat became vacant. Labour Party practice is to have interested candidates apply to the central party, who then send the constituency party a three person short list to vote on. Interest was high in representing the party in one of its safer seats and many applied. The resulting short list included the prominent historian Tristram Hunt, but none of the three nominees have any connection to the region. Hunt received the nomination on April 1, after which Gary Elsby, secretary of the Constituency Labour Party in Stoke-on-Trent Central, resigned from the party and is running as an independent. Similar things have happened in recent years, notably in 2005 in the South Wales constituency of Blaenau Gwent, which had been an even safer Labour seat. At that time the central party sent a short-list of three non-local women in the hopes of improving the gender balance of MPs, the local constituency got upset and has taken to returning independent socialists at every level of government since. Continue reading

Popular Publishing Writer’s Guild Expands Westward

Photo Credit: David Dennis, creative commons licensed

Photo Credit: David Dennis, creative commons licensed

By Adam Crymble

Thanks to a successful workshop held in Vancouver last month, the Popular Publishing Writer’s Guild has added a new Western Canadian chapter. The guild is a support network of new scholars who are trying to engage a wider public with their research and ideas through newspapers, magazines or online.

Every five months, the group holds an internal call for participation that encourages members to draft a submission for an editor of a popular publication. The group offers feedback and encouragement when requested – though some members have submitted content directly to editors on their own.

Originally the group consisted of a handful of members who attended the first Popular Writing workshop in London, ON in the fall of 2009. That group managed to publish six articles out of eight attempts in various Canadian publications out of the first call and many of the Active History editors are part of the team. For some participants, it was their first ever popular article. Continue reading

Street History

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Recently, I was stopped at the entrance to the Eaton Centre by a man selling a short pamphlet on Black history.  I bought a copy.  Flipping through the pages, the pamphlet shared short stories about the contributions of key Black individuals, the racism they experienced, and important moments where Canadian and American communities were open to racial and ethnic difference.

The promotion of this history at the entrance of the Eaton Centre fascinated me.  Often the public face of history is seen in museums or government issued historical plaques; but important historical narratives also exist outside of these structures, and they often tell stories that otherwise remain obscure or hidden by more official ways of historical story telling. I call this way of sharing the past street history. Continue reading

Public Trust at Your Local Museum

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The ethic guidelines established by the Canadian Museum Association (CMA) maintain that museums which operate in the public trust have two main responsibilities to the public: stewardship and public service.  Stewardship refers to the need for museums to acquire and preserve valuable heritage, as a means of protecting this heritage for the general public.  The public service component refers to the role which museums should play in education and public engagement.  The CMA suggests that museums have a responsibility to understand their collections, interpret the past, and to be facilitators of education. The CMA is not alone in the belief that museums have ethical obligations to the general public.  The International Council of Museums (ICOM) code of ethics and the code of ethics and best practices established by the American Association of Museums (AAM) also highlight the obligations of museums to the general public. Continue reading

Book Review Section Launched

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Our new book review section launches today with the publication of our first review. John Horn, Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Gumboot, a community blog out of Vancouver, has reviewed Craig Heron’s Booze: A Distilled History. Please check out his fun review.

Our book reviews will have community members and involved citizens reviewing academic works. We hope this will provide a new perspective on history books not regularly found in academic journals. If you’re interested in being added to our database of reviewers (and aren’t a current graduate student or faculty member), please contact info (at)

Please check back frequently, either on the page or via Facebook/Twitter, as we plan on putting up more reviews over the next few weeks and months.

A Century of Neglect: Epidemic Tuberculosis in Native Communities

by Jane Whalen

The 2010 Quality of Life Index boasted that Canada’s “health care and living standards are among the highest in the world.”  Ask your average Canadian and they would probably agree.  Ask an Aboriginal person and you would be in for quite a shock.

Maritime Tuberculosis Association Billboard 1930s

1930s TB Association Billboard in the Maritimes

Third world conditions exist in Canada – what an outrageous claim to make about the country ranked 9th best place to live in the entire world. When you consider the unacceptably high tuberculosis (TB) rates among the country’s Aboriginal populations, this claim is not outrageous, but instead, the cold hard truth.  Recent headlines from The Globe and Mail (here and here) warn of the epidemic rates of TB in Native communities (31 times higher) and Inuit communities (186 times higher).  What is most deplorable about this reality, however, is the fact that the government has been aware of this crisis for more than a century.

Why, you might ask, is this a government problem?  Firstly, the government’s legislative responsibility to its ‘Indian wards’ was clearly outlined in the 1867 BNA Act (which placed Indians and Indian land under federal jurisdiction), the 1869 Gradual Enfranchisement Act (which contained a provision for government aid to sick and destitute Indians), the 1876 Indian Act and subsequent amendments (which defined who an ‘Indian’ was and their relationship with the government), and finally, the ‘medicine chest clause’ in Treaty No. 6 (which promised aid should the Indians be overtaken by any pestilence or general famine).

Secondly, and most importantly, the history of colonialism in this country has relegated Aboriginal peoples to a position as ‘citizens minus’; a position where systemic poverty, poor sanitation, and a lack of adequate medical care have allowed a 19th century disease to wreak havoc in 21st century Aboriginal communities.

Working in church, provincial, national, and international archives over the last 3 years, I can attest to the wealth of documentation that connects policymakers to the spread of tuberculosis in Aboriginal communities.  The criminal disregard of government officials over the last century is undeniable: Continue reading

Space and Historical Imagery: Making History Accessible

Have you ever wondered what your local intersection might have looked like in 1900? What about 1920? 1950? What has changed? What has stayed the same? A wonderful new site that we learned about at the Great Lake’s THAT Camp at Michigan State University was lookbackmaps, which makes historical imagery accessible to enthusiasts through a fascinating and accessible website.

A screenshot from lookbackmaps

Using google maps, lookbackmaps allows users to not only click on a location and see a current photograph juxtaposed against a historical one, but also to upload their own entries into the system. Right now there is a marked focus on San Francisco, where founder Jon Voss is situated, but it is spreading across the United States and hopefully soon even into Canada!  It also has an iPhone application that allows you to phase the historical imagery into your screencapture – augmented reality for historians! Check out a video demo here. What a remarkable way to engage in a historical manner with your surroundings!

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Walking Tours: Brooklyn and Beyond

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By Teresa Iacobelli

Chad Furrow Photo

Chad Furrow Photo

Relocating to a new city can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. Recently I have made the move from Ottawa, Ontario to Brooklyn, New York, and in the short time that I have been here I have felt a slew of emotions ranging from awe to frustration. Living in a city of this size can be challenging, however thus far the best coping mechanism that I have found is getting to know my own small neighborhood (yes, I’m quickly adapting) one block at a time, and one of the best ways of knowing a neighbourhood is to know its history.

Chad Furrow Photo

Chad Furrow Photo

I live in an area of Brooklyn called Fort Greene, and one of the first things that one notices about this community is the architecture – brownstone walk-ups on tree lined streets and grand old homes, once mansions, now divided into offices and apartments. It is the kind of architecture that makes one wonder what life used to be like here. Luckily, due to a wonderful local historical society that offers exhibits, as well as an archives and workshops for residents to research their own homes, it is easy to find out the answers to these questions. Fort Greene dates its settled origins back to its time as a military fort during the American Revolutionary War. It has been the home to many notable Americans, including literary greats Walt Whitman and Richard Wright. Fort Greene has been a center of African-American arts and culture, and it has also experienced its share of economic downturns and subsequent revivals. The neighbourhood is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, singling it out for preservation. But this isn’t an article about the storied history of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, rather it is an article about the history of any community, and the innovative ways that historians and residents are finding to share local stories. Continue reading

CAW Retirees Seek Social Justice for Seniors

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Taken on April 15, 1937, this image shows approximately 500 veterans and clergymen protesting the recruitment of 200 war veterans as strike police during a General Motors strike in Oshawa. This and other images can be found online through the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.

I had the pleasure of attending a public forum on pensions in Oshawa a few weeks ago.  Organized by the retirees’ chapter of the Canadian Auto Workers’ (CAW) Local 222, over 200 bodies were in attendance.

While the theme of the evening was universal public pensions, speakers had experienced a number of social ills: a single mother who lost her home and car after being laid off from GM, now enrolled in a government re-training program as a care provider and struggling to make ends meet as a student and mother; a woman whose father had lost his workplace pension, reduced to poverty in his final years on the paltry public pensions currently paid in Canada; a former Nortel worker who recounted what it was like to lose his income security on the brink of retirement.  Following these testimonials, Sylvain Schetagne, an economist with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), gave a brief presentation on how a more generous public pension plan and ‘retirement security for everyone’ could be turned into policy.

The remaining time was then given to questions and comments from the audience, and a large line quickly formed.  I heard many positive reviews of this afterwards – to paraphrase one woman in the audience I overheard: it’s about time they gave us equal time to speak.  Again and again, people said that they just wanted to be heard.  Unfortunately, only a couple of politicians attended.  The many who were invited were represented only by a name card and an empty seat at the head table.

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Colborne Street Breakdown: Public Protest, a University, and Academic Activism

By Karen Dearlove

It’s a story that has grown far bigger than Brantford.  Articles in the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Hamilton Spectator, and the KW Record have drawn attention to what’s happening in downtown Brantford.

It’s a story about heritage buildings, those trying to save them, a city council, a university, and academics caught in the middle.  It’s a story that raises questions about academics’ responsibilities in the community, academic freedom and activism, and the universities they work for.

Colborne Street

At risk are 41 buildings located along three blocks of Colborne Street, the main street of Brantford’s downtown.  More than half of these buildings were constructed prior to 1867, and some claim this to be the largest stretch of pre-Confederation buildings left in Ontario.  It’s true these buildings have seen better days, as with much of Brantford which has suffered hard since the closing of major industries in the 1980s.  But Brantford has experience a significant resurgence in the past decades, due in large part to the growing Laurier Brantford campus downtown.

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