I Think It’s Time For Us to Give Up Hope

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The comments here were first shared during the Canadian Historical Association’s second of three panels responding to the Precarious Historical Instructors’ Manifestoentitled, Precarious Historians, Trade Unions, and the Neoliberal University.” Along with Godefroy Desrosiers-Lauzon, Peter McInnis, Christine Gauthier, Catherine Larochelle, and Janis Thiessen, Jeremy Milloy discussed his insights on precarious academic work and working-class organizing. What follows is an edited version of his comments.

by Jeremy Milloy

When I was invited by Steven High to speak today, I was unsure what perspective I’m supposed to speak from. As Nancy Janovicek mentioned, I am a longtime precarious historian and instructor. I am also a union member. I’m a historian of work capitalism and public health. I’m also a longtime organizer, who now works full-time on climate justice issues in addition to maintaining my historical practice. There are a lot of different ways that I could come at this.

I thought it would be best for me to try and contribute insights from all of these perspectives, so I have seven things that I want to share about precarious academic work.

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History Slam Episode 178: The People of Social Work

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By Sean Graham

In this episode of the History Slam, I share the second segment of the 5-part documentary series How We Helped: Stories from Eastern Ontario Social Workers. Using first-hand accounts, the episode looks at who becomes a social worker and delves into their stories. From social workers enlisting in the army during the Second World War to leading the push to form professional organizations, this episode tries to answer two key questions: who goes into social work and what motivates them throughout their career. You can find the entire 5-part series here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Insulin and the Unessay

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This post originally appeared on Defining Moments Canada

Madeleine Mant

My greatest insecurity as I prepared to teach during Fall 2020 was how to create a sense of community in the virtual classroom for a course that had never before been delivered online. In March 2020, when the spread of COVID-19 caused a sudden pivot to online classes, camaraderie had already been built – my students and I had spent months establishing trust, laughing together, and breathing the same air. From my hastily created home office, I assured students via online announcements that we were all in this together, as we collectively refreshed our news apps again and again. We stumbled across the finish line, bemused and relieved.

While I knew that I was not going to become an expert in online pedagogy over the summer, I nevertheless devoured articles concerning MOOCs, course design, technology integration, and applying Universal Design for Learning principles to assignment building as I reimagined Anthropology of Health as an online offering. In my previous discussion, I outlined one such assignment: the unessay. This term was first introduced by Dr. Daniel O’Donnell1, who asked students to use their own framework or focus to approach a topic, to toss out the rules of essay writing, and to approach the prompt in a medium of their choosing. Speculative projects like the unessay harness students’ creativity, encouraging students to find their personal way in to an assignment. Other academics2 have written about the challenges and successes of the unessay in their classrooms, expressing their delight at the results. This semester felt like the right one to take such a risk.

Anthropology of Health is a foundational course in the innovative Anthropology of Health Stream at the University of Toronto Mississauga. This class is a prerequisite to further health-focused courses and generally attracts second-year social science students, many of whom are anthropology majors, though students with double-majors in psychology, biology, and sociology are frequent attendees. The enrollment leapt this past fall to 102 (in Fall 2019 it had been 61); this population expansion, coupled with the new online delivery fueled my desire to build flexibility into the course.

Students were presented with the following prompt, about which they could craft an unessay or tackle an academic paper:

Consider the discovery of insulin, the individuals involved, and the history of diabetes prior to and after the discovery. Select three key events, people, objects, etc. that you think best illustrate/celebrate/explain the discovery of insulin. What led to this discovery? How did this discovery change the world? Continue reading

Historia Nostra: How fake history is harmful at the Tunnels of Moose Jaw

By Erin Isaac

The Tunnels of Moose Jaw are one of Saskatchewan’s most popular tourist destinations and occupy a special place in local history and lore. Growing up as kid in Saskatchewan, I visited the Tunnels on multiple school trips and even had to do a 7th-grade book report on Mary Harelkin Bishop’s novel The Tunnels of Time (a fiction book that places the modern-day point-of-view character back in time to when the Tunnels were used by gangsters and bootleggers).

Today, the Tunnels are described as an immersive historical experience that take guests through staged tunnels with costumed cast members. The facility offers two different experiences for visitors: The Chicago Connection and Passage to Fortune.

The better-known Chicago Connection Tour takes visitors through the history of prohibition in Saskatchewan and Moose Jaw’s highly speculated upon connections to the infamous gangster, Al Capone. This tour is a lot of fun. I remember, as a kid, being brought into the action by being asked to knock a certain pattern on a door, escape a shoot-out, and interact with a cast of troublesome characters wrapped up in rum-running and the illicit liquor trade.

This high-energy, sensational experience is countered by a more recent addition to the Tunnels experience, the Passage to Fortune tour, which is more serious and somber in its delivery. Continue reading

Remember/Resist/Redraw #28: Indigenous Women, Prison Activism, and the 1983 Kent Hunger Strike

The Graphic History Collective recently released RRR #28 by Tania Willard, Sarah Nickel, and Eryk Martin. The poster looks at Indigenous political activism and the 1983 Kent Prisoner’s Hunger Strike in S’olh Temexw (Stó:lo Territory) near Agassiz, British Columbia.

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.

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History Slam Episode 177: Imagining a New We

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By Sean Graham

Being in Ottawa, there are unique opportunities for engaging with Canada’s past. One of my favourite is to head to Parliament Hill to explore how the federal government has decided to commemorate Canada’s history. The monuments that surround the parliament buildings offer a pretty clear sign of what those in the halls of federal power have determined is important for Canadians to learn. Statues of Prime Ministers, monarchs, and significant political figures are not surprising to find outside the seat of government, but that these figures enjoy an exclusivity at this site sends a not so subtle message to visitors about what, and who, those in power want Canada and Canadians to value from our history.

Canada’s history goes well beyond what is represented on Parliament Hill, of course, but visiting the site is a reminder of some of the narratives that have long dominated discussions of Canada’s past. From who is included to what stories are valued, for many students (myself included) learning Canadian history meant learning about those in power. That specific focus, however, fails to recognize the diversity and complexity of Canada nor does it provide space for the millions of stories that have shaped life for people from coast to coast to coast. Fortunately, historians, teachers, educators, and community groups are re-examining the ways in which Canadians engage with the past, allowing for deeper discussions and more nuanced debates in museums, classrooms, and public spaces across the country.

Front and centre in that transformation is Samantha Cutrara, author of Transforming the Canadian History Classroom: Imagining a New ‘We’. Powerfully using personal experience, interviews, and case studies, Cutrara explores ways in which we can more effectively engage people with history. By providing space for investigation of historical narratives that influence people’s lives, there is room for diverse identities where ideas of connection, complexity, and care engender meaningful learning. And while the book is geared towards educators, it provides space for all Canadians to reflect on the past and the ways in which we think about history.

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Expanding Historical Communication Through Guided Experimentation

four square with graphics including music notes and a play button

Research creation assignments, in which students are encouraged to create such assignments as podcasts, poster exhibits, videos, and graphic novels, for example, help to expand historical practice beyond the written word. Image credit: multimedia by Maxim Basinski from the Noun Project.

This post is Part 3 of Donica Belisle’s three-part series, “Taking the ‘discipline’ out of History: moving beyond the limits of scholarly writing through a research creation assignment.” See part one and part two. 

Issues of Evaluation

One of the most commonly received questions from faculty concerning the Research Creation assignment that I assigned to a second-year History course at the University of Regina in 2019, and discussed in my previous blog post, was: how did I fairly assess all students’ work, given that over twelve types of media were submitted? This is a very good question. In the context of this assignment, the main evaluation question was: how well does the output convey the research on the topic? Grades were assigned based on (a) evidence of research within the output; (b) the complexity contained within the output; and (c) the clarity of the output.

In their course evaluations, students expressed appreciation for the opportunity to do a “research-creation” option. However, some also said that “non-essays” were harder than essays, in that they had to be more creative. Non-essays do not follow a standard formula and therefore are harder to research and devise. Some said that although initially they liked the open-ended nature of the assignment, in the end they did prefer more direction because they were worried about how they were going to be evaluated.

The issue of evaluation is key. Even as historians work to take the ‘discipline’ of out History, the fact remains that students will be evaluated. Establishing clear grading criteria is imperative for this reason. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 176: The Third Man

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By Sean Graham

The first time I came to Ottawa to do research at Library and Archives Canada, I was walking back to the hotel at the end of the day and decided to stop at Parliament Hill with a specific goal – to find the statue of William Lyon Mackenzie King. I had spent the day going through Mackenzie King’s papers and wanted to see how he was commemorated. In his papers, he comes across as quite eccentric, but the statue depicts a typical statesman. In the years since, that mismatch has continued to stand out to me as I’ve had the opportunity to delve deeper into Mackenzie King’s life and career.

What makes Mackenzie King such an interesting historical figure is that there are these conflicts in his story. His approach to broadcasting, for instance, is a little all over the place and shows how his personal feelings could influence policy decisions. That version of Mackenzie King is not reflected in the statue. During the Second World War, however, his diplomatic abilities were on full display as he navigated the, at times tense, Anglo-American relationship and used his friendships with Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt to strengthen Canada’s international standing. That version of King is what comes through in his statue.

That version of King is also the subject of The Third Man: Churchill, Roosevelt, Mackenzie King, and the Untold Relationships that Won WWII by Neville Thompson, Professor Emeritus at Western. In the book, Thompson examines how Mackenzie King was a lynchpin between the United States and Great Britain through the early 1940s. Relying on his personal relationships with the leaders, Mackenzie King emerged as a statesman during these years, with both Churchill and Roosevelt looking to him as a key ally. Relying extensively on Mackenzie King’s unpublished diary, Thompson offers compelling insights into a largely unstudied part of Mackenzie King’s tenure as Prime Minister.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Neville Thompson about the book. We talk about the historical caricature of Mackenzie King, his friendships with Churchill and Roosevelt, and how he used his personal relationships to improve his diplomatic efforts. We also discuss the importance of the two years prior to the United States entering the Second World War, King’s diary as historical source, and his legacy as a Prime Minister. The book is currently available for pre-order and is set to be released on February 16.

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Public Health, Rights, and Protest in the Age of COVID-19

“Freedom March” in Aylmer, Ontario, 7 November 2020, Global News.

Jennifer Tunnicliffe

COVID-19 and the steps taken to inhibit its spread have inspired significant opposition across Canada over the past ten months. Protestors have rallied against measures implemented by provincial governments, and movements such as The Line Canada and March to Unmask have used public demonstrations and social media platforms to denounce mandatory mask-wearing, quarantine procedures, travel restrictions, and lockdown orders. Many Canadians link this opposition, and the anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests in particular, to either right wing conspiracies, a rejection of medical science, or self-centered individualism. Headlines such as “Anti-mask protestors, conspiracy theorists march through downtown Vancouver” or “How right-wing extremists, libertarians and evangelicals built Quebec’s movement against COVID-19 restrictions” highlight how media coverage reinforces the connection between these protests and forms of extremism. Often, these are portrayed as a more American response to the crisis than a proper Canadian one.[1]

It is important to understand, however, that resistance to mandatory public health initiatives has a long history in Canada. Continue reading

Beyond the Essay: A Research Creation Assignment

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student made poster display

“Canadian Nurses in WWI.” This poster, submitted by Tatiana Kyliuk as a research creation project for History 201: Canada From Confederation to World War II (Winter 2019) at the University of Regina, well illustrates the ways that students can communicate historical research through visual media. In addition to submitting this poster, Kyliuk also provided a 10 minute presentation and annotated bibliography. Photo used with permission of Tatiana Kyliuk.

This post is part two of Donica Belisle’s three-part series, “Taking the ‘discipline’ out of History: moving beyond the limits of scholarly writing through a research creation assignment.” Part one was published last week.

In Winter 2019 I devised an assignment in a second-year Canadian survey course (Canada From Confederation to World War II) that enabled students to choose their own research outputs. That is, I gave them the option of either writing an essay or creating something more experimental.

I chose this course deliberately for this exercise. This junior level course has a cap of 50 enrollments, and it usually fills. Many students who take this course are from the Faculties of Education, Engineering, and Business. Many, too, are undeclared majors from within the Faculty of Arts. This course thus offered a reasonable testing ground to see if students without intensive disciplinary training might be interested in alternative communication formats.

By running what I called a research creation assignment in this course, my intent was to see if students who were relatively new to the historical ‘discipline,’ and who had a variety of academic interests and career objectives, would approach the issue of dissemination differently from the essay format, if they had the choice. I also ran the experiment to see which research outputs would prove most popular. For example, would they all want to do podcasts? Would they perhaps be interested in more niche options such as walking tours or dramatical re-enactments?

As it turned out, more than half of the course’s 48 students chose the research creation option. Before explaining what they chose to do, it should be noted here that I did give them ample guidance in terms of what they could do. The specific instructions are available here; I also spent much time in class explaining how they might approach this assignment. That being said, I also now realize that I should have provided even more guidance.

Following the grading of these assignments, I uploaded (with permission) many of them to my website. They are housed permanently there.

What, then, were the outcomes of this research creation assignment? Specific observations are below. Continue reading