“Out of the Frying Pan”: The Economist on peasants and climate change”

Pedro Rafael González Chavajay, a Tz’utuhil-Maya from San Pedro la Laguna. Used with permission from him and Artemaya.

Jim Handy

As summer winds down I have been slowly catching up on reading avoided while happily engaged elsewhere. This includes back copies of The Economist. As always reading The Economist prompts an appreciation for their insightful reporting on some issues and their tone-deaf, ahistorical and simply wrong accounts on others.

The July 1st, 2023 edition had a briefing entitled “Out of the Frying Pan” filed from Cairo, Chattogram (Bangladesh), and Niamey (Niger). In this story the author (anonymous as is the practice in the paper) appropriately warned that peasants in some of the poorest areas of the world are likely to suffer the worst consequences from climate change. As global warming intensifies and their lands and livelihoods suffer, they will make up a significant portion of the millions of climate refugees. Already, The Economist notes, rural livelihoods have been made more precarious by conflicts created or exaggerated by climate change.[1]

But it is exactly here that the author finds a silver lining. The author suggests, “Climate change may jolt some into making a decision (to migrate) that would long have been in their interest anyway.” If climate change accelerates rural to urban migration and induces more peasants and small farmers to give up their land more quickly, the paper predicts, “they will probably find better work, health care and schools. They may also start having smaller families.” The task of feeding the world, including new migrants to urban areas, will need to “rely on bigger, more capital-intensive farms.”

In making such an argument, the paper is at least reliably consistent. Since its birth in 1843, the paper has unfailingly championed large, capital-intensive farming and counselled that small farmers and peasants be forced to abandon the countryside and flee to the cities as the natural (and beneficial) consequence. In the second edition of the paper in September 1843 the paper celebrated the fact that the “science of agriculture” was replacing the “art of husbandry” in the English countryside and in the process modern farmers employing capital were “breaking up the hard clods of ignorance, sloth and indifference.” [2] From that point, the paper steadfastly argued that the most pressing problem in English agriculture was “how can capital be attracted to the soil?”[3] Continue reading

‘Rather Absurd’: Christian Nationalism and the Dominion of Canada

Reproduced from J.W. Bengough, A Caricature History of Canadian Politics (Toronto: Grip, 1886), 2:225; originally published in Grip (8 August 1881). This cartoon depicts Conservative politicians Charles Tupper and Leonard Tilley attempting to counteract the politicking of prominent Liberal Edward Blake, alluding to their past professions: Tupper as a medical doctor and Tilley as a pharmacist.

Daniel R. Meister

In July 2023, former adherents of a religious movement went public with concerns that Christian conservatives in New Brunswick were “more radical than they seem.” The specific context was a political controversy surrounding Policy 713 on LGBTQ+ students in public schools.

In its coverage of Policy 713 and the conservative Christian reaction to it, the CBC reported that some of the primary figures had been involved in an earlier incident in Charlottetown. As a historian, my interest was piqued. In 2019, the Canadian Prophetic Council recreated the iconic image of the “Fathers of Confederation” on the steps of Government House in Charlottetown. According to former members of the broader religious movement with which this group is affiliated, the staged photograph was more than a “cheeky homage” but rather was a “prophetic act”: the group was announcing its intention to “reestablish the Dominion of Canada as something that honours God.”[1]

That Canada was originally called a “dominion” is particularly significant for adherents of this movement who have played with history in order to suggest a different destiny for the country.

Continue reading

“No Historical Significance Found”: Clashing with ChatGPT

In this series, Active History editors are asking ChatGPT about their own areas of expertise and commenting on the process and answers. 

Sara Wilmshurst

A black-and-white photograph of seven men and two women sitting around a conference table that is covered with papers and magazines. At the head of the table sits an older white man with a moustache.

Health League of Canada Meeting ca. 1947-1948. Library and Archives Canada, MG28 I 223, Box number: 1B DAP-10A-1. Copyright: Expired.

Unlike most of Active History’s editorial team, I’m currently neither a student nor an educator. I haven’t had to resist the temptation of assigning my work to artificial intelligence or had to bust students for succumbing to that temptation. I hadn’t interacted with ChatGPT at all.

So, when some of the Active History editors decided to ask ChatGPT questions about our areas of expertise, I steeled myself for an immediate spiral of doubt when the program spat out a competent response. However, my experience was unexpected. Continue reading

ActiveHistory.ca repost — Aboriginal History in Ontario’s Cottage Country

ActiveHistory.ca is slowing down our publication schedule this summer, but we’ll be back with more new posts in September. In the meantime, we’re featuring posts from our archive. Thanks as always to our writers and readers!

The following post was originally featured on April 3, 2012. This summer, learn whose land you vacation on.

Editor’s note: Several outdated links throughout the article have been updated for this repost.

Credit: Frank W. Micklethwaite / Library and Archives Canada / PA-132099. Restrictions on use: Nil. Copyright: Expired

Thomas Peace

Frequently, when I am ‘up north’ and discussing my research on northeastern Aboriginal peoples during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I am asked one of two questions:  Why were there no Aboriginal people living here?  Or, what happened to the Aboriginal people who were here?

The questions are good ones, and reflect the absence of Aboriginal people from general discussion of Muskoka’s (and much of cottage country’s) past. Continue reading

What’s the Point in Talking About it: Community Responses to Enslavement in Shelburne, NS

By Erin Isaac

The thoughts and sentiments shared in this essay are my own and do not represent the Nova Scotia Museum or Shelburne Historical Society.

The Ross-Thomson House & Store Museum, in Shelburne, NS, has always been known as a site of enslavement in this community. Most people around here reference this by speaking about a pair of leg shackles that were once in the basement—“do you know, there were shackles in the basement?” Like many 18th-century Maritime communities, Shelburne’s early economy was inextricably tied to the institution of slavery—through the goods they imported, the buyers for goods they produced, and the actual labour of enslaved Nova Scotians. But even as many of our communities have houses that are remembered as enslaved spaces, like Ross-Thomson House, it is my impression that this is where (for many of us) our curiosity ends. There is a simultaneous impulse to remember shackles in the cellar and to distance ourselves from their implications.

In Shelburne, people lower their voices when they speak to me about slavery. Continue reading

ActiveHistory.ca repost — Historia Nostra: Parks and Profit at Kejimkujik National Park

ActiveHistory.ca is slowing down our publication schedule this summer, but we’ll be back with more new posts in September. In the meantime, we’re featuring posts from our archive. Thanks as always to our writers and readers!

The following post was originally featured on April 9, 2021. As Canadians hike and camp their way through the summer, Erin Isaac and Elisabeth Edwards’ post about Indigenous land acquired for national parks is food for thought.

Erin Isaac and Elisabeth Edwards

Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site is situated in Mi’km’aki, the traditional lands of the Mi’kmaq. Visitors to the park can learn about the region’s Mi’kmaw past by viewing the site’s many petroglyphs and burial grounds that attest to thousands of years of Mi’kmaw presence or by participating in programs led by Mi’kmaw crafts people such as Todd Labrador, who builds birch bark canoes in the park.

Yet, the history Parks Canada presents at the site is incomplete and obscures a darker truth about Kejimkujik’s past—the history of exploitation and dispossession that made the Park’s creation possible. Continue reading

ActiveHistory.ca repost — Decolonizing Cottage Country

ActiveHistory.ca is slowing down our publication schedule this summer, but we’ll be back with more new posts in September. In the meantime, we’re featuring posts from our archive. Thanks as always to our writers and readers!

The following post was originally featured on February 22, 2018. Since then, Drew Hayden Taylor has released Cottagers and Indians in print and directed a documentary of the same title. 

Peter A. Stevens

Photograph of a calm lake with a brown wooden dock extending away from the viewer. There are red and green leaves on a tree branch in the foreground.

Bbadgett/Wikimedia Commons

In Canadian popular culture, few symbols are as iconic as the family cottage. The summer home appears regularly in Canadian novels and films, and it has long been used by governments and private corporations to signify what the good life looks like in this country. Cottaging thus represents escape from the cares of the world, and immersion in a natural landscape that is dedicated to pleasure, relaxation, and tranquility.[1] Continue reading

ActiveHistory.ca repost — Simcoe Day and the Politics of Reclaiming and Renaming

ActiveHistory.ca is slowing down our publication schedule this summer, but we’ll be back with more new posts in September. In the meantime, we’re featuring posts from our archive. Thanks as always to our writers and readers!

The following post was originally featured on July 18, 2017 As Canadians mark Simcoe Day and the August long weekend, Elliot Worsfold’s post on the complicated politics of reclaiming and renaming remains as relevant as ever.

Debates over “renaming” Canadian buildings, universities, and other institutions have generated significant attention in the media over the past several weeks. On National Indigenous Peoples Day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared that the Langevin Block on Parliament Hill would be renamed the more perfunctory Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council. Trudeau cited Sir Hector-Louis Langevin’s involvement in the residential schools system as the primary reason for the building’s name change. In early July, the Ryerson Students Union and Indigenous Students Association similarly gained attention for their proposal to change the name of Ryerson University. They also cited Egerton Ryerson’s complicity in the residential schools system as the motivation to change the university’s name. That same week, a hostile confrontation between the right-wing “Proud Boys” and Indigenous activists at Halifax’s Edward Cornwallis statue on Canada Day sparked renewed calls for the statue’s removal. All these events prompted pundits to try to explain just why Canadians seem to be obsessed with the “politics of renaming.”

The critics of renaming generally cite the same list of arguments. Renaming institutions or removing statues effectively erases history. The men (for it is almost always men) commemorated in these places must be understood in the context of their time. By removing their names, you are robbing future generations of learning about their past. Why, they may even be doomed to repeat it.

These criticisms have been addressed elsewhere. My contention is that referring to this process as “renaming” or “removal” indirectly supports the aforementioned criticisms. “Renaming” implies a loss. “Removal” implies that something is being destroyed to make room for something else. Describing this process as renaming, I think, is misleading. Continue reading

Historia Nostra at the Fortress of Louisbourg

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By Erin Isaac

I first reached out to Dr. Amy Scott (University of New Brunswick) about visiting her in Cape Breton in February 2020, after attending a public lecture she gave at New Brunswick’s Provincial Archives. In her talk, Dr. Scott told us about the things her team was learning about 18th-century disease, injury, and lifeways from the grave goods and skeletons they excavated at Louisbourg National Historic Site. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard about their findings, but it was the first time I saw pictures and maps of the excavation site.

Nicole Breedon and Marisa Forbes dig a test pit at Louisbourg National Historic Site.

My first encounter with skeletal remains from Louisbourg was at the Bioarch Teaching and Research (BART) Lab at UNB during their Open Lab Day in 2019. Under the watchful eye of graduate students, myself and other visitors were allowed to glove up and feel bones for places where cancer had metastasized or breaks hadn’t healed quite right. Continue reading