Friday, December 13, 2019

Survey results

We have survey data to report.

Over ten days, the blog survey received 32 responses. It generally takes a month or so for the view counter on any particular post to pass 100, but the first posting of the survey link at the end of November hit 90 pretty fast,  and 30+ responses in ten days seems perfectly adequate to me.  Many many thanks to all -- your responses have been interesting and encouraging!

The Responses:

1  How often do you visit?

Not surprisingly, 66% of respondents described themselves as frequent visitors, and 34% as occasional visitors.  If there is a "rarely" group of readers, it was not looking in that week. Separate from the frequent/occasional groupings, ten per cent of respondents said they had started following the blog in the last year or so.  So we have growth -- or renewal -- going on. Welcome.

2. Name 3 features you particularly like.

Thirty respondents liked Historical News and Comment, 26 liked Political and Current Events Commentary, and 20 liked the Book Notes.  The other options got  slightly fewer likes. That seems about right, but in the comments question (below) there were some grumbles about "only three?" answers allowed for this question.

3 Other blogs and podcasts you follow

I'm going to cover this in a separate post a little later, because there were so many good suggestions.  Active History, you are looking good, and so is Borealia.  Champlain Society website and podcast got some love. There were laments that Unwritten Histories is on hiatus.

4. Where do you live?

I'm impressed to have had responses from readers in each of the major Canadian regions except, sadly, the 3 northern Territories.  Ontario dominated by more than I would have expected (20 readers). Make of it what you will, British Columbia and Atlantic Canada had 3 each, the Prairies 2, and Quebec 1.

And there were responses from Europe, the United States, and Australia.  Just one from each, but hello there!

5  Professional identity

25% of respondents said they were academics, 22% defined themselves as writers/artists, 16% worked in other historical domains, and no less than 35% said they were "other/just interested," which is kinda wonderful. No one described themselves as a student.  Shouldn't have posted the survey in exam season, maybe?

On the age question, 19 of 31 said they were between the ages of 31 and 65, 12 said they were over 65, and no one was thirty or under.  I might have expected the sample to skew a bit older, frankly -- but to have included a few under thirty!

The gender split of those who responded was 66% male, and 34% female.  So not gender-neutral, but actually closer than I might have guessed (on not very much evidence before this). Things are gendered!

6.   What question would you like to ask?

The most common responses were absolutely heartwarming.  'I like all the features," "Just carry on," "Just that I enjoy it," and "I'm always interested." No snarky anonymous attacks at all, bless you all! One said "Hard to say: the whole point, in my mind, of a blog is to follow the writer's interests. I quite enjoy landing on a book review one day and an obituary the next (despite not being in my top three I like reading those, and the prize watch posts)."

It was suggested I might offer snippets from my own work from time to time, which seems like a good idea, though this blog has always been all about me and hardly about me at all, if you see what I mean. And there were some specific questions about historical matters to which I think I will respond in separate posts in the coming weeks, as they are worth discussing.

7.  Prizes?

Coming!  Names are in the hat, and drawing will proceed today.  If you entered, the odds are certainly better than LottoMax.

Update:  I should have said again that the prizes -- an Ancestry genealogy membership or an Ancestry DNA testing kit -- were generously provided by and its agency Media Profile, who approached me with their offer.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Jefferson and Baldwin: history of illusions about education

History News Network links to an essay in the current Atlantic magazine by the remarkable American historian Annette Gordon Reed. It's at once a review of a new book by another remarkable American historian, Alan Taylor; a sharp analysis of Thomas Jefferson's idea of republican education; and another proof of how deeply slavery warped the slaveholders as well as the enslaved. Being the Atlantic, it also offers links to related articles it has published: such as an essay on Jefferson and slavery the magazine published in 1862.

I try to imagine a Canadian magazine that might even consider attempting some similar treatment of a theme in Canadian history.  Oh, well, we are a small country.

Gordon-Reed's theme, via Taylor, is of Jefferson's dream of building the University of Virginia into a kind of seminary to train Virginia's future leaders in the virtues of study, contemplation, debate, and public service, the kind of education needed to preserve a republic. Being young masters from the slaveholding class, of course, the actual students mostly behaved like complacent entitled assholes, much to Jefferson's frustration and despair.  Gordon-Reed, who is African-American, may have smiled a little as she explored this story as a commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the University of Virginia.

This Jefferson story reminds me of the plight of his near-contemporary, William Warren Baldwin, the gentlemanly reformer of Upper Canada. Baldwin believed in the Law Society of Upper Canada and its college, Osgoode Hall, in the way Jefferson believed in the University of Virginia. "There was no society for which the country should feel so deep an interest as for the Law Society. Without it, whose property was safe? Whose life could be ably defended?" Baldwin declared Osgoode Hall -- in the building of which he was the prime mover -- was designed "not so much for the mere personal accommodation of students and barristers but for the nobler end of elevating the character of the bar and securing by early habits of honorable and gentlemanly conduct the respect and confidence of the public."

Baldwin's law students were not slaveholders' sons, but they proved about as rowdy, entitled, and complacent as Jefferson's. Baldwin was so shocked that he resigned as head of the Law Society and never held public office again.

This being Canada, there are not fifty articles and essays on Baldwin's thoughts about the role of education in shaping and preserving a constitutional monarchy. I crib the quotes above from my own paragraphs in The Law Society of Upper Canada and Ontario's Lawyers (1997), and there isn't a whole lot else accessible on the whole topic. We all do what we can.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Survey ends tonight; results/winners this week

Thanks to all who have responded to the blog readers' survey. A nice haul of results and lots of interesting and encouraging material.

A large number of respondents report seeing this blog "frequently." I surmise most interested readers have seen the survey notice and had a chance to respond if they want to. So the survey will be closed first thing tomorrow morning, and the results and prize drawing will follow ASAP.  If you still plan to take the survey, do it today

Survey is now closed

Monday, December 09, 2019

Book Notes: History Today's Best of 2019

The lively British history mag/website History Today has a crowd of British historians choosing their favourite (mostly but not necessarily British) histories of 2019.

Update:  Helen Webberley from Melbourne Auz endorses one of the recommended titles:
Robert Poole’s Peterloo: an English Uprising (Oxford) was excellent.

I don’t know if this is the definitive account of Peterloo, because I haven’t read any other, but I do know that the book’s place in my historical thinking about British politics and society will be long-lasting.
Her blog post on Peterloo is here 

History of Race and the Halifax Explosion

For the 102th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion last week, CBC Nova Scotia drew attention to a new study arguing that the Halifax Relief Commission systematically favoured white relief claimants over African-Canadian claimants

The study, "Racism and Relief Distribution in the Aftermath of the Halifax Explosion" by Mark Culligan and Katrin MacPhee (respectively a community legal worker and a lawyer, both with historical training) argues:
The HRC’s relief policies systemically discriminated African Nova Scotian claimants. The majority of African Nova Scotians in 1917 did not own real estate and were precariously employed low-waged workers concentrated in informal sectors of the economy. The HRC prioritized the compensation of lost property, not lost wages. When it did compensate wage earners, it tended to compensate regularly employed, skilled workers, and not workers in the sectors of the economy where African Nova Scotians were predominantly employed. This study therefore illustrates that disaster relief efforts that prioritize reinforcing the pre-disaster social order over meeting the needs of victims can perpetuate the inequalities suffered by oppressed groups.
and that 
while class mattered for all claimants, African Nova Scotian claimants were still undercompensated for their Explosion losses compared to white working-class claimants.
The article also criticizes the "romanticization" of the Halifax explosion in historical scholarship. Perhaps due to the time lags of academic publication, the article does not engage with most 2017 writings on the explosion and relief, though it challenges an article drawn from David Sutherland's 2017 book We Harbor no Evil Design”: Rehabilitation Efforts after the Halifax Explosion of 1917 which, while noting the history of racial discrimination in early 20th century Halifax, concluded that after the explosion African Nova Scotians "were given unrestricted access to public health care, and, while evidence is limited, they appear not to have been discriminated against over the issuance of cash allowances or disability and widows’ pensions."

(Thx: Mark Reynolds)

Friday, December 06, 2019

Rebuilding lost archives

There goes Granny's birth certificate:
Destruction of the Four Courts and Irish PRO, 1922
The Irish Times reports that the Irish National Archives, by working together with the British national archives, the public records office of Northern Ireland, the Irish Manuscripts Collection and the library at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is recreating a substantial part of the Irish Public Records Office's archival collection, just in time for the centenary of its destruction.
Archivists have determined that copies and transcripts of the lost records exist in other repositories to a  “greater extent than ever previously imagined.” It is hoped that a digital recreation based on these materials will be available by 2022. 

The records -- records of Irish administration, land grants, wills, Chancery papers going back to the 1400s, and all existing Irish censuses -- were destroyed in an explosion in 1922, when dissident elements of the Irish Republican Army were using the PRO as an ammunition dump (!) during their resistance against the new Irish government. 

The other great collection of Irish records -- local government papers and genealogical data going back centuries  -- had been destroyed, along with the Dublin Customs House that held them, during fighting between the IRA and British forces in 1921. No word on those being recovered.

Thanks:  History News Network for the link.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Survey update

Thanks to all who have been responding to the survey I posted the other day. (Dodged one bullet: what if you give a survey and nobody comes?) There have been a lot of great responses. I'll be reporting on them in good time, and I'd love to have more responses.  

So if you have not taken the survey yet, please click here. It's short and easy, and those who have responded seemed to enjoy it. (Prizes, too!)    

History of Parliaments: the attorney general

During the SNC Lavalin affair last winter, Jody Wilson-Raybould lost her position of Attorney General of Canada amid controversy over inappropriate pressure that may have been applied to her independent exercise of her duties as the government's legal advisor. The response, you may recall, was mainly that when a Canadian Prime Minister's Office applies pressure, it is never inappropriate.  

In the aftermath, there were suggestions that the attorney general should be an MP rather than a cabinet minister, as has been traditional in the British parliament.  No coherent explanation was given as to how a Canadian MP could be trusted to be more independent than a cabinet minister, given the understanding of party discipline that prevails in Canada, and the idea was abandoned.

Bolder solutions are possible. As an example of the flexibility that parliamentary systems encourage -- far beyond the imaginings of most commentators and analysts in Canada -- note the process in Israel, where the attorney general is busy organizing the prosecution of the incumbent prime minister on criminal charges. I stress that Israel's political culture is substantially different from Canada's, and no simple one-to-one comparisons are rarely useful.  But in Israel the cabinet appoints an attorney general from a shortlist presented by a committee formed of the Chief Justice, former AGs, and legal experts, and the person appointed serves a fixed six-year term regardless of the election and/or defeat of parliaments. 

Good idea? Maybe, maybe not.  Worth adding to the repertoire of possibilities? Probably.

Hat tip to the Fruits and Votes blog, which has the details here.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Book Notes: Smithsonian History Ten Best Books 2019

Smithsonian History releases its list of the ten best (American) books on history.  It's an eclectic lot.  A history of cigarettes, of debutantes, of the Lakota empire, of women as slave owners, of cars and freedom, of 19th century radicals, of Tom Paine, of American's Pacific empire

My own record on these: heard of one or two, read none.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

First ever blog survey.... with prizes

I'd been thinking I should plan how to tap into the preferences and interests of the readership of this blog.  But it's a pretty spontaneous operation; we don't plan a lot here.

Then my new friend Ema, doing promotion for, offered a couple of prizes for this blog to provide to its readers:  a one-year Ancestry subscription, and an Ancestry DNA kit.  No strings, no commitment.

So I'm putting these together.  Take the first ever survey at this blog.  And have a shot at the prizes.

Here is the survey  We will keep it open a couple of weeks and still have winners for Christmas. Please circulate the link to friends, colleagues, social media.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Prize Watch: Gourmand Prize for Hui, Chop Suey Nation

Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada’s Chinese Restaurantsthe recent memoir and history by Toronto journalist Ann Hui, has received a Gourmand World Cookbook Award in the Chinese cooking and food writing category.

From Christopher Cheung's review in The Tyee: 
Ann Hui’s Chop Suey Nation proves I’m the real know-nothing. I learned that dishes I thought were random fusions — items as innocuous as ginger beef — are actually thoughtful creations, crafted with trial and error by immigrant chefs for foreign palates.
In her book Hui tells the rich history of the Chinese Canadian restaurants that chop-suey cuisine emerged from, and how these places gave, and are still giving, bright futures to generations of immigrant families.

Coming soon: Survey. And Prizes

Gonna do something that has not been tried previously on this blog:  a reader survey.

Sharpen up your opinions. Watch for the survey coming here soon.

There will be prizes.  Yes, useful, valuable prizes.

Monday, November 25, 2019

History of local history

Went round last week to hear a talk at the local historical society by my friend Ron Brown, who knows everything about the lost, remarkable, quirky, and unknown towns/roads/landmarks/natural wonders across Ontario, and indeed much of Canada.  There was the usual friendly, interested crowd.  Ron got them laughing by mentioning the Ford recall notice he'd recently seen -- and how disappointed he been to realize it only meant the automobile. (Evidently one can get away with some political sting.)

I have a constant admiration for historical societies. They seem to me like civic society.  Just because groups of citizens have decided to band together, they work to appreciate a community's built and natural environment, to preserve and defend when necessary, and constantly to share knowledge, just for the pleasure of it.

As it happened, the society whose event we were attending was also launching a new book about local history, Glimpses into Etobicoke's Past. The Etobicoke Historical Society has been active since 1958, and this anthology gathers essays it has been publishing since then. Most historical societies have a certain lineage shrine aspect to them and this book certainly bears marks of its origins:  lots of attention to early settlers, local families of note, and notable landmarks, not so much on indigenous or minority presence.

But we are lucky books like this one exist. Anyone who mouths the old cliche about Canadians taking no interest in their history should count how many collections of irreplaceable local history exist through the efforts of local historians. 

10 Best Histories for 2019: Smithsonian

The Smithsonian website history section announces its ten best books in history from 2019.  Of the ten I think I had heard of maybe two, and read none, but it testifies to no small diversity in American historical publishing... about the United States, bien sur.

Is DNA travel a thing?

Royal Mile, Edinburgh:  ancestors hereabouts too.
I was intrigued by a recent email from a travel company promoting 'DNA travel'.  "Insight Guides declares DNA travel to be the next big thing." Got to exotic places, meet interesting people, and .. collect their spit for DNA testing?

Not exactly.  The link I was sent to was pretty standard explore-your-roots travel promotion, actually, particularly intended for North Americans of European ancestry. Having not long ago been photographed standing by my great-grandfather's County Galway gravestone, I can't say I'm immune to the appeal.  The "DNA" labelling must be  a sign of how digital genealogy and family DNA testing have become a large part of the 21st century's sense of the past.

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