Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Prize Watch: The Pierre Berton to Mark Zuelke

This year's winner of the Pierre Berton award is Mark Zuelke, prolific military historian  on subjects ranging from War of 1812 to the Second World War.  Murder mysteries too.  From the citation:
The 2014 Pierre Berton Award honours the work of Mark Zuehlke, one of Canada’s prolific historical writers. He is one of the country’s pre-eminent military historian, and has written more than fifteen books on our military legacy.

His writing is clear, concise and engaging, and puts the reader on the front lines with the troops. His work has inspired students and adults to learn more about our military history. He has made tours of battlefields much more engaging by giving participants a much higher awareness of what happened there many years ago.

In Quebec City with the Lit&Hist

Quebec City friends and readers: Thursday, October 16 I'm heading to la vieille capitale, as keynote speaker at the Literary Feast, the annual fundraising gala of the Morrin Centre in the heart of the Haute-Ville.

The Morrin Centre, home to the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, founded 1824, is the "cultural hub" of the anglophone community of Quebec City. You may have read about it in Louise Penny's murder mystery Bury Your Dead.

Details and tickets for the Literary Feast here.  Fair warning: good cause/not cheap!

Happy to say, that's the same weekend as La Conference de Quebec, a scholarly conference on the Quebec Conference of 1864, organized by the Laval University Law School and the GRSP of U de Montreal.
SPEAKERS : Janet Ajzenstat – Éric Bédard – Michael Behiels – Philip Buckner – André Burelle – Marc Chevrier – Claude Couture – Graham Fraser – Rachel Chagnon – Louis-Georges Harvey – Stéphane Kelly – Guy Laforest – Christopher Moore – François Rocher – Paul Romney – Bruce Ryder – Anne Trépanier – Robert Vipond
The originals (not us).

Monday, September 29, 2014

Prize Watch: Hilary Weston Nonfiction Award

Not much history on the Hilary Weston shortlist.  Indeed not much of what looks like literary nonfiction to me:  the list looks mostly like a selection of journalism by and large. I hasten to say I have not read any of them, and the jury is three people whose judgment I definitely respect.

Anyway, shortlist and details here.  Announcement October 14, prize $60K.

Recently learned that way back in June Ted Barris's The Great Escape won the Libris nonfiction prize from the Canadian Booksellers Association.  Well done, Ted.  No $60k on that one, however.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ryerson J-Source story on how a Canada's History article comes together

...  is here:
Stories structured this way complement traditional long reads and help them try to reach a broader audience. “If you’re busy and you’re trying to get the kids to soccer practice, you can tackle an article like this and be entertained, intrigued and a little bit informed,” explained Reid. “But you can also put it down and pick it up later.”  

LAC: online data dumps continue NOW UPDATED

I used to be in the habit, from time to time, of borrowing Library and Archives Canada microfilms through interlibrary loan, so that I could consult them in my local library system rather than having to travel to Ottawa.  So I was among those victimized by LAC's seemingly deliberately punitive decision to abolish interlibrary loans of microfilm a few years ago. (Okay, maybe not deliberately punitive. Probably they just did not give a damn.)

I have not forgiven them.  But if you look at the LAC blog from time to time, you have to be impressed by the volume of microfilmed collections now being digitized and made available online. They don't say (that I have seen, anyway) what proportion of their microfilm collection is now available, or when the rest will be, or why they could not have phased out microfilm interlibrary loan of specific items as they were digitized. Who knows -- the blog never says -- if there is a systematic way to determine whether your target material is or is not available online now or might soon become available?

But there is a lot of stuff coming online.  This is a sample from the alphabetical listing of a recent LAC data-dump to the Heritage part of the Canadiana website:

  • ... Department of Trade and Commerce: from the 1961 central registry system
  • Department of Transport: Records 1897 – 1947 (Register of Wrecks)
  • Diamond Jenness: hand-written diaries and typescript of diaries, 1913-1916
  • Directorate of Internment Operations
  • Emily Carr fonds
  • Finding aid for the land records (RG 1) of Lower Canada and Upper Canada and Canada
  • France. Archives nationales, Section moderne: Série F15. Hospices et secours
  • France. Colonial Archives: A Series, Actes du pouvoir souverain
  • France. Colonial Archives: B Series, outgoing mail  ... 
Okay, it probably does not include the film you need right now, or the one I need right now, for that matter. So let's still be bitter.  But here comes the future.

(Image source)

Update, September 27:  Jonathan Scotland advises:
You may already by aware of this, but if not, it is possible to have LAC microfilm/fiche material scanned and put online by request. The major benefit is that the service is free. The biggest draw backs are the amount you can order (five reels per order per month) and how long it takes (up to eight weeks). The files are then posted to the Canadiana site.
 The order form is available here (N.B. be sure to select the digital copies by email link when going through the order process):
 Thanks, Jonathan!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Like fox, I guess: Michael Chong's Reform Bill sails through

(previous post here)

Jennifer Ditchburn has the deets on the passage yesterday of backbencher Michael Chong's Reform Bill, the one that encourages parliamentary party caucuses to assert their authority to review, and if necessary dismiss and replace, party leaders.

Chong has been savaged for tweaking, possibly diluting, the details of his proposal, but evidently that process won it enough support to make its passage so unstoppable that the threatened leaders had to pretend to like it, and virtually the whole house voted for it.

I've long thought that this is an appetite that grows with the eating: feed backbenchers (journalists too!) merely the notion that it is not illegal or impossible or unconstitutional for MPs to, you know, participate in parliamentary life, and gradually they will develop a taste for being kingmakers rather than nobodies. Imagine a government accountable to the people we elect -- it would be like catching up to where we were in 1848 all over again.

Prize Watch: Vancouver Arts Award to Daniel Francis

Good to see prolific historian Daniel Francis's work recognized with the City of Vancouver Mayor's Arts Award for his writing and publishing.  Congratulations, Dan.

Big history underwater

This is archaeology?  Yup.
It has been sorta plausible for some years now that the Americas were peopled by migrants who began by moving down the coastline of western North America, possibly employing small craft, but surviving on the rich resources of the oceanic glacial edge at a time when it is unlikely that there was any habitable "ice-free corridor" in the heavily glaciated centre of northern North America.

Trouble is, most of the archaeological evidence for those early coastline people would be at least a hundred metres underwater, given the way glacial melting raised the sea levels and drowned the old shorelines. I recall hearing west coast archaeologist Knut Fladmark, an early exponent of this theory, speak years ago in almost science-fictional terms of the kind of submarine archaeology that would be required to test it.

Now it's happening.  On the theory that the best thing to search for deep underwater would be, not faint habitation traces or kill sites or human burials as you might on land, but substantial human-made changes to the landscape, some archaeologists and Parks Canada started reviewing sonar maps for the remains of fish weirs, places where people might have built up substantial rock structures to trap fish in falling tides.

Found 'em, maybe. There is a lot yet to be confirmed here.  But it seems that one of the large puzzles about how the human species went out and occupied the whole habitable planet seems well on the way to have a good evidence-based explanation.

The guy who said the finding of the Franklin ships was the biggest archaeological news in a century... maybe he will need to broaden his horizons.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

This month in Canada's History

... it's war, war, war, as Scarlatt O'Hara used to say:  the special commemorative world wars issue, with contributions from Jack Granatstein and Jonathan Vance, a war art feature, and excerpts from Canada's History's upcoming book, Canada's Great War Album

My own contribution is on a guy called Norman Kelly, MA. He is credited in Pierre Berton's big railway histories from the 1970s as his principal researcher.  What ever happened to that guy?

He turns out to be Toronto's deputy mayor Norm Kelly, the guy who took over when the drugs and the guns and Jimmy Kimmel and all that crazy overcame Rob Ford last spring.  I talked with Kelly recently about Berton and about heritage politics.

If you subscribed like you oughta, it would be in your mailbox already, as it was in mine yesterday.  Actually, there is a digital edition too, if you getting out of dead tree media.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Even stealing, the universities lose money

For years, cost-cutting universities have taken the position that for them stealing is "fair," so they should just take the intellectual property their faculty members need to teach with. Sadly, CAUT and the student organizations have been company unions on this and supported the whole play.

Funny, now that universities are not paying Access Copyright, the rightsholders collectives, for rights to use copyright material, somehow the students' copying fees are going steeply... up, according to this story in the U of T Varsity newspaper.  I guess if it's okay to appropriate from writers and publishers, they might as well steal from students too.  An official "explains":
Some students are paying for materials that are available in the library catalogue for free because we have a licence for them. The idea here is most certainly to keep costs to students under control
Say again?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fort York visitor centre: one for the good guys

Went down last night to a celebration of the new Visitors' Centre at Fort York in Toronto.  In Toronto where "cut taxes/starve services/bitch about lagging infrastructure" has been the dominant voice for decades, support for history and heritage still has a guerrilla, oppositional feeling to it. Actually getting this visitor centre built felt to a lot of people there like a victory against the odds after decades of defeats and disappointments. A federal minister and various private foundation types were there, but beneath that the vibe was unmistakable: the underdogs had actually pulled one off.

Tucked between a railroad line and an elevated highway in a grim light-industrial zone, Fort York has always struggled to connect with the city.  But the area has suddenly been transformed by massive condominium development, amid a lot of smart urban design. The Fort has cleverly decided to make itself the community centre.  With 43 acres of green space, it had something to offer, and it has already become a venue for festivals and concerts.  Now its visitor centre will double as a community gathering space. Here's Urban Toronto's take on it.
The vision for Fort York is spectacular. A brilliant Fort York Visitor Centre will come to life after an engaging design competition . The concept by Patkau Architects Inc. (Vancouver) & Kearns Mancini Architects Inc. (Toronto) artfully references Fort York’s historic context on the bluff of Lake Ontario in its inspired form and use of materials, while bringing the site into striking, contemporary focus.
With its new visibility and new amenities, Fort York is also poised to become the de facto Museum of Toronto that the city has been determined never to have.  Next spring when Magna Carta makes its 800th anniversary world tour, it's the Fort York Visitor Centre that will host it in Toronto.  And the current temporary exhibits - pending enough money to put up the actual Fort York materials -- give a taste of the unseen Toronto collections that finally have a display venue.

It's a terrific building, but more it's a display of smart civic planning, in which heritage and historical values are actually shown to work hand in hand with housing development, recreation, and even traffic needs. Go see.

Elsewhere in museums, today is the opening of the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg.  Human rights is so inherently political and confrontational that they have had their struggles.  I hope they just accept that, and go on being all confrontational and in your face, damn the protesters.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Don Smith and friends on Toronto Island

Donald Smith, Professor Emeritus and author of Mississauga Portraits: Ojibwe Voices From Nineteenth Century Canada, M. Jane Fairburn, author of Along the Shore: Rediscovering Toronto’s Waterfront Heritage and Maxwell King, Educator and member of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, speaks tonight on "From Menacing to Hiawatha: Toronto Island and Its People in the 18th and 19th Centuries," announced as "an evening of lively discussion on the presence of the Mississaugas in the Toronto area in the 18th and 19th centuries."  That's September 18, 2014, 7:00 p.m. at Ward's Island Clubhouse, Toronto Island.

Can't make that?  There's the Ontario Historical Society session October 23

Text Box: Along the Shore: Rediscovering Toronto’s Waterfront Heritage by M. Jane Fairburn 

Treaty of Paris invalid: Canada still belongs to France?

Charlevoix has all the details of how the brief visit of the original 1763 Treaty of Paris to Quebec City's Musée de Civilisation has provoked a Montreal lawyer into announcing his theory that the whole thing was beyond the powers of Louis XV and therefore has been void all along.  Expert opinion is unconvinced, to say the least.

More interesting, more troubling, is the other suggestion: that Ottawa actually opposed any showing of the document in Canada because... (sound of head exploding here).  

All links in French, bien sur.

Also good news: it seems the fire at the Museum the other day has not done serious damage to the collection there.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Jewish army of the Annapolis Valley

Who knew?  Kelly Shiers of the Halifax Chronicle Herald of a few days ago reports on the Jewish Legion, including future Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion,  that trained at Windsor, Nova Scotia, under British Army auspices in 1918
“In Windsor, one of the great dreams of my life — to serve as a soldier in a Jewish Unit to fight for the liberation of the Land of Israel (as we always called Palestine) — became a reality,” Ben-Gurion wrote in a letter to Windsor’s mayor three years after he left the prime minister’s job.
Hat tip to Mark Reynolds's father.  Photo: Chronicle-Herald.

Genius historians

Okay, I do get a little frisson when email comes in from the MacArthur Foundation. The rational mind knows they are not about to tell me they are giving me one of those fabled Genius Grants and vast amounts of no-strings money.  But one dreams for a moment.

It's a media release about two historians who did just get McArthur Genius Grants:  Pamela Long, historian of science and technology, and Tara Zahra, historian of European childhoods.  And I'm really pleased for them. Really.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Notes: Cornwell on Waterloo

Bernard Cornwell, the impossibly prolific author of the Sharpe series of historical novels (since televised, and now famous as one role in which Sean Bean did not have to die) has published his first non-fiction, Waterloo, The Story of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles, in anticipation of next summer's 200th anniversary of that battle.

I could manufacture some Canadian connections here -- a slew of later Canadian governors fought at Waterloo, and the end of the War of 1812 was influenced by the fall of Napoleon, which preceded his return and his Waterloo.  And it turns out Cornwell is a Canadian "war baby," born 1944, son of a Canadian airman from Victoria and a British servicewoman.  And he's promoting the book in Toronto soon.

But it's mostly that this blog gets quite a few new book PR requests from American presses and publicists --usually for titles like "Aircraft of The Vietnam War" or "The Dining Table of John and Abigail Adams" and other items of, shall we say, local interest -- and pretty much nothing from Canadian publishers ever. So this is for Melissa Nowakowski at HarperCollins in Toronto, who took the trouble to get in touch about this title. See, it can work!

I read it, actually. There is not much new that can be said about Waterloo, except for all of us who don't know much about it. Cornwell, as you might expect, does battle well, and he is good at taking an interest in the difference between brigade and battalion or line and column, things that really help if you are trying to figure out what the hell is going on.  Seems it was indeed, as Wellington said, a damned near run thing.