Friday, March 27, 2015

History of thinking

Once commissioned a Saturday Night article from me
Prospect -- the leading magazine of ideas, it says -- has picked the world's top fifty thinkers. Thin on Canadians. though the only one, Naomi Klein, ranks number three. Pretty thin on historians too: Christopher Clark, recent historian of the First World War, and Linda Colley, historian of Britishness, scrape in near the bottom, and that is about it.

As Clark and Colley suggest, Prospect is British, and though the list is pretty global, there is a good sprinkling of "famous in London" types.  The fifty were chosen by a vote of readers, and they must be kinda lefty -- and a little unconventional. Russell Brand is number four? I loved Get Him to the Greek, but come on!

Number one is Thomas Piketty, go figure. Two is Yanis Varoufakis, the economist in the leather jacket from the new Greek government, and five is Paul Krugman.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Samara on democracy: doubling down on the political parties

Samara, the charitable organisation concerned with Canadian democracy and citizen participation, has released Democracy 360, based on a large survey of attitudes to government and democracy.  They assess democracy by "communication, participation, and political leadership -- talking, acting, and leading" ("accountability" still not a criterion). They give Canadian democracy a letter grade: C.

Their surveys find, among other things, that only 40% of survey respondents trust MPs "to do what is right" and only 42% place "some trust" in political parties. 62% feel candidates and parties only want their votes, not their involvement.

Samara recommends that "party leaders and MPs should work together toward more balanced relationships... that enable MPs to better fulfil their jobs as representatives," which is a good deal less assertive than even the watered-down Reform Act that MPs recently passed. Mostly Samara still thinks it's up to us citizens to fix things -- by doing even more for these parties that we do not trust and that do not want our involvement. Alison Loat, a Samara principal, recommends that citizens "find a campaign and become a volunteer."

But isn't this just encouraging the parties to continue subverting the goals Samara seeks? People are right to believe the parties don't want their involvement. They may want us to give money or to pound signs in a campaign, but who believes that serving a party campaign will give anyone a role in "making change" or "making their voices heard"?

Wouldn't we all be better to starve the beast, to withhold our money and our participation from these parties, until MPs begin to see some value in working around them, making their own links with citizens and rejecting the bosses the parties have foisted on them?

Read Samara's report for some grim statistics. But instead of promoting service to party, we'd be better off concluding that the parties as currently operating mostly corrupt Canadian democracy, and it is not ethical for either MPs or citizens -- or charitable organizations -- to encourage them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

History of hockey: Puckstruck in the LRC

The current online Literary Review of Canada includes a review of Stephen Smith's Puckstruck, a sort-of-not-exactly history of Canadians and their hockey, better described by its author as“a book about what I found out when I read all the hockey books.”

The not-online part of the LRC notes several historical titles from the politician Donald Macdonald's memoir Thumper through Ray Argyle on de Gaulle to Benjamin T. Jones on "the shaping of democracy in Australia and Canada."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Prize watch: Garneau, Macdonald, and Ferguson shortlists

A little quiz, no prizes.

The CHA has published shortlists for the Garneau, Macdonald, and Ferguson Prizes for, respectively, an outstanding contribution to historical research in the last five years, the best contribution to the understanding of the Canadian past in the last year, and the outstanding Canadian work in non-Canadian history.

Five titles each, for a total of fifteen.  How many have you read?

Me?  One.  Could do some reading, evidemment.

Full lists here

HIstory of Isaac Brock, history of journalism

Who said the War of 1812 (+200) was over?

A new statue of General Isaac Brock, by sculptor Danek Mozdzenski, will become a centrepiece of the Brock University campus in St. Catharines, Ont. The photo above and this story are from the St Catharines edition of The Standard.
The $1.2-million sculpture — paid for through a gift by the late David S. Howes — was positioned in front of the tower Monday. At 4.5 metres tall tall, the War of 1812 hero immediately became the focal point of the new Isaac Brock Plaza.
Mozdzenski said the space suits a crowd, so he made Brock so tall he’ll tower over even a large gathering.
Meanwhile, Grant Lafleche, in The Tribune of nearby Welland, grumbles that they have prettied him up and trimmed his waistline and thinks Brock was a loser, anyway.

Best thing about this, I think, is the evidence that local newspaper journalism and commentary actually still exists here and there.

Barbados to abolish monarchy. What, like it's hard?

It's a meme in the Canadian monarchist lobby that Canada could not abolish the monarchy even if it wanted to, because the crown is so deeply embedded into our constitutional fabric that it cannot be removed.

Barbados, another Commonwealth parliamentary democracy, has just decided to mark its fiftieth anniversary of becoming a republic next year. Somehow the relatively small corps of legal and constitutional experts in Barbados expects no difficulty in making the necessary tweaks to the Bajan constitution. In Parliament the government "does not expect any opposition," and a spokesperson for Her Majesty confirms it's a decision for Barbados to make for itself.

Hmm. Canada marks the 150th anniversary of confederation in 2017.  I bet we could assemble enough lawyers to produce the necessary tweaks by then.

(Interesting things you notice on Wikipedia:  Barbados has an upper house rather resembling Canada's, except that some appointments are made by the prime minister, some by the leader of the opposition, and some by the governor-general at his sole discretion. Not sure I like that last bit, but I guess if the governor general were a real head of state rather than one appointed by the prime minister, it could be an option.)

UPDATE:  Here's a weird one, a plan for unrestricted movement of people between countries of the Commonwealth.
"We are virtually the same people," CFMO director James Skinner told CBC News
Except wait. It isn't for the Commonwealth, exactly It's just Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Britain.  Those African, Caribbean and Asian members of the commonwealth may also have the "shared language, government, and common law legal system,"  but nope, they don't make the cut.

Friday, March 20, 2015

This Month at Canada's History

The new Canada's History, just out, includes a reader's letter appreciating the Captain James Cook story in the last issue: "I was getting a bit tired of reading about wars." Some balancing going on, maybe; the cover story is about John McCrae and the GREAT WAR.

Staff editor Nelle Oosterom contributes a family memoir-tinged history, and there's a strong essay on George Feyer, the gifted and prolific Toronto cartoonist of the 1950s and 1960s. who turns out to have been a tragic and historic figure in his own way.  My column considers honeybees as historical indicators -- inspired by a little bit in Jennifer Bonnell's recent Reclaiming the Don: An Environmental History.  

April-May also marks the debut of a new look design make-over at the mag.  Subscribe.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

History of the jury trial

It's reassuring that the Toronto jury in the trial of the alleged terrorists who are accused of planning to blow up CN tracks and trains is taking a long time to deliberate.

One suspects the Harper government would happily put the accused up against the wall and shoot them if it goosed the polls a little. But twelve random Canadian citizens seem to wonder if the whole thing was mostly concocted by the FBI guy who was central in the plot, whether some participants had a serious intent beyond getting some of the FBI's money, and how much reasonable doubt there is here.

The jury is into its eighth day on these issues. How much time did Parliament put in on Bill C-51?

History of Aboriginal Rights

The Osgoode Society's legal history blog notes Queen's Law School prof Mark Walters' new paper "The Aboriginal Charter of Rights,"  on the Royal Proclamation of 1763, downloadable from SSRN.
The author considers the evolving legal status of this historic document within Canadian constitutional law, concluding that as a source of positive law it is more or less a dead letter, but as a source of unwritten legal principle that continues to shape the Crown Aboriginal relationship in Canada, the Proclamation is still very much alive over 250 years after it was issued.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Canada's Vietnam

No, not the ISIS campaign, not yet anyway.

April will mark the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.  And next week, Thursday, March 26, CBC's Doz Zone presents "Vietnam: Canada's Shadow War,"  a new film directed by Andy Blicq about "Canada’s role in the Vietnam conflict, and its relationship with the United States throughout this decade long war."  
At the onset of the Vietnam War, a cautious Canadian government led by Lester B. Pearson settled for what some have called a policy of “quiet complicity”. But over the course of the conflict, influenced by what they were seeing on television, the music of the era and the arrival of young people escaping military service, young Canadians demanded change.  During the Vietnam decade, Canada celebrated its Centennial, elected a sexy new Prime Minister, distanced itself from the British Empire and consolidated its independent identity. Faced with being either “servile or sovereign,” by the end of the war, Canada chose sovereignty. 
Update:  Chris Raible:
Has anyone ever studied the role of Canadian volunteers who fought for the US in that war?
I seem to recall hearing, some years back, that there were something like 30,000 -
a number somewhat comparable to the number of Americans who sought refuge in Canada.
You could start with this CBC Digital Archives piece on the subject  Scholarly study?...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Adjunct Hell

I didn't realize the relatively high profile US website Lawyers Guns & Money is the work of a historian, the labour historian Eric Loomis.

Anyway, LGM/Loomis has a post up that's kind of a labour-sympathetic labour-market perspective on adjunct professorships.
Adjuncts should probably go on a general strike to force improvements in their conditions. But to be honest, most adjuncts should also quit their jobs and find something else to do.
The post -- and the comments -- give me the impression that the situation in the US is actually worse than it is in Canada, disgraceful as it seems to be here. (I'm not in that world.) Loomis thinks it would be useful if adjuncts could organize. Here in Toronto, by contrast, we have been in the midst of a couple of strikes and of narrowly averted strikes by contract faculty -- highlighted by reports that up to 60% of classes are now taught by non-tenured staff.

For an image of how depraved academia has become, check out the discussion of "textbook farming" as an income source in the LGM comments. Ivory towers, clay feet.

Image: Matt Groening, Life is Hell

Magna Carta at the British Library

History bites:  the royal teeth

History Today reviews the Magna Carta exhibit at the British Library in London and finds it "a huge success."  It includes two of the four surviving examples of the 1215 Magna Carta -- 800 years old this June -- and a couple of King John's teeth, go figure.

Later this year, an organization called Magna Carta Canada is bringing a Magna Carta exhibit to Ottawa, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Edmonton . (No teeth, I'm pretty sure, at least not literally.) I've been writing about it for a forthcoming Canada's History, but meanwhile here's the MCC website, and here, the Sunday Morning podcast of Michael Enright's conversation last week with the effervescent historian Carolyn Harris, who has written the forthcoming companion volume for the Canadian tour.

Champlain sur le petit ecran

TFO, the Ontario French-language public television network, launches on Monday at 9 pm "Le Reve de Champlain," a three-hour six-part dramatized television documentary (a "docu-fiction" they call it) based on David Hackett Fischer's 2008 biography Champlain's Dream.

Champlain is played by the Quebec actor Maxime Le Figuais, who may be the hunkiest Champlain ever, but apparently there is also a substantial participation by historians and Champlain scholars, including Fischer. I see no word on the program's online availability or any broadcast outside TFO's Ontario range, but apparently a one-hour English-language version is imminent. TFO has a substantial website/Facebook/Android presence supporting the broadcast, starting here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Updates to post below on leadership selection

It being March 11, the 167th anniversary of the swearing into office of the LaFontaine government of 1848 -- the first time a party government in the Province of Canada came into power through the workings of responsible government -- I'll note that last week's post, Parliamentarians fail again, has been updated with a couple of contributions reflecting on leadership accountability.

HIstory of freedom, history of protest

Saturday, March 14, has become the day of action to defend civil liberties against Bill C-51. Organization and coordination: mostly online.  Twitter: #RejectFear  #StopC51

Under Bill C-51, if the authorities deemed this kind of activity to be "promotion of terrorism in general," the whole thing, presumably including this post, would be illegal.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

History is free?

At Active History, Ian Milligan salutes the new SSHRC policy requiring scholarship that it funds to be made available in open-access peer-reviewed venues within a year of first publication.

But in celebrating this good news, he ends up recycling the hackneyed old justification for open access: that if you pay for a published work by anyone who gets research support, you are "paying twice"
 in a way you’re paying twice: your tax dollars supported my work on it, and then you’re paying again.
Milligan actually knows this ain't paying for the same thing twice. In the same post, he lists all the costs that went into producing a peer-reviewed publication of a piece of his:
This charge to read the article reflects in part the work that’s gone into it: an editor, perhaps remunerated by a small stipend or course release, has shepherded it through peer review, it’s been copyedited, laid out, proofread, printed into bound copies, mailed to subscribers, and so forth (some wonder, of course, how many people buy individual copies – it’s probably also driving institutional subscriptions). I don’t disagree, and actually use this example because it’s a prime example of how the journal process improves scholarship (the final version is something I’m proud of – the draft version, not so much).  
Declaring something "open access" does not abolish these costs, Ian. Mostly it shifts them somewhere else (maybe to a different subsidizing body, but just as often from the reader to the author). Historical inquiry should be free -- but it's still free as in speech, not free as in lunch.

Feels like a million

A CBC radio program once beat all the private stations and became the most listened-to program in its time slot. The host said, "Of course, here at CBC Radio we are not concerned with ratings. But these are great ratings not to be concerned with."

In that tradition, we are not very concerned with the fact that the little counter says this blog got its one millionth hit sometime yesterday.* (500,000 since last August.)

Just carryin' on.

But thanks, friends.
* Counting since 2010. Not that we are really keeping tabs
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