Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What is it with Ottawa and military history?

(Mandatory blog illustration: Student Richard Compton at the Soldiers' Tower, U of T, Remembrance Day, 2010. Photo by John R. Kennedy for Metro News)

Once again, an lecture on military history open to the public taking place in Ottawa. This one has nothing to do with the War Museum, but is a presentation of the Ottawa Historical Association,taking place at Carleton, given by a U of Zero* doctoral student (* A little friendly rival law school trashing there--no offense to the fine U of O history department.)

Here's the text of the announcement:
Please join the Ottawa Historical Association for its second public lecture of its 2010-2011 season. Anne Miller of the University of Ottawa will speak on "World War Memorials and Commemoration at Canadian Universities" on Thursday, November 25, at 8pm at the Faculty of Arts and Social Science Lounge, Dunton Tower Room 2017, Carleton University. The lecture is free and all are welcome to attend.

This talk will explore commemorative activity at Canadian universities during the world wars and interwar and post-war periods. The range and development of efforts to commemorate the First and Second World Wars speaks to the considerable attention given by a variety of individuals and groups associated with Canadian universities to adequately honour the sacrifices of their students, graduates, and faculty. From the central administration and university presidents to active alumni
associations and student organizations, universities poured financial and administrative resources into preserving and remembering the contributions of their academic communities, oftentimes during periods of economic difficulty. This talk will examine the history of these initiatives and situate them within the larger context of
commemorative activity in Canada.

Anne Millar is a doctoral candidate in History at the University of Ottawa. Her dissertation, which is being funded by the Ontario Graduate Scholarship Program, examines Canadian universities during the world wars, with a particular focus on central Canada. Her research has resulted in the erection of two commemorative plaques in honour of university students and graduates who fell in the world wars.

For more information, please e-mail
The Ottawa Historical Association gratefully acknowledges the support of the Department of History and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Carleton University.

Just my luck that this one is being held this week, not next week when I will be in Zero-ville at the archives dying for something that doesn't involve staring at microfilm.

I confess that the issue of university student boosterism, while instrinsically interesting, would not be the big draw for me. I am more interested by the "larger context of commemorative history" referred to in the announcement. The history of public history, in essence.

During the lead up to Remembrance Day I was taken aback by the degree of ellision of Remembrance Day and the familiar 'support our troops' trope hypocritically (in my not so humble opinion) engaged in by the Conservative party and its supporters. This has been hinted at in the past, but rarely so explicitly. Don Cherry, in particular, seemed to equate the wearing of a poppy with the yellow ribbon car magnet.

I sure hope this doesn't remain uncontested: as a historian, a grand-daughter of a WWI vet and daughter of a WWII vet, and a member of the census-loving, gala-going, left-wing intelligentsia, I would hate to face a poppy-related tug of war for my soul.
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