Monday, January 31, 2011

How soon will Canadian history journals respond?

Not much Canadian content on this website that tracks how fast or slow the world's history journals are in responding to submissions.  The web in action: get on it, young scholars

History of Stephen Harper

We try not to do too much current politics here, given the number of blogs, even historical blogs that do little else.  But this Maclean's piece by Paul Wells and John Geddes is impressive both for reporting and for analysis, I thought. Yeah, and Mr Harper has just had his fifth anniversary in office, so there's historical justification.

Mutant teapot?

Your guess is as good as mine. Or better, because I'm thinking mutant teapot is probably not the right answer.

My friends Heather and Don spent the weekend in Quebec city a week ago, at the Auberge Saint-Antoine. They stayed in a room with a Quebec 17th century theme, and this thing was on the window ledge. (Don took the pictures.) We have asked some likely people, including my clever and knowledgeable friend Dr. Philippe Mailhot, director of the Saint Boniface Museum, what it might be, with no luck.
So what about it, history buffs?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Prize watch

Update; Monday:  The winner is John Vaillant, whose Golden Spruce won a GG a couple of years ago.

The British Columbia National Prize for Canadian Non-Fiction will be announced on Monday. The nominees are
Stevie Cameron, On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing Women,
James FitzGerald for What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son's Quest to Redeem the Past,
Charles Foran for Mordecai: The Life & Times,
and John Vaillant for The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival.
Not much history, but a very good list to my eye. My only beef with the BC Prize is that is is so directly political. The premier of the province sits ex-officio on the organization giving out an arts award and, even worse, he presides over the ceremony and hands over the money as if it were his. Some year some writer will have to take the hard step of refusing to be part of this blatant politicization of public support for the arts. But there's $40,000 at stake -- I wouldn't ask anyone to volunteer.

The Charles Taylor Non-Fiction Prize nominees for 2011 were announced a couple of weeks ago and the winner will be named in a couple more weeks. Striking that two different juries came up with broadly similar lists (and FitzGerald's book, on the BC list, was the Writers' Trust nonfiction award last fall. The nominee are
Stevie Cameron, On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing Women
Charles Foran, Mordecai: The Life & Times
Ross King, Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven
George Sipos, The Geography of Arrival: A Memoir
Merrily Weisbord, The Love Queen of Malabar: Memoir of a Friendship with Kamala Das

Short History of Transit in Edmonton

In Edmonton they seem to be treating the tragi-comedy over political leadership as mostly a Calgary thing -- Redmonton seems to assume it will get shafted no matter how it works out.

For Edmonton, the real news seems to be the state of residential streets. Edmonton had a ton of snow in January, and apparently the city declared its street-clearing policy for residential streets would be "within a month of the last snowfall"  -- meaning, really, wait until spring. The graders that did go around around merely created enormous snowbanks on both sides of every street -- actually, Edmontonians call the snowbanks "windrows" -- so now the streets are very narrow, lined with endless lines of plowed-in cars, and covered with packed, rutted, slippery snow (and a brief thaw last week did not help).

I was wondering if this was one of those private wealth/public squalor stories about Alberta's penny-pinching, low tax governments.  It's striking to drive through residential areas where every private driveway is snow-blowed and salted down to bare pavement, and the public road beyond remains nearly impassible.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The King's Canadian Speech

Ralph Luker of Cliopatria provides a long list of historians and critics going to town on how the film The King's Speech plays fast and loose with history.

But didn't George VI tour Canada (and the US too) in 1939 -- before the declaration of war speech that is the film's culmination?  Didn't he speak?

He spoke. Winnipeg historian Allan Levine looks into the details in a nicely researched piece online in the Globe and Mail.  Maclean's has some material too, and cbc-ca has sound and film clips from the royal tour.  Not so tongue-tied after all.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wave of the present?

From Paul Axelrod of York University, co-editor of Historical Studies in Education, comes the following announcement:

Historical Studies in Education, Canada’s only peer reviewed, bilingual, history
of education journal, is now a fully on-line, open-access periodical. Accessible
at no cost world wide, the journal is poised to broaden its circulation of
original articles and reviews in the history of schooling, childhood,
post-secondary education, and related subjects.

They also provide TOCs (Tables of Contents for the uninitiated) monthly to your inbox. So you can scan for the articles you want and print them if you prefer to read from paper (and seriously, who doesn't?) and skip the ones you don't fancy. All for free. How cool is that? The info on Open Journal Systems, the flux capacitor of this magic, is available here.

OJS was originated, developed and distributed (free, though they ask for donations) by the Public Knowledge Project through through a partnership between the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia, the Simon Fraser University Library, the School of Education at Stanford University, and the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at Simon Fraser University. PKU is the brainchild of the visionary Canadian educator John Willinsky, then of the Faculty of Education at UBC and now of Stanford University, who founded the project way back in 1998.

Now at this point in the post, you might be expecting me to say something like--this is no longer the wave of the future, it's the wave of the present, and why the heck doesn't every journal grab a surfboard, blah, blah, blah.

But can it be that simple? I am on the editorial board of a scholarly periodical (The Canadian Journal of Law and Society, a great journal, it goes without saying.) We are meeting in a couple of weeks and I will raise this question (as gingerly as I can, as befits a newbie board member.) If there are reasons why we are not jumping on board, I'll try to share them in a future post.

Gotta love western politics

When I arrived in Edmonton last night, to do some things with the History Department and Law School at the University of Alberta, the TV newsscreen above the baggage carousal at the airport was discussing the resignation of Premier Ed Stelmach.  Gotta give the west credit for keeping politics lively!  Much speculation, but the Globe and Mail is most specific in suggesting it was Finance Minister Ted Morton's threat to resign and take large parts of caucus and cabinet with him that persuaded Stelmach to go. Calgary Herald has a similar story.

Now if the caucus and cabinet had had the stones not only to remove Stelmach but to choose his replacement, then the party could have made a smooth and legitimate transition in which the people's elected representatives actually determine who forms the government (y'know, parliamentary democracy).  But of course it ain't gonna be not that clear and simple.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Now that's parliamentary democracy in action

The Irish government collapsed a couple of days ago. The prime minister, having lost the confidence of his cabinet colleagues and backbenchers, immediately resigned the leadership of his party.  But no problem: the parliamentary caucus of his party will meet on Thursday to name the successor who will lead the election campaign. The general election could be all wrapped up as early as February 18.

Fast, efficient, cheap, and legitimate. Irish finances may be a mess, but  parliamentary democracy is a great system when it is allowed to work. (B.C political parties, take note)

Best historical exhibits of 2010

In Friday's review of some historical bests of 2010, I neglected to add a couple of museum exhibits that struck me as really exemplary.  Not that I get to see every museum or exhibit in the country, but in Toronto we had two excellent ones.

Doubtless seeing the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum was no substitute for a visit to Shi Huangdi's tomb in Xian, China.  The exhibit only had half a dozen of the thousands of the remarkable sculpted figures.  But in recompense, the exhibit offered an introduction to the times and cultures that produced the First Emperor (and his tomb) that I found brilliantly executed.  It very skillfully walked visitors through the 500 year "Warring Cultures" period that culminated in the first unification of China -- a terrific mix of text, artifacts, film recreation and film documentary that made that vast history remarkably comprehensible to this ignorant westerner.

Same success, I thought, for Maharaja, the exhibit about Indian princely societies in the period roughly 1500-1900, still on at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  It has terrific art on display, but it also sets out very effectively the complex history of a vast array of competing states and principalities -- Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, European -- over several hundred years of cultural and technological change in India  I was fascinated.  I don't know if it plans to tour, but I recommend it.

I note, of course, that neither of these exhibits was on a Canadian theme.  Cannot actually think of a museum in recent years undertaking an exhibit of comparable ambition and seriousness on any Canadian history theme.

Friday, January 21, 2011

(Finally) the 2010 Review of Canadian History bests

In December we promised a review of historical bests of 2010.  Before January 2011 is over, we should fulfill that promise.

First, a few suggestions from readers. Daniel Francis, who blogs at KnowBC and recently published Seeing Reds about events surrounding the Winnipeg Strike of 1919, writes, “I thought I'd accept your challenge to lay down some of my best books of the year. Since I am always behind in my reading, two of them weren't even published in 2010." That’s okay with us, Dan, we're the same.  Dan recommended:
  • Makuk: A New History of Aboriginal White Relations by John Sutton Lutz. "Puts the First Nations back into the post-contact picture by emphasizing the key role they played in the provincial economy." 
  • Images from the Likeness House, by Dan Savard. |"A collection of photographs of BC First Nations from the 1850s to 1920s, curated and explicated by the longtime head of the Royal BC Museum audio-visual collection."
  • Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary, by Bertrand Patenaude. "When I was in Mexico City not long ago  the best place I visited  was the Trotsky House/Museum where he lived out his final years and where he was murdered. Patenaude tells the whole sorry tale of Trotsky's attempt to escape his psychotic tormenter."
Laurie Waldie, historical consultant in Guelph, Ontario, was an early advocate for "The King's Speech" as the best historical film of 2010.
I had the pleasure of seeing it at the Toronto International Film Festival and it quite frankly had me speechless. Very well presented, visually stunning, with some sympathetic humour and very emotional. I had known George VI had a stammer, but didn't realise it had caused him such great hardship. I felt Helena Bonham-Carter was a near spitting image of a young Queen Elizabeth and portrayed her strength and support well but honestly I had trouble seeing the historic George VI in Colin Firth. But his performance was brilliant and convincing nonetheless.  I'm hoping a few Oscar nods come this film's way.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

History of the language of Homer

There's a corner of Black Sea Turkey where the population is Muslim but the language they speak is a variant of Greek... indeed, according to this researcher, they pretty much speak Classical Greek, making them the only people in the world whose daily speech preserves grammatical structures standard in the ancient texts but long extinct in the living Greek language.

Okay, it's useless knowledge but I like it.

(Image: Aristotle, from Google Images)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Globe

My first reaction to receiving an email announcement about Historians Against Slavery was a resounding duh. Who isn't? On closer inspection, it would seem a more accurate announcement would have been "Historians who are against slavery to the extent that they would do something about its current global manifestation, even if just to the extent of clicking a link to put their names to the cause publicly to emulate the abolitionists of old." But no doubt the one they went with is pithier, and in its "say what?" evocation it does catch the attention.

I may have alluded in a previous post to my ambivalence about the general (though not universal) academic disdain for presentism. This sort of campaign--HAS--highlights some interesting facets of that debate. If it is inappropriate for 21st century commenters to impose 21st century mores in our evaluation of 18th and 19th century racist prevailing attitudes (attitudes held by those who prevailed at the time) is it more or less appropriate to import the standards of those in the counter current who saw prevailing attitudes as wrong, whether racist, sexist, xenophoblic, homophobic or anti-environmentalist--and did something about it. And prevailed or are prevailing (I hope) in the long run. Or, to put it another way, what will the presentist historians of the 22nd century say about us?

So I signed up. Least I could do. And you should too. My quibble: despite purporting to be transnational, a lot of this is pretty American-centric and educator-centric. You shouldn't have to teach about Lincoln to be concerned about global slavery. Though maybe it helps.

Our readers write...

Ted Betts, who runs a lively blog, Franklin's Ghost, devoted to the Franklin expedition, sends a comment and a suggestion.
By the way, you are absolutely right about the ROM History Wars. I was at one last year with Desmond Morton, Granatstein and Bernard Landry supposedly commemorating the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, but really debating whether English rule was a net benefit or detriment to Quebec. Professor Morton was informative if you didn't know much about the battle (my g-g-g-g-g-grandfather was one of the Fraser Highlanders who marched onto the field first). Granatstein was appalling though in his derogatory belittling of not just separatists but of Quebec as a contributor to Canada. Not a great moment in Canadian historical engagement. [That's about my memory of the event too, though I was struck by the size of the crowd and the evident appetite for intelligent debate about Canadian history -- CM]

I would so love it if you introduced comments on your site! I'd have relayed that story but somehow never think it significant enough to send an email about. I think you would find a lot of good feedback and information, and dialog. I just don't think there is enough dialog in history. In my blogging and social media experience, it helps build a community of like minds to be able to voice thoughts interactively. I'm sure you've given it lots of thought though.
Comments? -- I remain open to advice. Meanwhile archaeologist Andrew Stewart sends a note about the farflung influence of Canadian historians
I am reading the book Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Cambridge historian Richard Miles. It’s a fascinating history of Punic civilization in the western Mediterranean, 800-160 BC. I was intrigued by his reference to literature about this region and period that cites Richard White’s The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. Apparently some historians of the ancient world are now using White’s reconstruction as a model to explain interaction and relationships among “civilized” (Near Eastern and Greek peoples) and indigenous central and western Mediterranean peoples. Imagine – our own little Great Lakes explaining some of the foundations of the ancient world!

Three things about Marcel Trudel (1917-2011)

Andrew Smith draws our attention to the recent death of the great historian of New France, Marcel Trudel, who was 93 and probably only had about three or five more books in development when he died.

I recall Marcel Trudel as the author of a remarkable autobiography Mémoire d'un Autre Siècle  (English translation here) in which he argued that his childhood in rural Quebec was not greatly different from that experienced in New France and described the wrenching transition from that milieu to that of a scholar and an intellectual in the Quebec of the 1940s and 1950s.  He was in the vanguard of Quebec intellectuals who began to shake off the clerical, moralizing, nostalgic history that ruled in his youth.  This was a brave political commitment; Trudel the anti-clerical scholar was a controversial figure in 'fifties Quebec, and his books about Voltaire and the apostate priest Charles Chiniquy were scandalously bold in their time.

I recall Marcel Trudel as "the man who knew everyone who lived in seventeenth century New France -- by their first names."  It was quite probably literally true; dissatisfied with the 1665 census of New France in the archives, Trudel built his own census for 1663 and modestly admitted it was a great deal more accurate than the one made at the time. Trudel responded to hagiographical history with an absolute commitment to data, to evidence-based statements. He had no elaborate theoretical or methodological technique; he just wanted to know every fact and to set them all down in endless encyclopedic detail. That is not the only way to practise history and probably not often the best, but it was almost revolutionary in its day and did lay down an enormous evidentiary foundation for the history of early Canada. There is a historiographical essay that argues that, given how little is known of the personal life of Samuel de Champlain, each Quebec historian has been free to write his own personality into Champlain.  For Trudel  (as here in the DCB biography), Champlain was above all the exploring scientist and documentarian, the seeker after knowledge.

I recall Marcel Trudel as a historian who loved his work. I once heard Trudel and Fernand Ouellet, another historian emerged from le Quebec profonde, describe each other. Il travail comme un boeuf, said one. Il travail comme un cheval, said the other, and they were both right.  But Trudel took a lot of pleasure in what he did, too.  When I was a graduate student in Ottawa, he used to lead student-society historical bus tours to Montreal and elsewhere, strap-hanging at the front of a chartered bus with a megaphone, regaling the group with endless lively stories and ending up leading everyone to some cheap couscous joint downtown for a meal.  

Election fever and the NDP death knell tolls (for like the 20th time)

Just the other day a friend sent me this piece from The Record. It seems every time there's serious federal election talk the idea the NDP uniting with the Liberal Party is thrown around (remember the speculation surrounding the Chretien/Broadbent meeting in 2008). While I don't particularly agree with the author, this isn't the place for that kind of debate. He/she brushes over CCF/NDP history which brings up once again the question of the role of third parties in Canadian politics and the historical role of the NDP itself.

Here are some clips relating to the article:

A new brand of Canadian social democracy (J.S. Woodsorth, 1935)
Total triumph for Diefenbaker, Tories in 1958
New leader for a new party (Tommy Douglas 1961 at the creation of the federal NDP Party) 
NDP elects its largest caucus ever (1988)
From Oshawa to Ottawa (Ed Broadbent) 1988
One of the 1984 leaders debates
Astonishing Victory for the NDP (Bob Rae in Ontario 1990)

Happy musing,


Monday, January 17, 2011

Controversies real and invented

If you haven't had your fill recently of historians smackin' each other down, start with Gordon Wood's sneering dismissal of Jill Lepore in the New York Review of Books, and then move on to Tenured Radical's blazing riposte to Wood on her blog.  If that's not enough, Cliopatria has an extensive listing of other participants in the controversy.

Meanwhile Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, which mostly doesn't do Canadian history at all, seeks to put bums in seats with a series it is promoting as History Wars.  The ROM's lack of sophistication in the field shows. Its topics are mostly civics and current events rather than history, and the historians involved all seem to be retired. It ain't exactly cutting-edge history the city's leading research museum is promoting. But the evenings will be lively, I suspect, and  probably standing room only.  Last fall, the "History Matters" project actually had serious talks around Toronto featuring working historians and new research, and they seemed to get a great response. The audience for history is always there, much as we deny it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Victory in Downsview!

Almost too good to believe. I received an email from Keisha Banhan, Senior Manager at the Archives of Ontario today which sounds super flattering--due to my concerns and in order to meet my needs and enhance my experience (and a bunch of other superfluous reasons) they are extending hours! (On the other hand, it is addressed to Sir or Madam, so maybe my whining was not the prime mover of this welcome change after all.)

I am writing with regard to your earlier correspondence about the hours of operation at the Archives of Ontario. We have heard your concerns. As a result, we have reviewed our hours of operation and archival reference services.

Effective February 8, 2011, the Archives of Ontario will extend its hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Select services will be available during the extended hours, including:
registration, reference services, microfilm viewing and printing, and viewing of
previously ordered materials. Orders placed during extended hours will be
processed the next business day. The Exhibit Gallery will also be open.

We are extending our hours of operation to better meet your needs and
enhance your experience at the Archives of Ontario. By extending our hours we
also hope to attract new audiences and further showcase Ontario’s public and
private archival records
It's enough to make you believe in the value of complaining when you are invited to. Even if my complaint was not the tipping point, at least it got me an announcement letter.

I hope they will publicize it more widely, but in any event you read it here first (unless you complained too.)


History of impostature

Read all of this and you have too much time on your hands, young historian. But it's a pretty impressively researched (or possibly invented?) post from a blog that recently won a Cliopatria award.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Skype visit

Over the years I have had quite a few opportunities to visit classrooms to talk about history. No two visits are ever the same, and I always learn new things about kids and schools and history. Today I did a classroom visit in Calgary, while sitting in my room in Toronto.

Classroom visiting via Skype: Here comes the future present. I owe a big thank you to Nicole Ramsdale of Calgary Islamic School, who got in touch with me and set up my "visit," and to two terrific groups of Grade 7 and 8 students. We had a lively discussion and Q&A about the history of the fur trade in Canada. Skype has its drawbacks, to be sure, but this works, this works.

It's official, teachers. I have a webcam and I can be recruited.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Old wine, new bottles

Thanks to the fine folks at Concordia University's Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (with a little help from SSHRCC) we have a brand new website to play with, The Oral Historians Digital Toolbox , basically a clearing house for really cool stuff.

Says the announcement:

The digital revolution is transforming our practice as oral historians, placing new emphasis on the research process “after the interview,” and this resource provides access to the various tools that are enabling us to re-envision our work. Our research findings have also been outlined in a major report, entitled “Telling Our Stories / Animating Our Past: A Status Report on Oral History and New Media.” Available under the “Status Report” tab of our website, this document, authored in both sound and text, considers the placeof new media in oral and public history
This is a project in process--new links are invited. But what they already have is pretty awesome, such as voice to text and video and audio editing. Nor is it just for oral historians: online content management and webdelivery, GPS/GIS and mapping, tools for qualitative analysis, and word clouds are useable across the board. For example, for Jordan Kerr's historical gaze, History Pin (under the Heading "Augmented Reality") a programme that matches old photos with Google Maps and Google Street View, would be just the ticket.

Not that we put much faith in statscounter statistics...

... but 40,000 hits in two years seems like a pretty good stat to not put much faith into.

I can't sort out why the stats counters and other sidebar materials have vanished from the right hand side to the bottom of the blog, but techguy better have them back soon, or he would be in big trouble (if he existed).

Just one more for the Macdonald birthday...

... a link to a thoughtful consideration of the legacy of the first prime minister.

(Apparently it's also Jean Chrétien's birthday (here's someone who's partying for that)

Monday, January 10, 2011

John A birthday parties: there are prizes

If your school happens to be holding a John A. Macdonald birthday party tomorrow. the Historica-Dominion institute invites you to send a photo of the party for a chance at prizes. Email here or tweet @HDInstitute or seek out Historica-Dominion Institute on Facebook -- by noon on Tuesday, it says.

Suddenly the Fur Trade becomes tangible!

A couple things:

I just freshly returned from my first trip to London, UK and I kept running into the Hudson's Bay Company connection. For those of you familiar with the history of the fur trade taught in Canadian elementary and high schools, you'll now, frankly, that it sucks. I'm still young enough to remember how miserably boring it was, and I was a history geek even then! Anyway, having never seriously studied it, these few connections made early British-North American history suddenly quite real.

First, the Tower of London has a small display on royal diplomatic gifts and on a small plaque rather close to the ground is this...

Second, I was sitting in my friends flat, right on the banks of the Thames. We had brought with us from Canada a tin of Hudson's Bay Company cookies. While sitting in the living room I looked out at the Thames and then down at the tin...suddenly the British-Canadian connection became tangibly apparent and 200 years of Canadian history flashed through my mind, a history largely with its beginnings based in the HBC. This is a generalization, of course, but it was quite a moment. I suddenly realized I was sitting in the city from which the HBC was chartered and ran and I was looking over the river from whence its ships departed and arrived.Who would have thought a tin of cookies could bring that about?


Jordan Kerr

Former Stats Can head joins Carleton U

I was happy to read in the Carleton University student newspaper, The Charlatan, that the former head of Statistics Canada will soon be teaching at Carleton. If you recall,  Munir Sheikh resigned his post as at Stats Can in protest of the governments decision to scrap the Long Form Census. I should hope the move on Carleton's part is not wholly political, but I wouldn't be all that upset if politics played (just the tiniest!) part. Mr. Sheikh is, of course, an expert in his field.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Cliopatria Awards announced

The Cliopatria Awards for the best history blogs are announced by History News Network's Cliopatria blog today.  Just to confirm again the richness of history blogging in the United States (it's different here, shall we say), pretty well all the winners were previously unknown to me.

Update, January 10: Ralph Luker of Cliopatria sends this correction:

In re the Cliopatria Awards, this year's winners are not concentrated in the United States. Chapati Mystery, where Lapata blogs, is managed by a Pakistani specialist in medieval south Asia teaching at the Free University of Berlin. Renaissance Mathematicus is run by an English fellow who now lives in Germany. Mike Dash is an English historian who wrote about Emperor Menilik of Ethiopia.In 2006, two of the six awards went to a faculty member and a student at the University of Western Ontario.

What's in the BNA Act?

The other day the new Republican leadership in the US House read aloud the Constitution of the United States -- but only the parts they like, as Dalia Lithwick describes. The Republicans may be constitutional originalists, but there were quite a few of the words of the Founding Fathers they preferred to skip, apparently.

'Tseems in American procedure, everything that ever was in the constitution stays in the constitution. Technically the text of the constitution includes both the prohibition of alcohol and the repeal of prohibition, both the endorsement of slavery and the abolition of slavery, both votes for men only and votes for women too.

Which raises the question: does it work that way in Canadian constitutional amending?  If you want the official Constitution Act, do you get all the amended bits or not? Have the amendments made over the years actually removed the non-longer-operable clauses, or are they all there together?  Anybody?

If we follow the American procedure, it might be possible to make the case, I guess, that the name of the constitution is both the British North America Act (the original) as well as the Constitution Act (new amended title).

It's John A.'s birthday...

... on Tuesday (unless he was actually born on January 10), and the John A. Macdonald Society of Hamilton, Ontario, is having a wreath-laying and birthday party on Sunday, January 9.  Events start at the Crowne Plaza (funny, I almost wrote Crown Royal) Hotel, one block from the John A. statue in Gore Park, at 1.45 pm.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Margaret MacMillan at the opera

I don't know if the multi-talented historian Margaret MacMillan sings, but there's a role for her at the Canadian Opera Centre in Toronto this winter.

The COC is mounting John Adams's 1987 opera "Nixon in China" this winter, and as part of the event it has an online bookclub starting next Monday, discussing Margaret MacMillan's history of the same title. Full details here   She herself will be one of the participants.  You can too, if you can read the book by Monday.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Public History from below

Today I drove my daughter to the Toronto Island airport via Bathurst Street, a trip we take fairly frequently, since her uni is in Halifax and we are huge fans of Porter Air. This time, I did a double take on the way back north at Davenport when I glimpsed the sign for the Tollkeeper's Park.

Somewhere in the back of my brain I remember having read about efforts of the local community and the city of Toronto to restore a tollkeeper's cottage and set up a museum-y sort of thing at this site. But it was pretty buried--surprising in retrospect, given that my research revolves around 1800s Ontario local government history, which itself revolved much around roads and the innumerable problems of paying for them.

So I googled the park when I got home and found a couple of entries on the Heritage Toronto website. It seems that the renovated cottage was officially opened in 2008, at which time it was touted as a working class corrective to the better known but undoubtedly elitist public history establishments at the top of the hill:

The historic Tollkeepers Cottage, believed to be the oldest tollgate surviving
anywhere in Canada, was rediscovered 15 years ago and lovingly restored by the
Community History Project and public support. In the 1800s, private companies
were retained to build roads and were permitted to charge road tolls. The three-room cottage was home to the tollkeeper and his family when Davenport Road
was a toll road in the 19th century.

The museum will highlight the history of tolls, roads and 19th century life for those with modest means, a contrast to the wealth and luxury of Casa Loma and Spadina House Museum not far from the cottage site. The park surrounding the museum will be renamed The Tollkeeper's Park in recognition of the site's historic significance.
All of which is well and good. But I can't help wishing that the place had been a little less lovingly renovated. It seems likely that the before picture is probably more in keeping with what a tollkeeper's cottage would have looked like than the after picture. Which somewhat defeats the purpose.

Monday, January 03, 2011

History of this blog in 2010

This blog cranked out 369 separate posts in 2010's 365 days.  Closing in on 40,000 visitors since we started counting a couple of years ago, we now hit almost 4000 pageviews some months. Search terms that brought readers to the blog included "Canadian history blog,"  "Canadian History," and "Natalie Zemon Davis," whose wonderfulness we did mention 3 separate times last year.  The most readers come from Canada, then the US some way behind, and way down are Norway (!), the UK, Germany, and India.

Oh, and in the December 30th year-end review of Peter Mansbridge and the CBC "At Issue" panel, Andrew Coyne picked up on the idee fixe of my political postings, observing that one way to fix Canadian politics would be to return to having the caucus hire the leader instead of vice versa.  You could probably find the podcast here.

After our 2009 Christmas break, we came back strong early in January with a flurry of posts, including this one on the prorogation crisis.

In February we nominated the Worst Quebecker.

In March we linked to an American history blog's musings on life in archives -- on which topic you should also see Susan Crean's excellent essay in the current Literary Review of Canada, tho' it's just for paper subscribers right now, the online edition not being up yet. (Update, Jan 11: it's up now, but they left the author's name off somehow.)

In April we followed the nasty Orlando Figes scandal.

In May we pondered the history of corn.

In June we reviewed five years of history blogging

In July we argues that Canadian cities should insist on responsible government. and went a bit crazy for Ryder Hesjedal and the Tour de France.

In August we considered the historical works of Jane Austen and Tony Judt.

In September we launched the contributions of our co-bloggers Mary Stokes and Jordan Kerr, who have been ubiquitous since.  Thanks team!

In October we were looking into the history of Brother Andre.

In November I marked the centenary of my father's birth with a series on his century.  Thanks to readers who said they liked it.

In December we were taken with Ramsay Cook's doubts about compulsory history courses being a path to better citizenship.

Hope to assemble that promised best of CanHist 2010... was it a kinda thin year?
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