Thursday, September 08, 2022

Active History makes news, gets results

The CBC reports that Western University in London, Ont., is seeking a court order authorizing it to rename a set of scholarships endowed by former history professor Kenneth Hilborn and named in his honour. Most of the story is driven by arguments made two years ago in the historians' website Active History.

Professor Hilborn taught in the History department at Western from 1961 to 1997.  At his death in 2013, aged 79, his estate bequeathed a million dollars to Western, including $750,000 to the history department for scholarships to history students.

In 2019 and again in 2020, when Western was supposed to host the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (turned virtual by the pandemic), Active History ran stories, first by Asa McKercher, the second by Will Langford, about Hilborn's white supremacist and fringe-right views and whether Western University should be honouring his name with the scholarships he funded for undergraduate and graduate students.

A third Active History essay in response to Langford's, by Francine McKenzie of the Western History department, made the case that the department was justified in continuing the Hilborn awards despite Hilborn's views and actions, acting on the model of the Rhodes Scholarships, which endure despite general repudiation of their founder's racist and imperialist career.

The arguments aired in Active History by McKercher and Langford seem now to have borne fruit, with Western's decision to seek a name change. Active History describes itself as "a website that connects the work of historians with the wider public and the importance of the past to current events."  It has surely  fulfilled those aims in this case..

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