History Slam Episode One Hundred: History Five Years Later

By Sean Graham

Five years ago, we had an idea to do a conversational podcast that looked at a wide variety of historical issues. 100 episodes later, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing some outstanding people and having some terrific conversations. I’ve learned a lot along the way while also having a lot of fun. To highlight that latter part, we put together a compilation of some of our favourite moments from our first 100 episodes.

As we hit the 100 episode mark, however, I was thinking of how much the discipline of history has changed over the past five years. Since we started, there has been a greater expansion of digital history, Reconciliation has become more prominent in historical study, and the academic job market, well, it is what it is. And these are just some of the major shifts that I’ve noticed over the past five years.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with the podcast’s most frequent (starting with the never released pilot episode) guest Aaron Boyes. We talk about the podcast’s origins, how history has changed over the past five years, and the adoption of digital tools by historians. We also talk about the job market for historians and the pros and cons of doing a PhD in history. As an added bonus, we talk with Megan Reilly-Boyes about the benefits and challenges of doing history in the 21st century.

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“Men Want to Hog Everything”: Women in Canadian Legislative Politics after Suffrage Victories

By Veronica Strong-Boag

“Men Want to Hog Everything”: in one revealing phrase, Agnes Macphail, Canada’s first female parliamentarian (as of 1921), summed up the decades after the first partial suffrage victories.  Admittedly, she went on to note that

There are even some men who think a woman should get a fair break. Not many, but enough to make the struggle seem worth while.[1]

But the overall assessment was bleak.

Hillary Clinton’s fate in November 2016, and many before her, invites the same conclusion. Many men (and male-identified women), like, to invoke yet another farm-yard metaphor from Nellie McClung’s anthropomorphic Mike the Ox in her suffragist manifesto In Times Like These (1915), to resist sharing power and fiercely defend their privileges. As my 1996 article “Independent Women, Problematic Men: First and Second Wave Anti-Feminism in Canada from Goldwin Smith to Betty Steele” demonstrated, Canada’s anti-woman politics has a long history.

While admitting the familiar argument that women sometimes let themselves down (not hard to do in deeply patriarchal cultures), that no party has a monopoly on misogyny, that the ‘first past the post system’ discriminates against women, and minority candidates, and that few suffragists embraced inclusive democracy, this paper highlights resistance to the first enfranchised female voters.[2] That subversion of even partial democracy is easy to find. Continue reading

What Does Canadian History Look Like? The Story of Us

By Thomas Peace

It is that time of the year again when historians from across the country are preparing to gather together at the Canadian Historical Association’s annual meeting to talk about our work. The theme of meetings, being held in two weeks time, is “From Far and Wide: The Next 150.” As Canada enters the sesquicentennial’s summer season, hallway conversations will no doubt address subjects related to Confederation and its commemoration (or lack thereof, if the first half of the year is any indicator). Perhaps at top of mind will be CBC’s The Story of Us, a ten-part dramatization of the moments some of Canada’s best-known entertainers, politicians, business people and even a few historians wanted to celebrate with high production-value television. The series, as the tone of the previous sentence sought to instil, was widely critiqued by historians (see here, here, herehere, and here).

Looking at this year’s program, however, suggests we may want to be careful in just how loudly we critique the television series. Some of the problems outlined about The Story of Us seem to apply equally to the CHA’s annual meeting. There are two widespread critiques of the television program that might also be applied to the content of this year’s annual meeting. Continue reading

Dreams of This as Home: Chinese labourers in children’s history books

Samantha Cutrara, PhD

My last two blog posts for ActiveHistoy.ca deconstructed pre- and post-Confederation Canadian history in children’s books. My findings suggested that stories that explored difficult histories or social justice topics often did not connect these stories to larger national forces and thus felt isolated from the rest of Canadian history. These findings suggest a dangerous separation. Historians, teachers, and intellectuals can scoff at an add-and-stir or drag-and-drop approach to teaching and learning Canadian histories, but this pattern of seeing some histories as the primary subject of history and other histories are secondary is a pattern that begins early in one’s understanding of national literacy.

May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada. This month my focus is on the labour of Chinese men in building the railroad. In looking for and reading children’s books on this topic, I question: Are there books for children representing this history? Did this history connect to other national (or local or global) events? Was injustice featured or was it mentioned as a corollary to the bigger picture?

Thus, I began my research for this post on Chinese railroad labourers by searching the Toronto Public Library. While I wanted to see if I could find children’s picture books on Chinese labourers building the railroad, my previous searches have taught me that the words I expect to search with are not always the ones that turn up results; Continue reading

History Slam Episode Ninety-Nine: Digital History Open House

By Sean Graham

A new semester started for me yesterday as I’m teaching an introductory survey course this summer. Something was different when I walked into the room, though – there were no laptops or tablets. All the students had paper and pens and while some did use their phones to take photos of the slides, the distinct lack of typing sounds felt strange. It reminded me a little of when I was an undergraduate student and the idea of lugging a heavy laptop to and from class was remarkably unappealing.

The speed with which digital tools have come to dominate the academic experience represents a major change in the way we all do and consume history. From mining big data to disseminating history in forms other than academic prose, the expansion of digital methodologies has been swift. At schools across the country, faculty have been incorporating these into their classes and students have been producing some outstanding digital history projects.

In this episode of the History Slam, I venture to the University of Ottawa’s Digital History Open House. I talk with the Open House’s organizer, Jo McCutcheon, about her digital history class, teaching students to use digital tools, and the challenges associated with non-traditional projects. I then speak with two of the presenting students, Chris Pihlak and Chloe Madigan, about their respective projects. The episode finishes with my conversation with Carleton University’s Shawn Graham, the Open House’s keynote speaker. We chat about failing in public, creating spaces where it’s ok to productively fail, and how to assess non-traditional history work.

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“The great climate silence” and Historians

By Jim Clifford

Are historians contributing to downplaying the dangers of climate change by our silence? Clive Hamilton published a provocative extract from his new book in the Guardian titled “The great climate silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it“. He starts by introducing the concept of the Anthropocene, outlining danger we face, and lamenting that humanity’s power to influence planet systems has grown so fast that we’ve not had enough time to adapt our thinking. Hamilton then goes on to argue the humanities and social science are a part of the problem:

Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please.

The “humans-only” orientation of the social sciences and humanities is reinforced by our total absorption in representations of reality derived from media, encouraging us to view the ecological crisis as a spectacle that takes place outside the bubble of our existence.

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Help Needed! Decolonize 1867 at the CHA—Attend! Participate! Join Us!

By Stacy Nation-Knapper and Kathryn Labelle

Indigenous peoples have long been calling attention to the processes and effects of colonialism in the western hemisphere. With movements such as Idle No More, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and #NoDAPL bringing discourses around colonization to the attention of settler Canadians, discussions and inquiries into what decolonization is and what it means have become increasingly visible. In a year in which the significant colonizing act of Canadian Confederation is celebrated, we invite you to join us on the 28th of May at the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) Annual Conference (Ryerson University) to critically examine the year 1867 through the framework of decolonization. Continue reading

The importance of historical and social context to public art: Fearless Girl and Charging Bull

By Kaitlin Wainwright

In the cover of night in 1989, Arturo Di Modica installed his bronze statue Charging Bull at Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District. He had been working at it since shortly after the stock market crash some two years prior. It was a symbol of power and resilience. He did not have a permit, and the authorities were called to remove the work, but the popularity of the statue – and the story of a guerrilla public art installation near Wall Street – saved the bull. Now, 30 years later, the statue is once again part of one of New York’s biggest art controversies.

Photo by Anthony Quintano used under creative commons license CC by 2.0

On March 7, one day before International Women’s Day, Kristen Visbal’s Fearless Girl was installed facing Charging Bull. At first pass, Fearless Girl appeared to take on patriarchal capitalism, but its meaning is more nuanced than this: The 130-cm tall statue was commissioned by marketing firm McCann for State Street Global Advisors Continue reading

Atheists in the Trenches: Loss of Faith among Canadians in the Great War

By Elliot Hanowski

Did the horrors of the Great War cause Canadian soldiers to lose their faith? Or is it true that there were no atheists in the trenches? The war has generally been seen as a powerfully disillusioning experience. Books such as Paul Fussell’s widely influential The Great War and Modern Memory portray the war as the origins of modern skepticism and cynicism. The idea of a “lost generation” of disillusioned Anglo-American vets is a widely accepted one. The situation in Canada, however, is a little more ambiguous. In his study of the war’s impact on Canadian culture, Death So Noble, Jonathan Vance argued that most Canadians refused to accept a cynical interpretation of the war. Instead, he writes, they constructed a mythology of righteous valour and Christ-like self-sacrifice to justify their suffering and the deaths of their loved ones. Of course, Vance has not had the last word; the debate around the existence or non-existence of a “lost generation” in Canada is complex and ongoing. This post will focus strictly on religious doubt, with the goal of offering insight into this broader question.

This image of Canon Fred Scott appeared in his 1922 book, The Great War as I Saw it. It is from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Canadian_Army_Chaplain_Corps#/media/File:Canon_Fred_Scott_(from_his_book).jpg

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Remember / Resist / Redraw #04: The 1837–1838 Rebellion

In January, the Graphic History Collective (GHC) launched Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project to intervene in the Canada 150 conversation.

We have released five posters. Poster #00 by Kara Sievewright and the GHC introduced and explained the goals of the project. Poster #01 by Lianne Charlie, kicked off the series with a critical examination of 150 years of colonialism in the Yukon. Poster #02 by Naomi Moyer and Funké Aladejebi looked at Chloe Cooley, Black history, and the legacy of slavery in Canada. Poster #03 by Kwentong Bayen Collective and Erin Tungohan outlined the 150+ years of care work performed by racialized women in Canada.

Earlier this month we released Poster #04 by Orion Keresztesi and Jarett Henderson, which examines the 1837-1838 Rebellion and the history of settler colonialism in Canada.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for radical change in 2017 and beyond. Learn more about how you can support the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


The 1837–1838 Rebellion: Consolidating Settler Colonialism in Canada

Poster by Orion Keresztesi

Introduction by Jarett Henderson

In the 1830s, the struggle to abolish irresponsible colonial rule in Upper and Lower Canada, and replace it with a form of government controlled by local settlers rather than by imperial rulers or their appointed representatives, involved significant debate, public protest, threats of violence, and outright rebellion. While the 1837–1838 Rebellion is often celebrated as a defining moment in Canadian history when oppressed settlers fought for a voice in their own governance, it is important to remember that what resulted from this struggle was the imposition of the political framework necessary for settler colonialism to take hold in northern North America.

Wolfred Nelson, one of the leading advocates of political reform hinted at this in 1836 when he charged, “we cannot continue to be subjects if we will not be treated as such, but rather as slaves.” Nelson, along with Louis-Joseph Papineau in Lower Canada and William Lyon Mackenzie in Upper Canada, mobilized masses of settlers – men and women, francophone and anglophone, young and old, rural and urban, rich and poor – with their demands for political freedom and liberté. By the summer and fall of 1837 public meetings of thousands, many of whom were encouraged to attend by a rhetoric that drew on the language of American and French revolutionaries and British reformers, were being held across the countryside. These meetings culminated on 23 October 1837 with a 4,000-person rally at Saint-Charles, Lower Canada, where Nelson and Luc Côté delivered passionate speeches calling for open revolt. The first shots – in what is generally known as the 1837–1838 Rebellion – were fired a month later.

On 23 November 1837, the first contingent of 800 patriotes – as the rebels in Lower Canada were known – attacked imperial troops stationed at Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu, northeast of Montréal. By December 1837, armed conflict erupted in London and Toronto in Upper Canada and Saint-Charles and Saint-Eustache in Lower Canada, leaving several hundred dead and wounded. Villages such as Saint-Benoît were torched and looted. In February 1838, patriote leader Robert Nelson proclaimed Lower Canada’s independence from a brutish British government that had “pillaged our treasury” and distributed “through the country a mercenary army…whose track is red with the blood of our people.” Nelson also declared the abolition of seigneurial tenure and the death penalty, the granting of civil rights to Indigenous peoples, and the use of French and English in all public affairs. But he also advocated for the prohibition of the douaire coutumier and the restriction of the right to vote to “every male person, of the age of twenty-one years and upwards.” Nelson’s republic, though, would prove to be a pipe dream as those who rebelled were quickly arrested and imprisoned. In Lower Canada, habeas corpus was suspended and those believed responsible were transported to British convict colonies in the Atlantic and Pacific. Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews were publically executed.

The impetus for rebellion was achieved with the eventual granting of settler self-government, more popularly known as responsible government, in the 1840s. But in practice this British right would be limited to select, property-owning, white men. In fact, as Australian historian Ann Curthoys reminds us, this form of responsible rule recommended by the radical Earl of Durham in his 1839 Report on the Affairs of British North America ought to be seen as a “manifesto for effective settler colonialism.” Durham’s Report recommended the consolidation of white settler power through the reunion of the Canadas (“assimilation” as Durham termed it) as well as an ambitious project to displace Indigenous peoples from their territories (“wastelands” as Durham called them) and replace them with British settlers.

By the 1850s it was clear that the Rebellion ushered in a form of colonial rule that allowed for a greater measure of local control that included primarily white wealthy settler men on the one hand, while on the other hand actively and systematically excluded most Indigenous peoples, marginalized the working classes, and confirmed the exclusion of women as voters. As such, the Rebellion reminds us of the necessity and constant struggle that was (and is) required for political freedom in northern North America. The redrawing of the boundaries of colonial rule in the 1830s and 1840s, then, not only illustrates that under self-government all selves were not equal, but also that these exclusions were pivotal to the consolidation of patriarchy and white supremacy in early-Canada. In short, they made the practice of settler colonialism a reality.

Orion Keresztesi is an artist and activist inspired by the history of working people’s struggles – how they have shaped the world we live in and how they can help us do the same today. He is a proud member and President of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1281.

Jarett Henderson is an Associate Professor of History at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. Jarett is interested in the history of colonial rule in nineteenth-century British North America/Canada, and he is currently working on a project that explores the relationship between sexuality and settler self-government in 1830s Upper Canada.

Further Reading

Curthoys, Ann. “The Dog that Didn’t Bark: The Durham Report, Indigenous Dispossession, and Self­-government for Britain’s Settler Colonies.” In Within and Without the Nation: Canadian History as Transnational History, edited by Karen Dubinsky, Adele Perry, and Henry Yu, 25–48. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015.

Ducharme, Michel. Le concept de liberté au Canada à l’époque des révolutions atlantiques, 1776-1838. Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.

Greer, Allan. The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in Rural Lower Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

Henderson, Jarett. “Banishment to Bermuda: Gender, Race, Empire, Independence and the Struggle to Abolish Irresponsible Government in Lower Canada.” Histoire sociale/Social History 46, no. 92 (2013): 321–48.