Monthly Archives: June 2015

One week later: a retrospective

Hello once again and welcome to the last instalment of my blog!

Firstly I would like to apologize for the tardiness of this final post. My trip to Winnipeg that came right off the heels of my participation at Congress was a hectic combination of air travel, archival adventures & mishaps, and long awaited family reunions. Writing this now, having been back in Ottawa for less than 24 hours, I am finally taking a moment to be retrospective about my experiences at Congress.

Thinking back to Day 3, my final round of panels seems to fall under the broad category of history education; another near & dear interest of mine. Why do and should we teach and learn history? How do and should we teach and learn it? These are the (relatively vague) questions that keep me up at night. And it is my interest in finding answers to these questions that stop me from ditching the historical discipline for greener, more lucrative pastures.

The eclectic group of panelists presenting at the panel Practicing the Discipline of History had some interesting responses to these questions. Though less concerned with history education per se, they had much to say in relation to how they personally practice “history” and how they believe others should or should not practice it themselves.

For example, Carleton University archivist Patti Harper encouraged a rapprochement between archivists and historians. Not only that, but she called for a renewed effort to once again problematize and historicize the role of the archive as a filter and gatekeeper of documents and materials and its role in the creation of historical narratives. Already somewhat familiar with the issues that she brought up, I could not have agreed more with Harper. That being said, I would go a step further and say that everyone, not just historians and archivists, should be concerned with understanding the archive as a political institution that has immense power over what sources are available for us to use. Going forward from this understanding, we are better placed to hold those who collect and guard these sources to account and to question their practices.

Self-described “Jill of all trades” Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, while not as analytical as Harper, pushes us towards involving the public in our discipline’s endeavour to think critically about our work and practice. Though a good portion of her work as Edmonton’s third Historian Laureate involves using history as a form of light-hearted entertainment for residents of the city, she has attempted to incorporate a certain level of critical reflection into her many different community driven projects. In this way and in others she strives to create as many bridges as she can between residents and academia.

Why should history education research matter to historians?, which was put on by students involved with the History Education Network known as Then/Hier, looked directly at the field of history education. Though they study a varied set of topics and contexts, the panelists seem to agree that whether it’s at elementary or secondary school, Cégep or university, a heritage site or museum, history education in Canada could stand to be improved. What would this improvement look like?: A combination of creative teaching styles (by way of new media, stronger student participation and collaboration, etc.) and an emphasis on critical thinking (having both instructors and students actually think about how/why historical narratives are constructed and why they are teaching/learning about history in the first place). Cynthia Wallace-Casey for example encourages her students to deconstruct museums’ narratives and hold them to account not only for how they choose the stories that they tell or not, but also how they tell them. Using popular myths about feminism as a case study, Marie-Hélène Brunet pushes her students to challenge received knowledge about the past (from the media, family members, figures of authority) and think about history as a holistic and interconnected process as opposed to a set of separate and individual anecdotal facts. Another one of the main points running through all of the presentations was that that history education needs to be more than content; more than the date of confederation, the name of the first Prime Minister, and the one-sided story of Canadian state-building. This education instead needs to be about critical and lateral thinking, challenging authority and received knowledge, and actually practicing history for oneself.

Upon my return from lunch and before running back off to work I attended my last panel, History in the Classroom. Once again, teaching students critical thinking was an important focus of the discussion. Caroline-Isabelle Caron’s presentation was particularly poignant in this regard. Discussing a fourth-year seminar course that she taught in 2014 called “History Vs. Pseudo-History,” Caron underlined just how much work is left to be done by educators prior to (and especially during) students’ university careers. Through the experience of teaching this course Caron discovered that her students, mostly in the fourth and final year of their history degrees, could still not properly differentiate between the pseudo-history expounded in popular literature & television programs and the factual history created through a combination of holistic research, deliberation, and rigorous attention to the sources. Caron went on to discuss a host of reasons why this is horribly problematic and listed an array of skills that students should be acquiring to remedy this, yet ended on a somewhat bleak note by stating that she doesn’t really know how to fix the problem.

Of course there’s no easy solution, though the insights provided by the many panellists that I had the pleasure of listening to will be a start. Looking back at Day 3 and the rest of Congress, I know that the many lessons I have taken away will be directly applicable to my future work, both academic and professional.

Should you be reading this and have not had the chance to attend Congress, I highly recommend you do so the next chance you get. I promise you won’t regret it.

This is Brad signing off!

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Congress 2015: First Impressions Part II

Any good sequel has twice the action, twice the romance, and twice the fun… Just not this time.

Day two’s post will be a bit shorter than the last because I had to run back into work after lunch. Much like the second Subway sandwich I’ve bought this week, I had to cut my day at Congress in half. That being said, there is still plenty to chew on and digest this time around (I hope you are cringing to my poor attempts at food humour as much as I am).

Half-awake but bright-eyed & bushy-tailed, I coincidently got to spend my first panel, Contesting Indigenous Schooling: Education History, Historiography, and Interdisciplinary Methodologies, in the company of my academic supervisor. We both agreed firstly that 8:30 is too early to commence an academic conference; secondly, that despite the ungodly hour many people showed up anyway; and finally, that I had better hand in my slightly overdue research proposal before the next time we see each other. Let’s just say I might just have to avoid certain panels tomorrow…

Though they may be studying extremely different places, times, processes, events, and people, the first set of panelists all agreed on the importance of looking at the history of indigenous schooling widely, in a more concerted fashion, and from a multitude of angles. As well, they agreed that educational instruction, along with the kinds of encounters, exchanges, violence, and adaptations that went along with it, is a fundamental part of Canadian colonialism. Whether by the containment of perceived indigenous violence through behavioural regulation or by pidgin and writing development to facilitate communication and further missionary efforts, educational instruction has been an intrinsic and insidious part of the theft of indigenous land, culture, and lives in northern North America. One insight that will really stick with me is that the “civilizing” practices of this system of schooling had long been held up by colonizers to demonstrate the supposed benevolence of their colonial project (at least in relation to the United States) and by extension legitimize their theft of land and downplay the brutality that accompanied it. So while the TRC and many others before it have been demonstrating to the Canadian public the absurdity of the discourse of benevolence, we should of course remain vigilant and critical of contemporary discourses that promote the continued appropriation of land and, as the Globe and Mail headline held aloft at the panel stated, any further cultural genocide.

Following this, I attended Quebec City in the 19th Century: A forgotten Site of Interethnic Contact and Conflict. Here I enjoyed learning about the complexities of the violence taking place in Quebec City, whether between Sailors & Crimps or Catholics & members of the Salvation Army. Truly intriguing was Alex Tremblay’s research question “Existe-t-il vraiment plusieurs bourgeoisies à Québec?” Surveying their multiple interactions, comingling, and commonalities, Tremblay attempted to determine whether or not various socio-economic elites in Quebec transcended their linguistic and religious divisions enough that we might describe them as just one single “bourgeoisie.” Cracking inside jokes in Latin, attending the same clubs and sports, and even marrying one another’s sisters, male elites in Quebec often had more in common with each other than they seemed to have with their poorer brethren, despite the anglo- / francophone & Protestant / Catholic divides.

These panels and presentations not only had me reflecting on their content but also on the role of the historian in interrogating the ignored, remembering the forgotten, and challenging long-held historiographical practices. Not just that, they also had me considering the role of conferences in stimulating conversation, cooperation, and collaboration.

The indigenous schooling panel seems to have been the result of efforts on the part of a couple of the panellists to come together and encourage a broader reflection within the CHA on the history and themes that their cumulative research brings up. And in the context of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s closing ceremonies (“a beginning” as opposed to an ending) and the release of its final report, not many topics could be more timely and pertinent than these panellists’ collective work.

The Quebec City panel was of the same kind of mould. It would appear that the panel’s leader, Donald Fyson, is currently supervising the research of the other two. So, using Congress as their stage, the three of them worked together to shine a light on what they see as a neglected part of Canadian history. It wasn’t hard to see within this group from Université Laval the intergenerational influences that occur been supervisor/supervisee. I could tell that Fyson had left his mark on the research approaches and interests of his students, but also that he had learnt from them in the process as well. And isn’t that what Congress is about? Challenging and learning from one another, old or young, tenure or MA student? Funny enough, the panel facilitator & commentator happened to have been Fyson’s old MA supervisor years ago. After sharing some playful criticism and banter at the end of the presentations, the two acknowledged that they have been crossing swords ever since they first met.

In light of our earlier conversation this morning (and many prior conversations) I have a feeling that my own supervisor and I are in for the long haul too.

I look forward to telling you about my last and fullest day of Congress tomorrow. It will be nice to get off of the conference diet of Subway and croissants.

Given that I’ll be heading out to Winnipeg on a work trip tomorrow night, my last post might be a little late (and probably written on a plane). Please stay tuned!

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“What room was that panel in again?”: Public History, Subway lunches, and Networking at Congress, 2015

Hello one and all! The name’s Brad Wiebe and over the next couple of days I will be walking you through my experience of Congress 2015!

To start off I’ll let you know a little about myself. I’ve just finished the first of two years in Carleton University’s MA in Public History program and am completing a summer research internship at one of Ottawa’s many national museums. My interests lie in Canadian & Aboriginal history, so as you’ll soon see, many of my panel choices reflect my academic background. And after perusing this year’s programme, chock full of presentations on topical, public-centered issues facing the discipline and on controversial institutions like the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation and the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, I got extra excited about what will be the largest and longest conference I have attended to date. It’s like the program committee knew I was coming!

 

Opting for the extra sleep, I unfortunately missed the GSC’s social event at the Royal Oak. Although, I did hear through the grapevine that fun was had, so I am thoroughly jealous of those who made it out.

Already being in the city and familiar with the uOttawa campus, with little time to spare I rode my bike over to sign in at the Desmarais building and catch my first panel Recordkeeping/Archives, colonizers/colonized: creating/using records about indigenous peoples. Having to say good morning to all the fellow Carleton grad students I ran into, like any good conference attendee I was very nearly late to the first presentation.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a morning person or maybe it’s because I find the legacy of colonialism in Canada and the problems associated with bureaucracy so infinitely exasperating, but the very first presentation, “The Duty to Remember, the Right to be Forgotten: Records of the Independent Assessment Process,” at this panel left me extremely frustrated. Though Ry Moran of the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation and his colleagues appear to be doing their utmost to ensure that whatever action taken in regard to the documents created under the auspices of the IAP (preservation or destruction) respects moral and ethical obligations to both Residential School survivors and the historical record, their current legal problems seem like they could have been easily avoided. I had to turn to my friend at the end of the panel and rhetorically ask whether the trouble of now having to ask survivors for their consent to preserve the record of their experiences could have just been prevented by simply asking the survivors for this consent when they were first interviewed. Alas, as a wise man once said, hindsight is 20/20.

Following this was Dean Oliver’s keynote address Isn’t all history public? Knowledge, wisdom and utility in the great age. Echoing much of what we’ve discussed throughout this year in our Public History courses at Carleton, I really appreciated and agreed with Oliver’s framing of historians as storytellers and especially his focus on the visitor of museums and the need for these institutions to partner with and listen to their audiences. I wholeheartedly agree that “Who is this for? What purpose does it serve?” should be questions that we all ask of our own work and projects every single day.

 

Hungry after all of the intellectual stimulation, I crossed Laurier Avenue over to Subway to have lunch with a few other panel-goers. Discussing the programme and the panels we wished to attend over the next few days, we got into an oft-repeated argument over the practice of naming historical articles, books, and presentations; an argument I’m hoping you might weigh in on.

As it stands most historical literature follows this title format:

“Cheeky, interesting quote from one of the authors’ sources to get you hooked”: A few categories of analysis, found in a particular place, around these particular dates.

Just a few presentation titles from the programme that match this format are:

  • “Sexual Abstinence is Every Soldier’s Duty!”: Prostitution, Disease and Nationalism in First World War Germany
  • “Indians on White Lines”: Land, Law, and Trapline Registration in Northern British Columbia, 1925-1945
  • “The counterfeit principles of a free enterprise system”: Roots, Region, and Resistance in the Sydney Steel Crisis of 1967

My friend (who will remain unnamed to protect their identity) finds the trend unnecessary and uninspired, whereas I love it. What do you think?

 

Next up was (Un)disciplining Human Rights History at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Having already visited the museum this past winter I did not learn much about the exhibits and galleries themselves that I did not know already know, but it was very helpful hearing about the museum’s interpretative practices and processes from the curators and researchers themselves. With its ideas-based format and user-centred experience, not to mention the controversy surrounding its content and construction, the CMHR is an innovative and problematic addition to our collection of national museums and an absolute must-see (I promise I’m not just saying that because I’m from Winnipeg).

Between Dean Oliver and the presenters from the CMHR, it would appear as though public historians cannot agree on whether or not visitors follow the walls of an exhibit or if they’re attracted directly to the center of an exhibition space!

I wish I had been thinking of this during my next stop, the Public History Speed Networking event, because I’m sure I could have gotten some interesting answers from the diverse set of public historians I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting. A governmental historian, private consultant, herald, international advocate for academia, and professor gave me such career advice as how to: cold-call potential employers for jobs; develop an effective and unique gimmick; game the computer software that filters government job applicants; embellish personal experiences on a resume; and find the people with the skills that I lack and convince them to do my bidding. I am both encouraged and disparaged about the inevitable job hunt that will follow my 2016 graduation…

With the day wrapping up I had a beer and appetizers with some friends at the Royal Oak and let the day’s presentations and activities sink in. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

If you’d like to tweet at me during the rest of Congress about your own experiences, go ahead and follow me @ClioExposed.

Finally, I’d like to thank the GSC for allowing me to attend Congress and blog about my time here.

Until tomorrow night’s blog, stay classy fellow CHA-ers!

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No French This Year (2015) / Blogue unilingue en 2015.

ENGLISH FOLLOWS.

Pour la troisième année consécutive, le Comité des étudiant(e)s diplômé(e)s (CÉD) de la Société historique du Canada (SHC) travaille d’arrache-pied afin de trouver un volontaire capable de combler le poste temporaire de blogueur ou blogueuse francophone durant la réunion annuelle. En 2013, on a demandé au webmaitre d’incarner ce rôle n’ayant pas reçu d’intérêt pour le poste. L’année suivante, toujours sans volontaire francophone, le CÉD a recruté quelqu’un qui a heureusement accepté de présenter cette perspective à ses membres. En 2015, l’appel a été lancé ce printemps et encore une fois, personne ne s’est porté volontaire. Nous offrons pourtant de rembourser les frais d’inscription au Congrès et nous savons que le côté anglophone de la médaille se porte fort bien.

Qu’est-ce qui cloche? Quel est le danger d’affirmer l’unilinguisme de notre comité en reconnaissant que l’objectif de trouver une personne francophone par année n’a jamais réellement été réalisé? Lorsque cet unilinguisme perdure dans la profession de l’historien, quelles en sont les conséquences sur sa production intellectuelle?

Il est grand temps que la relève discute de l’état des choses. La réunion de travail du CÉD (le 2 juin à midi DMS 1120) serait possiblement un bel espace pour poursuivre cette discussion. Au plaisir de vous y voir.

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For the third year in a row, the Graduate Students’ Committee (GSC) of the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) tried as best it could to find a francophone volunteer blogger that would share their experience of the annual meeting on our blog. In 2013, we asked the Webmaster to fill in, since no one expressed interest in the role. The following year, again with only Anglophone candidates for the position, the GSC recruited a person that kindly accepted to represent the francophone viewpoint for the meeting. This year, the call for bloggers was sent in the spring, and once again, while many people expressed the desire and ability to blog in English, none came forward for the French position. When we contrast this to the increasing number of volunteers for the English position, we have to ask ourselves: what’s going on?

What is the danger in affirming the evident unilingual nature of our committee in light of this reality?

Future professional historians of Canada need to engage with this question and discover both the root of this problem and what it means for our intellectual production. The GSC’s business meeting, (June 2 at noon in DMS 1120), could be a great space for the genesis of this much needed discussion. Join us.

EDITED TO ADD: Were you selected by our co-presidents to be the Anglophone blogger this year? Please email pigeone (at) yorku dot ca ASAP for your invitation to this blog, and apologies for the mis/communication issues.

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