Thursday, April 27, 2017

An archaeological discovery unlikely to hold up

probably just some bones, nothing to see here
News reports of a human presence in North America 130,000 years ago, as evidence by an archaeological site near San Diego, California, strike me as likely not to lead to a rewriting of American prehistory.

No doubt the archaeologists are following the evidence before them, when they interpret an assemblage of mastodon bones and chipped stones dated to 130,000 BP as evidence of human activity in breaking the bones.

But you know, if they were breaking bones in San Diego 130,000 years ago, they must have come from somewhere, and they must have left some evidence of themselves.  And neither of those conditions seem likely to be confirmed.  So the rule that broken bones and broken stones together do not constitute proof of human presence seems likely to be borne out.

Maybe more striking than this one-day story are the jeering, sneering racist comments that follow the CBC's online news item. One might think a suggestion that the indigenous people of North America have been here at least ten times as long as had been conjectured would increase their stature and their title as First Peoples.  Of course, in the world of online anonymous commenting, it's the opposite.

Photo: San Diego Natural History Museum, via CBC news

You're nobody til somebody blogs you

On the lively BC History Fairs blog Tom Morton selected this blog as the blog of the month for April. Thanks, Tom, and thanks also to Unwritten Histories, where I found out about it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Book Notes: UTP's Canada 150 collection

University of Toronto Press notes the Canadian sesquicentennial with a Canada 150 list of books "that bear witness to the depth and breadth of the nation’s history and the diversity of its peoples." Quite a lot of history on the thirty-title list, and a lot of historians and historically minded scholars:

Irving Abella, Eric Arthur, Janet Ajzenstat, Jean Barman, Michael Bliss, John Borrows, Phillip Buckner, Sean Cadigan, Ramsay Cook, Donald Creighton, Paula Draper, Gerald Friesen, J.L. Granatstein, Allan Greer, Franca Iacovetta, Harold Innis, Bruce Kidd, Patricia McMahon, Kenneth McNaught, Marc Milner, J.R. Miller, Stephen Otto, Arthur Ray, John Reid, Paul Romney, Robert Sharpe, David E. Smith, Veronica Strong-Boag, Robert Ventresca, James St.G Walker.

Not having published many of my, ahem, major works with UTP, I thought I could examine this list quite dispassionately. Until I came to Donald Creighton, who makes the list on the strength of The Empire of the St Lawrence -- "foreword by Christopher Moore."  Blush/gloat: how about them coattails!

Monday, April 24, 2017

How to commemorate Canada 150

Jerry Bannister from Dalhousie's History Department writes regarding the "Story of Us" controversy, noted here previously:
The main point lies not with the process of putting together such a program (and the inevitable difficulties that the process of selection entails), but rather with the basic concept of trying to create a single national history in the first place. Making claims about national inclusiveness -- i.e., the story of all of "us" -- invariably sets the project up for failure, because there is no way that any program or initiative can include everyone, every experience, or every perspective. In other words, it's not the execution of the project but the idea behind the project.
Thanks, Jerry.  Hmmm.  I think I disagree pretty comprehensively!

This year I have been quoting Benedict Anderson: "Any nation is an imagined community."

(Not, let me emphasize, "an imaginary community." You don't have to stop calling yourself a Canadianist for fear of being accused of studying unicorns.)

I take it as evident that a Canadian national community does exist, that bringing it into being and keeping it in being is an enormous feat of political/social/cultural/ideological imagination, and that it should be worthwhile and fascinating for scholars, writers, journalists, and citizens to study that process, this year or indeed any year.  I've been arguing something like that at the lecture I've been doing at universities around the country this spring, under the title "The Canadian Constitution at 150 -- and Today"  (Bookings still available for the fall.  Call me.)

Pace Jerry, the problem with "The Story of Us" is not that the task cannot be done, but that it needs to be done well. Our public culture in Canada mostly holds that Canadian history must either be boring or trivial. The idea that history should be an ambitious cultural pursuit as is music or theatre or science does not have much traction at the CBC as elsewhere. "History! It's so important for the kids" I am told constantly. And you can see how that ethos pervaded the making of "The Story of Us."

The journalists and broadcasters who made "The Story of Us" are probably smart and hardworking people. It's not that they could not have made something worthwhile. It just never occurred to them that such was their assignment.

Update, same day:  Bannister holds his ground:
I guess I just don't think it can be done well, at least not in the way that it's conventionally formulated.

As I've argued in print and online, I support national history and Canadian Studies -- otherwise, I wouldn't be coordinating our CANA program -- but I think that there is a significant difference between studying (and thus debating) the nation, on the one hand, and trying to give it a single, unifying voice or perspective, on the other.

On your point that a "Canadian national community does exist," you will get no argument from me. But, for me, that national community is a diverse space defined, from its inception, in large part by debate, dissension, and discussion of difference.

Christopher Dummitt also worries about how to do Canada150 without being ashamed:

Friday, April 21, 2017

HIstory of ethics in leadership

A small story in the papers the other day noted how a would-be Canadian political party leadership contender had to get a court order to have his party follow its own rules with regard to his entry in the race. Meanwhile another story reported that the mullahs in Iran have barred Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from running for president of Iran.

The difference, I think, is that Iran doesn't make grandious claims about being "democratic."

The level of petty corruption that attends everything to do with the squalid vote-buying that passes for party leadership selection in Canada strikes me as one of the great under-examined stories of our politics. Really, can an ethical person stomach joining any Canadian political party?

Update, April 27:  Now that Kevin O'Leary is going back from playing a politician to playing a reality show millionaire, the press reports that 259,000 people are eligible to vote in the Conservative leadership "race".  That's 150,000 more than were signed up in January.

Is it plausible that 150,000 individual Canadians decided they really wanted to be part of party politics in Canada in the last three months? How many of these are really bulk votes, bought and paid for by the candidate organizations?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Museum notes: the Glenbow in Calgary

Calgary's Glenbow Museum
I am in Calgary this week, and got a little time free yesterday to drop by on of Canada's great museums, the Glenbow Museum.

Glenbow doesn't have one of those starchitect statement buildings.  It occupies a pretty generic office building but one that is close to the downtown core, adjacent to Convention Centre, the Arts Commons, and a lively bars and restaurants street. It is one of the really good museums of Canada, one that can bring a visitor up short with examples of the excellent -- often underappreciated -- materials available to document the histories and cultures of specific parts of Canada.

Hopkins, Canoes in the Mist (better seen in person)
With not a lot of time, I went to the special exhibits rather than the permanent collections I had seen before. "Picturing the Northwest" is an example of historical art from the region.  Who knew that the Glenbow holds "Canoes in the Mist"?  Frances Anne Hopkins has always been a bit of a crush of mine among early Canadian artists. She strikes me as a good artist, in a kind of Beaux-Arts style, though I think she gets categorized as a painting housewife because her terrific fur trade images came from travels she did with her HBC husband. The exhibit also had a nice Charles Jeffreys from his Qu'Appelle valley series (introduced to me by his grandson Robert Stacey), examples of Carl Runguis's big game art (what did I once write about Rungius?), and a good selection of Charles Russell's cowboy and western art. 

Across the hall "North of Ordinary" introduced me to Geraldine and Douglas Moodie, she a commercial photographer, he an RCMP officer. In the early 1900s he was posted to Hudson Bay and the Arctic islands, and the exhibit draws on the Glenbow's thousand-image collection of their photography there, which is supplemented by their detailed photo logbooks and diaries -- the whole collection recently received from Moodie descendants.  Never heard of them before, but there has to be a book and travelling exhibits coming from this.

Glenbow's Canada150 exhibit "Canadian Stories" has another Hopkins (I'd never seen this one; how many are there?), and some terrific imagery of the west, mountain landscapes, buffalo images, art from Ken Lochead, Edward Burtchinsky,  and even Andy Warhol's Wayne Gretzky.

Along with galleries of Alberta "maverick" culture of sodbusters and pipelayers, the Glenbow has very substantial galleries on prairie and mountain indigenous history and culture, and I was impressed by the substantial number of young indigenous kids around those galleries and the museum in general.  So it was disappointing to see a caption in the Canadian Stories that explained an 1885 military 1873 NWMP sketch with the colonial-minded explanation that "John A. Macdonald knew that... he had to secure the largely lawless west."

You should go.

(Hopkins image source here. Glenbow photo: well, me actually -- can't you tell?) 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Notes: Robert Vipond on one world, one school

Rob Vipond teaches political science, including Canadian constitutional matters, at the University of Toronto.  He has also been a parent at the local Toronto public school, Clinton Street Public School.  One day the principal said to him, You are interested in history, aren't you? and drafted him for a school history project.

Well, it grew. Vipond's recently published Making A Global City: How One Toronto School Embraced Diversity explores a century and more of the impact of urban diversity on one city school, and how that one school has dealt with it over the years.  Early in the twentieth century there was "Jewish Clinton." By mid-century there was "European Clinton." More recently it's been "Global Clinton."

Vipond created a research course on Clinton Street School, so his book is data-driven.  But he acknowledges he's not a scholar of education, or multiculturalism, or urbanism -- it's still the story of his daughter's remarkable ordinary school as well as a treatise in Canadians dealing with the promise and problems of immigration and diversity. Timely!

Truth and Beyak 6: what got taught

Tell the truth, who cares much about Senator Beyak? It's just good to have an incentive to keep going back into the Truth and Reconciliation Report. This is from the "History" chapter's consideration of the quality of education offered in many residential schools, and about its objectives:
An examination of the treatment of Aboriginal people in provincially approved textbooks reveals a serious and deep-rooted problem. In response to a 1956 recommendation that textbooks be developed that were relevant to Aboriginal students, Indian Affairs official R. F. Davey commented, “The preparation of school texts is an extremely difficult matter.” It was his opinion that “there are other needs which can be met more easily and should be undertaken first.” In the following years, assessments of public-school textbooks showed that they continued to perpetuate racist stereotypes of Aboriginal people. A 1968 survey pointed out that in some books, the word squaw was being used to describe Aboriginal women, and the word redskins used to describe Aboriginal people.
Students also noted that the curriculum belittled their ancestry. Mary Courchene said, “Their only mandate was to Christianize and civilize; and it’s written in black and white. And every single day we were reminded.” Lorna Cochrane could never forget an illustration in a social studies text. “There was a picture of two Jesuits laying in the snow, they were murdered by these two ‘savages.’ And they had this what we call ‘a blood-curdling look’ on their faces is how I remember that picture.” When the curriculum was not racist, it was bewildering and alienating. Many students could not identify with the content of the classroom materials. For instance, Lillian Elias remembers that “when I looked at Dick and Jane I thought Dick and Jane were in heaven when I saw all the green grass. That’s how much I knew about Dick and Jane.”

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Andrew Coyne on George Brown

The Brown statue at Queen's Park

Andrew Coyne thinks Canada150 should include a little more attention to George Brown
In the spirit of the times, let me add my own grievance to the gathering national pile. If by some oversight Confederation should somehow be discussed in its 150th anniversary year, it is a safe bet one figure in particular will be mentioned only in passing, if at all: George Brown. Father of Confederation, leader and principal architect of what was to become the Liberal party, founder of The Globe (later the Globe and Mail) newspaper, Brown is the forgotten man of Canadian history.
 Coyne points out that it was Brown who promoted federalism, insisted on representation by population, and made the Great Coalition of 1864 possible.
It’s true that he said some unfortunate things about French-Canadians and Catholics, but more out of a fierce devotion to the separation of church and state — a live issue at the time, of which the public funding of Catholic schools in Ontario is a legacy — than any real animus toward either: he was allied with the anti-clerical Rouges in this regard. Indeed, as a Victorian Liberal he was, by the standards of his day, a paragon of progressivism: a fervent campaigner for the abolition of slavery, and a prison reformer, among other liberal causes....
Somewhat less fortuitously, but crucially, Brown was also the champion of the principle that the Senate should remain unelected, that it might therefore be less powerful than the elected Commons. His speech during the Confederation debates was decisive; his role in presenting and explaining the proposal to the British, essential....
Even the historians seem uninterested: There has been no major biography of Brown since J. M. S. Careless’s, Brown of the Globe, in 1963.
Anyone?  Anyone?

Image: George Brown family fonds. F 21-10-0-14. Archives of Ontario, I0073662

Update, same day:  In an earlier version of this post, my pleasure at seeing Andrew Coyne express views in keeping with my own led me to a comment that a reader might have interpreted as suggesting that he had borrowed my work uncredited. I meant no such criticism whatsoever..  Andrew Coyne has graciously noted my work occasionally, but his statements and views are entirely his own. Historical information about George Brown is  widely available from many sources besides me.

Foreign policy ideas in Australia

The Canadian government may be walking on eggshells trying to maintain cordial relations with the new American government, but Paul Keating thinks Australia needs a different strategy. He called for a new attitude to Australian foreign policy in the circumstances created by the Trump administration:
The former Australian prime minister Paul Keating has called for a “more independent, balanced foreign policy”, particularly towards China and Indonesia, following the election of Donald Trump as US president.
Keating said Trump had signalled that he was a “big power guy” with little regard for alliances. Australia should take the hint that it was on its own and develop an independent policy rather than regarding the alliance with religious reverence, he said.
He did not hold back on American society generally
The former Labor leader said that Australia boasted a “better society” than the US, citing greater equality and fairness, growth in incomes, universal healthcare, retirement income system and gun laws. “We don’t shoot our children in schools...."  
Keating's longtime political ally Gareth Evans was not far behind in identifying why Australia needs a more independent stance in world affairs..
Donald Trump is “the most ill-informed, under-prepared, ethically challenged and psychologically ill-equipped president in US history”, the former Australian foreign affairs minister Gareth Evans has said.
Both Keating and Evans are members of the Australian Labor Party, currently in opposition but leading in the polls.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Prize Watch: The history Pulitzer

Historian and professor Heather Ann Thompson won the (American) Pulitzer Prize for History the other day for Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy, which combines a study of the horrific jail riot with an analysis of American prison policy and its crimes over several decades.

History News Network has more, and many links.

Since there can be History and Biography and General Nonfiction prizes at the Pulitzers, books are sometimes honoured under odd categories, but this time they seem to have got the history book in the right place.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Vimy@100 +2 days

Sunday's much televised Vimy commemorations were impressive, though Jamie Swift observed on As it Happens that they seemed much more about patriotism and service than about peace and mourning.
During those [1938] ceremonies, Winnipeg settler Charlotte Susan Wood, who lost all five of her sons to war, and her youngest to Vimy, laid a wreath at London's Westminster Abbey. In that moment, she reportedly asked King Edward VIII: "Why did so many have to die?"
"Please God, Mrs. Wood, it shall never happen again," he responded.

Those kinds of stories have been "noticeably absent in the past few days around the Vimy centenary," Swift said.

"That questioning, that why, that I think Walter Allward shared and so many others shared, seems to have been airbrushed from the commemoration," Swift said.
Still I was struck that Jack Granatstein and Tim Cook and, as far as I saw, every historian involved with the centenary specifically rejected the claim that "Canada was born at Vimy."  That is a consequence of a couple of decades of historical discussion, now decisively closed, I think, at least among historians. (Anniversaries can be teaching moments.)

Truth and Beyak 5

(The fifth in a series of excerpts from the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report Summary, prompted by Senator Lynn Beyak's opinions about residential schools. This is another from the Report's "History" chapter, an impressive history with global context and local details throughout).
The number of students who died at Canada's residential schools is not likely ever to be known in full. The most serious gap in information arises from the incompleteness of the documentary record. Many records have simply been destroyed....

It was not uncommon for principals, in their annual report, to state that a specific number of students had died in the previous year, but not to name them....

There can be no certainty that all deaths were, in fact, reported to Indian Affairs....

A January 2015 statistical analysis of the Named Register for the period from 1867 to 2000 indentified 2040 deaths. The same analysis of the Named and Unnamed registers identified 3,201 reported deaths..

Aboriginal children in residential schools died at a far higher rate than school-aged children in the general population....

For Aboriginal children, the relocation to residential schools was generally no healthier than their homes had been on the reserves. In 1897, Indian Affairs official Martin Benson reported that the industrial schools in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories had been "hurriedly constructed of poor materials, badly laid out, without due provision for lighting, heating, or ventilation." In addition, drainage was poor and water and fuel supplies were inadequate....

Lack of access to safe fire escapes led to high death tolls in fires at the Beauval and Cross Lake schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commisson of Canada has determined that at least fifty-three schools were destroyed by fire....

The schools were not only fire traps.They were also incubators of disease.... [Dr Peter Boyle] found school staff and even physicians "inclined to question or minimize the dangers of infection..."

In 1897, Kah-pah-pah-mah-am-wa-ko-we-ko-chin (also known as Tom) was deposed from his position as a headman of the White Bear reserve in what is now Saskatchewan for his vocal opposition to residential schools."Many of them are sick most of the time, many of the children sent from this Reserve to the Schools have died."

Friday, April 07, 2017

History of the new economy

Green tech, long green
Tesla workers make luxury vehicles that can cost $90,000 or more but, unlike the people at Henry Ford’s plant, have no chance of buying one. “Seventeen dollars to $21 without a lot of benefits is not much higher than you can get being a gardener or a hotel clerk,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor history professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Tesla is the only US automaker using non-union labour in the United States.  A UAW organizing drive is beginning among the 6000 labourers at their California plant.

Truth and Beyak 4

Over time, Indigenous children in places as distant from one another as East Africa, Australia, and Siberia would be separated from their parents and sent to residential schools.....
Colonization was undertaken to meet the perceived needs of the imperial powers. The justification offered for colonialism—the need to bring Christianity and civilization to the Indigenous peoples of the world—may have been a sincerely and firmly held belief, but as a justification for intervening in the lives of other peoples, it does not stand up to legal, moral, or even logical scrutiny. The papacy had no authority to give away lands that belonged to Indigenous people. The Doctrine of Discovery cannot serve as the basis for a legitimate claim to the lands that were colonized, if for no other reason than that the so-called discovered lands were already well known to the Indigenous peoples who had inhabited them for thousands of years. The wars of conquest that took place to strip Indigenous peoples of their lands around the globe were not morally just wars; Indigenous peoples were not, as colonists often claimed, subhuman, and neither were they living in violation of any universally agreed-upon set of values. There was no moral imperative to impose Christianity on the Indigenous peoples of the world. They did not need to be ‘civilized’; indeed, there is no hierarchy of societies. Indigenous peoples had systems that were complete unto themselves and met their needs. Those systems were dynamic; they changed over time and were capable of continued change. Taken as a whole, the colonial process relied for its justification on the sheer presumption of taking a specific set of European beliefs and values and proclaiming them to be universal values that could be imposed upon the peoples of the world. This universalizing of European values—so central to the colonial project—that was extended to North America served as the prime justification and rationale for the imposition of a residential school system on the Indigenous peoples of Canada. [emphasis added]
(The fourth in a series of excerpts from the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report Summary, prompted by Senator Lynn Beyak's opinions about residential schools.  This is another from the Report's "History" chapter, an impressive history with global context and local details throughout)

Image source:

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