Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Wisdom from the east (mostly)

Acadiensis (the blog one, I mean) recently offered an essay connecting the Halifax Explosion to climate change. "What, then, does the story of the Halifax Explosion tell us about our contemporary moment of climate disaster?"

Absolutely nothing, one is tempted to respond -- except maybe the author has a project underway on climate history. But in fact, author Jacob Remes, a student of disaster response, has quite a few interesting and ingenious comparisons and analogies to offer.

Meanwhile, at Borealia Jerry Bannister has advice on how to get that bogged down thesis started.  For one thing, he says, you can take Christmas off.
If you’re like 94.7% of the academic world, you will get precious little work done once the holidays are upon us. You can fight it and make yourself unproductive and miserable, or give into seasonal reality and be unproductive yet happy.
Not from the east but:  Active History offers pointed and thoughtful public policy advice from a team of historians who have analysed the perhaps hastily-drafted Bill 66, the bill to provide for expungement of criminal records for victims of LGBTQ+ harassment.

Active History recently got some enthusiastic attention from the academic newsmag University Affairs.  Blogging -- still not dead yet, I guess.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017


It had not much registered with me before this year that December 6, being noted today as the hundredth anniversary of the Halifax explosion, is also the anniversary of the Polytechnique shooting, 28 years ago in Montreal.

As centenaries do, the Halifax disaster has provoked quite a bit of new research and new publishing, from surveys of the whole event, like Ken Cuthbertson's (at right) to studies of recovery policies, eg, David Sutherland's.  It's the featured story on CBC Radio's The Current this morning.

I guess it's not a "major" anniversary in Montreal, by the calendar, but it will be remembered too.  I wrote this about that event ten years ago, and it stays with me:
This is also the 18th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique murders in Montreal. I was giving a university exam the morning after, and the visceral moan or growl or something that arose from the class when I raised the subject remains with me. Then I had a 3 month old daughter. This week she sits in a university building doing exams herself.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Book Notes: new takes on confederation

University of Toronto Press has a couple of (Canada150 inspired?) publications on Canadian confederation out recently. 

Globalizing Confederation: Canada and the World in 1867 , edited by Jacqueline Krikorian, Marcel Martel, and Adrian Shubert, grew out of a York University conference in 2016, at which a lot of foreign scholars were invited to present research on how Canadian confederation was perceived in their countries in the 1860s.  I covered some of their findings in a Canada's History article last summer:
A South American scholar reported on the Rio de Janeiro journalist of 1867 who was excited to see Canada assuming “the character of a great independent state” -- just what he hoped for in Brazil. A student of Italian history described Vatican diplomats eagerly discussing how Canada’s affirmation of the rights of the Catholic province of Quebec might become a beacon for Catholics in non-Catholic countries. One Spanish scholar described how the progressive forces in 1860s Spain who advocated provincial autonomy for Catalonia and other regions were nicknamed “Canadians.” Another examined the Cuban journalists and intellectuals who found inspiration in Canada’s confederation for their own campaign for self-government within Spain’s empire.

From Austria, another professor considered the lessons Canada’s French-English accommodation could offer to the Empire of Austria-Hungary, then struggling to reconcile its German-speaking and Magyar-speaking communities and its restive Slavic minorities....
All together the volume is an impressive and fresh take on a subject too often give a parochial Ottawa/Westminster reading by (us) Canadianists.

UTP's other confederation title is actually two volumes. Roads to Confederation: The Making of Canada, 1867,  volumes 1 and 2, edited by Jacqueline D. Krikorian, David R. Cameron, Marcel Martel, Andrew W. McDougall, and Robert C. Vipond, is a historical compendium of many previously published essays and articles on confederation.

It offers itself as "definitive scholarship on the ideational underpinnings of the making of Canada."  I have to note, however, that the editors had planned to include "If Brother André went to Parliament Hill" from my 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal, but when they found they would have to pay a rights fee, they dropped it. I don't know if other items met this fate, but I got the distinct impression this may be all the confederation scholarship available cheap, rather than all the confederation scholarship.

Fortunately 1867 remains available in paperback and ebook formats, and in libraries everywhere.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Income Tax at the Literary Review

This month's Literary Review of Canada features "Tax and the Canadian Psyche," a discussion of the political history of income tax between Elsbeth Heaman and Shirley Tillotson, recent authors of Tax, Order and Good Government and Give and Take, histories of taxation in Canada from 1867 to 1917 and from 1917 to the 1960s, respectively.

If you have not yet faced up to reading two long and challenging books on tax history, the LRC conversation  may be a useful cheater, as Heaman and Tillotson advance some of their provocative ideas about taxation and history.  Heaman seems to buy into the French-Canadian idea of George Brown as a francophobe bogeyman, but there are lots of lively takes here.

Update, December 6:  Elsbeth Heaman makes a fair point here:
I was a little surprised to read by your pen that “Heaman seems to buy into” the idea of George Brown as a francophobe bogeyman. I argue in excruciating detail over hundreds of pages that George Brown’s racialized tax revolt roiled Canadian politics for half a century. “Seems to” suggests that you think I’m producing a simulacra of an argument, not the real McCoy.
Also in the Review (subscribers only, this one) is a review of Janis Theissen's Snacks: A Canadian Food History There was a history of the donut a year or two ago, but hey, anything can be fodder for social history, and this one definitely does not look like empty calories.

Friday, December 01, 2017

SSRN and the SCC: history in court

I'm genuinely curious here: does a Top Ten rating at SSRN mean something?  Or is it more like one of those "You have been selected for our Who's Who of Genuinely Fabulous People, and for just $500....?  A paper of mine is currently top ten over the last 60 days in SSRN's Trade Policy category, and I'm not sure how much to gloat.  (At least SSRN is not asking for money)

Probably not much. The popularity of the essay surely comes because the Comeau case has been pending at the Supreme Court of Canada, and pretty much every trade and constitutional lawyer in Canada is currently representing an intervening party. That must be driving some downloads! 

Fellow blogger Andrew Smith reviewed the Comeau issue here yesterday at his blog, and takes note of various contributions to the debate, including his own and mine.

Andrew, who was an expert witness in the Comeau case, has the difficult task of defending the proposition, more or less, that the confederation makers were genuine ideological free traders and did not believe in federalism. As a result, he says, "There are many statements with which I disagree that appear in Christopher Moore’s paper."  True dat!

The Film Board Archives

Now you see me, now you don't
I had not been following this, but the "Advocacy" page of the Canadian Historical Association website includes ocorrespondence started in 2015 between the CHA (with the Film Studies Association of Canada) and the National Film Board over researchers' access to the Film Board's print and document (i.e., non-film) archives.

Given the historical status of the Film Board and its role as a public cultural agency, one might think that its archives would be a public resource.  But apparently it has long been understood by governments that as a public agency, the NFB would  operate under the rules of the government's Access to Information protocols -- which is very much about the things governments are NOT required to give access to,  and also about the costs and complications that administrators can put in the way of researchers seeking access.

It's an exquisitely polite correspondence that the CHA has published. But there is an underlying steeliness ("the NFB is not an archive repository and its obligations regarding access to its records devolves only from the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act') that makes clear that in bureaucracies control of information is a jealously guarded power.

If NFB will not manage access to its records, shouldn't they automatically be passed on to Library and Archives Canada? The NFB calls this a "promising avenue." But, it goes on, " the parameters and timing of this collaboration remain to be clarified"  -- maybe after 2019 because for the time being they are too busy developing a new headquarters from themselves..

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Toward a year end review: what we noticed

The Globe and Mail published its 100 notable books of 2017 without including a single work of Canadian history. Which is a pretty fair indicator of the state of the field., I think. There is a lot of work being published, but as far as history books being bestsellers, newsmakers, and thought-changers ... it's not easy to document, as CanLit and CanHist return to underground preoccupations.

I hope to sort out my own list of notable histories of 2017 before the year is over. As a first step, I did a quick review of books noted or discussed here during the year so far -- excluding "Prize Watch" lists, including some non-Canadian titles of interest and some barely historical works too.

(For details on any of these, use the Search box at top left to go to the relevant post)

Chamberlin, The Banker and the Blackfoot
Browder, Red Notice
Smith, A Dissenting Voice
Missio, Vision Greater than Themselves

Merasty, Education of Augie Merasty
Stonechild, The Knowledge Seeker

Truth and Reconciliation Report
Potter,  Should We Change the Way we Vote?
Smardz-Frost, Steal Away Home

Vipond, Making a Global City
Thompson, Blood in the Water

Carter, Imperial Plots
Ray,  Aboriginal Rights Claims  and Taking it to the Judge
Coates, Idle No More
Shapiro, What is Hip?

National Geographic Guides to Canadian Parks and Historic Sites
McDonald, Miss Confederation
Fahmy, The Marriott Cell
Freeman,  Dare to be Great
Smith, The Unbroken Machine
Turning Parliament Inside Out
Dewar, The Handover

Russell, Constitutional Odyssey
Cuthbertson, Halifax Explosion
Heaman, Tax, Order and Good Government
Tillotson, Give and Take

Mount, Arrival

Wright, Sick Kids
Ens and Sawchuk, From New Peoples to New Nations

Boyer, Forcing Choice
Sutherland No Evil Design
Hall, From Treaties to Reserves
Graves, Always Ready: History of the Royal Regiment

Beer, House of the Dead
Dutil and Mackenzie, Embattled Nation
Backhouse, Claire L'Heureux Dubé
Molinaro, An Exceptional Law

More than forty titles.  (Fair warning, this blog often "notes" books I have not read, and I do not claim to have read all of these!)  We will have more to say in December, but for the moment I note:  quite a few titles on indigenous matters, definitely a reflection not only of my own interests but what the profession is doing.  And we took note of only about seven books by women historians, it seems, not so representative at all....

Monday, November 27, 2017

This month at Canada's History

At Canada's History this month, it's trains, Métis matriarchs, the city beautiful movement in Canada, and an excerpt from Ken Cuthbertson's new Halifax explosion book, plus the annual book and gift guide. 

My own column argues Canada150 did a good thing: injected a historical debate we needed to have into what started out as a pretty bland commemoration.

Meanwhile , the annual survey of the 100 best books of 2017 at the Globe and Mail this weekend included pretty much zero history. That bad a year, or just the fiction bigots on the book pages failing to take notice?

A bit of both, perhaps, but I would have thought Peter Russell's Canada's Odyssey deserved some attention. What else got missed?  I think we will have to try our own yearend round up soon, and your suggestions would be welcome.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Meet the cliolator

For Active History, Sean Kheraj asks Google Home "What was the expulsion of the Acadians?" "What was the conscription plebiscite of 1942?" and other questions about Canadian history, and gets pretty good answers, at least on the facts.

Sean assures us "The Google Home is not going to replace historians." (Sure, that's what they told the Lancashire craft weavers.)  More to the point, "It is an example of how advanced algorithms and search engines can influence research practice and history education."  And:
We need more high quality historical research on the web. Voice assistants like Google Home and the Amazon Echo rely entirely upon what they can find on the open web. As a result, they pull from Wikipedia and Canadian Encyclopedia, popular online sources that are open to search engines. If historians want to ensure that broad public audiences have access to the best possible information, they should contribute to these sources and make more of their own research open and available online.
Hmm.  What question could someone ask Google Home for which the answer would start, "According to Christopher Moore's History News..."  A prize for the best entry.. or maybe any!

Update, December 4:  I think we have a winner!  Russ Chamberlayne writes:
"What question could someone ask Google Home for which the answer would start, 'According to Christopher Moore's History News...'?"

How do a) the Tour de France or b) Ontario vehicle licence plates fit into history?
Google Home would have lots of options to explain the Tour, I think, but the licence plates? That could do it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Historical notes from all over

* I'm still thinking about Dutil and Mackenzie's Embattled Nation, which powerfully evokes what a godawful horror the First World War made of Canadian politics, which by late 1917 were driven mostly by hysteria, vote-rigging, and bigotry. Odd to read, then, of how in November 1917 the Marquis of Lansdowne, a former governor general of Canada (mostly remembered here for schools, streets, and neighbourhoods bearing his name), but mostly a grandee of British politics who sat in the British war cabinet for much of the First World War, could publish a coolly reasoned argument for why Britain should seek a negotiated peace with Germany forthwith.

Well, it didn't, and Lansdowne became a bit of a pariah for the remaining decade of his life. So perhaps Britain was not so much different from Canada.  But it's hard to find anyone in Canadian government circles in 1917 who would have been able to muster such dispassion about the war and what to do about it.

* The struggle to repatriate indigenous remains from the basements of museums and laboratories is an ongoing story in Canada.  But Australia had a remarkable version of that last weekend, it seems.  "Mungo Man," a largely intact skeleton collected in the 1970s from a desert region of western New South Wales, was returned to its original surroundings.  Mungo Man was tall, slim, fiftyish, and at hi death had been buried with elaborate ceremony. And it all happened 40,000 years ago.

Australian history... is old.
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