This post originally appeared on ActiveHistory.ca in February 2017.

Women’s Marches Then and Now

Over the past couple of weeks people around the world have taken to the streets in order to call politicians, business leaders, and civil servants to account. Though similar, no one event was the same. The Women’s March was carefully planned over two months between the US election and Inauguration Day; its purpose was to give voice to the open misogyny expressed by Republicans during the campaign. A week later tens of thousands flooded US airports to support travelers detained due to the idiosyncratic and illegal presidential travel ban targeting Muslims.[1] Two days after that, here in Canada, we mourned the killing of Azzedine Soufiane, Mamaou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Ibrahima Barry and Abdelkrim Hassane as they left a Quebec City mosque following prayers. Again, thousands took to the streets across the country voicing concerns over the rise of hate speech and its enablers.

As I participated in, and continue to think about the meaning of, these movements, my attention often turns to the historiography of the crowd. Continue Reading »


This post originally appeared on ActiveHistory.ca in November 2016.

In the last week we’ve seen a strong desire to put an end to “Fake News”. With the rise of social media and increasingly savvy revenue generating fake news sites, this is an important intervention (the dangers of which Alan MacEachern addressed here last week). It is, however, misleading to assign blame for Donald Trump’s rise to the U.S. presidency solely on this blatant deception. Focus on the “fake news” distracts us from the very real way that some producers of the “real news” (editors, producers and pundits) and legitimately elected politicians (and especially governments) use the media to distort and distract in an effort to cultivate public opinion.

Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the deliberate (mis)use of history to construct a specific polarized vision of the nation. Globally, politicians and opinion makers (some of whom are admittedly professional historians) have recently turned to un-contextualized facts about their nation’s past for their own political ends, often directly targeting university-based historians and their increasing emphasis on historical thinking over the reinforcement of a national narrative.  Though I am not in a position to argue cause and effect, in this post I would like to suggest that declining enrollments in history programs and classes are perhaps related to the fact that politicians deploying this tactic have recently found electoral success. “Fake news” may be part of the problem, but the problem’s roots go much deeper and relate more directly to established power structures. Continue Reading »

This post originally appeared on ActiveHistory.ca in July 2016.

Pour assurer notre existence, il faut nous cramponner à la terre, et léguer à nos enfants la langue de nos ancetres et la propriété du sol [1]

Statue of George-Etienne Cartier in Parc Montmorency (Quebec City)

Statue of George-Etienne Cartier in Parc Montmorency (Quebec City)

These words captivated my attention a few months ago as I walked across Parc Montmorency, the site of the old parliament buildings in Quebec City. They are found on the footing of a statue of George-Etienne Cartier, one of the better known politicians involved in crafting the British North America Act. What a succinct summary of Confederation, I thought: “In order to assure our existence, we must grasp onto the Land and leave for our children the language of our ancestors and ownership of the soil.”

The words struck a chord, I think, because I was in the park to eat my lunch and read a bit of Thomas King’s The Truth about Stories, the book Huron has chosen for this year’s first year common reading program. Repeatedly, in returning to the phrase: “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are,” King challenges his audience to think about how we situate ourselves in the world and the stories we use to construct it. The story invoked by this inscription is one of a national beginning. It can be read in at least two ways that both help us understand our present moment as well as point us towards areas where our practice as historians may need to change. Continue Reading »

This post originally appeared on ActiveHistory.ca in June 2016.

Le Séminaire du Québec

Last month I spent two weeks working in one of my favourite archives: Le Centre de référence de l’Amérique francophone. This archive – run by Quebec’s Museum of Civilization – is one of the oldest in the country, not only holding the records of the Quebec Seminary (which begin in 1623), but also many important documents related to New France and the early relationship between the diverse peoples of northeastern North America, the French Empire and the Catholic church. The archive holds unique Indigenous language documents and is critical for anyone interested in understanding Canada’s early history. With the Centre located in the seminary buildings themselves, the archive remains more or less in situ since the French regime (bearing in mind that the complex has expanded considerably over the intervening centuries). It is these qualities that led to the collection’s 2007 registration in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program; a recognition closely linked to Quebec City’s own place on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Letters patents of the king for the establishment of the Séminaire de Québec, 1663

It came as a shock then that upon my arrival at the Centre in early May I learned from the reference archivist that this might be my final visit to this important archival collection. On 23 June this archive is scheduled to close for an indefinite amount of time as the Museum of Civilization struggles to meet its budgetary needs. Continue Reading »

This post was originally written with Daniel Ross and posted on ActiveHistory.ca in May 2016.

Keywords from the 2016 CHA Program

Keywords from the 2016 CHA Program

This weekend, historians from across the country will gather in Calgary for the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association (CHA). It’s one of the few opportunities for Canadian historians and historians of Canada to connect in person, share their most recent research, and discuss larger issues facing the profession. Many attendees also take advantage of the chance to learn firsthand about the history of an unfamiliar city or region and its communities. 

Since 2013, we’ve been using a couple of metrics – mainly word counts and chronological markers in paper and panel titles – to provide an overview of what attendees are working on and talking about. There’s nothing particularly rigorous about our methods, but previous posts (201320142015) have provided a starting point for discussions about what Canadian history looks like today, and how that profile has changed over time. 

As always, this year’s line-up speaks to the breadth and creativity of historical work being done in Canada.  Continue Reading »

This post originally appeared on Borealia in March 2016.


James Peachey, A Primer for the Use of the Mohawk Children, 1786

When I first learned about Louis Vincent Sawatanen, about a decade ago, I thought that this Wendat man from Lorette was exceptional. Indeed, in many ways he was. Sawatanen was competent, if not fluent, in at least five different languages (Wendat, Mohawk, French, English, and Abenaki). At the end of the eighteenth-century, when the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution, and the subsequent settler floods that followed these conflicts radically transformed his world, he deftly navigated linguistic and religious chasms, bridging French/English, Patriot/Loyalist, and Protestant/Catholic divides. Indeed, in the midst of turmoil, Sawatanen also attended school, becoming the first Indigenous person from what would become Canada to graduate from a colonial college. He then returned to Lorette in 1791 both to start a school and begin a series of petitions against over a century of settler encroachments.[1]

What I have since learned, however, is that Sawatanen was not alone. Indeed, there are at least a half-dozen similar late-eighteenth-century Indigenous people, whose life stories and interactions with Moor’s Indian Charity School, an institution from which Dartmouth College developed, bear much in common with those of Sawatanen. Continue Reading »

This post originally appeared on ActiveHistory.ca in March 2016.

I first encountered the History Education Network (THEN/HiER) in late 2009, when Jennifer Bonnell, the graduate student coordinator at the time, approached Active History about the potential for coordinating a workshop series in Toronto focused on teaching history. Over the intervening months we worked together towards the first in a series of events that brought together teachers, curators, professors and civil servants known as Approaching the Past. This was the beginning of a six-year partnership between Active History and THEN/HiER. At the end of the month, THEN/HiER’s mandate will draw to a close. I want to use this post to draw attention to our collaboration, some of its key moments, and the influence that Anne Marie Goodfellow, Jennifer Bonnell, Penney Clark and many others have had on ActiveHistory.ca and the Active History project more generally.

Logos Continue Reading »