Wednesday, June 29, 2016

History of microfilm

Just like that-- except handwritten in 18th century French

Here's one to warm the heart of any true historian of a certain vintage: a history of microfilm -- and with no respect for all your transient digital toys.

"They put my head in a microfilm reader for about a year, and when I pulled it out, I knew quite a lot about New France."  Capsule description of my apprenticeship as an HR (public service job classification: historical research) with Parks Canada a long time ago.  Hand-cranked readers too:  I've always been ambivalent about the motor-driven ones.

Hat-tip: LGM

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

History of multicultural cities

What is the most multicultural city in the world?  There is a whole industry in Toronto devoted to supporting its claim, but it is hotly contested by Vancouver.  Melbourne, Frankfurt, Birmingham, and Singapore probably don't even notice. Then there are Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.

University of Toronto Press has recently published Multicultural Cities: Toronto, New York and Los Angeles, by Mohammad Abdul Qadeer, who teaches at Queen's in Kingston.  He has some ground rules:
Cities that do not promote civil rights to diversity are not multicultural even if people of different cultural origins live there....They are multi-ethnic without being multicultural.
Multiculturalism, he posits, "is the combination of cultural diversity with a common ground of values and institutions." You need confident, assertive minority communities, not just (potentially marginal) immigrants and expats. Qadeer argues that to be a contender for multicultural status, a city needs to exist within a strong democracy, with strong guarantees of civil rights, and a resulting culture of (at least) tolerance and accommodation. Cities have always attracted diverse minorities. They have rarely been multicultural.

And multiculturalism is a set of political/societal choices, not just a byproduct of mobility or prosperity.

Published in March. I haven't found much in the way of reviews yet.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Confederation at Active History

Active History, in collaboration with York University's Canada Watch publication, launches a series of essays on confederation by a group of Canadianists who find themselves teaching the subject from time to time.

Last winter, the Canada Watch editors asked me to read the essays in draft and add a commentary.  I found myself having to say I was, ah, disappointed, to the point that Canada Watch decided it did not want my commentary at all.  But Active History promises to run it on July 11, one of a couple of responses.

Around July 11 I expect to be sitting by the marge of Lake Lebarge in the light of the midnight sun -- or maybe in some other Yukon landscape.  Blogging will be slim to none for a good chunk of July. Hence the heads up.  You can follow the Canada Watch contributions at Active History from today, and form your own opinion.  

British Parliament goes all Canadian

Maybe they could turn it into a bingo hall
Spectacularly repudiated in the referendum he launched in Britain, after he had been defied for months by much of his cabinet and caucus on a fundamental matter of government policy, after he had put to referendum a matter which surely was the responsibility of Parliament to decide,  British Prime Minister David Cameron declared last Friday, well, yes, he would have to resign.*

With an asterisk,though.  He would resign next October, more or less, probably.

Why the hell was he not gone by Friday lunchtime?  Her Majesty was right there in Buck House (or one of her other palaces, I don't know). The whole thing could have been wrapped up in an hour.

The British Conservative Party has gone all Canadian in making Parliament irrelevant. Parliament had no say in whether Britain would leave Europe or stay. (Indeed, cabinet had no say, many leading cabinet members having defied cabinet solidarity - and remained in cabinet.) Now the parliamentary caucus is being told it must not remove a disastrously failed leader but must allow him to leave on his own schedule, at some futher time of his own choosing. In October, if he does go, anyone who buys a vote in the race will be able to determine which latest clod becomes leader and prime minister, probably without the support of most of the Conservative caucus

Should not the parliamentary caucus simply tell Cameron they have lost confidence in him, and choose his successor? That's parliamentary democracy.

The Labor party caucus, meanwhile, is asserting its authority, as Labor MPs steadily announce withdrawal of support from leader Jeremy Corbyn, another figurehead imposed on the party by a mass vote that had much the same hysteria and bad faith as the Brexit referendum. But it's mostly a con and a stunt. The caucus is unwilling to hold a vote to sustain or remove Corbyn. [Update: see note below]  And even if they do remove him, they will not replace him, but simply trigger another of the crazy uncontrolled mass votes that put him in office in the first place.

Both parties have surrendered to the worst kind of plebiscitary excess, first in letting a complex matter of public policy be left to a crude Yes/No vote by te public at large, second in doing pretty much the same for party leadership.  It's almost.... Canadian.

Update, same day:  The Guardian now reports that Labor party MPs will vote on Corbyn's leadership tomorrow. They are unCanadian to that extent -- MPs agree they can fire the boss. However, Corbyn retains support outside the caucus, who presumably will attempt to sustain him in another mass-party vote no matter what MPs do, and may even encourage him to ignore the will of caucus.

Update, June 28:  Dale Smith gets it:
Meanwhile, the meltdown happening in the UK’s Labour Party, with a problematic leader who refuses to resign in the face of a full-blown caucus revolt, is another object lesson in why membership selection of party leaders is a terrible, terrible system because it gives those leaders an excuse to refuse to be held to account, citing a “democratic mandate” as Jeremy Corbyn is doing right now.  [....]
Accountability matters, and needs to be balanced with democracy. Membership selection of leaders does not provide the needed accountability, and the horrifying lesson of a leader who won’t be held to account is playing out right now and should give everyone pause about the system that we blazed the trail for in this country.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Heritage Minutes: treaties and residential schools

Historica Canada announces a couple of new entries in the Heritage Minutes series, now twenty-five years old. (You just think they have been around forever!)

The early Minutes were usually irreverent and unpredictable. The Historica-era ones, much more directly government-funded, have become semi-official, with most of the minutes from the Harper years emphasizing wars, politicians, and anniversaries. The new pair, funded by the Government of Ontario, are both set in Ontario. I miss the independence and irreverence.

But it's hard to complain about an indigenous take on the far northern Ontario Treaty 9 ("Naskumituwin," below)  and a minute on kids resisting residential school mistreatment ("Chanie Wenjack," above).

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

History of electoral reform from Joseph Heath

I've been kind of assuming that this electoral reform discussion in Parliament would expose its own follies sufficiently that the whole thing would mostly just go away.   In that vein, Toronto philosopher Joseph Heath has a useful essay reminding us that "every party wins, every party gets ponies," is not a goal worth pursuing .
In an electoral contest with more than three options, not only will there be no majority preference, but there will also be no way to winnow down the choices to produce a stable majority winner. If you pitch all three against one another, obviously there is no guarantee that any one will get more than 50 percent. If you break it down into a set of pair-wise competitions, however, you can get shifting majorities, such that any option can beat any other, depending on how they are paired off.
Since the legislative process is based on the majority principle, every democratic system will need to do something more than just add up votes, in order to constitute the majority that will make legislative decisions.
This is why the mediating institutions of democracy are so important, and why we will never live in any sort of deep, decentralized democracy, or a techno-utopian “e-democracy,” where the people get to decide directly all major policy questions. Because majority will is often non-existent or indeterminate, we need to do something artificial, in order to create ruling majorities.
There is no overriding reason why party support has to correlate mathematically to how many seats a party holds in the House. We don't elect parties.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

This month at Canada's History: Beaumont Hamel and Charlie Pachter

The June-July 2016 issue of Canada's History, now on newstands analog and digital, has a split run cover.  I think lucky subscribers and buyers are the ones who get this option, a pretty terrific portrait, neither too sombre nor too upbeat, of a crowd of doomed young (look at the face just under the "to") Newfoundlanders destined for the Somme.

The other cover links to Roy McGregor's piece launching Canada's History's Canada 150 coverage, and it's fine but not like this one.

My column is not a column at all this time. It's a feature article on where art and history meet in the work of Charles Pachter. It's massively illustrated, thanks to the enthusiastic cooperation of Charlie Pachter himself, gorgeously laid out by art director James Gillespie, and with a few thoughts from me too.

"The Supremes," acrylic and pastel on canvas, 2008
As it happens, in August Pachter will open a massive exhibition of current and past work at the Great Hall of the Charterhouse in London and then at Lady Margaret Hall of Oxford University.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Prize Watch: CAA History award to Debra Komar

At the Canadian Authors Association Awards lunch in Toronto on Saturday, the CAA Canadian History prize (for best book of 2015) went to Debra Komar for The Bastard of Fort Stikine. Kumar is a forensic scientist whose work has included testified at the former Yugoslavia mass murder trials at The Hague.

Komar took an interest in the problem of who shot John McLaughlin Jr at Fort Stikine in 1842. Her book seeks to solve the mystery on forensic investigation principles."CSI meets HBC" said one review.

So a worthy winner of the prize and the cheque attached. But tough on the honorable mention recipient, a guy who wrote Three Weeks in Quebec City and only got a free lunch.

Friends of piracy

The National last night featured the appropriation of writers' and publishers' copyright work by Canadian universities and schools.  John Degen, ED of the Writers' Union of Canada, made the case at the Canadian Writers Summit in Toronto on the weekend:
The reason, according to Degen, is the recent changes made to Canada's copyright laws that exempt educational institutions from paying certain fees they used to pay.
Those changes may have been great for shrinking school-board budgets, but they're hurting Canadian writers and publishers, some of which are getting out of the business altogether or vastly reducing what they print.
As they say, when students use other people's work without permssion or credit, the universities call it plagiarism and expel them.  When the universities do it, they call it fair dealing and build it into their budget planning.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Annie Proulx talks her historical novel

I blogged something about Annie Proulx's forthcoming New France novel Barkskins last winter. Not long after, the people at Simon & Schuster were nice enough to send me, all unsolicited, an advance reading copy.

The book's now in stores, and I have to confess I never actually got into the copy they sent me. (Well, enough to see it's a multi-generational novel and only starts in New France.) In recompense, I'll note that Annie Proulx will read from Barkskins in Toronto tomorrow night, Friday June 17, 6.30 pm in the Fleck Dance Theatre at Queen's Quay. Tickets ( are $50 and include a copy of the novel.

How many historians get that kind of event?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Here's an idea

The Canadian Studies Network, meeting at York University in Toronto in October 2017, has out a call for papers: 150 Ideas That Shaped Canadian history
The main geographical area is Canada, and the time period is the last 150 years. Proposals might deal with one of the following topics listed below but are not limited to these. We encourage papers that go beyond conventional understanding and conceptualizations of Canada.
TOPICS (Listed in alphabetical order)
Anti-radicalism; Bannock & Poutine; Beer; Body Checking & Curling Brooms; Canoeing; Citizenship; Civilization/Savagery; Class struggle; Colonization; The Common Good; Communications; Compact; Conservation/Preservation; Cultural subjugation; Creation/Re-creation; The Crown; Dead ducks; Dependency; Dominion; Equality; Exploration; Freedom; Gender; Gender equity; History, Memory, and Heritage; Humour; Honest Broker; Ideologies; Immigration; Mosaic; Middle Power; The North; Otherness; La Patrie; Nationalism & National Policy; Peace/Order/Good Government vs Life/Liberty/Pursuit of Happiness; Performance; Quiet Revolution; Responsibility & Responsible government; Risk Aversion; Solitudes and Bridges; Self-governance; Sovereignty; Staples; Survival/Survivance; Surveying/Surveillance; Symbols; Technology; Toques & Parkas; Trail; Transportation; War; Weather; The West
The weather is one of the 150 great Canadian ideas?

Update: Here's another topic.  Should there be a 150th anniversary medal?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Blogging kills?

Rick MacArthur, head of Harper's Magazine, is down on blogging and bloggers
I do think blogging is really bad for writers. Ask Andrew Sullivan. He almost had a breakdown. You can see the quality of bloggers' writing decline. We hired Walter Kirn to be our every-other-month columnist. We're sending him to the Republican National Convention but don't want him to blog because we don't want to dilute what he's doing for the print magazine.
I lean to the other philosophy. If you have the idea and the opportunity, why leave it unwritten?  The well fills up again, is my experience.

Burying Ontario prehistory

Archaeology at the new downtown Toronto courthouse site

In the Toronto Star, journalist John Lorinc and archaeologist Ron Williamson expose a crazy situation in Ontario archaeology.

They remind us that Ontario requires archaeological consultants retained by the public sector or developers for archaeological projects in the province to hold the artifacts they may find in trust for the people of Ontario. But:
Queen Park has for years steadfastly refused to pass laws and provide funding to ensure these objects find their way into archives, museums or back to their rightful owners.
Consequently, some 20,000 boxes of artifacts, many filled with the material evidence of the lives of pre-contact indigenous peoples, languish in storage lockers, garages or the basements of archaeologists. While perhaps catalogued, these objects aren’t readily available to researchers, much less the general public, and, in many cases are simply forgotten.
The rich irony is that while Ontario has North America’s most robust archaeological preservation policy, almost no effort is made to interpret, commemorate and study those artifacts because the rules fall silent when it comes to the question of how to manage the material once it comes out of the ground.
Ontario has the Royal Ontario Museum, but no museum of Ontario.  And, evidently, not much in the way of a museum of Ontario prehistory either.

Image: TorStar. H/t: Andrew Stewart.

Quebec Conference 1864 from Presses Laval

La Conference de Quebec de 1864 150 Ans Plus Tard: Comprehendre l'émergence de la fédération canadienne is recently published by Presses de l'Université Laval.

It is a collection of papers, edited by Eugénie Brouillet, Alain-G. Gagnon and Guy Laforest, drawn from a conference (Yes, a conference on the conference) held at Quebec City in October 2014.  Eric Bédard, Phillip Buckner, Louis-Georges Harvey, Christopher Moore, Stéphane Kelly, David Cameron, André Burelle, Paul Romney, Guy Laforest, Robert Vipond, Anne Trépanier -- a big crowd of political and constitutional historians, both anglophone and francophone, of greatly diverse views, but all taking the confederation moment and its consequences with great seriousness.

For this volume, all the English-language contributions have been translated into French, which means francophone students and scholars will have new access to a lot of unfamiliar scholars with unfamiliar views and opinions on the history of federalism.

Now, if an English-language press would translate the French-language papers to produce an all-English version, the same thing might happen in the rest of Canada....

I'll have more about this publication at the right moment. But it needs to be read.

Follow @CmedMoore