Monday, 16 March 2015

Enweying 2015 - A Bunch of Profs Talking About Stuff

I was pleased to get asked to talk at this festival of ideas at Trent University this Saturday. See below for the great lineup. And I'll be talking about - what else? - Mackenzie King.


Thursday, 22 January 2015

A Monumental Mess - Update

I learn from my inbox today of a few more stories about the monumental mess brewing in Ottawa over the Monument to Victims of Communism that I wrote about in December.

There are two more useful stories, each giving more behind-the-scenes details about the process that led to the monument's designation - one in the Ottawa Citizen  and the other by John Geddes in Maclean's.

Both of these stories confirm what I had heard unofficially about the process - that the committee of advisors who are tasked with providing input to the National Capital Commission had advised against putting the monument in its proposed location. They found it 'totally inappropriate'.

Yet the government apparently said from the get-go, the decision on location has already been made.

Monday, 12 January 2015

A Prime Ministerial Villain?


Here's the scenario: two venues for serious discussion of a prime minister's record, each tackling the question of how the founding prime minister should now be remembered. Each presents the views of four different scholars and thinkers on the man's record. In one outlet, we see a real difference of opinion with clashing perspectives. In the other, everyone pretty much agrees.

This is what we see this week in a series of articles assessing the record of John A MacDonald in the Globe & Mail and on Active History 

Sadly, the venue with a greater diversity of opinion and better debate was the commercial newspaper, though they had to go outside the university world to get the different viewpoints. And so it goes in the world of scholarly debate (even the always interesting Active History).

Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Monument Men

Source: Ottawa Citizen

Just before Christmas I penned an op-ed for the Toronto Star questioning the decision of the Harper government to erect a monument to the victims of communism in Ottawa. (Alas, the oped is not online.) My main criticism wasn't the monument itself but its location. If all goes ahead as planned, this huge almost block-sized monstrosity is going to sit next to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In other words, alongside the parliament buildings, our national library and archives and our supreme court, we're going to have a monument to the victims of communism. Where everything else along this stretch of the national capital deals with all Canadians and is centred on our collective national citizenship, we're now going to have this politically motivated edifice. It's like one of those quizzes for grade school kids - pick the one that doesn't fit.

The op-ed might not be available to read but it generated some fascinating letters to the editor which you can read here. For some of these, the best one can say is that the author really is dead - and much ado about misinterpretation.

You can see more about the controversy in the Ottawa Citizen which has been doing a good job in following the brewing controversy. Articles here and here are useful.

It's not as if Harper and his crew have simply invented the monument out of thin air. There is a constituency of Canadians of eastern European ancestry in particular who really want something like this. It was initially supposed to be a monument to the victims of totalitarianism. But along the way the Harperites have modified the message to best suit them.

The biggest pity is the blight this will make on the central street in our national capital. Perhaps it's not too late to stop things.





Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Political Sentimeter

Nellie McClung


The Toronto Star recently introduced us to its 'political Sentimeter'. It's part high-tech political personality test, and part buzz-feed quiz. The test is fascinating and you can take it here to see where you yourself fit.

They asked me and a few other historians/political scientists to offer some historical examples of the different political types. You can see our suggestions here.

My main take-away from this was a reconfirmation of just how much our political landscape has changed since the 1960s. A number of contemporary political types just don't readily translate into Canadian political history. Look at the test, for example, and try to place a first wave feminist like Nellie McClung.

Partly this has to do with the way in which so-called family values and religion were more common-sensical even to many on the left. Also important is the radical liberalization of the political spectrum, including the way in which libertarian ideas have spread across both the right and the left in complex ways. Something to think about.

Or just another fun internet quiz. You choose.


Friday, 17 October 2014

How should we teach history?

On 31 October, before you head out to 'trick or treat' or to dress up as ghoul for dancing fun, why not come to what looks to be an interesting event at the University of Toronto?

Stéphane Lévesque will be giving a talk on history as a verb. Then there will be a roundtable discussion in which I'll say a few things (though I don't know what they'll be. come to find out).

Here's the poster I've been sent:


Friday, 12 September 2014

Canadian Political History Conference




In a few weeks, a large number of political historians in Canada will be gathered at Université de Québec à Montréal to talk about their research. It's a diverse bunch of topics and historians, kind of gathered under the rubric of political activism and citizen intervention.

See the whole program here.

I have the very unhistorian like title 'What democratic reformers can learn from Freud's 20th century.'

My own contribution is slotted in the very last session of the conference on Saturday afternoon.  The only consolation for this horrid spot is that I have great company.