Monday, November 28, 2011

Living History: Holy Walk

Last week I attended the Bruce Mines "Holy Walk."  The idea behind the event is to tell a non-denominational version of the Christian Christmas story in an interactive way.   Participants are taken on a walk from Nazareth to Jerusalem and experience the sights and sounds of the era during the walk.

The Holy Walk has been going on for almost 20 years and is put together by local volunteers.  Over 150 volunteers take part in the three day performance of the event and work to make the Walk a unique experience. This year's event drew over 2,000 people and raised over $10,000. 

The Walk experience was like being in the middle of a living interactive history.  There were live animals, character actors, and period structures.  Following the Walk I began to consider the potential of using a Walk to depict other historical journeys and events.  Perhaps using a Walk to explore the settlement of early pioneers, the journey of Lewis and Clark, or wartime events.

Have you ever participated in a similar Walk?  

Photo Credit: Tom Keenan, Sault Star

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

December Reading

As the month of December approaches so does long hours spent driving to visit family.  Luckily, more often than not I am passenger on these trips and I tend to use the time to get some reading done. Books on my current reading list include:

Unsettling the Settler Within by Paulette Regan.  This book has been on my reading list since April when Laura Moadokoro discussed the work in "History in Turbulent" times in an post. 

Collections and Objections: Aboriginal Material Culture in Southern Ontario by Michelle Hamilton.

Manufacturing National Park Nature by J. Keri Cronin.  This works looks at the contrived nature of Canada's national parks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Making Oral History Relevant: The Legacy Project

The Legacy Project began in 2004 with Karl Pillemer Professor at Cornell University.  Pillemer began by collecting 'practical' advice from elderly people in America by having them answer "What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?"  This initiative resulted in over 1500 people over 70 years old describing their personal life lessons and experiences.

The main portion of Legacy Project site is a 'browse by life lesson type' section.  This portion of the site includes textual transcripts of elders descriptions of important lessons.  The Legacy Project also has a YouTube channel where video versions of the talks with some the elders interviewed can be watched.  I wish the site included more video or audio content, reading the transcripts is interesting but doesn't provide the same dimension as video.

What initially drew me to this project was no where in it does Karl Pillemer discuss the fact that he is essentially undertaking an oral history project.  Pillmer focused more on the present day applications of the knowledge provided by the interviewed persons.  The appeal from a historical stand point of these  modern day applications of oral history is that they have the potential to almost 'trick' the general public into take a glimpse into the past.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Middletown Read

The What Middle Town Read Project is a searchable database based on the records of the Muncie (Indiana) Public Library from November 5, 1891 to December 3, 1902.  The database includes records of all the books that were checked out during this time period.

The data used for this project was compiled based on ledgers found by Professor Frank Felsenstein of Ball State University.  These ledgers are essentially circulation records and contain lists all of its patrons, books, and circulation transactions from 1891to 1902.

Users can search the circulation records by patron name, book title, book, author, subjects, and transaction date.  Under the patron field is is also possible to search by patron birthplace, sex, race, material status, and occupation.  Results also include supplemental patron data from the city directory and census information.

This is a great resource and work has already been done to use this data set to look at larger social trends. 
The article "This Book is 199 Years Overdue: The wondrous database that reveals what Americans checked out of the library a century ago" by John Poltz examines some of the historical implications of the Middle Town Read data.

I'm curious if any other libraries have made their old circulation records available and searchable online.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Looking Back: 201 Posts Later

Credit: kusito
I started the Historical Reminiscents blog in September 2008.  The blog was initially started as part of a Digital History course I was taking during my MA in Public History at UWO.  Since then I've graduated, and held a number of positions including: historical researcher, collections assistant, a digitization facilitator, and archives technician.  Yesterday also marked my 200th post on this blog.

In the spirit of reminiscing, here are some of the most read and some of my favourite posts from the past:

-A post on Web Activism and the multiplicity of options (and consequences) in a digital world.

-A readings inspired post on, How to Forge Public History from the Land
-The Intersection of Art and Technology which looks at the work of Dr Maurizio Seracin

-Looking at the independent digital composure of music in Emily Howell: A Digital Composer 
-The importance of Historical Societies and Community Heritage

-Heritage Preservation and Adaptive Reuse: Evergreen Brick Works
- As part of the Natural Heritage blog post series, a post on Point Pelee
-Oral History and the Act of Listening

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research

The Society of American Archivists (SAA) recently released, Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research by Laura Schmidt.  The guide focuses on how researchers utilize archives and outlines the best way to approach archival research.

In addition to provide useful information for researchers the guide includes a number of guidelines and policies that most archival institutions have to develop at one time or another.  For example, the chapter on Typical Usage Guidelines in Archival Repositories outlines a list of common reading room rules and restrictions.  This chapter is a great place to start if your institution is looking to develop a policy on what patrons are allows to bring into a reading room. 

The Guide's chapter outline is as follows:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Massey Lectures

This year marks the 50th anniversary of CBC's Massey Lectures.  The lecture series is named after Vincent Massey, Canada's first Canadian born Governor General.  Each year the CBC Radio (now in collaboration with the House of Anansi Press, and Massey College in the University of Toronto) invites a well known scholar to present his original research in a lecture series that is later broadcast nation wide.

This year's lecturer was Adam Gopnik, who's talk was entitled "Winter: Five Windows on the Season."   In addition to Gopnik's contribution, the entire past 50 years of the Massey Lectures are now available online.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Closed Stacks, Open Shutters

The Closed Stacks, Open Shutters: An Archivist Photobook became available today. The book initially started off as an idea for a sexy archivist calendar and is the result of a call for “sexy archivist” pictures and on Twitter.

All proceeds raised by the sales of the Photobook go towards next years Spontaneous Scholarships fund which helps pay the registration fee for some students and recent grads at the annual Society of American Archivists (SAA) conference.

Still not convinced? Kate over at ArchivesNext has a great list of the top five reasons to buy a copy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Beachwood National Cemetery of Canada

The Arlington National Cemetery in the United States is well known amongst Americans (and Canadians) as the national site historic Cemetery.  The Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, Canada receives a faction of the visitors and publicity that the Arlington site does.  Perhaps this difference relates to larger patriotic differences in Canada and United states.  However, given the rise in dark tourism across the heritage field Beechwood may eventually become more well known to the Canadian people.

Established in 1873, the Beechwood Cemetery is the final resting place for over 75,000 Canadians, including our Canadian Forces Veterans, War Dead, RCMP members, Governors-General and Prime Minister.  The Beechwood Cemetery was designated as the national Cemetery of Canada in 2009.  

Some of the historical figures buried in Beechwood include: Sir Stanford Flemming, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden, and Tommy Douglas. Cemeteries of all shapes and sizes contain a wealth of genealogical and historical information, and tend to be well worth a visit if you can get over the potentially 'creepy' factory.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Memory Project

The Memory Project was started by the Historica--Dominion Institute with funding from Canadian Heritage.  The project aims to capture the memories and experiences of all Second World War and Korean War veterans living in Canada.  The project is bilingual and includes oral histories, artefacts, and digitized photographs.   The stories that have been collected so far are available through a digital archive.  This resource is an excellent place for students, teachers, researchers, all of those remembering our past .

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Jill Lapore and the Politicization of Birth Control

Margaret Sanger
The latest issue of the New Yorker contained an interesting article by Harvard history Professor Jill Lepore on the history of politicization of birth control and abortion.  Unfortunately the original article, Birthright, is behind the New Yorker's pay wall, however an NPR interview and the New Yorker Out Loud provide a decent summary's over Lepore's work.

Lepore's work highlights the development of the birth control movement under Margaret Sanger and the later attachment of politics and religion to the issue.  It is interesting to note that initially many clergy, church organizations, and politicians were pro birth control and held starkly different positions than they do today.  Lepore's article also expands on the fundamental shift the birth control movement took as it evolved from American Birth Control League to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  Lepore also aim to tie in present day politics and view points into her examination of the past. 

The article plays into the large context and values of the period and overall provides an interesting political history approach to a topic which has traditionally been explored under the guise of women's history or the history of sexuality. 

What are examples of other political approaches to the history of birth control? 

Photo credit: buttonknee

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Edmund Fitzgerald lifeboat 
Tomorrow marks the 36th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that sunk with the loss of the entire crew in Lake Superior during a storm on November 10, 1975.  The wreck was made famous and engrained in the minds of Canadians by the Gordon Lightfoot song which describes the wreck.

From the Archives:
  • The CBC Digital Archives has the broadcast footage from the night of the wreck.
  • The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum holds the bell from the Fitzgerald, as well as search tape footage.
  • The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum also holds and annual remembrance ceremony for the wreck - this year's service happens at 7pm tomorrow evening. 
Photo Credit:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

American Heritage Vegetables

Last week's #builtheritage twitter chat on food and preservation provided an abundance of interesting resource material. This week I stumbled across another great food history resource.  American Heritage Vegetables is a great database of historical vegetables created by the Center for Digital Humanities of the University of South Carolina. The site focuses on cultivation practices, popular varieties, and recipes for vegetables found in American kitchens and gardens prior to the twentieth century.

The site is searchable and is a great resource for anyone looking to integrate food heritage into their programming.  My only complaint is the way in which the recipes are laid out on the site - they are written in paragraph formatting which seems a bit daunting to someone looking to try cooking something in 19th century style.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hidden No Longer: Keeping Indigenous Heritage Alive

If you're a member of the Canadian Museums Association you should soon be receiving the November/December issue of Muse.  This month's cover article, "Hidden No Longer: Keeping Indigenous Heritage Alive" is written by yours truly.

The article focuses on the role heritage museums have played in presenting indigenous culture and history to the general public.  It highlights the 'Ksan Historical Village and Museum, the Woodland Cultural Centre, and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre as examples of institutions which have strove to accurately and inclusively present and display Indigenous culture.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Coffee Table History Books

Bookstores are rife with picturesque coffee table books these days.  When browsing I tend to do a cursory scan of the coffee table books related to history.  Some of the most common topics are built heritage, pictorial biographies of public figures, local history, and the history of everyday topics like beer.

I particularly enjoy the books that focus on built heritage.  Some of my favourites are a book on the construction of outhouses and another book on the architecture styles of barns in Ontario.  Both of these works are comprised mostly of pictures, with explanatory text as supplementary information. 

I recently discovered an old (1964) copy of The Ancestral Roof: Domestic Architecture in Upper Canada by Clarke Irwin on my bookshelf.  Unlike a lot of modern day coffee table books, Irwin's work is more text based with pictures as supplemental to his discussion of architectural styles. 

The text heavy style of Irwin's book made me consider the evolution of visual histories and popular publishing.  I'm willing to bet that the majority of the public are far more willing to buy a pictorial history of the CPR then they are a giant tome detailing the rise of rail transportation in Canada.  But perhaps, pictures can be used to inspire a more detailed discussion of a topic and can be integrated into traditional historical approaches to reach a greater audience.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Canadian Public History

My earlier lament about the state of the Canadian public history community needs an update.  Some great news for public history in Canada was announced yesterday.   The National Council on Public History is coming to Canada in 2013.  The annual NCPH conference will be held in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 17-20, 2013. The call for proposals has been included below:

“Knowing your Public(s)—The Significance of Audiences in Public History”
2013 Annual Meeting, National Council on Public History
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 17-20, 2013
In 2013 the National Council on Public History will meet at the Delta Ottawa City Centre, in the heart of downtown Ottawa, Canada, with Canada’s Parliament buildings, historic ByWard market, national museums and historic sites, river trails, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Rideau Canal, and numerous cafes and restaurants within easy walking distance. The program committee invites panel, roundtable, workshop, working group, and individual paper proposals for the conference. The Call for Poster sessions will be issued in fall 2012.
As Canada’s capital, Ottawa is the national centre of the museum, archival and heritage community, and its historical and cultural attractions draw 5 million national and international tourists annually. Ottawa’s two universities have strong connections to public and applied history. The federal government employs many history practitioners and creates a market for private consultants. With so many diverse fields of Public History theory and practice represented, Ottawa is an ideal place to consider issues and ideas associated with the theme of “Knowing your Public(s)—The Significance of Audiences in Public History.”
These could include:
  • the changing nature of the public and the evolution of the discipline over the last forty years;
  • how the public and Public Historians influence each other in the production of history;
  • the effects of changing approaches to public participation, reciprocity, and authority on Public History theory and practice;
  • the impact of digital media on expanding or excluding public engagement;
  • generational differences including Public History for the millennial generation;
  • intersections between Public History practised at universities and in the broader community;
  • issues related to working with ‘closed’ audiences in fields such as litigation, or government-directed, research;
  • access to and use of grey literature
  • the increasing need for audience relevance in times of economic recession;
  • and diverse cultural and multi-national approaches to commemorating events such as the bi-centennial of the War of 1812 or the 60th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War.
We welcome submissions from all areas of the field, including teaching, museums, archives, heritage management, tourism, consulting, litigation-based research, and public service. Proposals may address any area of Public History, but we especially welcome submissions which relate to our theme. Case studies should evoke broader questions about practice in the field. The program committee prefers complete session proposals but will endeavor to construct sessions from proposals for individual presentations. Sessions are 1.5 hours (working groups may be longer); significant time for audience discussion should be included in every session. The committee encourages a wide variety of forms of conversation, such as working groups, roundtables, panel sessions, and professional development workshops, and urges participants to dispense with the reading of papers. Participants may be members of only one panel, but may also engage in working groups, introducing sessions and leading discussions. See the NCPH website at for details about submitting your proposal and be sure to peruse past NCPH programs for ideas about new session/event formats.

Proposals are due by July 15, 2012.
All presenters and other participants are expected to register for the annual meeting. If you have questions, please contact the program committee co-chairs or the NCPH program director.
2013 Program Committee Co-Chairs
Michelle A. Hamilton
Director of Public History
The University of Western Ontario
Jean-Pierre Morin
Treaty Historian
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada
NCPH Program Director
Carrie Dowdy

Friday, November 4, 2011

When Forever is Only Temporary: The Maple Leaf For Ever

The original The Maple Leaf For Ever song was composed by Alexander Muir in October 1867.  The song became somewhat of an unofficial anthem of English Canadians until the mid 20th Century, children were taught the song in schools and it was almost as popular as O'Canada.  The original lyrics to the song included many references to Canada's origins and its ties to Britain, but included little reference to France or Canada's francophone population.

In 1997, the CBC radio show Metro Morning ran a contest to find more commentary/politically correct lyrics to the song.  The contest was won Vladimir Radian, his version of the song removes the majority of the references to colonialism and acknowledges the existence of French Canadians. Since Radian's version of the song debuted other Canadian singers such as Anne Murray and Michael Bublé have sang the revised lyrics at public events (eg. the Olympics).

It's interesting to see how the original lyrics have changed so drastically in the revised version of the song. I'm undecided if the new lyrics remove the original context of the song or merely revise it for a new generation.  I would be interested to hear other opinions on the matter. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

November Built Heritage Chat Summary

This month's #builtheritage chat topic was the integration of food and heritage.  Prior to the chat actually starting @lloydalter posted a great link to food posters from the past.  The slide show is well worth a look if you're interested in the evolution of commercialism, food history, or just need a laugh.

The first portion of the chat focused on the question In what ways do you see food/foodways intersecting with preservation? There were a lot of interesting connections made between food and preservation during this portion of the chat, including:
  • The idea that everyone needs to eat and drink, and that looking at food trends and changes throughout the past is an interesting way to approach heritage.
  •   suggested that historically market squares and gardens were the focus of towns
  • noted that farms are cultural heritage landscapes, barns, silos, cheese factories often have heritage value. 
  • It was also suggested that food is an element of cultural heritage that's often strongly place-based but also has lots of border-crossing potential
    • Additionally food and food smells have the power to conjure up personal and family memories

The second question of the chat was How have/could you use food in your programs? Responses included:
  •   : mentioned that has food app that includes recipes from across Canada, some date from as far back as the 18th century
  • Designing menus based on period foods or demonstrating period cooking methods was suggested
  • @delaneyhf suggested checking out the  Brooklyn Historical Society fall programs as examples of involving food in programming 

The third segment of the chat highlighted the question How do we protect our agricultural heritage when it is in working landscapes? Some of the highlights were:
  • There was a general theme that continuing to work the land and keeping it farmed traditionally helps preserve this part of our heritage.
  • Reusing agricultural buildings such as barns and silos for other purposes instead of demolishing them.
  • Need to recognize agricultural heritage in our urban landscapes - old wells, old houses, old roads.

The chat concluded with a discussion of How does and #preservation intersect, if at all, with sustainability?  Some of the intersections thought of were;
  • @delaneyhf noted that "Sustainability is most often achieved through the use / promotion of local resources, be that buildings or food"
  • The idea that cultural heritage is about ideas and concepts and goes beyond physical heritage. 
  • Overall there was a general feeling that history, preservation, heritage, and food are integral parts of how we should live our lives.
The next #builtheritage chat is on December 7th at 4pm and will deal with holiday promotion in the heritage field.

Photo Credit: United Way of the Lower Mainland 

Update: Today the National Museum of American Heritage Blog featured an interesting  post on "American History told Through Squash."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Canada Reads Non-Fiction 2012

Yesterday, the shortlist for CBC's Canada Reads 2012 was announced. This year the contest is focusing exclusively on works of non-fiction and the shortlist includes a couple of history based works. The list includes:
Paris 1919 deals with the peace talks that took place after WWI and takes a look a both the social and political upheaval that existed following the war.  I'm also intrigued by Louis Riel by Chester Brown.  The work focuses on the life of Riel, but does so in as a graphic novel.  The graphic novel medium has the potential to reach audiences that may not normally be interested in a traditional work of history.  I'm interested in how accurately Brown's work depicts Riel and the era.

Do you know of any other non-fiction graphic novels based on historical events? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Post-Halloween Chocolate Thoughts

If you're like most people you are currently in a post-Halloween candy and chocolate coma. Karlee Sapoznik wrote a great blog post, "When People Eat Chocolate, They are Eating My Flesh: Slavery and the Dark  Side of Chocolate," for in 2010, that deals with the dark side of chocolate production.

Some chocolate producers, such as Cadbury have made recent efforts to gain fair trade certification for some of their products, however at this point none of the major chocolate producers are using elusively fair trade coco sources. Additionally, as Karlee's article points out there is some question as to if fair trade chocolate is actually any better than non fair trade items.  Regardless, Karlee's article is definitely worth a read given the abundance of Halloween chocolate around at the moment.