Wednesday, June 27, 2012

National Film Board of Canada and Public History

Earlier this week one of my colleagues hosted a professional development presentation on the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada.  Since that presentation, which mainly focused on how to get the most out of the NFB database, I've been thinking a lot about the applications of NFB material in instructional or public history settings.

I've always had a bit of a fond spot for the NFB-- mostly because of amusing animated shorts that were deemed educational enough to be shown in school (eg. The Cat Cam Back and The Big Snit).  However, I had no idea how much history content and archival footage is held by the NFB.  At this point, I have been able to find clips on almost any historical topic I've looked up.  Additionally, the "Explore Film by Subject" feature allows users to search periods of history (1967-1919, 1920-1945, 1946-Present, and Pre-1867).  Each time period can then be divided thematically, making finding useful films fairly painless.

Some of the best examples I've found of historically relevant footage on the NFB:
  • Vistas: InukShop, focusing on the appropriation of Inuit culture throughout Canada's history.
  • Action: The October Crisis of 1970, a full length documentary film looking at October 1970 when Montreal awaited the outcome of FLQ terrorist acts.  This film includes a lot of archival and news footage from the era.
  • Westray, a feature documentary focusing on the Westray coal mine disaster that occured in Nova Scotia on May 9, 1992.
There are multitudes of other examples and options for any subject that professors, interpreters, and education staff might be trying to bring to life.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The History of Toronto Pride Week

Pride Week Toronto is a ten day event held annually during the last week of June in Toronto.  The week is a celebration of the LGBT community and is one of the largest pride festivals in the world.  Pride week has been held annually since 1981.  This year marks the 32nd annual Pride Week in Toronto.

Toronto's pride week grew out of a vibrant political and grassroots history.  On February 5, 1981 the Toronto Metropolitan Police under took the second largest mass arrest in Canadian history (the largest being during the FLQ crisis).  Titled 'operation soap', this mass arrest targeted bathhouses across Toronto and resulted in the arrest of over 300 gay men.  The reaction from the general public and the LGBT community resulted in mass protests and demonstrations across Toronto. The days following the mass arrest resulted in number of rallies ending in violence between the protesters and police.  The removal of badges by police and use of excessive force (think G20 protests) was seen throughout the city.  

The rallies were the earliest incarnations of Toronto Pride Week.  The rallies were the beginning of raising public awareness about discrimination and queer issues.  Since 1981, Pride Toronto has developed into a vibrant celebration drawing people from across Canada.  Pride Week has also raised awareness for major milestones in the LGBT community, such as: sexual orientation has been included in the human rights code (1987), Toronto City Council proclaimed Pride Day for the first time (1991), and the first Dyke March was held in Toronto (1996). 

Despite huge attendance numbers and some level of community acceptance, Pride Toronto hasn't been without opposition or controversy in in the recent past.  In 2010 Pride Toronto's decisions regarding the inclusion of the group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in the Pride Parade resulted in growing tensions between Pride and the Toronto City Council.

In March 2011, Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto, proclaimed that the Pride Parade would not by eeligible for city funding if the QuAIA were allowed to march in the parade.  This statement was later rebutted by the Toronto City Manager who said that Toronto cannot cannot "conclude that the use of term on signs or banners to identify QuAIA constitutes the promotion of hatred or seeks to incite discrimination contrary to the Code" and shouldn't be able to restrict funds on this basis. The QuAIA withdrew voluntary from the pride parade in 2011 to avoid controversy, but in 2012 the same struggle for inclusion debate over city funding continued.

Pride Toronto aims to celebrate the history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto's LGBTTIQQ2SA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, 2 Spirited, Allies)  communities. This celebration has risen out of a past rife with opposition and political contention, but continues to draw thousands to Toronto and flourish in the face of opposition.  The historical and ongoing political strife surrounding Pride is a subject that hasn't been fully explored by historians or the general public at this point, and is well deserving of further attention.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Exhibit Reflection: Body Worlds Vital

Part of my recent Science North trip included seeing the Body Worlds Vital exhibit.  This exhibit is part of a series of Body Worlds exhibits featuring real human bodies that have been preserved using a processed called plastination.  Plastination was created by Dr. Gunther von Hagnes, and the resulting figures created through the process have been termed plastinates.  These plastinate bodies allow visitors to see the inner workings of real human bodies in a way that wasn't previously possible. 

The primary gold of all the Body Worlds exhibits is to increase awareness about the human body and to provide opportunities for health and physical education.  Body Worlds Vital places emphasis on the potential of the human body and the body in motion.  In this exhibit a number of the plastinates are staged in athletic activities such as running, fencing, and dancing to highlight the development of muscle structures, the potential of a healthy body, and the general inter-workings of the vital system. 

Simply put, the exhibit far exceeded my exceptions.  The plastinates themselves are a remarkable mixture of art and science.  The staging of the plastinates in forms which highlight a variety of human activities and body functions allows for a range of educational opportunities.  The range of motion seen in the plastinates allowed for a variety of anatomical features to be highlighted, many of which I had little knowledge about before.  Similarly the placement of the plastinates allowed visitors to walk 360 degrees around them, allowing for all aspects of the human body to be seen. 

Additionally, the signage throughout the exhibit was really well done.  Each plastinate was accompanied by a textual explanation of what technique was used to render the plastinate and what parts of the body are being highlighted by the plastinate.  These textual explanations were accompanied by diagrams labeling muscles, bone structures, and major arteries.  The diagrams helped explain the plastinates and added to the educational component of the exhibit.  There was also oversize text and graphic panels with inspirational quotes relating to the human form throughout the exhibit.  These panels added to the reflective and respectful feel of the entire exhibit.  

The exhibit wasn't overly busy when I was there.  This allowed for a nice leisurely pace and for me to read all the text and spend ample time looking at each plastinate.  In contrast to the rest of the Science Centre where loud talking and running around are the norm, the majority of visitors looking at this exhibit moved at a leisurely pace and were speaking in hushed tones.  This was most likely due to the subject matter combined with the mood lighting and slow paced background music.  The whole atmosphere of the exhibit helped contribute to the educational atmosphere. 

Have you been to a Body Worlds exhibit? Did you enjoy it?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hands on Learning at Science North

This past weekend I spent the better part of the day at Science North.  I have fond memories of Science North from family outings as a child and my recent visit rekindled a lot of my enthusiasm for hands on learning. I work in an archive where most visitors have very little hands on exposure to the archival material.  Science North reminded me of the importance of interactive learning and making information accessible in creative ways.

One of my favourite parts of my visit included the floor dedicated to the landscape, animals, and ecosystems of Northern Ontario.  This floor includes a 'forest lab' with trees, a nocturnal room complete with flying squirrels, and a number of other common Northern Ontario animals.  The majority of the animals on this floor have spent their entire lives at Science North and are quite friendly -- I actually saw a staff person petting a porcupine.  This floor also includes an 'erosion table' that I remember loving as a kid.  The erosion table is a giant sand and water table that allows children to see the impact of streams and running water on soil.  Lots of messy fun.  Overall, this floor allows visitors to see first hand distinct features of Northern Ontario's landscape and to touch and feel a variety of Northern animals and plants.

One of the special exhibits currently at Science Norther is Wildfire! A Firefighting Adventure in 4D. This exhibit was created in conjunction with the Ministry of Natural Resource (MNR) and the Ontario government and focuses on the MNR's forest fighting efforts.  The 3D movie and accompanying motion seats provide insight into the workings of water bombers and forest fighting ground crews work.  This was a really well done experience; though I do not recommend taking small children to to see Wildfire! as a couple of the smaller children in the audience found the experience on the frightening side.  The Wildfire! trailer can be seen here.

Overall, I like Science North because  it is truly a place for both kids and adults.  I went sans children and had a great time, but there are tons of activities for families with children.  Additionally, unlike the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, Science north is rarely swarming with visitors.  Adults can take their time enjoying the hands on stations without worrying about taking a child's place.  Additionally, I found that I learned a surprising amount about Northern Ontario in a fun and interactive way.  The visit to Science North was well worth the trip to Sudbury.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Misery Loves Company: Misery Bay Provincial Park

Misery Bay Provincial Park located on the south shore of Manitoulin Island, is having a celebration this Friday to kick of the 2012 season at the Park.  This celebration will also mark the transition of Misery Bay moving from "non-operating" to "operating" park status under the Provincial Parks legislation.  This transition is significant as it means more funding and support from the provincial government.  This designation and support has the potential to be a huge boon to the largely volunteer and community operated Park.

Misery Bay Park is 1005-hectares in size and is classified as a nature reserve.  There are a number of  short (under 5 km) walking trails on the park which allow visitors to explore the landscape.  Perhaps the most well known feature of the park are the alvars that make up a large portion of the landscape. Alvars are a rare natural feature which consist of a limestone plain, with thin or no soil on top.  This unique rock based formation support prairie type flora and a one of a kind ecosystem.

The Misery Bay Park is also one of the few areas along the south shore of Manitoulin Island that is accessible to the general public.  The majority of the shoreline is privately owned.  A small visitors center welcomes visitors to the park and facilitates a number of walking tours, lectures, and educational presentations.  Weekly educational and interpretive events occur at the park throughout the summer to help educate the general public about the unique landscape and ecosystem which exists within the Misery Bay Park. The park is an excellent example of the unique natural heritage that exists throughout Ontario and would be well worth a visit if you are visiting Manitoulin Island or taking the Chi-Cheemaun across Lake Huron.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Reclaiming History Through Photographs

My most recent post, "Reclaiming History Through Photographs" can be seen over at the Active History site.  The post focuses on the use of photographs by repressed and minority peoples to reclaim a lost past.  Images can have a pivotal role in healing, reconciliation, and in the reclamation of lost history.  This particular post highlights Residential School photographs as an example of healing and rediscovering lost heritage through photographs.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Community Art: The Green Stairs Project

The Marymount stairs in Sudbury, Ontario on Ste. Anne's Road are home to a community art project.  The green stairs were once a safety concern for many local residents and many people did not feel safe using the stairs.  Foliage has been removed and lighting increased to make the area more visible. 

Additionally, in an attempt to make this a safe community space the stairs have been home to a community art project for the past three years.  The idea behind this rotating art exhibit is that the artwork has the potential to increase traffic in the area, which helps increase safety levels.

On the community level, organizers have encouraged local high school students to contribute works of art to the stairs.  Each spring art work created by students which comments on social issues is installed around the stairs.  A previously 'scary' space is now home to colourful artwork and a great sense of community.   It is great to see community members working together to reclaim urban landscapes that have been neglected in the past.

Here are some examples of the great artwork that has been installed around the stairs over the years:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Paperless Record Keeping in the Archive

Discussing the idea of going paperless in an archival setting seems a bit odd to most archival professionals.  After all, the bulk of archival records tend to be paper based in nature, the exception being born digital material and audio-visual collections.

I used to work with a colleague who insisted on printing everything out.  This included emails, instructions on how to fill out online forms, online registration documents, and e-books.  The amount of trees that died as a result of printing born digital material must have equaled a small forest.  Additionally, these printouts were often later misfiled, stuck in a  filing out cabinet never to be looked at again or thrown out upon reading. 

So, can archival documentation and records created as part of the administration of the archive be digital?
Providing a digital records management system is in place and proper tools are used to manage the vast amount of digital content, a paperless documentation strategy is possible.

 Interested in moving to paperless record keeping for administration and documentation?  A few tools I have found extremely helpful include:
  • Zotero as a citation organizer and source collector.  All those grant guidelines and instructions could have easily been stored and sorted using Zotero.  You can also share folders via Zotero, which makes this a great tool for sharing information with colleagues.
  • One of the most frustrating things I've seen is a museum which prints out and sticks in binders all the records they create in their digital database.  It is possible to use drupal or another open source database to document all collections related material.  My work has crafted a custom drupal interface that allows us to handle everything from accessions, transfers, to file level descriptions.  
    • If you don't have tech savvy staff there is also propitiatory software (with support) such as Past Perfect which might suit your organization's collection needs. 
  •  Processing research requests can be done in a paperless environment, however it does take some extra thought.  A lot of the research requests I process are requests made over telephone.  My initial instinct is to write the details down on scraps of paper.  As a result my desk has often looked like a post-it-note minefield. 
    •  I've recently moved to inputting all research requests into a spreadsheet.  The phone sits right next to my computer, make this an easy transition, and allowing for me to capture all relevant information in one spot.  This also helps me keep track of which requests I've processed and provides a place to reference common request answers. 

How does your archive or heritage organization handle administration records and documentation? Which digital tools have you found useful in making the shift to a paperless workplace?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.  Ebook reader outdoors in sunlight. Stack of books. User Martouf

Monday, June 4, 2012

Canadian Content at the AGO

Lawrence Harris, 1924
Last week while in Toronto for work I had the chance to visit the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).  Despite having grown up within a reasonable drive or public transit trip to Toronto I had never been to the AGO before.

My visit was on a Wednesday evening during free night.  Wednesdays are the only evening that the AGO is open and they also happen to include free admission.  Free night runs from 6-8:30pm, I arrived a bit before opening time but a line had already been formed outside the entrance to the AGO.  Judging by the line-up and the traffic inside the gallery these evening hours and free admission times are well attended.

Free night only includes admission to the permanent exhibitions at the AGO.  However, it is possible to purchase tickets to special exhibits.  Currently, the AGO has an exhibit on Picasso and tickets could be purchased for $12.50 to gain entrance to this exhibit.   I opted not to buy a ticket and to spend my evening exploring the permanent collections of the AGO.

For me, the most remarkable part of the AGO's permanent collection is the Canadian Collection.  A large portion of this collection is made up of material created by the well known Group of Seven.  Like most people, I've often seen prints of Group of Seven material and I am fairly familiar with the general motifs of their work.  However, I found seeing the original paintings done by various Group of Seven artists to be awe inspiring, and far more moving than I had anticipated.

One of the galleries that stood out to me, contrasted the well known images of Canada created by the Group of Seven with works by their contemporaries, such as Emily Carr.  This juxtaposition raised the question about accurate portrayal and if paintings by the Group of Seven actually reflected the landscape of Canada.  I found this added context and relationship to history intriguing and something that I wish more art galleries included.  Overall, I really enjoyed my visit at the AGO - even if some galleries were crowded - and I would definitely visit the gallery again if I was back in Toronto.