Thursday, April 16, 2015

Free Speech and Campuses

Historiann supports the rights of universities to maintain and enforce codes of conduct:  yes, you have a right as a citizen to say that, but a student saying that becomes incompatible with being a part of our university community. She disagrees fundamentally with an argument by a fellow historian that says, hey, First Amendment.

What's really impressive is the comments she has accumulated:  a civil, articulate, committed discussion of the pros and cons, mostly disagreeing with her.  The counter-argument, at the level of principle, is mostly that universities do have the right to require conduct that facilitates the educational goals of the university, but that since rough speech doesn't really interfere with those goals, there are no grounds for sanctioning it.

Chez Historiann, it's mostly a Planet America discussion; the Dalhousie dental school is not on the radar. In Canada we have, I think, a much broader tolerance for limiting hurtful speech.  But the issues are as alive.

Partly I'm just impressed to see a comments section that does not descend into drivel and irrelevance after about 2 comments at most.  Hmm

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Martin Gilbert on Churchill is free?

As a public service I feel obliged to report that the many-volume biography of Winston Churchill by Martin Gilbert is said to be briefly available as a free (and legitimate) download from here.via Rosetta Books and the Kindle Store.  Update:  following the links, it seems to be over already, unless you are more savvy than me).

Piracy I understand more or last, but publishing economics.... who knows?  H/t Quillblog.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dreaming about Champlain, Dreamy Champlain, Champlain's Dream

I've been intermittently watching Le Rêve de Champlain on TFO, the French-language TVOntario (the program is also online from their website, and Champlain tweets, too, I understand).

I'd say I'm entertained. It moves fast; it's lively and modern. The reenactments are brief and not forced to carry too much freight. There's lots of digital display, and lively interactive maps.  The talking heads are brief, and lots of the narrative is carried by hip young "correspondents" who stand in attractively shot modern landscapes (Honfleur -- I wanna go) to describe what Champlain did here 400 years ago. So Vincent Leclerc -- correspondent: Ontario -- stands in the parking lot of a Syracuse, NY, shopping centre and explains why it occupies the same space as the Onondaga fortified village Champlain and the Huron attacked in 1615.  Quebec City never looked better, and nor did the rapids of the Mattawa or the French River.

The program's strength is also its weakness: it has a strong hero, which makes for a strong narrative line.  But for the rest of us, it's pretty great-mannish, based on David Hackett Fischer's dream of Champlain the humanist who only came to Canada so that Europeans and Amerindians would live together. Nah.  I wish someone could capture that moment as a handful of European aliens on an Amerindian planet, and make the First Nations more than supporting castmembers and arquebus-fodder.

And 'tseems they are skipping entirely the recently found baptismal certificate that seems to fix Champlain's birthdate at August 1674.  That date makes even more completely impossible the never plausible whimsy that Champlain might have been the son of Henri IV, which the program and Fischer both play happily with.

But I'm still watching.

Image: TFO.

Monday, April 13, 2015

History is where you find it

This is Bessie Starkman in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography:
In August 1921 a ruling by a court in Windsor, that there was no Canadian law prohibiting the export of liquor, set the stage for rumrunning on a grand scale. With Ontario still dry, the Perris expanded from the Hamilton-Kitchener-Windsor triangle and sold large amounts of liquor and beer across the province; boxcar loads went to New York State via Niagara and to Detroit and Chicago via Windsor. It was Bessie who placed orders with the distilleries and breweries, laundered the money and handled the bank accounts, dealt with other gangsters on liquor and drug deals, and paid gang members and bribes. Fond of expensive clothing and jewellery, she often displayed a high-handed manner that would alienate members of the Perri mob.
And this is Bessie Starkman in the catalogue of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario:
 $39.95, limited or seasonal quantities.Sorry, no tasting notes.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

New and recent books watch: UTP

 (Posts to follow will look at other presses.)

In The End of the Charter Revolution,(published in December 2014) Peter McCormick means, I think, that the revolution, not the Charter, is over.The idea that the charter, and interpretation of it by the Supreme Court of Canada, are fundamental to the politics of Canada has become the new normal.  Get over it, he seems to say to court critics who fume that the Supreme Court thinks the constitution is what they say it is. 'Cause it is what they say it is.

In More than Just Games (April 2015) Richard Menkis and Harold Troper look at Canadian participation and the intersection of politics and sport in the Berlin Olympics of 1936.

Donald Wright's Donald Creighton: A Life in History launches next month.

Veronica Strong-Boag's Liberal Hearts and Coronets (February 2015)is said to be the first book to take John Gordon as seriously as his better known spouse, Ishbel Marjoribanks Gordon. Not knowing much about her either, mea culpa, I'm prepared to believe. Just to complicate things, John King Gordon, who is not the same guy, gets his own biography in Keith Fleming's The World is Our Parish (also February 2015).

And many more, that you can browse from here.

At the UTP blog, Linda Morra, author of Unarrested Archives, studies of the papers of several Canadian women writers, reflects on being a "dirty girl."  I've often been amused by highlighting uses of the journalist's cliche "poring [sometimes "pouring"] over dusty archives," and pointing out that most archives are clean, well-lit places, and dust is not a large part of the experience.  Maybe I will back off a bit.  Morra works a lot with "informal" archives, where dirt is real and serious, and even in the official ones, she observes, dust is part of the job.  She goes on to muse about dishing the dirt, getting down and dirty, and other metaphorically dirt-related aspects of doing archival research on marginalized subject.

Also an oddity. The U of T Press online catalogue and store offers A History of Canadian Legal Thought, a collection of essays in legal history by RCB Risk, published in hardcover back in 2006 for $56.  But the ebook version was published in February 2015... and it costs $80.  Howwzat?

Okay $56 is a discounted online price for the prnt book -- presumably because with the ebook available, UTP wants to reduce its warehousing costs on what remains of the print edition. But there will be no warehousing costs, ever, for the ebook edition, and it won't cost anything to ship the ebook to you. Doubtless there have been some costs in creating the digital text, but are press overheads such that an ebook commands such a premium over the print edition?  I guess so... but it doesn't make scholarly ebooks an easy sell, I would think.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

This week in history

Busy week for anniversaries.
  • John Franklin is mostly known for being dead somewhere near King William Island ("The white north has thy bones, heroic sailor soul"), but my friends at the Friends of Fort York remind me that 179 years ago on April 5 he was very much alive and visiting Toronto.  Details from their newsletter Fife and Drum.
  • 147 years ago on April 7, D'Arcy McGee was shot dead on Sparks Street in Ottawa.  The Dusty Bookcase, which turns out to be not quite dead, pursues the story of how McGee apparently foresaw his death... but actually did not.
  • In the United States, today, April 9, is the 150th anniversary of the surrender of General Robert Lee at Appomattox Court House, effectively the end of the American Civil War.  Media attention in the United States seems to be muted. The Atlantic concludes that "the civil war is not over."
  • In Canada, it is the 98th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.  I'm cooling on this anniversary, I must admit, because of the determination of the Government of Canada to twin its centenary in 2017 to the 150th anniversary of Confederation, with Vimy increasingly being presented as the "real" birth of the nation. Vimy and the First World War deserve attention in their own right, but the militarization of confederation is deplorable. Still you might consider the work of The Vimy Foundation:  

Update, April 13:  The Toronto Star editorialists disagree, finding a constitutional amendment was made at Vimy, "from colony to becoming a country in its own right."

And:   on April 12 democracy activists in Toronto marked the 177th anniversary of the hanging of Samuel Lount and Peter Mathews for their participation in the Upper Canadian rising of December 1837.

Archives Canada-France closed -- by France

Archives Canada-France, an online portal providing both lists of collections and digitized documentary series about archival sources in France, Canada, and elsewhere related to New France, seems to be dead, due to a withdrawal of support from the French government.

The Institute d'Histoire de l'Amérique Française has written to French and Canadian archives regretting the loss of this online partnership and urging its reinstatement.

Some information about the site survives here, but the site itself says "Closed for maintenance"

Thanks to André Gousse of Parks Canada for the heads up.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

More on Ken Coates on Career Ready

I tend to look askance at universities and how they operate, so I take a sympathetic interest in studies of how they fail to serve their students and society at large, particularly by fellow historians. But, as I started to say the other day, reading Ken Coates's analysis in his recent report Career Ready doesn't leave me confident that these are problems historians are solving.

The fundamental arguments of Career Ready are 1) that the trouble with the Canadian economy is a shortage of skilled workers, and 2) that the shortage is caused by over-entitled kids who with their parents have misaligned expectations for their futures.

The fundamental solution Career Ready offers is coercing more young people out of university educations and into skills training programs, with curricula and credentials defined by businesses that will then employ them.

The problem with assertion one is pretty simple. There is good reason to believe there is no skills shortage. There is a shortage of short-term informal job training – that is, on-the-job training, the kind of thing that Canadian business should be doing in house, largely outside the education system, but does not and will not do, thereby pushing job-seekers into ever more expensive and often misaligned diploma chasing. Studies on this are here (Maclean's) and here (scholarly). Ken doesn’t cite studies in the report, he just declares.

The problem with assertion two is more complicated. I share Ken’s wish for young people to have secure, productive careers in the Canadian economy, and I’m pretty sympathetic to his assertion (again, no data given) that many young people who enter university are not very well suited, get a lousy education, and too often emerge with doubtful prospects, particularly in the arts, social sciences, and humanities areas.

But are Canadian families really suffering from “misplaced expectations” when they put value on university education?

Monday, April 06, 2015

History of historians: Eric Hobsbawm

In The London Review of Books, Frances Stonor Saunders examines what's available of the secret security files on historian Eric Hobsbawm, which were never made available in his lifetime and therefore lack his own assessment of it. MI5's surveillance was so comprehensive (though not at all insightful) that it even knew what some of his fellow members of the Communist Party of Great Britain thought of him in the 1950s:
‘a dangerous character … an opportunist’, ‘a slippery customer’, ‘behaving very badly’, ‘two-faced’, ‘a swine’, ‘a very queer fish’, a ‘nasty piece of work’. He is accused of ‘taking a bellicose attitude’ towards the party leadership;
Being a member of the party seems to have been a psychological necessity for him (‘We belonged together’) and when the party threatened him with expulsion, according to one telephone intercept, he became ‘frightfully upset, swearing that he never wanted to leave’. Hobsbawm glosses over this crisis in his autobiography: he stayed in, he says, because he didn’t want to join the score-settling cadre of ex-communists. Unappealing as this richly remunerated truth squad was, this is frustratingly insufficient; why couldn’t he have recycled himself as a sympathiser, a non-party independent communist?
I once interviewed him for a radio program. I wonder if there would be an RCMP file as a result?

Update, April 10:  At LGM, Eric Loomis goes after the next generation, business professor (!) Julia Hobsbawm.

Coates on higher education

Quick reaction: does this sound at all plausible as a future education policy initiative in any Canadian province?
Canada could dramatically improve the quality of university education by cutting enrolment as much as 25 to 30 per cent while maintaining budgets at roughly the same level.
There's a government somewhere that will shrink university sizes by 25 or 30 per cent -- and keep funding at the same level?  Ya think?

About this point in Career Ready, (it downloads from here), the new report on Canadian education policy by my old friend and fellow historian Ken Coates for the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, I began recalling an old theory of mine. When universities really screw up, I look to see if the one in charge is a former history professor turned administration guy.  No every time, but....

Having fled the university decades ago and never looked back, I can find much to sympathize with in Ken's analysis. Sure, they are too big, take in too many people for whom they are ill-suited, don't prepare students well for many important careers (or do so at great expense and mostly by neglecting their real work), and so on. I can believe we would all be better off if fewer people pursued university educations and more resources were devoted to colleges and other job-market-oriented institutions.

But then he argues that education should be subsidized by business because business is better at setting education policy than government; and that the real problem is: Kids Today! ("the current generation of young people is defined by a sense of entitlement and an expectation that their lives will somehow unfold along a predetermined and positive trajectory."). And he's lost me.

I hope to get back to a further consideration of Ken's recommendations.  On the whole, however, I'm still of the view that a) the kids are alright, and b) the solution is not in cutting supply, but in a fall in demand for university places, and c) business will never really have a clue about education policy, because its own interests and biases will always come first.


Thursday, April 02, 2015

Book notes: O'Connor on the first green wave

Historian and friend of this blog Ryan O'Connor today launches The First Green Wave: Pollution Probe and the Origins of Environmental Activism in Ontario.

O'Connor opens his narrative with the story of a theatrical funeral for the Don River in Toronto, orchestrated by Pollution Probe in 1969. Growing up in British Columbia, I was always more aware of Greenpeace, which started about the same time and never lagged in self-promotion -- something Graeme Wynn notes in his introduction. In 1969, "pollution was in the air," he writes.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Lawyers and history

My friends at Law Times have a good story up about how the lawyers of Barrie, Ontario, got together to preserve their local courthouse's 147 year old portrait of James Gowan, pioneer judge of Simcoe County and a happening guy in 19th century political and legal history.

Chief Justice of Ontario George Strathy had a pretty good story to tell at the unveiling of the expensively restored painting. He's Gowan's great-great-great nephew, as it happens.
Strathy delivered the keynote address to the Simcoe County Law Association earlier this month during the unveiling of the Gowan portrait. There, he explained his other connection to local justice: the killing of his great-grandfather and the resulting trials, a process the current chief justice has closely examined.
Jack Strathy, a Barrie banker, was shot in the heart on his doorstep 120 years ago. Less than two months later, the shooter was on trial for murder. On appeal of his conviction and sentence to hang, the court ordered a new trial. The court found him guilty once again and handed him the mandatory death sentence. His lawyer then launched a petition for clemency by the federal cabinet, which commuted the sentence from death to life imprisonment. “And while the trials were brief, it was not at all uncommon at the time,” observed Strathy during the painting’s unveiling.
“The lawyers got to the point; the judge got to the point. There was no way a jury of farmers and merchants was going to be kept away from their farms or their jobs for any longer than necessary.”
DBC has the full James Gowan biography
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