Friday, November 21, 2014

Prize watch: Cundill to Blood Telegram

This story of Nixon-Kissingerian nefariousness won the Cundlll Prize in history.

I kinda was hoping for the nominee about the Congo, on the theory that if we are going to judge the best history in the world, I want great door-stopping tomes about places and topics I know nothing about, rather than things that were current events in my own lifetime. The Cundill has been pretty good for that in some other years.

But good history is where you find it, and this one has a good rep, for sure.  Hey, in the Cundill, even the losers get $10,000.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

History of Internet domains

Is this gonna be huge in Quebec?
There must be a dedicated market for this one among all the new top-level domains becoming available.

The Parti Quebecois is already, natch -- would be awkward! -- but one can imagine a change there pretty quickly. And surely a lot of much less political institutions will be happy enough to move away from or to  At one time unles you could demonstrate "national" significance, you had to take, or, or whatever.That died quite a while ago, about the time CIRA, the agency that handles this, got serious about marketing domain names.

I wrote a little a few years ago on the history of And I kinda like Apparently no one is offering dot.Alberta yet. It remains notable that is almost the only national domain in the world with almost no takeup. World wide web, meet Planet America.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

History of another corner of the field

Having been cable-cutting a bit lately, we don't actually get Al Jazeera English TV chez nous, but this does sound kinda interesting, not least as an antidote to all the relentlessly uplifting WW1 commemoration that seems to be in the air here.  Update: online here, you techno-peasant.

World War One through Arab Eyes 

In this series, Producer Journalist Malek Al Tureiki, provides a political and cultural reading into World War I from an Arab and Islamic perspective, citing the commencement date of the war as November 14th 2014, when Arabs were involved in the “jihad” against the Allied troops upon the call of the Mufti of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. This is in juxtaposition to the date Britain commemorates the war on August 4th, 2014 – the day it entered the war. The series sheds light on how colonized nations, which had no say in their own fate, ended up being forced into wars which resulted in enormous sacrifices. As a result of this, the number of victims within the Ottoman population, including Arabs, is in fact much higher than that of the Europeans. While the percentage of victims in Germany was 9% and 11% in France, it reached between 14-25 % in Turkey and the Levant.
I was reading a little about "Chanak" recently, the incident in 1922 when Britain wanted Canada to help it maintain the "neutral zone,"  namely, its occupation of Constantinople and the straits between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, so as to "keep the Turk out of Europe."

Update, November 19:  Meanwhile, in other news of Middle Eastern perspectives on history, Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan has announced that Muslims preceded Christopher Columbus to the Americas.  Well, maybe, but Erdogan works from the statement that Columbus saw a mosque in Cuba on his first voyage. That seems to depend on this passage from the record of that voyage:
Remarking on the position of the river and port, to which he gave the name of San Salvador, he describes its mountains as lofty and beautiful, like the Pena de las Enamoradas, and one of them has another little hill on its summit, like a graceful mosque. The other river and port, in which he now was, has two round mountains to the S.W., and a fine low cape running out to the W.S.W.
So, maybe not proven

(H/T Jason Colavito, who has a little history of the claim's origins.)

Prize watch: the GGs

Canada Council for the Arts | Conseil des arts du Canada

Prizes thick and fast this season. The Governor General's Literary Awards came out this morning. Congratulations to all the winners (hell, nominees too), but not much history contending this year. I note that this year's nonfiction winner, Michael Harris's The End of Absence, and the most "historical" of the shortlisted titles, Edward Metatawabin's residential schools memoir Up Ghost River, are reviewed in this month's Literary Review of Canada, which arrived in my mailbox yesterday, and good thing, because neither of these reviews are offered online.

The winning book seems to be kind of an internet apocalypse book, but stylish and funny. You might recognize this feeling it describes (from a National Post review):
“Thoreau was right,” writes Michael Harris in The End of Absence, the newest meditation on the digital age. “Whenever I am frustrated, miserable, thwarted, I’ll open my in-box twice as often.” Harris, of course, is responding to a line from Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s most famous work: “In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office.”
Laureate Michael Harris seems not to be the Michael Harris whose Stephen Harper apocalypse book, Party of One, is hot right now.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Cundill History prize shorterlist

The $75,000 Cundill Prize, now down to three nominees, will be announced on November 20. Still standing, should you want a lot of reading in the next week:

·         Gary Bass The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide (Knopf)
A horrifying story of the Pakistani state’s genocidal war on the people of Bangladesh – and America’s sad record of complicity.
·         Richard Overy – The Bombing War: Europe 1939-45* (Allen Lane)
An extraordinary survey of aerial warfare in every theater of World War II.
·         David Van Reybrouck – Congo: The Epic History of a People (ECCO)
An intensely personal examination of the self-destruction of the Congolese state.

From the Cundill press release:
The winner of the 2013 Cundill Prize was Anne Applebaum for Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956. On winning the prize, Applebaum said: “It’s wonderful that this prize is not just for ‘non-fiction’ but for well-written, deeply researched history, which is one of the most difficult and time-consuming literary forms that exists. It's also wonderful that the award is generous enough to be of real help to the historians who win it. I am enormously honored to have been last year’s laureate." 

Have blog, get media

When a journalist asks. 'In your view as a historian, what does this say about us as a nation?" I really try not to be quotable at all. Did not quite succeed in this Post story on why sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers is so modest, private, and spotlight-avoiding.

Story is somewhat spoiled, in any event, by Vickers in Israel being celebrated by Benjamin Netanyahu for killing a Muslim.

Maclean's on leadership

Maclean's has its own views on the democratic deficit in Canada, so it's probably inevitable it skews my views to support its own in its editorial on the crisis of confidence in the Manitoba government. I did say:
As Canadian historian Christopher Moore points out in an interview, “An executive which lacks the confidence of a majority of the people’s elected representatives is no longer a legitimate government.”
But that hardly means that a general election is required in Manitoba, as they claim I propose. In my clearly expressed view, the NDP caucus, which still forms the majority of the people’s elected representatives in Manitoba, has the right, and indeed the responsibility, to remove Mr. Selinger by majority vote and to choose his successor as premier by the same process. That would truly empower Canadian legislators to represent us effectively.

Maclean's, however, prefers a "never do anything by halves that you can do by quarters" approach.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

We may not know much but we know what we don't know

At Active History, Raphael Gani speculates that the one thing every Canadian claims to know about Canadian history is that no Canadian knows anything about Canadian history. He calls this claim about universal ignorance one of the "sites of memory" we cherish and routinely reaffirm. Even it is is mostly mistaken.

He then brings his discussion around to the analysis of Canadian engagement with Canadian history undertaken by the group that produced the book and website Canadians and their PastsHe highlights a well-worth-reading review of the book by Daniel Francis. The Canadian confidence that Canadians are uniquely ignorant about history just does not stand up to serious analysis -- something I also commented on once.
Inevitably we compare ourselves unfavourably to the Americans. But Americans think themselves uniquely ignorant of their own past, looking to the British – where the new Cameron government recently appointed celebrity historians Niall Ferguson and Simon Schama to revive the dying subject of British history. The British look to France for models, but in France ignorance of the national epic is perpetually une crise nationale.
What's also clear from Gani, however, is the vested interest most people professionally engaged with Canadian history have in encouraging the sense of crisis over historical ignorance.  Complicated!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Great black historians

At The Root, Henry Louis Gates ponders who are the great black historians.  He means American, natch, and he means professors. But his candidates make a pretty interesting set of biographies.

I wonder who could make a list of the great minority historians in Canada.  (Is this one of those "shortest book in the world" things?) Afua Cooper? Georges Sioui?  Blair Stonechild? To get a long list or to go back very far, you would probably need to expand beyond Ph.D, tenured types.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Confederation at the Museum of History CORRECTED!!!!!

There is an old table from Regina making its way to Ottawa-Hull -- the table (if the provenance holds up) around which the Quebec Conference of 1864 was held and the 72 Resolutions, the bones and basis of the British North America Act, were approved.

It's part of the Confederation exhibit currently under preparation, opening November 28 for a run of just over a month -- which seems kinda brief, considering...

CORRECTION: Okay, your blogger is blind and illiterate sometimes.  The Confederation exhibit runs until January 2016, not January 2015.  Sheesh.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Remembrance

Right about now, the Law Society of Upper Canada is holding a ceremony to call to the bar posthumously all the law students who enlisted for service in the First World War and never returned: sixty of them, no less.

Law Times covers the event and lawyer Patrick Shea, who did the research to find who they all were

Gone for soldiers? Dunno, the commercial genealogical website, has been offering free access to a big collection of military/genealogical records -- but just to the end of tomorrow, Remembrance Day.

Ancestry promotes its Remembrance Day promotion by news of a survey that, it says, reveals "more than a third of Canadians unaware if they had ancestors who participated in either of the World Wars." Ancestry does not provide the survey itself, or data on its methodology and accuracy, so it is hard to know just what kind of question produced this "don't know" response.  

But it suggests a fresh twist on the old question "(What) did you do in the war, daddy?"

History of history of capitalism

Has social history had its day?  The (American) Nation has just published a long essay by Timothy Shenk on the new historians of -- and the new history of -- capitalism.  It is too long (though I'm impressed that any commercial magazine would publish an essay in historiography this long!), and roams too widely, but there is something going on here worth noting.
Mostly young, and mostly specializing in the history of the United States, historians of capitalism are one part of a broader revival in political economy. Yet the success enjoyed by this segment of a larger groundswell remains noteworthy—and surprising. Despite the seeming predictability of the subject’s popularity at a time when economic issues have moved to the forefront of public debate, turning capitalism into the central category of historical analysis requires intellectual sacrifices, pushing some topics into the spotlight and relegating others to the shadows. This has not escaped the capitalism cohort’s peers, many of whom fear that the trend would undo advances made by a generation of cultural historians, while leading to even more scholarship of and by white men. 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

History of Bridges

It's dumpy, and slow, and old - maybe not the Rocket after all

Charlevoix has the story of the debate in Montreal over the name to be given to the new bridge that will replace the Pont Champlain.  It is rumoured the feds will call it the Pont Richard for the Rocket, Maurice Richard.

I would have thought anything Rocket would go over well in Montreal, but apparently there is some outrage. What, dethrone Champlain?  Must say, I kinda love the idea of the Pont Maurice-Richard. But since I can see the affection for the Pont Champlain (there is also a Jacques-Cartier), I also kinda like the suggestion for how to have both Champlain and Richard.  Rename the Pont Victoria the Pont Richard -- and let the new Champlain be Champlain.

Yeah, I know the Victoria Bridge of 1859-60, first span over the St-Lawrence, significant engineering feat, vital link in making Montreal the railroad hub of Canada, etc etc, is of substantial historical significance. And mostly I'm not keen on endless erasing of historical nomenclature.  But we don't name the streets after Dorchester much anymore....

Update, November 7:  okay, Andrew Coyne was pretty funny on this:

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Canada's Great War Album

Canada's History and HarperCollins publishers recently launched their new publication, Canada's Great War Albumedited by Mark Collin Reid-- likely the most handsome and also most substantial of this year's commemorative volumes on Canada's First World War.

It's a book but also an online collaboration. The book includes contributions from a gang of historians (including me), but it also presents many photos and memories contributed by Canada's History readers over many months of preparation, and many of them never before published.

Today, they launch the Canada's Great War Album website, with, natch, a link for ordering the book, but lots more of those contributions as well.

Osgoode Society launching four new histories

They are giving someone the Giller Prize tonight, but us really cool kids are going to be a few blocks away at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, for the annual launch of the Osgoode Society's list of legal history titles.  This year's titles:
  • Ruin and Redemption: The Struggle for a Canadian Bankruptcy Law, 1867-1919, by Thomas Telfer
  • Petty Justice: Low Law and the Sessions System in Charlotte County, New Brunswick 1785-1867, by Paul Craven
  • Equality Deferred: Sex Discrimination and British Columbia’s Human Rights State, 1953-84, by Dominique ClĂ©ment
  • and my own Court of Appeal for Ontario: Defining the Right of Appeal 1792-2013.
The links above are all to pages of the Canadian Legal History Blog, where Mary Stokes keeps tabs on the field all year round.

Correction:  The Giller announcement is this weekend. November 9. Last night was only some Giller preview event. It was the Writers' Trust Awards last night, actually the largest annual distribution of writing awards in the country. Details here.