Monday, March 19, 2018

Blair Neatby (1924-2018) historian, RIP

I'm half starting to wish I had never started noting the deaths of Canadian historians. There are too many, and lately I seem to know too many of them. Case in point: Blair Neatby, historian of politics, Saskatchewan, French-English relations, and much else, whom I did not know well but never met without pleasure, who died in Ottawa March 11.  I talked to him once for a Beaver column about the Saskatchewan politician and '50s Minister of Agriculture Jimmy Gardiner:
Mackenzie King biographer Blair Neatby once interviewed Gardiner at his Lemberg farm. (“He was very down to earth and unpretentious, a genuine farmer.”) Neatby recalls a politician unintimidated by bureaucrats. Neatby’s uncle was a civil servant and deputy minister of agriculture and when Gardiner did not like his advice, he would simply say, “Remember, Ken, I’m the minister.” That attitude shaped Gardiner’s reservations about the Canadian Wheat Board, which he saw as bureaucratic and beyond the control by farmers; he preferred farmer-run co-ops.
Meanwhile, Lawyers, Guns, and Money notes another death: Alfred Crosby, historian of the "Columbian exchange" and pioneer of both environmental and Atlantic history.

Viola Desmond on the money

Fresh from Halifax, where she witnessed the fulfillment of the long campaign to see an non-royal, non-British woman on some Canadian money, Merna Forster of sends news of a recent poll by Ipsos (commissioned by Historica) about Canadians' lack of knowledge of women's history:
Canadians are largely unfamiliar with the achievements of notable women throughout Canadian history. As a measure of that lack of awareness, only a minority of respondents say they could identify the achievements of such accomplished Canadian women as artist Emily Carr (37%), author Lucy Maud Montgomery (27%), and suffragette Nellie McClung (16%).
I'm delighted to see Viola Desmond on the ten, and full of admiration for the campaign that put her there. And this is one of a long line of polls on historical knowledge, started by Historica's ancestor The Dominion Institute, which have often been fun and provocative.

But on any subject in Canadian history anyone can run a poll to prove that too little is known by too many Canadians. Every November 11 we are all abused for not knowing Canadian military history, and so on. Here's another well-meaning example from the current Literary Review of Canada:
At an event for her book at Montreal’s Grande Bibliothèque late last year, Robyn Maynard asked the audience of about five hundred to raise their hands if they had been taught in school about the two hundred years of Black enslavement in Canada. One man raised his hand. One out of five hundred.
By now everyone is trained; they know the answer they are supposed to give. Do you know the joke about the survey that asked Canadians what month the October Crisis occurred?  Six out of ten responded they did not know -- the schools don't teach enough Canadian history.

 Oh well.  Salute, Viola Desmond.  Merna Forster too.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Corruption in party leadership processes, #1,000,000

Regarding the Conservative party leadership "race" in Ontario, let me just note that the party reports having 190,000 members, but only 74,000 of them seem to have had valid mailing addresses, and only 64,000 or so voted.  (And the "winner" trailed in both the popular vote and the vote-by-constituency.) 

How many of the rest of the 190,000 "members," one wonders, were essentially avatars, memberships that had been created by the party leadership but had not yet been assigned to real people when the leadership contest suddenly emerged?  It doesn't seem to matter; no one is investigating it.

Creighton Lecture: Beverly Lemire

This year's Donald Creighton Lecture, the flagship annual lecture of the University of Toronto History Department, will be held on March 22.  The lecturer is Beverly Lemire of the University of Alberta on the subject, "Stitching the Global in an Age of Empires: Contact, Connection, and Translation in Needlework Arts, c. 1600-1880s." The lecture website notes:
Lemire has had a trail-blazing career uncovering the deep forces intersecting the economy, fashion, gender and material culture. Her publications address British, European and Global issues. She is currently heading the SSHRC-funded collaborative project “Object Lives and Global Histories in Northern North America,”

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Frederick Vaughan, legal and constitutional historian (1935-2018) RIP

Frederick Vaughan, longtime University of Guelph professor and prolific author, particularly on legal and constitutional questions, died recently.

I have to say I was unpersuaded by almost everything Professor Vaughan wrote on Canadian constitutional history, and at least once wrote a (for me) pretty negative review (scroll down in the link) of one of his books. Looking for the obit online today, I found a link to a review where Ged Martin reached conclusions similar enough to mine, and felt fortified in my position. 

But no doubt there are people who would disagree with all my work too. I once, not too long after my review appeared, sat down at a conference dinner and introduced myself to the person in the next seat -- and found it was Frederick Vaughan. There was a pause in which I wondered if he was about to denounce me, or worse, but someone else said something, and we enjoyed the meal without raising our differing views at all. So I'm quite prepared to endorse the obit's testimony to his good cheer and geniality.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

History of Women's Day

Impressive collection of International Women's Day comics on the funnies page this morning. More coverage than the news pages, actually - for those who still see a newspaper. 

I thought this one, from Rhymes with Orange, was the most history sensitive. 

Sweet history:  Janis Thiessen's story of Moirs' Chocolate and the Pot of Gold, long manufactured by a mostly female workforce in Halifax, Nova Scotia  -- excerpted from Snacks: A Canadian Food History and featured some time ago at the Acadiensis blog but  missed by me until recently.  Bittersweet: Pot of Gold has become a Hershey's subsidiary brand and is no long made in Canada.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

History of planning Toronto's wildernesses

Toronto historian planning historian Richard White considers An Enduring Wilderness by photographer Robert Burley, and how the parks and wild spaces Burley presents in his work are the products of a long history of deliberate planning initiatives.
Like many Torontonians, I know these ravines as an occasional walker of their paths. But I know them also as a planning historian. And these ravine parks are unmistakably the product of planning, having been conceived by Metropolitan Toronto planners in the 1950s as the city expanded out into its rural hinterland. Their planning pedigree has long been obscured by the ineradicable urban myth (thankfully, not repeated by Wayne Reeves in his essay in the book) that they exist on account of Hurricane Hazel, the storm that inundated the Toronto region with nearly a foot of rain over two days in October 1954, to devastating effect. The storm certainly expedited implementation of the parks plan. It prompted the local conservation authority to purchase much of the region’s flood-prone ravine land, forestalling any future development of it, and then to put most of this land – at least that which lay within the boundaries of Metropolitan Toronto – into the hands of the Parks Department for development into public parks. But the idea of ravines as public open space pre-dated Hazel.

Monday, March 05, 2018

History of Human Sacrifice

The Atlantic has a story by Laura Spinney on a mass anthropology study of the role of human sacrifice in human societies throughout history:
Were human societies able to grow so large and complex because cruel practices like human sacrifice shored them up, or because human sacrifice was abandoned in favor of other forms of social glue—notably, major religions like Christianity?
The study tries to get beyond merely anecdotal evidence by pooling historical data about large numbers of societies into substantial databases. It suggests the theory that human sacrifice can be a unifying force in societies of up to 100,000 people, but is actually socially disruptive in larger ones.

I wonder if they are forcing the data a bit, but what really struck me was the definition and assertion about human sacrifice.
Human sacrifice is defined as the ritualized, religiously motivated killing of a human being. It is no longer sanctioned by any state
I don't know about the "no longer sanctioned" part. The Atlantic has also been giving extensive coverage to the Parkland, Florida, school shooting where 17 people were killed. Doesn't that shooting meet the criteria for human sacrifice?

Virtually no American, I think, wants any particular kindergartener, high school student, concert-goer, church-goer, or other ordinary citizen gunned down horribly by the latest aggrieved or disturbed shooter with a tricked-out automatic weapon that he was able to buy legally on the open market.

But the faith is strong in the United States that it is vitally important that men, at least white Republican men, must have the means to assert justice as they see it. This is the Second Amendment cult, perhaps the most powerful faith community in the United States today. In many countries the collective rule of law is affirmed. In the United States it is widely held, by citizens and by lawmakers, that collective law can be legitimately nullified by the personal law of a righteous man who holds the means to impose law himself. The rule of personal law requires private ownership of powerful weapons. The Second Amendment is a sacred thing.

Second Amendment cultists doubtless do grieve when the faith is abused by those who kill little children and other innocents instead of imposing American justice. But what they make plain is that they do accept those deaths as worthwhile and even necessary. They are the price the Second Amendment requires of Americans, the constant human sacrifice that underpins the faith. For many, many Americans, these sad losses are, finally, a price worth paying. They believe in gun ownership more than individual human life.

The database builders need to integrate data like the American shootings into their research.  It is their theory that in very large societies, human sacrifice becomes a class and power issue, with the powerful sacrificing the weak until social cohesion is lost.  In the United States, however, the killings at schools, theatres, and churches don't seem to be a matter of class control -- the children of NRA members seem as much at risk as anyone else. 

It's complicated.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Prize Watch: Charles Taylor to Tanya Talaga

The other day, the Charles Taylor Prize in Literary Nonfiction was awarded to journalist Tanya Talaga, for Seven Fallen Feathers, her study of seven indigenous youth who ended up dead after coming to Thunder Bay to continue their schooling.

Talaga will be among the presenters at Writing True, the Creative Nonfiction Collective annual conference, being held in Toronto May 4 to 8.  Talaga will also be interviewing Sto:lo writer Lee Maracle during the conference.

On leadership principles, the Bloc is loyal

Kinda heartwarming, actually, how loyal the aging separatists of the Bloc Quebecois are to deeply held Canadian values.  When 7 of the 10 Bloc MPs in Ottawa find their leader intolerable... it is the seven who have to leave the party, while the leader, who is not even a Member of Parliament and is leader only because her supporters bought more votes the last time the BQ held a sale of leadership, somehow remains leader.

It couldn't happen in a working parliamentary democracy, but it's so deeply entrenched in the Canadian way of politics that even the politicians who want to leave Canada accept it without a moment's reflection, even if it means career suicide.

Update:  Dale Smith consider the perverse state of party leadership in Canada

Monday, February 26, 2018

Historians and issues in the news

  • Jan Grabowski of the University of Ottawa, historian of Poland, speaks out again against Poland's criminalisation of  objective scholarship on Holocaust questions.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Saturday, February 24, 2018

All the corruption in Canadian politics comes from political parties

Hey, he brings in the votes, doesn't he?
In the Globe and Mail, columnist Adam Radwanski examines how easily and routinely political parties in Canada are corrupted by the millions of dollars and thousands of people their leadership processes require  (italic added):
Parties do not typically have exhaustive formal vetting processes to determine who is allowed to run for their leadership. In theory, the leadership races themselves are supposed to serve as informal vetting, with candidates' liabilities brought into the open as they take aim at each other. In practice, parties often have low enough membership rolls heading into their contests that an available path to victory is the one Mr. Brown followed in 2015: Flood the party with new members, at your disposal if you make the right deals with the right organizers, and don't worry too much about persuading stalwarts looking critically at each candidate before deciding how to mark their ballots.
Regardless of how the job is won, new leaders then tend to benefit from some combination of discipline, deference and slavish devotion to winning the next general election, afforded even by those who predicted before the leadership vote that their victory would be disastrous. They are often allowed, as Mr. Brown did, to stack their party's executive committees with loyalists, with no inclination to push back against any of the leader's wishes. They are almost never challenged publicly by caucus members who may gripe about them privately. The leader is the brand to be sold to voters and, in the absence of strong structures, that brand becomes – for a time – the party.
All true, though Radwanski doesn't probe too deeply into the causes of all this.

He also doesn't connect the Ontario PC corruption to what has been happening to Prime Minister Trudeau, where Indian politicians and media point out (quite correctly) that the Liberal Party of Canada is much too cosy with Sikh separatists and terror-supporting Sikh organizations in Canada.  Many people in the Liberal Party surely knew Jaspal Atwal criminal record and involvement in political extremism.  But hey, he's a loyal party footsoldier; he brings in money and memberships.

And it's in the nature of Canadian political party leadership politics that money and memberships trump everything.  Even Canada's international reputation and the safety of our public officials.

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