Off The Record Issue on Archives and Indigenous Issues

The Archives Association of Ontario’s Off The Record open access issue on archives and Indigenous issues was recently released.  The issue includes a lot of great and insightful content including: three holdings profiles focusing on access to Indigenous-related materials and three feature pieces on various facets of the intersection of Indigenous communities and archives. Overall, it does an excellent job of showing some of diverse ways Indigenous people are represented in archives and how archives are handling discussions of reconciliation, access, and healing.

Full disclosure: the feature section includes a piece I wrote about my experience working at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and working in a community based archive.  The cover also includes a photograph of the Shingwauk 1981 Reunion and one of the other features mentions the Archives of Ontario Family Ties 150 Exhibit and the SRSC content in that exhibit.

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Ten Books to Contextualize Reconciliation in Archives, Museums, and Public History

My latest post “Ten Books to Contextualize Reconciliation in Archives, Museums, and Public History” can be seen over at Active History.  The post looks at ten books and articles as a starting point for learning about reconciliation, residential schools and indigenous rights in the context of heritage organizations.

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Archivist Interview Series

14472397513_fce2765c1fMargaret Bond recently interviewed me as part of her ongoing Archivist Interviews seriesThe interview talks about my current job, how I came to work in archives, and one of my favourite archival finds.

It was a delight to work with Margaret on this interview and her ongoing series highlights a range of archival professionals in numerous different types of archives.

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Archives of Ontario Family Ties Exhibit

Yesterday the Archives of Ontario launched their sesquicentennial exhibit Family Ties: Ontario Turns 150Running until 2018 the exhibit looks at 150 years of Ontario and what Ontario was like at the point of confederation.  The onsite exhibit focuses on four family groups in Ontario during the confederation era.  One of those family groups is the Shingwauk family.  The exhibit section which focuses on the Shingwauk family and the Shingwauk Indian Residential School contains artifacts and images from the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC).

I couldn’t be happier about the SRSC content being included in this type of commemorative and educational exhibit.  Thousands of visitors and students will learn about the Shingwauk family through this exhibit and the Archives of Ontario educational programming.

Here’s a Storify of last night’s live tweet of the opening by the Archives of Ontario


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Collaborative Digital Workspaces

collaborationRecently a couple of projects I’m part of have been trying out collaborative digital workspaces for communicating with large groups, sharing documents, and scheduling.  In both cases the desire is to streamline communication, avoid excessively long email chains, and facilitate collaborative digital projects.  The two platforms I’ve been using are Slack and Basecamp.


Branded as a communication tool for teams, Slack allows groups to organize conversations using ‘channels.’  Channels are ways to categorize discussion based on project, team, topic etc and can be created to suit your group’s needs.  You can also use Slack as a file sharing tool and it integrates with Google Drive and Dropbox.  Similarly you can sync an existing Google Calendar into the slack interface.

Slack is available as a desktop program or as an app.  I’m still new to this product and the slack ‘team’ I’m part of is still working on how Slack might fit into our workflow.  I do like the mobile app and the way you can customize notifications based on your preferences.  We’re only using the free version, so there is a limit to the number of messages that are searchable (10K) and file storage is limited to 5GB.  But as a communication cool even the free version seems to be fairly agile and good at aggregating conversations.  It also has hashtag functionality to help facilitate after the fact searching and navigation.


Basecamp is a more robust digital tool than Slack.  It is a project management and collaborative workspace than simply a communication tool.  Similar to Slack it’s available as a desktop and as a mobile app.  The pricing model for Basecamp is slightly more aggressive than Slack, the first Basecamp you setup with an account is free but beyond that is $29/month. Basecamp is simple to use and has a fairly clean interface that facilitates the creation of to-do lists, message boards, group chat spaces, the uploading and sharing of files, and scheduling. It has some basic reporting functionality an some search functions.

There have been some criticisms of Basecamp’s functionality as a project management tool – it doesn’t allow the assigning of tasks to multiple people and it doesn’t allow time tracking.  Outside of those flaws I think Basecamp works well as a collaborative space.  It’s been incredibly easy to share documents on and to facilitate conversations among a dozen people. I could see larger groups having difficulty keeping up with content on Basecamp – in my mind huge message chains on a message board are only marginally better to keep on top of then a lengthy email chain. Similar to Slack I like the app functionality of this particular platform which is easy to update and review while not physically at a computer.

What digital collaboration tools have you found useful in streamlining group workflows?

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Self-location and Concepts of Place

During a recent workshop on active archives and archives in the classroom my co-presenter brought up the idea of using self-location as a starting point for talking about residential schools and reconciliation. In subsequent days I’ve had a few conversations with colleagues about the value of using self-location as an instruction tool and how it can be used in teaching history.

The fact that the university I work at is located on the site of two former residential schools can deeply shape how conversations about place unfold. The history of the institution is directly tied to the legacy of residential schools.  How students, visitors, and faculty interact with spaces on campus today says a lot about how the site evolved from a residential school and the fact that the physical space has tangible connections to the past.  How people interact with campus history can be emotional, triggering, and challenging.  But we need to have those difficult conversations and  talk about how the legacy of residential schools interacts with the space we occupy as an institution.

Self-location can be a simple but nuanced a way to discuss how individuals came to be in a place, connections to a physical space and concepts of community.  Where did you come from? How and why did you come to this place?  What is your relationship to this place?  How do you define community in relationship to this place?

In terms of reconciliation discussions about self-location can be a starting point for conversations about land, marginalization, and colonization.  It can also help in the acknowledgement of what background experiences are being brought into a dialogue.  This is also a great way to start conversations about local history, community history, and Canadian history more broadly.  I could also see self-location discussions being shaped to fit students at a variety of education levels depending on how the conversation is framed.

Have you used the idea of self-location as discussion tool before?

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Reading: Interpreting LGBT History At Museums and Historic Sites

Ferentinos-210x300Months ago as part of a National Council on Public History annual conference workshop I received a copy of Susan Ferentinos book Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic SitesI started reading the book months ago but somehow it managed to get lost in my to-read pile until fairly recently.  This book examines queer history in the United States, provides an overview of sexuality and gender studies in the US, includes three case studies on interpreting LGBT history at historic sites, and a lengthy additional reading list for more information.

I learned more than I anticipated in the sections which covered queer history in the US – perhaps partially because queer history touchstone events in Canada follow a different time line and the history of the LGBT movement in Canada has been documented in different ways than the US.  This background section is worth a read if you’re not familiar with queer history in the US. I also really enjoyed the case studies which included in the book – all of which looked at approaches and challenges related to interpreting LGBT history as a public historian.  The case studies looked at queer history in museum spaces, historic houses, and archival settings.  They also touched on the value of integrating queer history in permanent exhibition or interpretation guides vs the inclusion of LGBT materials in special or temporary programming.  For me these case studies where the real value add and the best part of the publication.

This book contains a lot of advice around consultation, community based interpretation, and the need to have institutional and local buy-in to projects relating to LGBT history.  It’s a great resource for anyone looking to learn more about queer history in the US or about successful initiatives relating to the display and discussion of LGBT history in the US.

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Interactive History: Indigenous Perspectives and the Blanket Exercise

BlanketsAs part of Orientation Week at AlgomaU students, staff, faculty and community members were invited to participate in the KAIROS blanket exercise.  Originally developed in the 1990s as a response to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples the blanket exercise is a participatory teaching too that invites participants to learn about Canadian history from an Indigenous perspective.  The exercise has been updated since the 1990s to include information on more recent events such as Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Shannon’s Dream.

The exercise teaches about the impacts of colonialism, the loss of Indigenous land, residential schools, the sixties scoop, and numerous other facets of Canadian history that are not often taught in a classroom setting.  The visual representation of Turtle Island through the use of blankets, the physical act of participants representing Indigenous people and watching the spacial and visceral damage that is caused by colonialism is a really moving and had a huge impact on participants.

This is a very unique teaching tool that can be scaled to different age groups and number of participants.  I particularly liked how the session I participated in combined the national historical perspective with local responses and local experiences.  A local First Nation Chief spoke about his community and the removal of resources from their land and a Shingwauk Residential School Survivor shared their experience at Shingwauk as part of the exercise’s narrative.

Given the potentially triggering nature of the content health and cultural support was available throughout the event and the scripted portion of the exercise was followed by a sharing circle which allowed participants an opportunity to reflect on the exercise and discuss the experience.  Overall I think this is a great teaching tool that should be brought into more classrooms, community centers, and university campuses as a way of talking about history, ongoing inequality, and reconciliation.

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Reading: Unwritten Histories

oldbookA few months ago I stumbled across Andrea Eidinger’s Unwritten Histories blog.  If you haven’t already come across her site it’s well worth a visit.  I’ve particularly enjoyed her Historian’s Toolkit posts and her “What’s in My Bag?” series which uses material culture as a lens to examine the past.

Andrea has been wonderfully consistent in posting new content and typically maintains a schedule of a new blog post on Tuesday and a Canadian history roundup post on Sunday which highlights other Canadian history content online.

I commend anyone who is able to maintain that type of schedule for numerous months and still come out with interesting and insightful content.  I also love the name of her blog and the implications of exposing histories and parts of historical practice that are not commonly discussed.

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Eight Years of Blogging

Startup Stock PhotosI started blogging back in September 2008 as part of a course requirement for a digital history class I took as part of my MA in Public History.  Looking back I have a hard time believing I’ve kept up with the practice for eight years.  There have been the occasional lulls in my writing but I seem to always return to the keyboard.

Eight years of blogging and over 530 posts later, writing in the public sphere is still an essential part of my professional practice.  This informal writing practice has benefited me by connecting me with other professionals, helped me work through ideas in a space that can allow for collaboration, and opened doors to other opportunities. It is also flexible enough that I can adapt my writing style and topics based on interest, time commitment, and professional interests.

Is it worth the effort?  I can point to definite projects that have developed out of my online presence (on twitter and through blogging) and there are people I have connected with virtually who have become valued colleagues and friends. So, yes. I think it’s a practice worth maintaining and one I plan on continuing with for the foreseeable future.

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