Active, Digital, Public History

Friday morning at NCPH I presented as part of the “Reaching the Public through the Web: The Practice of Digital Active History” panel with Ian Milligan, Devon Elliott, Tom Peace, and Nathan Smith as the facilitator.  I won’t rehash our panel as a lot has already been written to summarize our presentations.  Prior to the conference Ian wrote a great high level summary of our panel.  Following the session Clarissa Ceglio posted her rapid fire notes of the session in google docs and Jim Clifford provided a summary of the Active History panels at NCPH.

 Following our panel I sat in on the “Working Group: Teaching Digital History and New Media” session.  Despite this being a working group session the audience and the working group participants were both involved in the discussion of digital history.  The session participants were broken into three smaller groups for discussion and then reunited for discussion as a larger group.

I felt the session format was interesting but I would have been just as happy hearing some of the working group participants speak about their experiences.  The working group format is ideal for discussions being developed over longer periods of time with sessions being fruits of that discussion–by involving the audience some of that background conversation might have been missed.  That being said, the twitter back channel during this session was full of useful comments about digital history as public history and the teaching of digital history.

My Friday session attendance concluded with the “After the Cuts: The Future of History in Canada” roundtable.  The roundtable featured representatives from prominent Canadian heritage organizations including: Lyle Dick (CHA), Ellen Judd (Canadian Anthropological Society), William Ross (Canadian Archaeological Association), and Loryl MacDonald (Association of Canadian Archivists).  The session was packed and was standing room only.

The participants focused on the impact of recent cuts to government funding and problems communicating with national heritage organizations.  This panel highlighted the widespread concerns professional organizations have with Canadian heritage cuts, the loss of programing, and impending sense of doom surrounding many recent government decisions.  The session was recorded by Sean Graham of History Slam Podcast fame and should be available in some format in the near future.

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.

Beachwood National Cemetery of Canada

The Arlington National Cemetery in the United States is well known amongst Americans (and Canadians) as the national site historic Cemetery.  The Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, Canada receives a faction of the visitors and publicity that the Arlington site does.  Perhaps this difference relates to larger patriotic differences in Canada and United states.  However, given the rise in dark tourism across the heritage field Beechwood may eventually become more well known to the Canadian people.

Established in 1873, the Beechwood Cemetery is the final resting place for over 75,000 Canadians, including our Canadian Forces Veterans, War Dead, RCMP members, Governors-General and Prime Minister.  The Beechwood Cemetery was designated as the national Cemetery of Canada in 2009.  


Some of the historical figures buried in Beechwood include: Sir Stanford Flemming, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden, and Tommy Douglas. Cemeteries of all shapes and sizes contain a wealth of genealogical and historical information, and tend to be well worth a visit if you can get over the potentially ‘creepy’ factory.

Coffee Table History Books

Bookstores are rife with picturesque coffee table books these days.  When browsing I tend to do a cursory scan of the coffee table books related to history.  Some of the most common topics are built heritage, pictorial biographies of public figures, local history, and the history of everyday topics like beer.

I particularly enjoy the books that focus on built heritage.  Some of my favourites are a book on the construction of outhouses and another book on the architecture styles of barns in Ontario.  Both of these works are comprised mostly of pictures, with explanatory text as supplementary information. 

I recently discovered an old (1964) copy of The Ancestral Roof: Domestic Architecture in Upper Canada by Clarke Irwin on my bookshelf.  Unlike a lot of modern day coffee table books, Irwin’s work is more text based with pictures as supplemental to his discussion of architectural styles. 

The text heavy style of Irwin’s book made me consider the evolution of visual histories and popular publishing.  I’m willing to bet that the majority of the public are far more willing to buy a pictorial history of the CPR then they are a giant tome detailing the rise of rail transportation in Canada.  But perhaps, pictures can be used to inspire a more detailed discussion of a topic and can be integrated into traditional historical approaches to reach a greater audience.

When Forever is Only Temporary: The Maple Leaf For Ever

The original The Maple Leaf For Ever song was composed by Alexander Muir in October 1867.  The song became somewhat of an unofficial anthem of English Canadians until the mid 20th Century, children were taught the song in schools and it was almost as popular as O’Canada.  The original lyrics to the song included many references to Canada’s origins and its ties to Britain, but included little reference to France or Canada’s francophone population.

In 1997, the CBC radio show Metro Morning ran a contest to find more commentary/politically correct lyrics to the song.  The contest was won Vladimir Radian, his version of the song removes the majority of the references to colonialism and acknowledges the existence of French Canadians. Since Radian’s version of the song debuted other Canadian singers such as Anne Murray and Michael Bublé have sang the revised lyrics at public events (eg. the Olympics).

It’s interesting to see how the original lyrics have changed so drastically in the revised version of the song. I’m undecided if the new lyrics remove the original context of the song or merely revise it for a new generation.  I would be interested to hear other opinions on the matter.