Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) annual meeting held at Ryerson in Toronto, Ontario. This is the first time I have had been back to CHA in six or more years and I happy to say it was a worth while experience. Though I’m still a die hard NCPH fan I can see that CHA has it’s place and value, especially to those practicing history within the academy.
CHA highlights for me included:
Meeting with Active History editorial collective and discussing the future of the Active History project. The last time I saw many of the other editors was in 2015 at the Active History conference, so it was great to be able to connect in person.
The “Decolonize 1867: Stories from the People event” was a great way to start my CHA experience. The session was organized by Stacy Nantion-Knapper and Kathryn Labelle and featured Catherine Tammaro, Brittany Luby, Naomi Recollet, Helen Knott, Jessie Thistle, and Carolyn Podruchny. The session was conversational in nature and included presentations focused around visual art, poetry, and storytelling. The words of the presenters invoked discussions of land, the ongoing impacts of colonialism, and a critical look at commemoration. Helen Knott’s poem “Indigenous Diaspora: Out Of Place In Place” was a beautiful and thought provoking discussion of land, colonialism, and resilience. Similarly, Naomi Recollet’s presentation of the “Unceded” video showcased the varying views Indigenous communities have to land, legislation, and government relationships.
One of the panels I really enjoyed was the The Indian Act: A Contested Technique of Colonial Governance, 1876-Present panel. This panel featured four presenters focusing on different aspects and interpretations of the Indian Act and the Act’s impact on Indigenous communities. Many of the papers on this panel subverted the standard colonial narrative and were looking for Indigenous perspectives on the Indian Act – either through oral history, finding archival sources written by Indigenous leaders, or reading government documents against the grain. The panel featured: Chandra Murdoch, “Mobilization of and against Indian Act elections on Haudenosaunee Reserves, 1870-1924”; Anne Janhunen, “Government Responses to Indigenous Political Organizing and Legal Representation in Southern Ontario, 1903-1927”; “Genevieve R. Painter, “Cutting Costs and Constructing Canada: A History of Sex Discrimination in the Indian Act”; Jacqueline Briggs “#PolicyFail: How the Department of Indian Affairs negotiated the dissolution of the assimilation and management projects in the 1960s”
I also enjoyed the “Recovering Indigenous Law in Ore-Confederation Land Conveyances to the British Crown, 1764-1864” panel. In particular, Jeffrey Hewitt’s discussion of “Wampum as Treaty Text” and the idea of looking beyond written text for historical information was something that resonated strongly with me. Hewitt also discussed the need for settlers to develop literary beyond the written word – and the need to view wampum belts, songs, and dances as valid sources of information.
Another highlight for me was connecting with folks I only know online at CHA. It was great to see some archivists and public historians at the conference and so many inspiring women participating in the event.
Things I would like to see more of at CHA:
The roundtable format used at the social media panel and the public historians panel worked really well. The format was conversational and included ample time for discussion. I would love to see more sessions borrow from this model.
More creative based sessions such as the “Decolonize 1867” event which re-positioned historical narratives.
More community engaged scholars sharing their work – and community collaborators speaking alongside academics at CHA. Community voices have value and we need to listen. This is particularly important when talking about marginalized communities and needing to open up the space to make room for those voices.
There was one solid queer history panel but it would have been great to see more queer history throughout the program.
The Public History Prize is sponsored by the Public History Group of the Canadian Historical Association. The award recognizes work that “achieves high standards of original research, scholarship, and presentation; brings an innovative public history contribution to its audience; and serves as a model for future work, advancing the field of public history in Canada. Nominations are encouraged on the nature and evolution of public history; the workings of memory, commemoration, and their application in public life; archival practice and policy; museum studies; and the presence of historical events and themes in society.”
I’ve been very fortunate to be part of Active History since 2010 and couldn’t be happier about this announcement. Many thanks to all of our supporters and the hard work of those involved with this project.
Overall the conference was an interesting and valuable experience. I listened to a number of interesting papers and talked with various people who are conducting research I am greatly intrigued by. The CHA provided a good environment for grad students as well, there were many students who presented papers and many more who attended sessions and used the conference for networking.
One of the thoughts I had while at the conference was that making the presentations available by podcast or the papers available online would be greatly beneficial. A few younger presenters did record their presentations, and plan to upload them to youtube. However, the CHA as a whole seems behind on current technology and online publishing. Though this is lack of technological advancement is something that plagues the history profession as a whole, not just the CHA.
I was also encouraged by the use of ‘unconventional‘ sources by many researchers. There were papers which were based on oral history, photos, films, cookbooks, songs, and many other non traditional textual documents. Similarly, many papers had an appeal outside of traditional academia and would be interesting to the general public. Perhaps this is a sign of the profession looking outwards more frequently.
Session 1: Aboriginal Oral History and Canadian Courts. This session dealt with the ongoing debate about the validity of using oral history in court trials. Christopher Bracken’s paper The Judge and the Pharmakon: Oral History and Aboriginal Rights was particularly interesting. Bracken examined the validity of oral history from a philosophical and literary perspective. The debate between writing and the spoken word have been going on since the time of Plato. All of the presenters highlighted the importance of understanding the difference between writing and oral histories and appreciating the uniqueness of each form of communication.
Session2: The First Draft of History: Archives, Archival Selection and the Determination of History. Despite the diverse topics which the papers in this panel covered, they were linked together by their focus on the use of archives. This session drove me to question the impact which filing systems, descriptions, archival organization, archival location, and who is keeping the records have on history. Archival material is a product of a social environment and cannot be viewed in isolation. During the discussion portion of this session a question was raised about the validity of private researchers using archival sources for litigation services. Dara Price of LAC answered this question in a commendable way. She pointed out that conducting research for profit and for a specific purpose is nothing new, and that archives have often been used by private researchers. This session reinforced the importance of being critical of archival material and contextualizing sources.
Session 3: Authority, Aboriginality, and Expertise. The papers in this session were linked by their emphasis on aboriginal agency. All three presenters focused on the relationship between governments and aboriginal peoples. I found Martha Walls’ paper on Exploring Federal Culpability in Residential Schooling particularly interesting. Walls examined the relationship of day schools and residential schools in the Maritimes. She suggested that the poor state of day schools, assisted the government in coercing First Nations into the residential school system. Overall, this session highlighted the linked relationship between first nation peoples and government decisions, and the way in which First Nations have frequently adapted to changing circumstances.
Session 4: Constructing Confederation and Constructing the Nation. All three presenters examined a different aspect of confederation. These papers were a combination of traditional political, social, and cultural history. Andrew Smith’s paper suggested that technology played a substantial role in the advancement of confederation. Ruth Frost examined Immigration policy following confederation, the role which immigration played in constructing the Nation. Bradley John Miller examined Copyright and the Constitutional Order. This session examined confederation and the the nation from a variety of prospectives, all of which were well presented.
This week I attended the CHA conference at Carleton University. I had originally planned to write about my experience daily, however the busy nature of the conference has resulted in this series of posts being posted a few days following the conference.
The first session I attended was entitled “Indigenous Historical Methodology: Beyond the Footnote.” The work of the three presenters focused on the issue of indigenous representation and the interpretation of indigenous history. One of the points that struck me most, in this session, was the constant struggle of maintaining academic integrity while still serving and doing justice to the community. This pull between objectivity and acting for a client is something which plagues most public historians. However using a variety of research techniques can assist in providing a more complete picture of the past.
The second session I attended was “Defining Authority and Identity in World War I.” This panel was one of my personal favorites of the entire conference. The presenters in this session looked at WWI from a variety of perspectives, all of which tied in aspects of social, political, and cultural history. In particular, Tim Cook’s paper “Oh, What a Lovely War: Canadian Soldiers Singing in the Great War” used songs and music to explore the unique solider culture which developed during the war. This paper also explore the way in which songs allowed soldiers to challenge authority and create a brotherhood of solders. Overall this panel examined the power relationships which existed during WWI in a way which was both insightful and creative.
The last panel which I attended on Monday was “Popular Culture and Social Life.” This session featured papers on a variety of topics including hockey, baseball, valentines, and cookbooks. The nature of these papers made the panel enjoyable, and I believe that any of these papers would have been easily appreciated by non academics. Additionally, Craig Greenham’s paper “Permission to Play, Sir?: The CEF’s Approach to Baseball in the Great War” would have fit nicely with the Defining Authority in WWI panel. Greenham’s paper examined the increasing presence of baseball in the military and the use of baseball as a tool for bonding, training, and distraction.
Overall, my experience on the first day of the CHA conference was filled with interesting discussion and insightful papers. All of the sessions I attended placed emphasis on the personal experience and on the social aspects of history. However this may have been due to my choice in sessions.