Gia Oris, via unsplash.com
As a kid, I was absolutely certain - certain! - that I had been on a family holiday out west when I was five. You could not tell me otherwise. I could tell you about a picnic table at a park in the mountains, how we stopped for lunch, how a chipmunk jumped up and stole part of my sandwich. “No dear, that was your brother; you weren’t born yet; there’s a photo of him at a picnic table. The chipmunk story happened to your cousin.”
I was certain.
Memory’s a tricky thing. Sometimes, in the Department of History, we’re in the business of making sense of memories, recollections, and other hazy spaces. What you’re reading right now is the first edition of ‘The View from the 4th Floor Paterson’, our own attempt at making sense of this Department as a collection of the memories, recollections, and above all, social interactions. The feed for Department news and events you can get from the main website. But here? Here we deal in all those other things that make this place what it is.
In this edition, we meet Jeff Blackadar and his computational work on landscape, Mark Anderson on zombies, Laura Madokoro reflecting on time, and we get an update on new concentrations for the PhD and the BA.
Bianca Ackermann, via unsplash.com
We want to profile the students, faculty, and fellow-travellers who make this department the vital place it is. In this edition, we’re profiling Mr. Jeff Blackadar.
The university is welcoming to me as a part-time student. The courses I’ve taken have all been interesting and I’ve learned a lot from each professor. In the late ‘90’s I returned to Carleton to do some night school courses in programming and the university kindly opened a spot. I learned concepts I’ve used since. In 2015 when I returned, I had a great experience in Prof. Joanna Dean’s Environmental History class as a special student and then I was able to rejoin the history program. The availability of night courses as well as flexibility extended by professors has allowed me to study while continuing my daytime job. Carleton has high quality courses and we’re doing innovative things. Being able to combine history with specializations like data science or digital humanities is another sign I’m studying at a forward thinking university.
History appeals to me as a way to understand what’s happening in the world and to consider opportunities and consequences. It’s a subject area I’ve always enjoyed and it’s stimulating when new research changes how history is interpreted. In recent years Digital History has allowed me to include my interest in using technology to study history.
Prof. Alek Bennett encouraged me to use my interest in gardening to study the use of garden plots to improve food security in World War I Wales. I had to use a variety of sources to see how much of a difference garden plots made to feeding people during a time of restricted food imports: town council minutes, photographs, newspapers, reports and statistics. Prof. Bennett supported me using digital methods and so I scraped information electronically from newspapers and the Gazette for analysis and computerized mapping. At the end of the project I felt I had accumulated evidence to show that garden plots made a large difference to feeding Wales and helped it avoid the hunger and related riots experienced elsewhere in Europe due to the poor harvest of 1916.
After completing my 3 year degree as a history major in 1992, my career was in Information Technology. Writing, research and developing an argument were skills that differentiated me and opened opportunities in management. Since coming back to Carleton I’ve had opportunities I hoped for and more I didn’t imagine. My analytical skills have improved and that’s beneficial to my work. Through history projects I’ve gained insight from databases, websites, geographic information systems and maps by working with them. I didn’t imagine doing projects with natural language processing or deep learning, experiences which are opening new doors for me in my career. Even more, becoming a contributing author to an article or working on projects with researchers at Carleton and at other universities are huge opportunities I’m grateful for, but didn’t expect. Through the Historian’s Craft and theory courses, I feel much better equipped to examine and write about history.
I hope to continue to work on projects with other historians and employ digital methods. I also want to continue research on Canada’s No 2. Construction Battalion from World War I.
With Hallowe’en not all that far away, it seems only right that we should ask: Um, why do you teach ‘A History of Zombies’?
Because zombies are real in several interesting ways. To begin with, they’re as real as Virgins Mary or Holy Ghosts, that is, to believers. But they are also real to science, by the way, though there are some steep technical issues in play here. Zombies are also part of the “real world” in which we live now. And they have been since Hollywood’s White Zombie (1932). But, of course, they have been never more present than since 9/11 (as in, zombies symbolize rampant consumerism, fear and loathing of racialized Others, in particular immigrants…). The course asks why? So there’s a lot of discussion, for example, of US foreign policy and the culture in which it has operated, that is to say, what I would term a more traditional history of white supremacy and the imaginary associated with it.
How have you challenged yourself in designing this course?
A couple of ways. You cannot do everything because there simply isn’t time… plus, I do not know everything about zombies. Second, and stupidly, I admit, I often bugger up the use of technology. But I am working on getting better with it.
Why do students like your course?
I don’t know exactly. But they tend not to drop it. I would guess because it speaks to contemporary issues that, at least initially probably of more interest to me, are quite clearly the end result of stuff that happened in earlier times. History, in other words. I think it becomes apparent in the course that we are all in a sense victims of the thing that we call history, which naturally implies that we have the power to change.
What has surprised you about your students?
Hardest question. I have been doing this since 1995. Idk, I don’t want to just spew platitudes…
What student work in the course sticks with you now?
Some group presentations presented and dissected games or films I had never heard of. So that was fun for me! Anyway, it’s virtually impossible to keep up with all things zombie. With respect to games, I was utterly lost, not having advanced much past Mario and Luigi trying to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser, and even this I attribute entirely to the influence of my daughters.
And a bonus question: what would you do differently about the course next time?
More time for group work, less of me just talking.
Nathan Wright, via unsplash.com
Laura Madokoro writes to us…
Over the past few months, I have found myself reflecting a great deal about the work that we do and the role of historians during times of crisis. My thoughts have ebbed and flowed alongside the crush of the pandemic, particularly as my efforts to write, research and support students have been variously constrained at different moments. Regularly, my mind has turned to the question of what can historians do in this moment? Not only in terms of the pandemic of course, but also in terms of the broad issues around racial and social justice. In the case of the latter, the role of the historian is clearer. We have so many insights to offer and so much work to do in our discipline and institutions. But in terms of the pandemic, I have felt quite lost.
During the spring term, weeks after we went online, I asked students to turn to 1918 and think about connections, differences etc between what was happening then and what was happening now. For some, this suggestion was too close, and too hard. In hindsight, asking students to think about what happened in an earlier pandemic – which much like the situation today was disproportionately brutal for Indigenous peoples and those who were racialized and at the margins of society in terms of socio-economic status – was not a good move. The exchange has stayed with me and continues to inspire the question of what historians can do in this moment.
Obviously, much of our work as historians is thinking about time: what changes over time, what endures and how time itself is structured. My sense is that more and more we, and many others, are also thinking about timing: when and how to take on a particular project for instance. Certainly, a lot of my planned work with communities is now delayed. What is important to me intellectually, is not important for others at this moment, and so I need to rethink the timing of certain projects. Fortunately, historians have the advantage of being able to work with time. The project that ultimately will be undertaken months or years from now will look different from the one I originally envisioned, but it will still be doable. But it will still depend on community support and resilience and we can actually contribute to that process, rather than waiting to see what comes.
This support can take the form of supporting the creation of archives and oral histories. And while it is certainly is exciting to see the initiatives that have emerged around archiving the pandemic, the question of sustainability, especially for vulnerable communities, is real. And we need to remember that it is precisely the most vulnerable and economically precarious that are being hardest hit by the pandemic.
All this to say, that my thoughts about what historians can offer during this time continue to ebb and flow. For me, and I suspect for many others, the pandemic is too close to make sense of in any intellectual way though I do think there is much to be said about precarity, racism and public health. But building towards the future by observing and documenting the present, seems to be one key thing we can assist with.
Men wearing masks during the Spanish Influenza epidemic MIKAN 3194045 LAC
We asked John Walsh, what’s up with Public History?
The next twelve months will be a time of expansion and evolution for Public History in the department. First, the new PhD Concentration in Public History has begun, with Sarafina Pagnotta and supervisor Paul Litt as our brave trailblazers.
Our new undergraduate Concentration in Public History is still on track to start in September 2021. With a recent university award for experiential learning, this new Concentration will feature a group practicum course that will see a class paired with a partner to work on a single project. Details on that project will be announced in Spring.
The M.A. in Public History program welcomed nine new students this September, giving us a robust current cohort of twenty students whose research continues our tradition of pushing the boundaries of scholarly public history both on and off campus.
The Centre for Public History is in a period of renewal, and among other things there will be a regular feature of faculty and graduate student work in public history, from within the Department and across campus, that will appear on the Centre’s website (www.carleton.ca/ccph) and through Twitter @ctrpublichist, Instagram @ctrpublichist, and Facebook. Finally, as our M.A. in Public History approaches its 20th anniversary in 2022, planning for a celebration of that milestone is starting to take shape. All in all, this is a vibrant era for public history at Carleton!
We wouldn’t be a history department if we didn’t have things for you to read or explore! What theme connects them? Answers to firstname.lastname@example.org for the second edition.
MIKAN 4171140, LAC. Photo Ted Grant. LeBreton Flats: Children on Street.
This newsletter is produced by the Communications Committee of the Department of History. Questions, concerns, complaints, or kudos: email@example.com, c/o Shawn Graham. Opinions expressed are those of the participants. Thanks to Jeff Blackadar, Mark Anderson, Laura Madokoro, and John Walsh.