Friday, 30 November 2012

When eyeballs are diglycerides: McHistory unravelled

Did you ever wonder about the history of that Big Mac you're eating? I mean, not just the history of the food itself (whose beef is this anyway) but about the whole process whereby you came to be eating something that tastes the same in London and South Dakota and Grand Falls.

Ian Mosby writes a great essay on our unease with industrialized food production, and the difficulties that a company like McDonalds has in grappling with this unease. See the essay on Active History here.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Who is the real Assassin?

Why did the Globe use editorial space to attack a video game? Have we gone back to the 80s where Space Invaders and Pacman are going to destroy the souls of children? No, it turns out it's more about national history.

Tom Peace writes a thoughtful piece over on Active History about the Globe's attack on the video game Assassin's Creed III. And, in one way (though not in others) he matches what Jack Granatstein has written in the latest edition of the Dorchester Review in an essay titled 'Harper, History and the Historians.' (alas, not online) Granatstein strikes a more sympathetic tone, but doesn't leave Harper unscathed. He also picks up on Peace's point that if you are going to say you want to celebrate history, then this requires supporting the institutions that facilitate research. You might not always like what the researchers find, but it's the institutions - the archives and libraries - that really matter.

Without them, we're stumbling in the dark, fumbling for light switches, and jumping at shadows.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

They paved paradise and put up a Conservation Community...

Ok, it's not exactly historical but I love Stephen Bocking's post about recent trends in suburban advertising. It helps that I've seen the signs he's talking about. See it here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The history of the Grey Cup

Allen Levine, the most recent biographer of W L Mackenzie King, has turned his hand to more sporting matters today in the National Post. See here for his account of the history of the Grey Cup.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Quantum History Take 2

An interesting comment via email from Helen Forsey about my post the other day on Quantum history (responding to Neil Turock's Massey lectures). She writes:

Very brave of you to raise this, but I am wary. I caught the last part of the same lecture, and Turock's suggestion that the "quantum" future "may even change who we are" (I think that's the quote)as human beings gives me a sick anxiety in my gut. I may be misunderstanding, but I think fiddling with the essential nature of humanity (or of our fellow creatures) is both dangerous and fundamentally wrong. It smacks of those among space enthusiasts who want us to pursue the frontiers of outer space instead of taking on the responsibility of caring for the Earth, our home. Our record of tampering with nature is not a shining one. Such science has deep roots in patriarchal arrogance, and it has already brought us to the brink. As feminist Dorothy Dinnerstein has written, such prospects "smell vile" to me.   
I confess that I hadn't thought about any of what Helen says. I was taking his words in another direction - not in turning us into a different, more techno centred kind of humanity - but in actually making us more aware of reality as it really is. The world works in certain ways that we find almost impossible to understand.

I certainly share the distrust of those who see possible solutions in space and technology that are only about avoiding the real humanly/politically created problems of here and now (ie so many responses to global warming). But I was taking Turock in a different direction. That is, the discoveries of physicists seem to ask us to confront our limits as humans, the ways in which we are incredibly limited, irrational, and unable to really understand the world. So I read his perhaps overly rosy language about the quantum future in this light.

But still. Quantum history anyone? Is anyone actually applying this stuff to the humanities? If time isn't linear; if can be seen as a spatial 4th dimension, how does this affect the writing of history?

I asked these questions to three great historians and smart people the other day over drinks. I received kind, bemused expressions. Maybe I really am out in left field on this one....

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Jerry Bannister Tonight

If you're around Peterborough, please do join us tonight for Trent University's 2012 W L Morton Lecture to be given this year by Jerry Bannister.

The title of the talk is 'The Tourist Gaze Reconsidered: Heritage, Politics, and Memory in Atlantic Canada.'

In my mind, Jerry Bannister is one of the reasons why early modern 'Canadian' history is where the good stuff is happening right now. Perhaps I'm just an envious 20th century historian, but I can't help but notice that this is the field that is coming up with so many original ideas, and insights. When I find myself at the CHA, these are the panels I want to go to.

See all the details about the lecture here.

Quantum History?

Listening to Neil Turock give the second of his Massey Lectures last night on "Our Imaginary Reality", I kept thinking that there must be something historians could/should do with what he was telling us. Over the last few years I've been a mild dabbler in reading about developments in physics but essentially I'm a scientific idiot: I never even took high school calculus.

Still, it seems to me that given that quantum physics has so much to do with time - with telling us that the way we understand time is entirely wrong - then historians ought to be listening.

Anyone have any ideas? I did a quick google on history and quantum physics but only came up with works on the history of the discipline.

Don't get me wrong. There have been so many wrong turns in applying science to history (Read anything by an evolutionary biologist/psychiatrist as an example - who needs causation, context or explanation? It's that way because of evolution!) But quantum physics seems like it might be different, that if we truly understood it, we would be obliged to rethink everything.

Right now though, it only makes my head hurt.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Wanna bet this isn't about racism and sexism?

Have you been following the story about the Queen's U history professor Michael Mason who was facing disciplinary charges because of some of the allegedly sexist and racist remarks he said in class? Margaret Wente jumped on the bandwagon  yesterday (of course), writing a column about it here.

Today I see the Globe is noting (here) how other Queen's professors have backed him up. The line from today's story which nicely sums it up is that he:

faced possible discipline after he admitted to using a series of racial epithets while lecturing, but maintains he was directly quoting others from historical documents to expose and criticize the overt racism that was prevalent after the Second World War – which he says is a common technique. He also directed the term “mistresses” at female students, but explains he only said he hoped those taking the class would become “masters and mistresses” of the material.

But I think the real clincher came in Wente's column when she noted his age, 74.

How much do you want to bet that this whole controversy has nothing to do with the what he said in the classroom, and really is about the university just using the opportunity provided by some student complaints to finally shove out the door a professor who perhaps they feel has been there too long? Who knows (I do not) but perhaps there are personality issues? In academic politics there usually are.

But I am almost certain that what the newspapers are pointing out isn't the real story.