Monday, August 22, 2011


This summer saw a few changes to our department, which alumni and students will be interested to hear about as we head into the new academic year.

For those of you who notice that Valerie Korinek is not around this term, I'm pleased to report that her absence is only temporary.  She is taking a well-deserved sabbatical after spending the last three years as our Head.  Back in May, we had a celebration for Valerie to thank her for all her hard work on our behalf. 

Valerie giving a short speech about her headship (Photo credit: Nadine Penner)

In Valerie's place, we welcome Jim Handy as department head. Valerie's speech was very instructive about the trials, tribulations and pleasures of being head.  With Jim's own journey beginning, we wish him well in his new job!

Slide from Valerie's speech (Photo credit: Nadine Penner)

Last, but not least, we bade a fond farewell to John McCannon and Pam Jordan, who have moved back to the United States to be closer to their families.  Good luck and all best wishes for your own journeys, John and Pam!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Breaking News

This just in: Bill Waiser has just been named a "Distinguished Chair" by the University of Saskatchewan.  The award is "meant to honour and celebrate exceptional achievement in research, scholarly work, or artistic work" and will be for a three year term.  Congratulations, Bill!

Friday, August 19, 2011

History Warm-Up Exercises

With term time fast approaching, it's time to start stretching your back-to-school mind muscles.  Develop your flexibility by checking out these links to historical subjects across time periods and geographical places.

A fantastic blog that was recommended by John Porter is The History Blog.  The blog keeps its beady eye on historical tidbits in the news so you don't have to.  It also occasionally posts real estate ads for choice bits of historical property.  The entry for August 18 is for a Swedish house c. 1750, complete with preserved skeleton in the basement.  How's that for living history?

For uncomfortable living history, you should take a look at the Wellcome Collection's Incurably Curious, which has photos and articles on subjects from anatomy lectures to hand x-rays, with foot-binding and peep shows along the way.

If you didn't manage to do as much travelling this summer as you would have liked, never fear -- I have rounded-up some beautiful photos for your armchair travels.  You can see a comparison of Scotland's landscape then and now: Scotland's Ever-changing Scenery.  Then take a look at John C.H. Grabill's late nineteenth-century photos from the American West: Frontier Life in the West.  Or what about a collection of photos to highlight how London has reinvented itself over the years: Vintage London: Taking in the Smoke?  And for those of you who like the raw edge of history, with a smattering of disease, grime and crime there is Dirt: The Filthy Reality of Everyday Life and Eerily Beautiful Mug Shots from 1920s Australia.

If you did take a holiday and have lots of photos or have been collecting your own set of historical photos that you want to share, you should check out Historypin.  You can also view the existing collections of historical photos already there, which includes subjects as diverse as "The Facial Hair through Time Collection", "The Street Party Collection" or "Animal in Unusual Places".  There are more serious historical ones, too, such as "The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake".

Now that you've had your fill of photographs, what about a couple history games? The McCord Museum has a fun game about gender and social roles in The Victorian Period.  I'm pleased to report that my many years working as a historical interpreter at Rutherford House at Fort Edmonton Park paid off!  The McCord also has quizzes and other games.  A game at which I was somewhat less successful is High Tea from the Wellcome Collection, which deals with the tea and opium trade of the nineteenth-century.  I'll beat it yet.

Happy time stretching!  If you come across any other fun or useful history links in the course of your exercises, please let me know.

Monday, August 08, 2011

New Book:
The Dirty Thirties in Saskatchewan

Attention Saskatchewan and environmental history buffs: alumnus Curtis McManus (B.A. 2003, M.A. 2004) sent in a notice that his book, Happyland: a history of the “Dirty Thirties” in Saskatchewan, 1914-1937, was just published by the University of Calgary Press.  Curtis, now an instructor at Lakeland College in Lloydminster, reports that the book expands on research that he began with his M.A. thesis.  His book situates the Dirty Thirties within the context of cyclical droughts rather than the economics of the Great Depression.  To find out more about the experience of Saskatchewanians and the long-term effects of cyclical drought on the Saskatchewan psyche, you can sample excerpts of the book online or (even better!) purchase the book in full from the usual suspects.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Road Warrior's Tales
from the Archives
(by Brenan Smith, M.A. Candidate in History)

Richard Nixon Library

Despite my hopes that I had mastered the art of archival research while at the Eisenhower Library, I soon learned that one always has more to learn. 

On the second research trip, for example, I discovered that while the Richard Nixon Library does indeed have more documents related to Richard Nixon than the Eisenhower Library, it has much tighter controls.  There's probably a joke about a paranoid need for control in there somewhere.

Still, I was able to conduct lots of research; I scanned an average of 858 pages per day of research.  While in Abilene, I had found that on a short research trip (as they generally are, given research funding constraints) it is easiest to find things that might be of use and scan as many of them as possible.

But in L.A. there were several complex layers added to this process.  The Nixon Library's protocol is that the researcher present the files within the folders within the boxes that s/he would like to scan before actually scanning them.  If that sounds complicated, that's because it is.  According to a fellow Canadian who was also at the Library, it was "the most ridiculous policy" that he'd ever encountered.

Another key lesson that I learned (after "know thy protocol") is that being extra polite, combined with some level of feigned (not so feigned?) helplessness, can go a long way with archivists.  The archivists were friendly and helpful -- and with each passing day, my research became easier.

And so ended my first two research trips.  I had lots of fun and discovered all sorts of great information, although some of it might only amuse other historians in my field.  I have a newfound respect and admiration of the American Interstate system (N.B. Dwight Eisenhower created it!) and I became ever more enthusiastic about my topic even as the gads of information that I gathered have made me start to worry about fitting it all in to one tiny thesis.
Fountain outside Richard Nixon Library

Monday, August 01, 2011

Fuelling History:
Tips on Diet, Health and Driving
from the History Road Warrior
(by Brenan Smith, M.A. Candidate in History)

After driving from Saskatoon to Abilene, Kansas, and spending a solid week researching at the Eisenhower Library, I thought that I had at last mastered the arts of travelling amongst Americans and archival research.  One of the most important research strategies that I discovered was forgoing lunch in order to keep up my research momentum (and which allowed me to leave half an hour early each day--when my concentration was waning anyhow, of course).

Protein bars helped in the absence of lunch (N.B. no tiger's milk included)
 Nutrition is obviously important in daily life, but doubly so during a research trip as the long grind can quickly wear one out.  Luckily the fabled In n' Out Burger was not ridiculously far from the Library, and I quickly made a vow to have nothing but two "Flying Dutchman" and a diet Coke for supper every day until I left.  Such a vow was also cost effective:  $8 American.
Flying Dutchman Burger (N.B. no bun included)
Since Los Angeles is a rather warm location, it was important to stay hydrated.  I found that the $3 bottle of Voss, an imported Norwegian water, had the distinct advantage of looking like a rather large vial of cologne, but otherwise it tasted oddly similar to tap water.

Fancy, overpriced water (N.B. tap water cheaper and better)
On the topic of heat, people in L.A. can spot a Canadian rather easily: while 23 degrees (celsius) may be shorts and sandals weather for any Ice-loving Saskatchewanian™, it is apparently considered a "cold snap" in June, and thus jeans and shoes are recommended.

Californian Flora during cold snap (N.B. no cold included)
I like to try to stay healthy even when traveling (diet notwithstanding) and I find that a good work-out relieves the stress of a long day of sitting and scanning dusty papers.  Fitness centres abound in Los Angeles, few of them affordable, and some of them not actually fitness centres as I found out when I poked my head into Fitness Grill only to be asked if I'd like a table.

Fitness Grill (N.B. no fitness included)
Driving in L.A. was a challenge, but I found that unless Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, and California are the exceptions, American drivers conduct themselves in a much more polite fashion than Saskatchewanians.  I will admit that while in L.A. a local strip club manager was randomly gunned down on a South L.A. freeway, but I doubt that it had anything to do with his driving...

Coming up tomorrow -- the final installment, "The Road Warrior's Tales from the Archives"!

Editor's Note: The History Department is not promoting any of the above-mentioned products.  In any case, the thought of a bunless burger horrifies this editor.