Monday, April 30, 2012

Happy News

This just in from the proud grandpapa himself...

Chris Kent and Mary Marino are thrilled to (belatedly) announce on behalf of her parents, Andrew and Leslie, the birth of a grand daughter, Lily Jane Elizabeth Kent, on February 23, 2012.

Happy news, indeed!

Friday, April 20, 2012

If you're in Waterloo on May 29th...

The presentation of Jim Miller's Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal by the Canadian Historical Association will be held on Tuesday, May 29th. If you are going to be at Congress at that time (or will be in Waterloo for any other reason), please come out to congratulate Jim.

Time: 6:30 pm.
Place: Mathematics 3 Building, Room 106  (University of Waterloo) 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Supernatural Trip

In History 333 ("Defining Boundaries: Natural and Supernatural Worlds in Early Modern Europe"), we studied all sorts of strange and fascinating supernatural creatures (like vampires) and curious happenings (such as a woman giving birth to rabbits). Despite our focus on early modern Europe, we took a field trip to the Museum of Antiquities on campus, where Director Dr. Tracene Harvey gave us a private tour. Our goal: to think about the continuities and differences in supernatural beliefs over time.

History 333 Students, with Tracene Harvey and her assistant Carla Watson at the front
 and the Rain Miracle god behind.
Dr. Harvey began by introducing us to the Assyrian god Pazuzu (the forerunner of the Devil) and his wife Lamashtu (who appears as a donkey on the Hell Plaque). We then moved to Egypt to look at the protective sphinx who would kill you if you couldn't answer riddles, the false tomb door to allow easy passage between the worlds, and the small faience charms to ensure safe passage after death. Next stop was the Rain Miracle Scene that commemorated Marcus Aurelius' defeat of barbarian tribes with the aid of timely rain sent by a god. Not surprisingly, pagan and Christian accounts differ on which god was involved. We rounded off the visit by looking at medieval gargoyles. Then we returned to our classroom to discuss beliefs about the devil and possession in early modern England, Netherlands, and Spain.

What struck the class is the continuance of certain practices and images over time: the use of charms to ward off sickness or evil and the persistent belief in half-human and half-animal creatures with supernatural powers. There were some changes, though. Pazuzu, for example, was a neutral deity for the Assyrians, although his appearance was co-opted in the later Christian ideas of Satan. The rain miracle reveals the differing interpretations of events by competing groups (much as possession was by sixteenth-century Protestants and Catholics).

Each week, two questions haunted our course:
  • Why did certain supernatural explanations make sense more during different periods, and how did they shape peoples' experiences? 
  • Why was there a growing rejection of supernatural beliefs during the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by the educated elite who had previously believed?
At the start of the sixteenth century, a cultural shift away from the supernatural world was unimaginable. At the end of the eighteenth century, by contrast, supernatural entities such as ghosts and vampires were considered mere figments of disordered imaginations (at least by the educated elite).

Arguably, there never was a complete change, given the continued modern beliefs in ghosts. But perhaps this is to be expected. The move away from supernatural beliefs in the eighteenth century is, after all, relatively recent in the wider historical frame. As our visit to the Museum highlighted, the idea of supernatural entities regularly interacting with humans and the natural world has a long and fascinating history.

The Museum of Antiquities is open Monday to Friday, 9:00-4:00, but public tours and additional opening hours can be arranged.

Finding a Way to the Heart

The University of Manitoba Press is hosting a book launch for Finding a Way to the Heart: Feminist Writings on Aboriginal and Women’s History in Canada, edited by Robin Jarvis Brownlie and Valerie J. Korinek.

The book is a "Provocative examinations of race, gender, and identity from fourteen new and established writers." Books will be available for purchase at the launch, although you can pre-order them from

Date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Time: 7:00 pm
Place: Travel Alcove, McNally Robinson Booksellers
(3130 8th Street East, Saskatoon)

Light refreshments will be served.

Please RSVP to

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Blue Sky Thinking on Shelterbelts

Ph.D. student Andrew Dunlop (supervisor: Geoff Cunfer) was recently interviewed on the CBC’s Blue Sky program about his master’s research related to the history of shelterbelts in the prairies. To listen to the 10 minute interview, clicking on the Audio button half way down the page:

The interview is part of a larger news story about the Canadian government’s recent decision to close the shelterbelt centre at Indian Head after nearly 120 years of operation.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Fine Prize

Congratulations to alumnus Bradley Skopyk (M.A., 2002)! While with us, he wrote an intriguingly titled thesis on "Moctezoma's Menagerie: Managing the Beast in Pre-Cortesian Tenochtitlan".  He continued his environmental interests into his Ph.D. at York, writing his dissertation on "Undercurrents of Conquest: The Shifting Terrain of Indigenous Agriculture in Colonial Tlaxcala, Mexico". This fine Ph.D. dissertation has just received the Rachel Carson prize for best dissertation from the American Society for Environmental History. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Workshop: Situating Early Modern Science Networks

'Situating Early Modern Science Networks' will be held at Diefenbaker Centre on April 13 and 14. The programme follows below. Attendance is free, but please register by contacting Marc MacDonald (

Friday, April 13

10:00-10:30 Coffee

10:30-10:45 Introduction

10:45-11:15 Elaine Leong, Cambridge
Family, Friends and Neighbours: Recipe Networks in Early Modern England

11:15-11:45 Kim McLean-Fiander, Oxford
Digitizing Gender: Women's Correspondence and Knowledge Networks in the Early Modern Era

11:45 – 1:00   Lunch 

1:00 – 3:00 Digital Coffeehouse      
  • Allison Muri, Saskatchewan (The Grub Street Project)
  • Peter Robinson and Frank Klaassen, Saskatchewan (Textual Communities)
  • Brent Nelson (Digital Ark and Textual Communities)
  • Robert Iliffe (Newton Project)
  • Alison Walker (Sloane Printed Books Project)
  • Kim McLean-Fiander (Early Modern Letters Online 
3:00-3:30 Surekha Davies, Birkbeck
Transnational Networks of Ethnographic and Cartographic Knowledge: Mapping New World Peoples in Sixteenth-Century Europe

3:30-4:00 Brent Nelson, Saskatchewan 
Collections of Curiosities and Social Networking in the Seventeenth Century

4:00-5:30 Reception

Saturday, April 14

10:00-10:30 Marc MacDonald, Saskatchewan
L’hôtel Delessert, 1801-2: The Actualization of Networks in the Twilight of the Enlightenment

10:30-10:45 Coffee

10:45-11:15 Alison Walker, British Library
The Library of Sir Hans Sloane: 17th and 21st Century Networks

11:15-11:45 Robert Iliffe, Sussex
Early Modern Networks and the Future of Online Scholarship

11:45-2:00 Working Lunch and Digital Discussion 

Funding for this workshop has been provided by Situating Science, The College of Arts and Science, The Division of Humanities and Fine Arts, and the Department of History.