Author Blog

  • Retracing the Steps of Mackenzie King in Nazi-Era Berlin

    Mackenzie King reviewing participants in the women’s and men’s tennis events at the German All-German Sports Competitions, 27 July 1937. Front row, left to right: Robert Ley, head of the German Labour Front, Prime Minister King, King’s personal secretary Edward Pickering, and Hans von Tschammer und Osten, Reich Sports Leader.

    In 1937, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King travelled to Nazi Germany in an attempt to prevent a war that, to many observers, seemed inevitable. The men King communed with, including Adolf Hitler, had assured him of the Nazi regime’s peaceful intentions, and King not only found their pledges sincere, but even hoped for personal friendships with many of the regime officials. 

    Four Days in Hitler's Germany addresses how King truly believed that any threat to peace would come only from those individuals who intended to thwart the Nazi agenda, which as King saw it, was concerned primarily with justifiable German territorial and diplomatic readjustments. In this post, author Robert Teigrob shares how walking the city streets of Berlin led him to write his new book.


    For the last decade I have taught a summer course in Berlin. For a historian, the city is an endless trove of commemorative spaces, architectural motifs, and museum collections that attest to some of humanity’s darkest, as well as noblest, impulses. It is a built environment perpetually under revision and renewal, a testament to both the destruction and political dismemberment wrought by Hitler’s war, and to a deeply-engaged and increasingly diverse population’s struggle to properly represent and confront the past. This struggle has many outcomes: the demolition of what Germans call “historically burdened buildings,” the preservation of others as historic sites, the repurposing of still others toward more life-affirmative ends, and seemingly on every block, a memorial to the events and people that make up Berlin’s tumultuous history.

    Walking the city a few years ago sparked a couple of ideas that became the genesis of my new book, Four Days in Hitler’s Germany: Mackenzie King’s Mission to Avert a Second World War. I recalled a picture from my high school history textbook showing a very jovial Prime Minister Mackenzie King touring a Berlin factory complex in 1937 – the same one I was now passing – escorted by top Nazi officials. I was struck by the contrast between modern Germans’ evident willingness to own up to the mistakes of the past and, on this count, the comparative reticence among Canadians to do the same. For in that same textbook (and as I was to learn, in many other historical accounts), King’s visit was portrayed as a stern warning to the Hitler regime that any Nazi aggression would stimulate a powerful and unified response from the Western powers. I knew this to be something of an oversimplification – King was in fact one of the globe’s foremost advocates of appeasement, and had enthusiastically shepherded a trade agreement with Germany through Parliament just before his visit – but the more I dug into the records, the more stunning the prime minister’s interactions with Nazi officials became. I came to the conclusion that the 1937 visit deserved a sustained, critical analysis.

    Roaming Berlin also led me to wonder how future generations of Canadians will judge our relationships with today’s global community. We see intense debates in the House of Commons and the media over how to balance our economic interests with our stated commitment to human rights and international laws and norms: how to square principles with profit-making in the proposed sale of weapons to authoritarian regimes; whether to “constructively engage” or shun potential trading partners that flout the rule of law (and for that matter, how to respond to some of our own companies’ controversial activities abroad – in the mining sector, for instance). Canada and the world wrestled with similar issues in the 1930s, and the recent ascent of regimes and political movements built on ethnic nationalism, militarism, and regressive attitudes toward the multinational international order painstakingly constructed since 1945 gives the story of King’s visit to Germany a decidedly contemporary aura.


    Robert Teigrob is a professor in the Department of History at Ryerson University and the author of Four Days in Hitler's Germany.

  • Survey Research, Public Opinion, and the Canadian Market Research Industry

    Written by guest blogger Christopher Adams.
    Ten years ago, I was asked to write a chapter titled “Public Opinion Polling in Canada” for Mediating Canadian Politics, a collection of essays co-edited by professors Shannon Sampert and Linda Trimble. The focus of the piece was on polling during Canadian election campaigns. The chapter commenced with a description of how the American pollster, George Gallup, opened up shop in Toronto in 1941. The discussion then proceeded to how polls have evolved as an important tool for understanding what Canadian are thinking, and are now heavily used by the media and party strategists.

    Without being aware of this, I had set out on a much larger project: to write a history of public opinion research in Canada. The recently published article for the Journal of Canadian Studies, titled “Canada’s Early Developments in the Public Opinion Research Industry,” is part of this. Here I write about what could be described as the “pre-Gallup” days, about how the government, media, advertising agencies, and research firms became increasingly involved in using surveys to study Canadian attitudes, preferences, and behaviours in the early decades of the past century.

    Canadians were surveyed in many ways during the past century. This included face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews, and online surveys. There were also many ways by which completed questionnaires were processed, including the use of electronic tabulating machines and computer keypunching. Moreover, survey results were put to various uses, including providing media content, assessing the public’s mood on political issues, and developing brand strategies.

    It is no secret that the research industry is undergoing transformational change. Before jumping into my current career as a senior administrator for a university college, I worked in the industry for close to 20 years. Up until the late 1990s, the standard approach to gauging the public’s mood was by doing a telephone survey. This would involve designing a questionnaire, and then relying on live interviewers to call randomly selected households during a series of evenings.

    Things have changed, as made evident by how election polls are now done. Just recently, I have been working on a conference paper for the upcoming annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association (to be held in Vancouver in early June). As I write in this paper, many Canadians have become difficult to reach due to their increased reliance on mobile devices in place of landline telephones. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) reports that from 2012 to 2016, landline telephone subscriptions in Canadian households declined from 83.8 percent to 66.8 percent, while subscriptions to mobile devices such as cellular telephones, increased from 81.3 percent to 87.9 percent of Canadian households (CRTC, 2018). To address this phenomenon, polling firms now obtain sample containing both mobile phones and landline phones. One CEO of a polling firm informed me that his firm seeks to have close to 50% of their sample containing mobile phone numbers while another firm has pre-established quotas for their studies that a minimum of 20 percent of their completed surveys are done through a mobile device.

    To show how things have changed over the past 100 years, for my conference paper I have now reviewed a total of 43 polls that were released to the public in the final five days of all federal and provincial elections held from the beginning of 2015 to the end of 2018. Only one of these polls was based wholly on live telephone interviews, while five included both live telephone interviews and online surveys. All of the other 37 polls were based on either online surveys or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) surveys (IVR surveys involve automated calling and interviews by which respondents use their telephone keys pads to respond to questions).

    Research industry practices have come a long way over the past century, and the use of paper and pen surveys and telephone surveys using live interviewers now seem antiquated. Nevertheless, at the core of the industry there has been, and always will be, a need to ensure that survey questions are properly designed, and that samples are representative of the population under study. It is in the early era, i.e. the early 1900s and up to the early 1940s, as my piece for the Journal of Canadian Studies shows, that the survey research industry and its practitioners were developing the tools of their craft.

    Christopher Adams holds a PhD in Political Science from Carleton University, and worked in the market research industry from 1995 to 2012. Since 2012, he has served as the chair of the Arthur V. Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice and is rector of St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba. In 2018, he co-authored the MRIA-sponsored review regarding polling errors during the 2017 Calgary election (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/calgary-municipal-election-poll-mria-report-release-1.4776633). Dr. Adams is a writer and frequent commentator on issues relating to Canadian politics and polling and is currently writing a history of the polling industry in Canada.

    His latest Journal of Canadian Studies article, “Canada’s Early Developments in the Public Opinion Research Industry” is temporarily free to read on UTP Journals Online.

  • The Right Side of History: The Political Urgency Needed in Addressing Climate Change

    Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, written by Peter Stoett with Shane Mulligan, is a comprehensive and accessibly written introduction to the policymakers and the structuring bodies involved in creating global environmental policies. The book provides a panoramic view of the issues, agents, and structures that make up the fabric of global environmental governance.

    In this post, author Peter Stoett writes about his time spent at the Planetary Security Conference in the Netherlands at the beginning of the year and why these conferences reflect the political urgency currently attached to climate change.


    Back in February, I attended the 4th Hague Planetary Security Conference in the Netherlands, where over 350 international experts, practitioners, military and government representatives gathered to discuss the threats posed to the world by climate change and other threats to planetary ecology. Mixing all these people together would have been unthinkable a mere three decades ago; now it is commonly accepted that the only way we can promote resilience and adaptation to climate change is by inter-sectoral collaboration that includes some unlikely alliances.

    Representatives from the Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East all say the same thing: climate change is not only real and happening, but is exacerbating the threat of violence in these regions where mass migration and displacement, and civil conflict are already in strong motion. Water, in particular, comes up again and again as the resource scarcity issue of our time.

    In Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, I discuss water scarcity as not only a source of conflict, but of collaborative opportunity – most transborder water disputes have been dealt with diplomatically and many in fact have led to institutional developments. But there are clear indications that climate change-induced water scarcity is heightening extant tensions and it is fairly widely accepted that the horrible civil war in Syria was to some extent prompted by a severe drought that led to political instability. One theme that has emerged is that, despite the Security Council having dealt specifically with climate security, the UN needs to step up further and establish an early-warning system for climate-related conflict, so that we can see it coming and strive to take preventive measures.

    Effects of Hurricane Irma

    I was in the Netherlands to speak at an event focused on the question of moving to a post-carbon based energy infrastructure in the Caribbean region. The threats posed by climate change in the Caribbean are existential: this is life or death stuff. Extreme weather events, rising sea levels, coral reef bleaching, fisheries affected by temperature changes, freshwater scarcity; the list goes on for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). I cover SIDS at various points in the text, as well as the gradual (some would say painfully slow) transition toward renewable energy production and consumption. Clearly, it is the way forward.

    But the transition will not be painless, and as always it may leave some people behind. While we often think of the Caribbean region as a tourist destination or a hurricane zone, the reality is that most of the population and predominant industries are located near its beautiful coasts. In many ways Caribbean citizens are on the front-line of climate change threats, much like the Inuit in northern Canada and other circumpolar communities. These communities can benefit enormously from the adoption of renewable power sources that lessen dependence on the global oil economy, providing the technological capacity and public policy is conducive.

    The shift to renewable energy will certainly affect the geopolitical structure of global ecopolitics. China is emerging as a renewable energy superpower, and will have increasing influence in areas such as the Caribbean beyond its usual economic presence. Human security is again rising as a viable concept to deal with the ravages that natural disasters inflict on civilian populations. Responsible tourism has become a genuine national security issue in the region since long-term economic development is so dependent on this sector.

    We cannot base a global security strategy on constant disaster relief. Back in water-soaked Holland, there are famous stories about the futility of trying to stop floods with stopgap measures. One of the overarching questions of our time is how relatively impoverished and highly vulnerable regions can be integrated into global strategies. Conferences like this reflect the political urgency currently attached to the climate change-security nexus, despite its denial by a few powerful actors who are, as the saying goes, on the wrong side of history.


    If you want to find out more about Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.


    Peter J. Stoett is Dean of the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute Of Technology.

  • Battle of the Somme: What the Audience Saw

    Written by guest blogger Seth Feldman.

    Battle of the Somme (Geoffrey Malins and J.B. McDowell, 1916) was the most seen non-fiction film made during the Great War and in wartime Britain, the most seen film, period. For a hundred years bits of its remarkable footage have appeared in documentaries to the point where they have become iconic of the Great War itself. Battle of the Somme was the first film inducted into UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, inspiring a digitally restored print by the Imperial War Museum and a second premiere with full orchestra a new score. In recent years, some film historians have argued that it should be designated as the first true documentary.

    My problem in writing about Battle of the Somme was that to a twenty-first century audience the film doesn’t look like much. It is largely a procession of silent film intertitles, nearly one per minute, describing the shots we will see next. Almost all of these shots can be divided between preparations for the battle and its aftermath, with very few shots of the battle itself. Malins and McDowell, who worked separately, had been told to collect random shots to be used in newsreels. There was no idea for a narrative and, with wartime censorship in place, there was little mention of the bloodbath that had taken place while they were shooting.

    Yet Battle of the Somme is more than just an historical curiosity. My hope was to use it as an archaeological exercise, a tool for imagining the way in which the audiences of 1916 saw it. Usually, writing about film audiences is based on reviews, newspaper reports and in some cases research by a film’s producers. And there has been some excellent writing of this kind about Battle of the Somme. But what I hoped to do was to recreate the 1916 British audience from the emotional context in which they watched the film to the way they would perceive certain shot compositions by Malins and McDowell as well as the editing credited to Malins and Charles Urban (one of the lesser sung heroes of early non-fiction filmmaking).

    Battle of the Somme’s audience was an unusually homogeneous group. All of them were embarking on the third year of an unprecedented catastrophe; most coping with anxieties about friends and loved ones at the front. They were also increasingly resentful of the conditions the War had imposed upon them. As official propaganda, Battle of the Somme intended to raise their morale by connecting their sacrifices to soldiers at the front. What they saw was the enthusiasm of the troops, the care given to the wounded and, of course, what were then the battle’s small victories. Given the timing of the film’s release – while the four and a half month battle was ongoing - it also played upon the audiences’ desires for the “big push” that would finally end the conflict. Various shots in the film as well as the film’s editing and the wording of the intertitles show how this was attempted in a subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle manner.

    My work was to scrutinize writing on the film and the film itself. This was made both more arduous and rewarding by the many publications released during the Great War Centennial. I then made notes to myself on and off for about a year before I even began to write. In all, the paper took far longer to produce than did the film. And while its distribution will be dwarfed by Battle of the Somme, my hope is that this archaeological exercise will provide readers with insight into other peoples’ as it existed a century ago.

    Seth Feldman is an author, broadcaster, film programmer and Full Professor Emeritus at York University in Toronto. His latest Canadian Journal of Film Studies article, Battle of the Somme: What the Audience Saw” is temporarily free to read on UTP Journals Online.

  • Beneath the Surface: Finding Common Ground in Canada's Most Distinctive Province

    To the outside world, Quebec is Canada’s most distinctive province. To many Canadians, it has sometimes seemed the most troublesome. But, over the last quarter century, quietly but steadily, it has wrestled successfully with two of the West’s most daunting challenges: protecting national values in the face of mass immigration and striking a proper balance between economic efficiency and a sound social safety net.

    In this post, Robert Calderisi, author of Quebec in a Global Light, and former director of The World Bank, discusses some of the issues that face Quebec, and why these challenges should be analysed in a wider, global context. 


    Books about politics and society can be timely and revealing, but they can also be complicated, as current affairs do not always stay current. Quebec in a Global Light discusses trends and challenges that transcend the day-to-day, but – like all findings – they need to sifted through the sands of new developments. A good example is the remarkable progress made since the 1970s in protecting the French language. Some would prefer that an extra half percentage point of people be fluent in French, but 94.5 percent of Quebeckers can already conduct a conversation in the language. Diehards can worry more about decimals than decades. How will the next census affect their thinking?

    Since the book was first written, some details – including the political party in power – have changed but the most important conclusions remain intact. Even under a conservative government, Quebec is the only social democracy in North America. Employment, growth, and investment are still strong. The province continues to reduce its notorious debt burden; in fact, Quebec now has a better credit rating than Ontario. The gap between rich and poor is the lowest on the planet – except for Scandinavia, which is an admirable set of countries to be lagging behind. And Quebec has set a very positive example in flighting climate change.

    But one big thing has changed. Apparently out of the blue, Quebec has once again puzzled outsiders by its decision to ban the wearing of religious symbols by certain government employees. Even under a highly divisive US President, none of the other fifty-nine jurisdictions in North America has talked about doing that. And the hospitality and common sense of Quebeckers is being seriously questioned.

    Yet Quebeckers have evolved profoundly over the last thirty years. In 1982, a number of Haitian taxi drivers in Montreal were fired because some white clients refused to ride with them. As a result, the Quebec Human Rights Commission held its first-ever public hearings. Many people today – including many Quebeckers – will find that hard to believe, not because racism has been magically exorcised from their society but rather because Quebec has become so diverse that differences of one kind or another – especially in Montreal – have become almost the norm. A third of Montreal’s taxi drivers are now Haitian and the city has the highest proportion of immigrants in that job (84 percent) in all of Canada.

    In a society which some regard as under siege, most people are comfortable with diversity. According to a 2015 Quebec Human Rights Commission survey, Quebeckers had positive attitudes to the handicapped (92 percent), people of colour (88 percent), homosexuals (84 percent), citizens of other ethnic origins (76 percent), and followers of other religions (68 percent). This openness to others is sometimes attributed to the dominant role of women and feminine values in the society. Others see centuries of intermarriage and contact with Quebec’s First Peoples as the source of such community and consensus.

    On the surface, other provinces have an even greater challenge making newcomers feel at home. While almost 40 percent of Montreal’s population were born in another country or to parents who immigrated to Canada, that number is much higher in Toronto (76 percent) and Vancouver (68 percent). But absorbing such a large number of people in Quebec, which is so determined to protect its language and culture, is particularly difficult.

    Despite the proposed law, the common sense and humanity of Quebeckers remain obvious. In Montreal, teachers and students have surrounded schools in human chains promising to disobey the law. The city council has passed a rare unanimous resolution opposing the legislation. The two authors of the original idea that such symbols should be banned – the philosopher Charles Taylor and the sociologist Gérard Bouchard – have both come out against the bill. Behind closed doors, the governing party itself was highly divided on the subject. And the second largest opposition party (Québec Solidaire) has revised its own policy in the opposite direction. Instead of backing a compromise, they have now decided that any legislation on personal dress is a violation of individual freedom and an invitation to more general discrimination against minorities. It is just possible that the legislation will collapse under its own contradictions. No one has been able to explain how it will be enforced and no penalties are proposed under the law. In the meantime, the history of the issue – set out in Quebec in a Global Light – remains as relevant as ever.


    If you want to find out more about Quebec in a Global Light, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.


    Robert Calderisi was a Quebec Rhodes Scholar and is a former director of The World Bank. He is the author of The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn’t Working (2006) and Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development (2013). He splits the year between Montreal, New York, and Paris.

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