Tag Archives: teaching

  • One in a Thousand: One Hundred Years Later

    One hundred years ago, Eddie McKay, the WWI flying ace featured in One in a Thousand, was shot down and killed. To commemorate his life and death, and the publication this year of Eddie's story in an innovative new microhistory, author Graham Broad discusses how he was compelled to research, write, and publish Eddie's story. To learn more about Eddie McKay, you can of course get your hands on a copy of One in a Thousand, but we also urge you to check out Eddie's account on Twitter: @AEMcKayRFC

    I don’t believe in such things, but if I did, I’d say that Eddie McKay was pursuing me.

    About fifteen years ago, when I was a TA in the Canadian history survey at Western, I was asked to give a guest lecture about Canada in the First World War. It was my first lecture and I was quite unsure of myself, but I knew that the lecture would be more meaningful for the students if I told them about someone from their own university who had been killed in the war. The campus had no First World War cenotaph—it’s a long story—but I found Eddie's name in an old book about Western’s history. I looked into his story briefly. He was a rugby player who became a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. Perfect.

    I spent a few hours in the university archives looking for a picture of him to no avail. I left, stretching and yawning, rubbing my eyes, and paused to glance for a moment at a nearby display case. And there was an old and yellowed photo of Eddie McKay, wearing his rugby team uniform, looking straight back at me from the pages of a scrapbook about Western’s sports history. I alerted the archivist. “That’s weird,” she said. “I flipped to that page at random this morning.”

    Odd things like that happened again, over a decade later, when I decided to write a book about Eddie, like the time I took my laptop to the local market for a change of scenery. Sipping coffee and writing, I looked down for a moment at the top of the table. Somebody had etched “Eddie” in it. So that was weird, too.

    Again, I don’t believe in that stuff, but Eddie McKay does haunt me in a way. I can’t really claim to know him. Even if he had survived the war, it’s improbable that I ever could have: he would have turned seventy-eight the year I was born. Would I have liked him, or would he have liked me? He was athletic and a soldier. I am bookish, uninterested in sports, and unmilitary. And it would be incredible if he did not share many of the commonplace sentiments of his own age that rightly find no place in our own. Yet something about him compelled and still compels me inexorably. I’d mention him once a year when I guest lectured, and later in my classes when I started to teach. Then in 2007, I persuaded my senior seminar to do a little class project about him. Together, we gathered material about his life, at least the stuff we could get locally, and placed a commemorative marker for him on campus. I pass it often. My wife, who works at the university, can see it from her office window.

    In 2013, I hashed out an idea with Natalie Fingerhut, the Higher Education History Editor at University of Toronto Press. A biography, of sorts, of Eddie McKay. Could it be done? I dunno, I said. I’m not sure if there’s enough material. What the students and I had gathered in 2007 provided no more than a sketch. Even better, she proposed. It would really be two biographies: the story of Eddie McKay and the story of how I wrote that story—or failed to write it. A pedagogical microhistory.

    So, I committed biography, as they say. Sort of. I was able to locate only about six documents relating specifically to Eddie’s life prior to his twentieth year, for example, so the “biography” was pretty much confined to the last three years of his life when he was a student and soldier. Moreover, the experience of thinking my way through things I had taken for granted, such as how I went about doing history, why I believed the things I discovered about the past were probably true, laid me bare. Oh, back in the day I had taken the obligatory theory and methods courses, and I had wandered the thickets of “theory” over many hours of beer and argument with classmates who were convinced that there was nothing in this world that we could be convinced about. But I had always believed that, for all the interventions of the post-modernists, the core methodology of the historical profession hasn’t changed much over the years. We write about more things and often take a broader perspective, but fundamentally it seems to me that most historians do what historians have been doing for a very long time: they gather evidence to tell stories and make arguments about the past.

    My book, One in a Thousand: The Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying Corps, is the story of a promising young man who was killed in a terrible war. It is also the story about how I struggled to learn what I did about him, how I came to certain conclusions—however tentative—about him, and how I dealt with gaps in the record and the mysteries I couldn’t resolve. Where is he buried? Who was the mystery woman who inquired after him when he failed to return from his final patrol? What was in the envelope, addressed to him, that was never sent by the President of UWO in 1917? The book serves as an entry point, then, for students wanting to learn more about historical theory and method. It’s possible to skip the methodological discussions and read the book as biography alone, but it’s my hope that readers who come for the history will stay for the historiography.

    Eddie McKay was killed in action the day after his 25th birthday, 28 December 1917. For the past two years, I have been tweeting significant events in his life from @AEMcKayRFC. You can follow him there. In a future blog post, I’ll ruminate some about how I learned to stop worrying and love the tweet.

    Graham Broad is Associate Professor of History at King's University College at Western University and the author of A Small Price to Pay: Consumer Culture on the Canadian Home Front, 1939-1945 (2013).

  • Language, Capitalism, Colonialism: Toward a Critical History

    As this year’s annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association begins, we would like to recognize the publication of an important new anthropology text, published by our Higher Education Division. Language, Capitalism, Colonialism: Toward a Critical History by Monica Heller and Bonnie McElhinny is an original introduction to linguistic anthropology that is situated in the political and economic contexts of colonialism and capitalism. To mark the publication of the book, the authors provide some background on how the project was initially conceived, how the book is structured, and how they hope to offer up new ways of thinking about language. If you’re currently attending the AAA annual meeting (#AmAnth17) in Washington, DC, pick up your copy at UTP’s book display. Or, order your copy online!

    This book began perhaps a bit oddly. Anne Brackenbury, Executive Editor at University of Toronto Press, approached Monica with the idea that perhaps it was time for a new textbook in linguistic anthropology. She approached Bonnie with the idea of doing an accompanying reader. Both of us (Bonnie and Monica) agreed that it was time for a reboot, but neither was enthusiastic about the format. Our feeling about the field certainly was that the existing canon wasn’t allowing us to readily talk about the things we wanted to talk about. These were things like how language is bound up in the making of social difference and social inequality, but in different ways under different circumstances. Things like how and why (and when) it acts as a terrain for crucial political struggles. Things like why thinking about language in different ways matters—and what, precisely, have been the consequences of thinking about language the way we have: as an autonomous system, as a cognitive faculty, as one property of social groups.

    And of course these are not just the ideas specialists have. One thing about working on language is that you find out quickly that everyone has an opinion, usually fervently clung to as irrefutable fact. They can’t be refuted on the basis of empirical data. They include such beliefs as: some languages are harder to learn than others; the language you speak shapes the thoughts you can have; some languages just sound beautiful, or ugly; there is a difference between real languages and dialects, patois, jargon, and slang, and the latter don’t really count for anything. Many of these ideas are deeply consequential for speakers whose competence and worth are judged on the basis of them, and which shape the language policies on which we spend lots of money. Indigenous and minority languages get repressed; speakers of creoles get judged as incompetent speakers of metropolitan, imperial standards; working class and racialized minority students are placed in special education classes on the basis of how they speak.

    So we wanted a way to speak both to what has counted as knowledge about (and of) language in academic disciplines, but also in social institutions and in everyday life, since all of that matters, and matters deeply. But we had no counter-canon to propose, nor, frankly, did we want to produce one. That would have been exactly counter to our concerns. How could we worry about what has been and is now at stake in thinking about language in these specific ways and then turn around and impose one of our own?

    Nonetheless, Anne had started something, something that made us attentive not only to issues specifically connected to “language” but also to the role of language in broader struggles over what counts as knowledge and who gets to decide. These include movements that are in the news today and which are part of our personal and professional lives—Indigenous and Black decolonization and anti-racism movements, environmentalist struggles around climate change, exposures of endemic sexual harassment, minority nationalisms (think Catalonia, Quebec, Scotland), the rise of the alt-right... And as these struggles gain prominence, so does the backlash. What does linguistic anthropology have to say about this?

    So we did a kind of bait-and-switch: ok Anne, we’ll propose a book, but a different one. The book we proposed suggests we take a step back. We take the position that linguistic anthropology can be most helpful if it understands the conditions that make language matter, and matter in specific ways. Those conditions are political, economic, and social; in particular, they concern the intertwining of capitalism and colonialism. Ideas about, and practices of, language facilitate the relations of power that they involve, and the making of social difference that legitimize them.

    For us, these conditions revolve centrally around the intertwining of capitalism and colonialism as the major processes driving the linkage between symbolic and material domination and relations of difference and inequality. Having been trained in the rather presentist approach of North American linguistic anthropology, we had already been attending for some time to the importance of history; the approach we wanted to take here required a deep dive. Building largely on secondary sources, with some forays into archival and ethnographic work, we structured the book in a loosely chronological manner around three moments: mercantile, industrial, and contemporary “late” or neoliberal capitalism.

    Each moment has a pair of chapters devoted first to the dominant approaches to language found there, and then to responses to those dominant discourses. We look first at how missionaries co-constructed the languages of colonizer and colonized in efforts to use Christian conversion to extend and strengthen the hard power of the imperial state. We then examine how these efforts were taken over by secular colonial administrators who borrowed biblical images of genealogy and descent to construct language “families” in complex processes of rendering colonizer and colonized both intimate and distant. These efforts were reinforced by the application of theories of evolution to linguistic difference, racializing language in the construction of “civilizational” hierarchies. They were also resisted, notably by dialectologists and creolists attentive to the difficulty of drawing neat boundaries, and by Americanist anthropologists led by Franz Boas who in arguing for the systematicity and significance of all cultures and languages, nonetheless re-inscribed hierarchical differences among the languages of Indigenous groups, descendants of slaves, and settlers in North American society (he understood the first to be on the verge of disappearance and requiring salvage in the form of material traces; he understood the second as needing access to assimilation).

    The second set of chapters examines the work done in the making of the modernist, bounded, uniformized, and standardized industrial capitalist and liberal democratic nation-state, and three distinct responses to the inequalities that process created: internationalist movements constructed around international auxiliary languages like Esperanto; fascism, with its extreme version of evolutionary ideas about race and language and its attention to the importance of propaganda in the construction of fascist structures of feeling (what did it mean to act appropriately “fanatical”, say?); and communism, which struggled to make a Marxist idea of language in contradistinction to bourgeois European philology, but ended up converging with the west in Cold War turns to nation-states as centres of empire, and technology as the main technique of competition.

    The third pair of chapters takes up the Cold War and the focus on technique, skill, technology, and the repression of overtly political forms of political engagement among linguists and anthropologists, with a focus on the United States; and then on the ways in which the Cold War soft power front of international development served as a foundation for the institutionalization of what we now call “sociolinguistics.” This part of the book also examines how the emancipatory movements of the 1960s led to critiques of mainstream sociolinguistics as masculine, white, and neo-colonial.

    We end with an examination of neoliberalism and late capitalism, with a focus both on the role of language in work on the globalized new economy, and resistance to the forms of inequality we experience now. These include radical rethinking of the idea of language as uniquely human, and other attempts to reverse the extraction of language from social process we argue operated from the end of the nineteenth through to the beginning of the twenty-first centuries. They include questions like how we might recognize “consent” or “redress” and what a “refusal” or an “apology” or “reclamation” might look like.

    Throughout, we attend to how hegemony happens, that is, how and why certain ideas about language help advance ideologies that legitimate specific political economic arrangements, and which themselves become hegemonic. Who is deemed worthy to speak, and how? We have tried therefore to also be attentive to the silenced and the marginalized, as well as to the more explicit struggles that have emerged from time to time (and for empirically discoverable reasons).

    Our hope (because that too is a thread throughout the book) is that this book will offer not a new canon, but a new way of thinking about language, one that opens up new questions to be asked, and new ways of asking them.

    Monica Heller is Professor of Anthropology and Education at the University of Toronto, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and a past president of the American Anthropological Association.

    Bonnie McElhinny is Principal of New College, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, and former Director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute.

  • An Introduction to the Crusades

    To start off the fall semester, UTP is proud to post the following words from author S.J. Allen on the importance of understanding, teaching, and debating the Crusades. Her most recent book, An Introduction to the Crusades, published earlier this year, provides an excellent overview of a very complex time period. We hope that the book, as part of our new Companions to Medieval Studies series, will help to clear up some modern misconceptions of the Middle Ages.

    The Crusades have drifted in and out of my life from my first secondary school research paper (thankfully now lost in the mists of time) to this year’s publication of An Introduction to the Crusades. My fascination for these events lies in that fact that they embrace a myriad of medieval cultures and regions. It is also a topic that continues to be revived and redefined in the succeeding centuries, including our own.

    Crusade studies are today one of the most popular of undergraduate history courses, and reasons for this are not difficult to understand given current East/West tensions. The subject is, however, a controversial one, for as much as we seek to understand the interactions of eastern and western societies within the medieval crusading context, modern events and circumstances have enabled some to commandeer and manipulate the period to serve modern ends. This “management” of history, no matter its origin, is nothing new, but as both Emilie Amt and I argued in our related sourcebook: “…the Crusades, more than any other medieval event, have become inextricably linked to present-day political and religious debates.” This is perhaps why I believe their study to be important, not just for future medievalists, but for students of all backgrounds and all academic interests. With this in mind, the book’s final chapter, “The Crusades and Modern Memory,” aims to offer students a clear and relevant example of how historical events—their interpretation, remembrance, and use—can change over time, influencing, for good or ill, not only our view of the past, but also how we perceive and interact as contemporary societies. I am certain it is a topic that will stimulate discussion and debate, no matter what the make-up of the undergraduate classroom. For myself, I would share Umej Bhatia’s hope that:

    "…a better understanding of the [Crusade] period may offer the scaffolding for an informed dialogue between the west and the Muslim world. As the poster conflict of civilizational clash, the history of the Crusades is an ideal subject for the foregrounding of such dialogue." (quoted in An Introduction to the Crusades)

    I would also anticipate that students would come away from the book with a deeper understanding of the nature of the crusading period, that is, to see this not simply as a time of violent conflict, but also one of peaceful coexistence, exchange, and cooperation—a period where truce, treaty, and negotiation played as much a role in the lives of these peoples as armed confrontation.

    I would hope that An Introduction to the Crusades proves a useful teaching tool, enabling instructors to deliver engaging exercises and stimulating class discussions, as well as to facilitate further student research. As an interactive text, it is designed to develop a student’s ability to adopt a critical approach. As noted above, it can be read as a stand-alone work, although its use with The Crusades: A Reader should lead to a more developed understanding of the subject and its related issues.

    Considering the book as a whole (and with instructors in mind), An Introduction to the Crusades is the second publication in UTP’s Companions to Medieval Studies, a collection of introductory histories that can be used in conjunction with the Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures series. The idea behind the Companions series is to offer both an introductory history as well as texts and topics that engage and encourage students to interact directly with the subject’s primary sources and current academic debates. In my own teaching, I’ve always valued that moment when a student progresses from a descriptive to an analytical approach. The Companions series aims to facilitate this development.

    I was fortunate to have, as an exemplary model, UTP’s first volume in this series, The Vikings and Their Age (2013). I also greatly benefited from the advice and guidance of the series editor, Paul Dutton, history editor Natalie Fingerhut, and the knowledgeable, professional, yet incredibly humane team at UTP.

    S.J. Allen is Associate Lecturer in Arts and Humanities at The Open University, UK.

  • Kickstarting Your Academic Career

    The authors of Kickstarting Your Academic Career: Skills to Succeed in the Social Sciences, Robert L. Ostergard, Jr. and Stacy B. Fisher, discuss their experiences teaching undergraduate students and how those experiences—some great, some challenging—shaped the writing of this very helpful new skills guide for first-year college and university students.

    Kickstarting Your Academic CareerOver the decades of teaching experience that we have accumulated we like to think that we have probably seen it all; yet, every year we continue to be amazed at the gap between how much we assume students know about colleges, universities, research, and studying, and how little some actually know. We have had great moments in the classroom—student awards and achievements, scholarships and fellowships, defended theses, and, the ones we always love, those “ah ha” moments and the joy on students’ faces when they have them. We have also had moments that we wish we could bleach from our memory—stepping in between combatants during an impending fight in a large lecture hall, student outbursts, students watching the Star Wars Trilogy during class, and, one of our favorites, a student who took out a set of toenail clippers and clipped their toenails during a seminar. No, you can’t make this stuff up! With each successive year, it seemed either our syllabi were getting larger to cover eventual class issues or we were spending entire class sessions going over what we had always assumed was basic knowledge that students possessed. Yes, one of us even pondered if we had to have a “no toenail clipping” policy.

    When the University of Toronto Press approached us to write Kickstarting Your Academic Career, we saw it as an opportunity to think about our assumptions as teachers and as researchers heavily engaged in teaching. Both of us are lucky to be in a research department that also prizes teaching. Five of our current faculty members are award-winning teachers and advisors with a few up-and-coming “rock stars” so we are also in an environment that is flush with ideas for interesting approaches to teaching and learning. For better or worse, this environment also has given us a certain perspective about balancing our research with our teaching. Not everyone is so lucky to be in such a department, but trying to be a researcher, a teacher, and an administrator all at the same time can be overwhelming. We want to be good at these things, but there is also a certain reality that goes with each of the hats we wear. Thus, the approach we have taken in the book is not necessarily as a “friend” to our students, but more as mentor or, as one of our reviewers kindly said, “Like an older sibling explaining what it's really like after high school.” We certainly have a perspective that might be “teacher-centric,” but we also have a perspective that we think is equitable for our students and representative of all students who want to get the most of their education.

    As professors, we enter lecture halls at the beginning of each semester with our own understanding of what students do and do not know. One problem with that type of assumption is the simple fact that each student has his or her own story. As a group, they come from such diverse backgrounds that it is difficult to assume anything about what they know. As professors, we now try to avoid making the mistake of assuming everyone is already on the same page in terms of skills. Our book is an attempt to fill that void and to provide students with the tools that they need to excel as undergraduate social science students. Entering college or university is scary, and sometimes downright terrifying; few things are more intimidating to students than their first college or university examination, or even their first email correspondence with a professor. The culture is different and the expectations are even greater than most of them anticipated. Kickstarting Your Academic Career attempts to shed light on these topics and to provide students with an easily accessible source for navigating through this new world. We try to answer students’ questions that they never wanted to ask because they did not want to be “dumb” or to say something “stupid,” while also giving professors a way to address situations that they find uncomfortable or just time consuming in an already busy day. Studying at a college or university is meant to be challenging. If it can be made just a bit easier for students and professors, then we have succeeded in providing something useful to both groups.

    Robert L. Ostergard, Jr. is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Reno.

    Stacy B. Fisher is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Reno.

    Excerpt: Click here to read the introduction and Chapter Two: So You Thought You Knew How to Read?

    Infographic: How to Read and Take Notes from a Textbook

    Instructors: If you are an instructor who will be welcoming new students into your classroom this year, contact us for an examination copy of Kickstarting Your Academic Career. This book is designed to save time for both students and instructors!

  • Thinking Government

    Author David Johnson introduces the fourth edition of his bestselling public administration textbook, Thinking Government, and explains how a knowledge of the federal government and its public service is necessary for understanding current political, social, and economic issues.

    Who says Canadian politics and government is boring? As we enter 2017, the federal Liberal government of Justin Trudeau has a lot on its plate: promoting the development of oil pipelines to the United States and to the Pacific tidewater all the while seeking to meet Canada’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a way to address global climate change; trying to kick-start a sluggish economy through infrastructure spending and corresponding deficit-financing while also working to show fiscal prudence; and trying to improve the quality of Canadian healthcare programming while keeping costs down, patients content, and provincial premiers not up in arms. Throw in a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, initiatives to legalize marijuana, electoral reform, a new Canadian peacekeeping mission to Africa, the purchase of new military jets and ships, and you get the picture.

    But there’s more. There’s always more. The American presidential election last November just made Prime Minister Trudeau’s life a whole lot more difficult. Rather than having to deal with a more ideological soul-mate in Hillary Clinton, Trudeau now has to work with Donald Trump. We can’t help but wonder what those meetings will be like. Does the new American President know that over a billion dollars in trade goods moves across the Canadian-American border every day? He’ll soon find out, with Trudeau and his diplomats working to educate the President and his White House staff on the importance of the Canadian-American relationship.

    And closer to home our prime minister has simmering problems of his own making. The Cash-for-Access issue has the potential to become a running sore for his government if he doesn’t take corrective action. Once again, a Liberal government is facing pointed questions about how ethical and accountable it is for its method of raising party finances and its policy-making function.

    Thinking GovernmentSo there couldn’t be a better time for the arrival of the fourth edition of Thinking Government: Public Administration and Politics in Canada. This book, now a staple in public administration and public sector management courses across this country, has been fully revised and updated to take account of the demise of the Conservative government of Stephen Harper in 2015 and the rise to power of Justin Trudeau and his team. In the election of that year, Trudeau repeatedly said that “in Canada, better is always possible.” We now get to assess how well he and his government can match campaign rhetoric with policy reality.

    All the core attributes that made Thinking Government the “go-to book” on Canadian public administration have been preserved in this latest edition. The introduction and the first chapter set the stage for what’s to come, giving readers a compelling look at the major social and economic issues that all federal governments are called upon to deal with as they strive to govern this country well. The second chapter takes readers into the world of ideas and ideologies and how they shape the way leaders, governments, and we as citizens think about power and politics and policies, and what the role of governments should be in this society. If anyone ever questioned the worth of studying ideology as a means to understanding governmental behaviour, the Harper years drove home the truth that all leaders and governments are ideological and they seek power to achieve ideological ends. After nine years of conservative rule we are back to a liberally-minded government. But how liberal will Trudeau be? Thinking Government poses some questions and offers yardsticks by which we can measure this.

    Central chapters in the book provide deep background to the structures of the federal government and its public service and the power relations between elected ministers and senior public servants. The fundamentals of organizational theory are covered in Chapter 5 while individual chapters give students in-depth coverage of both financial and human relations management. Latter chapters address issues dealing with on-going concerns about management reform, ethics, accountability, and the nature and quality of political and governmental leadership.

    The Thinking Government website contains loads of additional information and material for each chapter. You’ll find relevant historical analysis, case studies, extension pieces, study questions, quizzes, and downloadable extras. The website has been thoroughly updated and refreshed by Alana Lawrence and she has made sure that it’s relevant, approachable, and student-friendly.

    We will both be providing regular blog posts dealing with the life and times of the federal government, while also issuing Strategic Reports on federal politics every four months or so. Alana is also the Thinking Government website’s resident New Professional and she will be providing a wealth of information and insight on everything from New Professionalism theory and institutional initiatives to advice on landing that first public sector job and launching your career.

    We hope you enjoy reading Thinking Government and experiencing the website and our blog posts. You are the reason all of this exists and we wish you well as you get into thinking government.

    David Johnson is Professor of Political Science at Cape Breton University and author of Thinking Government, Fourth Edition.

    Alana Lawrence is a graduate of Cape Breton University and provided updates to the Thinking Government, Fourth Edition website.

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