China: An History of Shared Human Existence

This year in the History of Modern China class, we have narrowed our understanding of history into two ideas. the first is what Hegel might call a quest to understand human existence, and the second, as according to Desmond Morton, sees history as a shared human experience.

If this is the case, that history can be qualified by what both Hegel and Morton offer, how does your inquiry into Modern Chinese history help us understand either or both our existence on this planet and how we might conceptualize our shared human experience?

Can you use examples from news articles in recent weeks to help you argue your case? What specific events, movements and people might be fodder for your claims? Read the following article and watch the film from this Aljazera article to help you: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/05/china-cultural-revolution-50-media-blackout-160516050538313.html

Taiping Rebellion

117159-004-AF41477AFor Reading Reflection 5 in the History of Modern China course, we examine arguably one of the most significant events in China’s modern history. We were shocked to find that we new little about this event and very little attention is paid to it by western historians.

We decided to investigate this rebellion, using many of the historical thinking concepts. Here is a sampling of our thinking:

 

https://create.lensoo.com/embed/bv3Z

https://www.showme.com/sma/embed/?s=9FJJG7M

https://www.showme.com/sma/embed/?s=kfu32DA

Myth & History: #Warof1812 #sirJAM

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Taken from the Toronto Star

This week, we have looked a great deal at how Canada’s history has often been transformed into mythology, for better or for worse.

We have analyzed a number of historians, events, and positions related to the supposed mythologies of the Winnipeg General Strike, the War of 1812, and Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. Mcdonald.

We investigated what Desmond Morton referred to in his book Canada: A Short History as the christening of the War of 1812 as Myth (2006, p. 38). From there we looked specifically at the Battle of Queenston Heights from the perspective of two historians, Robert Vineberg and Donald Hickey, who argued that the heroes at Queenston Heights were really Sheaffe and/or Norton, respectively. We then questioned why the Government of would spend $28 Million on commemorations of the War of 1812, when historians, like Morton, seem to deem it not so significant.

Here is an article from the New York Times which looks at the War of 1812 and its politicization. Andrew Cohen is featured in this article and I would encourage you to read his linked article form the Ottawa Citizen (although republished in the Calgary Herald). He suggests that the Harper Government mythologized the War of 1812. Why would the Government do this? Do you agree with Cohen?

Next, as the 200th anniversary of John A.’s birthday is approaching this weekend and all the major papers will be full of “history buffs” explaining why John A. is a hero or villain. (Watch in Saturday’s Winnipeg Free Press.) We read in class Richard Gwyn’s essay on why we should commemorate John A. and we also researched how the Numbered Treaties were essentially negotiated under duress and how the Canadian Government under John A. arguably committed genocide and other atrocities. Here is a review of Daschuk’s book Clearing the Plains which we referenced in our student-led seminars on Big Bear and Riel/Dumont. How is it that John A. can be deemed the Father Figure of Canada, and at the same time have caused such harm?

So…Here we have a few events, people, and positions which have been arguably trumped up as myth. Why do we do this? Why do we create interpretations of history that might be embellished? What does this type of “history” serve? What is our task as critical and historical thinkers when it comes to myth and history?

Do some reading. Do some thinking. Call a classmate and have a conversation about the idea of myth and history, referencing specially the War of 1812, John A. and or the Winnipeg General Strike. Upload your conversation to Soundcloud and tweet it out ususingsirJAM, #Warof1812, and #sjrcanhis. Be sure to use the historical thinking concepts to help you analyze and create arguments. Please tweet out your phone calls by Sunday evening.

“Myth basically serves four functions. The first is the mystical function,… realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery….The second is a cosmological dimension, the dimension with which science is concerned – showing you what shape the universe is, but showing it in such a way that the mystery again comes through…. The third function is the sociological one – supporting and validating a certain social order…. It is the sociological function of myth that has taken over in our world – and it is out of date…. But there is a fourth function of myth, and this is the one that I think everyone must try today to relate to – and that is the pedagogical function, of how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.”

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

A Tale of Two Countries

IMG_1824Canada is a perplexing concept; our country can often be conceptualized in shimmering positivity, and then, upon closer inspection can be dragged through the dusty and bloody streets of reality. This has often been the case when we teach history or have been taught history — we try to dichotomize issues, cultures, and versions of history as an experiment in critical thought or controversy. MacLennan’s Two Solitudes is an obvious example of cultural paradoxes within the “narrative” of Canada, as is the the story of the Winnipeg General Strike.

In Manitoba we experience this in the divide between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. Many Winnipeggers are placing their hope in our new mayor to help bridge these colonial divides and painful scars — a most difficult task to say the least. A recent CBC poll suggest that the divide between indigenous and nonindigenous on prairies and in Red River is considerably and alarminging wide: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/people-on-the-prairies-less-tolerant-cbc-poll-says-1.2831876

In recent weeks, I have also been struck by an increasingly larger divide in Canada that is often left unarticulated – that is our image as a massive expanse of natural beauty contrasted with our 400 year history of resource exploitation. This really hit home when I attended the Hudson Bay Company Archives’ screening of Kevin Nikkel’s film Romance of the Far Fur Country . Nikkel has managed to splice together two hours of original HBC footage from 1919 and curate this silent footage in such a haunting way that the viewer really is able to situate themselves in the fur trade at the beginning of the 20th century.

As beautiful as the film is, however, there is a striking recognition that as the HBC enters into indigenous communities and encounters the immense landscape, that there is only one agenda: resource exploitation, both natural and human.

What follows in the film is a shocking barrage of the treatment of the first peoples of Canada and the land itself. Created by the HBC in 1919 as a celebratory film and ultimately an advertisement for its first department stores, the Company was simply not aware of its savage devastation of all systems on earth – at least this is what I hope.

 

As the film ended and everyone left the Archives of Manitoba, my friend (who I dragged out) and I silently sat in our seats trying to process what we had just witnessed.

A few days later, I came across this photo essay in the Globe and Mail encapsulating life in Fort McMurray. I was astounded at the level of consumerism, greed, and resource exploitation that is completely unabashed.

You will notice one photo of a gentleman in a cowboy hat drinking a Coors’ Light. At first glance I thought nothing of it, and then my uber critical thinker of a wife alerted me to the paradox: A cowboy hat is a symbol of freedom. It conjures up imagery of connection to the land, notions of freedom and autonomy, and a recognition of the interconnectedness of the natural systems that sustain the land. . The fellow in the coffee shop, however, who works for Suncor, is part of a  system of resource exploitation that destroys these vast and wild lands. He’s a slave to consumption and a dogged drive for wealth accumulation above all else. This is not the wild west. This is as well-engineered money generating machine with little room for cowboy antics.

But this does fit with our history. It sounds like the HBC in 1919.

And so, as Canada delves further into oil sands development, pipeline construction, and dependence on fossil fuels, so too continues the dichotomy of Canada. On one hand we have a country jam packed with scientifically-literate, empathetic citizens who cherish our land, water, and air. On the other, we are complicent in an economic and political system that is bent on exploiting natural and human resources. These are  the new two new solitudes of our time.

As Slavoj Zizek suggests, the ecological catastrophes of the present and future will not be solved by free markets and corporations. No, Canada’s sick duality can only be synthesized into a sustainable vision through social and political action. This begins in the homes in Fort McMurray, at the kitchen tables of local constituency associations, and ultimately at the polls in 2015.

Canada’s reputation in the global community has soured as of late; we no longer lead in peacekeeping (we are ranked 65th), we rank first in deforestation, and our record on treating our indigenous peoples speaks for itself. I would reckon that we have an opportunity to build a better Canada — one that is sustainable, innovative, compassionate, and inclusive. Our first step, however, is to take an honest look at what we we have become. Let’s take off our cowboy hats for now. We have to earn the right to wear symbols of freedom. First we need to take the collective action necessary to shed the dichotomies of the past and create one singular and positive vision based on respect for the land and each other.

 

What is History? Part 2

Dr. Cian McMahon, UNLV

Dr. Cian McMahon, UNLV

Last week, Dr. Morton gave us a tremendous amount to think about as he equated history with experience.  This week, we shift gears a bit (and geography) and look at Dr. Cian McMahon‘s understanding of history. Dr. McMahon teaches at UNLV but grew up in Winnipeg. Does his understanding agree with that of Dr. Morton? Where are the differences? Where are the similarities? How do they inform your understanding?

Here are his comments:

Anyway, what the hell, I have locked the door and turned off the phone and am going to pound out a couple of paragraphs on “What Is History” for you–can you copy-and-paste it into your blog? I’ve actually been thinking about the question over the past couple of days since receiving your email so here goes…
WHAT IS HISTORY?
“What is history?” It’s a good question because at first glance the answer seems obvious: a record of the past. And yet once you scratch the surface, you realize that history is much more than a bald catalogue of past names and events. In fact, history is just another tool used by humans to make sense of the present.
But that definition, by itself, does not really give you much to chew on, so try this: between now and the spring, when you are trying to decide what history is, try looking at how we study history. What dates/people/events do we focus on? In so doing, you will see what purposes history is serving.
Some concrete examples: in the old days, history was basically a list of names and deeds of powerful white men. Why? Because powerful white men ran contemporary society. To legitimate their authority, they presented a picture of past society that was… dominated by powerful white men. Nowadays, historians are more interested in investigating how women and indigenous peoples impacted past societies. Why? Because women and indigenous peoples have acceded to positions of power in today’s society and bourgeois liberal academics (to be honest, like myself) want to legitimate that change. They and I believe that the diversification of the polity was a change for the better. If a dog ever gets elected to Parliament, you can rest assured that books and articles will soon appear showing how dogs impacted politics in the old days.
WHAT IS DOING HISTORY?
There are two inter-twined parts to “doing” history.
The first is consumption. This is mostly through reading but it can also be through video documentaries, radio dramas, museums, etc. But the consumption of history is not a passive activity. As you consume history, you ought always be thinking. What message was the person who created this book/video/exhibit trying to get across? What parts did they conveniently leave out?
The second part is production. You need to produce new history. Unfortunately, for a long time, all students below a PhD program were expected to ONLY CONSUME history and NEVER PRODUCE it. But thanks to the internet (and fantastic teachers like Mr. Henderson), students of all ages are now being enabled to produce their own versions of the past. But as you produce history, remember to keep thinking. What message am I trying to get across? What parts am I conveniently leaving out?
Ultimately, you will find that in order to PRODUCE good history, you will need to patiently CONSUME a bunch of it first. But once you start producing it, exciting things can happen.
What is your message going to be?
Cian T. McMahon, PhD
Department of History
University of Nevada, Las Vegas