For those in the Atlantic region, check out this exciting conference on the War of 1812 at Saint Mary's University in Halifax next month.
In the world of historical commemorations, the War of 1812 will soon give way to the First World War, but it has not relinquished its surprising time in the limelight just yet. Yesterday I watched the CBC Doc Zone documentary The War of 1812: Been There, Won That. This is an informative if mocking take on this Anglo-American conflict, including interviews with leading historians such as Alan Taylor. I encourage you to watch it. For more context on television, you should also check out the PBS film The War of 1812, which originally aired in 2011. Like the Canadian broadcast, this one has terrific narrating and a long line of historical experts. As for Great Britain, the other protagonist, the BBC did not produce a documentary and, in the words of naval historian Andrew Lambert, the War of 1812 was always a sideshow to Britain's generation-long struggle for national survival and global supremacy against Napoleonic France.
For those in the Atlantic region, check out this exciting conference on the War of 1812 at Saint Mary's University in Halifax next month.
Image: The original White House in Washington D.C., showing the ruins after British forces burned it in August 1814. Watercolour by George Munger. Wikipedia.
For those interested in Canadian history, The Canadian Encyclopedia is probably an important and well-used resource. It certainly is for me. Back in the 1980s I remember our family receiving the original blue, three-volume set as a gift. It has gone through several editions since then, and today it is a free website (it is no longer printed). I continue to use and benefit from TCE. Generally speaking, I make great use of reference works in both my scholarly research and teaching university courses, and TCE is one of the three references that I consult the most: the others are the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, which, like TCE, started out as a printed collection but has since become an excellent web resource; and Gerald Hallowell ed., The Oxford Companion to Canadian History (Oxford University Press, 2004).
For these reasons, it was a pleasure recently to publish my first article (with Tabitha Marshall) in TCE on explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie. I hope it is the first of many.
For other reference works, check out the Links page on this website.
Update (23 July 2014): My second article, a biography of tragic Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin. The search for his ships continues to this day.
Images: Thomas Lawrence, "Sir Alexander Mackenzie" (c. 1800), Wikipedia, original painting at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa; Portrait of Sir John Franklin, CBC's Searching for Franklin website; John Wilson Carmichael, "Erebus and Terror in New Zealand, August 1841," showing Franklin's two naval vessels together on an earlier voyage of exploration to the Antarctic in 1841-43, Wikipedia.
In the latest issue of Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, hot off the press, all three of its feature articles focus on the twentieth century, mostly on the post-Second World War period, including two about Memorial University of Newfoundland: Stephen Harold Riggins, “Memorial University’s First Sociologist: The Dilemmas of a Bureaucratic Intellectual,” whose name was Donald Willmott; and Jeff Webb, “The Rise and Fall of Memorial University’s Extension Service, 1959-1991.” The other article, by John Phyne, discusses poverty, slum housing, commercialization and urban renewal in the “old city centre” or downtown region of St. John’s (where he grew up) from 1942 to 1987. I have stated before that Newfoundland and Labrador Studies is a valuable if somewhat under-utilized journal. In addition to these essays, and several book reviews, Pam Perkins has an interesting introductory essay on and excerpts from the diary of Governor Sir Thomas Cochrane in the 1820s. As she notes, Cochrane’s diary has been neglected by historians and researchers, despite the fact that he “oversaw a significant period of transformation in Newfoundland social and political life” between 1825 and 1832. Happy reading!
For those in the Halifax area this summer, or just interested in the War of 1812, come out and enjoy this exciting conference on the War of 1812 in Atlantic Canada. It takes place at Saint Mary's University from August 21-24. Students can register for free. It features more than twenty papers on topics ranging from privateering and naval warfare to the Black Refugees and Mi'kmaq war medals. All four Atlantic Provinces are covered, with important content on Maine and this Anglo-American conflict in the greater North Atlantic world. There will be keynote addresses by Andrew Lambert, Peter MacLeod and Phillip Buckner, as well as tours of historic sites. This event uses the bicentennial of the War of 1812 to bring together leading historians and heritage professionals from across Canada, the United States and Britain. With so much attention paid to borderlands clashes in the Great Lakes region, it is important to remember and study this war on the East Coast as well. Organized by the Gorsebrook Research Institute for Atlantic Canada Studies at Saint Mary's, in partnership with the Nova Scotia Museum, it showcases a terrific blend of public and academic history. It should interest many audiences.
To learn more about this conference, check out this link and this link, or contact me through this website or at email@example.com.
Images: (1) Historic Georges Island in Halifax harbour and (2) HMS Shannon capturing USS Chesapeake on 1 June 1813, c. 1830, both courtesy of Wikipedia.
Taking place in Halifax this weekend, co-hosted by Dalhousie and Saint Mary's universities, is the AGM of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. Focusing on colonial America and the early Atlantic World, this is one of the preeminent history organizations anywhere in the world. It publishes the William and Mary Quarterly. I encourage you to take in some of the fantastic programme (here in PDF) and other cultural activities they have planned. The Omohundro is the most prestigious conference in early American studies, and this is the first time it has been held east of Quebec. For my part, I am giving a presentation on Saturday about Nova Scotia and the War of 1812: "Glorious First of June: The Shannon-Chesapeake Celebrations in Halifax."
Update (29 June 2014): Check out this excellent blog about the conference from Keith Grant, a doctoral candidate at the University of New Brunswick.
Update (15 June 2014): This was a terrific conference, with an excellent range of panels and other historical events. I enjoyed my panel. I was pleased by the questions and surprised by the turnout for 8:30 on a rainy Saturday morning! It was also great to see many friends and colleagues again, particularly those from the United States. Many thanks to the Omohundro institute and to all of the conference organizers from DAL and Saint Mary's.
When historians talk about the Glorious First of June, they are usually referring to Lord Howe's victory over a French fleet on that day in 1794. But for War of 1812 buffs, this term is also used to describe the famous frigate action between USS Chesapeake and HMS Shannon off Boston in 1813. This is the "other" glorious first of June. In one of the most brutal and celebrated battles from the Age of Sail, the Shannon battered the Chesapeake with broadsides and then, following Captain Philip Broke, boarded her in the smoke. This was a timely and emotional victory for the British Navy. All told, the battle lasted less than fifteen minutes. With Broke incapacitated, command fell to Provo Wallis, the second lieutenant and native of Halifax, Nova Scotia. He took his time guiding the warships back to Halifax, the Shannon's home base. Their arrival on Sunday, June 6, set off naval euphoria in the town and celebrations along the waterfront. It was one of the most important social and military events in the city's history. Many of the people who were there that day, and experienced this outpouring of joy and patriotism, remembered it vividly decades later. It lives on through cultural memory and historic sites.
To mark this year's anniversary, I have reproduced two primary documents. The first is an editorial from the Halifax Journal on 7 June 1813, the first of Halifax's four weekly newspapers to report on this memorable battle. Its triumphant and nationalistic tone is representative of wartime press coverage in both the British Empire and the United States.
Halifax, 7 June 1813
The second document is a letter from Nathaniel White to his brother Gideon, a prominent merchant in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. White was among many gentlemen and curiosity seekers who were permitted aboard the Chesapeake in Halifax harbour. Source: Nova Scotia Archives, White Family Papers, MG 1/955/983. It is lightly edited here.
Halifax, 12 June 1813
To learn more about this naval battle, H.F. Pullen’s book is always a good starting point: The Shannon and the Chesapeake (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970). More recently, British historian Andrew Lambert devotes significant space to it in his volume on the War of 1812: The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812 (London: Faber and Faber, 2012). Visually, check out the many Shannon-Chesapeake pieces in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s current exhibit, War of 1812-1814: Then and After. Finally, I highly recommend the History Channel’s 2005 documentary on this famous sea clash.
Update (2 June 2014): For more, and to learn about history and heritage events in Nova Scotia, check out Martin Hubley's blog post: The Month in Review, or Shannon vs. Chesapeake. Hubley is the Curator of History with the Nova Scotia Museum.
Images: (1) Robert Field, Portrait of Lieutenant Provo Wallis, likely in Halifax after the battle, c. 1813 (2) Broke coin or "token" minted by Halifax merchants to celebrate the Shannon's victory over the Chesapeake, 1814 (3) John Christian Schetky, HMS Shannon leading her American prize frigate, USS Chesapeake, into Halifax harbour on 6 June 1813, c. 1830. All images from Wikipedia.
Jim Candow, a retired historian with Parks Canada, has just published a promising new book on Cape Spear Lighthouse near St. John's, Newfoundland: Cantwells' Way: A Natural History of the Cape Spear Lightstation (Halifax: Fernwood, 2014).
Here is a promotional blurb about the book: "In Cantwells’ Way, James E. Candow examines the relationship between people, place and technology at the Cape Spear Lightstation in Newfoundland and Labrador. Modern lighthouses and fog alarms were products of the new understandings of light and sound that emerged from the Scientific Revolution, so lightkeepers and their families were therefore in the vanguard of technological change in their communities. Despite this, they continued to practise traditional activities such as gardening and berry picking, which were part of the informal economy of rural Newfoundland. Life at the Cape Spear Lightstation reflected the underlying duality of Newfoundland society in the period." Check out Fernwood's website for upcoming readings and other events to promote this book, with one in St. John's on June 11.
Candow has been quite active in retirement. Just a couple of years ago, he published a very well-received book on the history of Signal Hill: The Lookout: A History of Signal Hill (St. John's: Creative, 2011). See here for a review of that volume in Canada's History magazine. Also, he continues to work on a history of the British Army in St. John's.
The recent news that Barry Clifford, a marine archaeological explorer, may have found the wreck of the Santa Maria off Haiti, Christopher Columbus's lost flagship on his historic voyage of discovery in 1492, got me thinking about another explorer. John Cabot remains a man of mystery. Very little is known about him or his voyages into the north-west Atlantic in the 1490s. He was a contemporary of Columbus, and they may even have known each other. According to the history books, Cabot led three expeditions from Bristol to the Americas from 1496-8, during which he discovered (or "re-discovered") Canada. The 1496 voyage apparently ran into problems with the crew, supplies and bad weather, and turned back. In 1497, Cabot reached the North American mainland, maybe the first European to do so since the Vikings centuries earlier. He made a landfall and studied the coastline closely, but we do not where. Over the years there have been competing claims to Cabot's landfall from various places in Labrador, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Maine, all writing and commemorating Cabot's story in their own way. Atlantic Canada is littered with places, businesses, and schools named in his honour. Just check the phone books, or think of Cabot Trail through Cape Breton's highlands or Cabot Tower atop Signal Hill in St. John's. Cabot set out on a third voyage in 1498, but by all accounts his ship was lost and he was never heard from again. Well that is what we thought, anyway.
In 2009, historian Evan Jones established the Cabot Project at Bristol University in England, an international team investigating the Cabot mystery. Its premise is a little odd. Alywn Ruddock was a prominent historian of English discovery, with a special focus on Cabot. For years she claimed to have found new materials in English and foreign archives that would "revolutionize" what was known about Cabot and Europe's larger connection to North America in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Among her claims was that the 1498 voyage was a success and that Cabot returned to England by 1500. However, after decades of promising to publish her findings in a book, she never did. We do not know why. Then, when she died in 2005, she stipulated in her will that all of her research and unpublished work be destroyed. No joke. Despite opposition, it was lost forever. Although many people were sceptical of Ruddock's claims, because she never proved them, Jones and his team set out to retrace her steps in the archives and to find out for themselves. The team, Jones in particular, have published many studies about this fascinating investigation. Among other things, they found evidence confirming Ruddock's claim that Cabot survived the 1498 voyage and returned home, safe and sound. This really is a case of rewriting history. Depending on what else they find, biographies of Cabot (and his controversial son, Sebastian) in places such as the Dictionary of Canadian Biography and Canadian Encyclopedia will need major revisions. So will the history books.
To learn more about Cabot and the politics of historical memory and commemoration, I recommend Peter E. Pope, The Many Landfalls of John Cabot (University of Toronto Press, 1997), which is the best of many publications that appeared around the time of the 500th anniversary of Cabot’s historic voyage and landfall in 1497.
Where do you think he came ashore?
For more on the Cabot Project, visit its website or take your time going through the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Website here and here.
Images: (1) Depiction of Cabot's ship Matthew in 1497, Canadian Military History Gateway (2) Governor John Mason's map of Newfoundland, c. 1617 (inverted and with inset), which suggests that Cabot landed at Bonavista and is therefore largely responsible for that town's historic claim to the explorer, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Website (3) Cabot Tower, Signal Hill, St. John's.
The War of 1812 lives on in Nova Scotia. For those in the Halifax region, or visiting this summer, take in the new exhibit at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia: War of 1812-1814: Then and After. Curated by Dianne O'Neill, it will be on display in the John and Norma Oyler Gallery from April 5 to August 24. In addition to numerous paintings of the famous Shannon-Chesapeake naval battle from 1813, there are important themes such as the naval war on the Great Lakes, privateering, border clashes in the Canadas, and Halifax in wartime.
Here is a description of the exhibit:
National attention to activity in the War of 1812-1814 has focused on events in Upper and Lower Canada. This exhibition emphasizes the crucial battles that have a particular relationship with this province, especially the taking of the US frigate CHESAPEAKE by HMS SHANNON on 1 June 1813 and the burning of Washington by General Ross on 24 August 1814. A survey of other important events and battles during the war, the monuments to its heroes, and the lasting results of the war still evident today will complete the exhibition.
Image: The Liverpool Packet, a Nova Scotia privateer during the War of 1812, from the Nova Scotia Museum's online exhibit, Nova Scotia and the War of 1812.
Alex Boutilier has just published an interesting new book on Halifax Citadel, entitled The Citadel on Stage: British Military Theatre, Sports, and Recreation in Colonial Halifax. See details here. Towering over the city and harbour, Halifax Citadel is a National Historic Site.
Here is a synopsis of the book:
"The Citadel on Stage is a lively and entertaining social history of British military officers stationed in colonial Halifax. The object of this volume is to survey a wide range of social, theatrical, and recreational performances up until confederation; and to examine the reasons why the garrison officers were entirely involved in these activities. The main focus is on the garrison theatrical society as a social, cultural, and charitable entity; and how its existence revolved around the British institutions of colonial government and religion as well as economics. The author illustrates a relationship between the theatricality of political performance and acting on stage, and shows how closely acting and politics are bound up with one another.
While attesting that the Anglican Church supported garrison theatre he gives a critical review of the incessant opposition by the non-conformist puritan element in the community. He also points out that the progress of theatre, sports, and recreation in colonial Halifax parallels the rise or decline of the economy. In his own style, A.D. Boutilier paints a vivid picture of the comedy and farce inherent in upper class society and in the British institutions moored at Halifax from 1749 to 1867."