Eric Foner on Lincoln

11 02 2011

In this video, famous historian Eric Foner speaks about his new book about Lincoln’s attitude to slavery.

Two New Active History Posts

30 06 2010

Japanese Canadian Fishing Boat Being Seized, 9 December 1941

The blog recently carried two posts that caught my eye. The earlier post is by Laura Madakoro and deals with government apologies for historical injustices such as Japanese internment and Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland. It is a fine piece of work on comparative social memory that is also rather personal. Ms. Madakoro writes: “My grandfather was a fisherman in Tofino (on the west coast of Vancouver Island) when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. His boat was taken by the Canadian government. My father, who was 2 years old at the time, and his parents were interned.”

Cacao Production

The second post links historical with ongoing injustices and is about the use of coerced labour (i.e., slaves) in the production of chocolate. Karlee Sapoznik’s post notes that consumers boycotts against slave-produced sugar were part of the abolitions campaign. She also reports that “up to 40% of the chocolate we purchase, bring into our homes and eat may be contaminated with slavery”. I like this post because it reminds us that slavery is still a live issue, not something that was totally finished in 1834 or 1865.

40% evil? Or just 40% lipids? has become a very good blog.

My Teaching This Week

8 10 2009

I teach a Canadian history survey course that is designed for first-year students. The course is designed to teach them about both Canada’s past before 1867 and about the study of history at the university level. Normally, there are two lectures per week. This week, however, I held tutorials during one of the normal lecture slots.

On Monday, I delivered a lecture on the impact of the American Revolution on British North America.United Empire Loyalists, Final Resting Place Our tutorial on Wednesday looked at the history of slavery in Canada. We discussed slaveholding by First Nations, the enslavement of First Nations individuals by whites, and the smaller number of Black slaves brought into New France and the British colonies. The student will be completing an assignment about a Portuguese-born Black slave named Angélique who was executed for arson in Montreal in 1734.

In my fourth-year seminar, our theme this week was economic change in the 1840s and 1850s. We began the seminar by discussing Adam Shortt, “General Economic History, 1841-67” in vol. 5 of Canada and Its Provinces. This reading gave the students a sense of the overall developments of the period. We then moved on to some more modern interpretations of the period.   Lawrence H. Officer and Lawrence B. Smith, “The Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty of 1855 to 1866The Journal of Economic History 28 (1968): 598-623 and Peter Baskerville, “Americans in Britain’s Backyard: The Railway Era in Upper Canada, 1850-1880Business History Review 55  (1981): 314-336. We then took our customary coffee break, after which we listened to excellent student presentations on the lives and times of two important individuals, Isaac Buchanan, a Canadian merchant, and Sir Samuel Cunard, the founder of the great steamship line.

Montreal Wharf

Montreal Wharf, 1874. Note railway boxcars near ship in foreground. Image Source: Library and Archives Canada.

Our discussion was wide-ranging and touched on important themes in the history of technology, international trade (hence the picture of a Montreal wharf), and Canadian-American relations. We also talked about how the rich get rich. Do they do it entirely through hard work and their own unassisted efforts? Or do they sometimes use subsidies and other help from the government to grow their firms? Next week’s seminar is entitled “Ideology”.  We shall look at how people in an age dominated by classical liberalism justified an increasing number of interventions by government in the economy.

FT Article on Slavery and the City of London

30 06 2009

The front page of this weekend’s edition of the Financial Times carried a story about historical research that has uncovered new evidence regarding the details City of London’s involvement in slavery. [Note: story includes video of interview with noted historian Catherine Hall] The most interesting fact revealed in the article is that Nathan Mayer Rothschild accepted slaves as collateral for a loan. The House of Rothschild had previously been famous for arranging the loan that allowed the British government to borrow the money needed to compensate slaveholders when slavery was abolished in the British Empire in the 1830s.

I’m glad that the FT ran this story, because it gives readers a sense of the historical importance of corporate archives (although in this case the key documents were uncovered at the National Archives in Kew). However, I’m not certain why information about the Rothschilds’ indirect involvement in slavery is terribly newsworthy.  After all, the House of Rothschild were the bankers of the Empire of Brazil at a time when that country had slavery. Like many other firms in Britain, America, and elsewhere, many City firms were indirect beneficiaries of slavery. We knew this already.