Monday, December 01, 2014

Dissertation featured in ACJS Bulletin

My work on fundraising in the Toronto Jewish community has been featured in the Association for Canadian Jewish Studies' Fall 2014 Bulletin. Fittingly, it appears next to the announcement of new funding for the Ontario Jewish Archives (the principal repository used in my research), which is looking to better preserve its records for the future.

To read about my work, and all the other interesting developments in the field of Canadian Jewish studies, click here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

From the Academic to the Public: Using Academic Research in Museums

Take a look at the NRM's latest online exhibition: Caution! Railway safety since 1913.

It was based on research by Mike Ebester, a senior lecturer at Portsmouth, who specializes in the history of health & safety. With his expertise and interest in railways (both his MA and PhD were in railway studies), this exhibition has academic clout behind it, yet has been presented in a very accessible way for the general public. Also of note is the decision to put the exhibition online. This allows people from around the world to see it and also makes some of the NRM's archival material available to a much wider audience.

Academic work is increasingly expected to have public impact. Working on museum exhibits is a good way to do this. An important part of being a historian is translating research into a variety of forms: lectures, books, articles, theses and so forth. Museums offer yet another avenue for that hard-earned research material.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Can history and mobilities ever get along?

This past weekend, the Social Science History Association (SSHA) held its 39th annual conference in Toronto at the iconic Royal York Hotel. Being right on my doorstep, I decided to attend. The SSHA is a global group of scholars (although primarily American) who combine social science topics and concepts with the canon of historical study: temporality. I have always thought that history and the social sciences would work well together, but my penchant for highly social topics of study appears to be an unusual choice for historians.

I attended three paper sessions, each of which was tied to one of my areas of interest, but all of them unique and interesting in their own ways. The first, Migration to Tropical Frontiers, although disappointingly lacking two of the four presenters, allowed me to learn about a facet of the twentieth century's Jewish diaspora that I had never encountered before, namely a small enclave of migrants-cum-dairy farmers under the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Of particular interest in Allen Wells' paper on the subject was how the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which had been bankrolling the group of 750 Jews, found itself in 1946 torn between the project and the enormous task of funding the urgent resettlement of Jewish refugees from Europe to Palestine. In the end, the Dominican project gradually lost its funding as Israel's needs became central to Jewish fundraising around the world. Just like my local case study of how Toronto's United Jewish Appeal became increasingly focused on Israel, the Joint Distribution Committee found itself shifting its priorities from multiple diasporic spaces to just one: the nascent State of Israel.

Two panels on Saturday attracted my attention. Toronto, European Suburb: Postwar Migrant Communities and their Visions of Homeland in Canada's Largest Diasporic City looked at how migrant communities in Toronto continued to stay connected to their places of origin. While my research on Jewish Toronto showed an increasingly vocal and assertive community, these papers showed that Toronto's other immigrant groups, including the Portuguese, Polish, Macedonians and Italians, were also gaining their voices at the same time, often using the same techniques of political lobbying, internal sponsorship, fundraising and public demonstrations. I was particularly interested to learn in Gilberto Fernandes' paper that the Portuguese community found itself divided by the 1961 'Bay Street Riot,' when rival groups fought for and against the Portuguese dictatorship of the time. It is quite similar to 1965, when Toronto's Jews took part in the 'Allan Gardens Riot' against neo-Nazis.

The last, and best-attended of the sessions I chose was Migration History and the 'Mobilities Turn.' My interest in transport history has introduced me to both pure transport history and also the world of mobilities, a new sociological sub-field which examines how people move around and how their movement becomes part of their daily routine. However, as two of the papers showed (one delivered by the geographer Colin Pooley and the other by historian Donna Gabaccia), while historians and social scientists study almost the same thing, they rarely communicate or collaborate. As Pooley showed, mobilities work is rarely historical. Most scholarship is theoretical and often uses field work undertaken in the present to address today's mobility landscape. Rarely does it venture into mobilities of the past. Likewise, Gabaccia clearly demonstrated that leading journals in the field of migration history and mobilities (The Journal of World History and Mobilities respectively) do not cite each other and, while both are ostensibly talking about people moving around, they use incompatible vocabularies.

Both papers came to a very similar conclusion. In short, these two sub-disciplines (and, as Pooley did, I would add transport history as a third) need to collaborate and realize that they both have techniques and ideas to share with each other. Mobilities offers insight into the experiential side of moving around, while history allows us to see change over time and whether mobility was different in the past. It is, however, early days. As Gabaccia explained, the social sciences need a "rupture" from their current dichotomy of the present and a contiguous past to appreciate that past events are not homogenous. Until then, mobilities cannot effectively be implemented into historical study. As Pooley demonstrated in his own extremely interesting work reconstructing everyday mobility from life writing in the 19th and 20th centuries, the gaps in historical sources make a social science-like analysis problematic. Several people in the panel suggested a roundtable at next year's SSHA meeting to begin the process of reconciling historians and social scientists in a joint study of mobilities and (as several people correctly mentioned) immobilities with migration and other histories of moving around.

Reflecting on the mobilities debate, I wonder if the sides really are that far apart. I think immediately of the copious work on 'railway spine' and similar imagined ailments in Victorian rail travel. In the latter part of the 19th century, reports of mysterious ailments afflicting railway travellers began to appear in the press and even in he pages of the Lancet.[1] Freud spoke of the sexual excitation caused by the rhythmic movement of trains.[2] The railway compartment was an ambiguous mix of public and private, cosy and threatening (especially after the Briggs Murder).[3] The railway compartment necessitated a new set of behaviours. Reading while travelling became a popular activity to respect the privacy of fellow travellers. This, in turn, spawned the mass publishing of books.[4]

As these examples show, the history of Victorian railway travel seems to mix the temporality of history with the experience of travel as outlined by mobility studies. Part of the difficulty in reconciling these two fields is that much of the work on Victorian railway travel is part of yet another discipline – Victorian Studies – which combines history, literature and social science. Similarly, my introduction to much of this was through railway studies, a discipline combining history, geography, archaeology, social science and economics. Could it simply be that social scientists and historians are being a little stubborn? As this debate unfolds, we may find that the differences are not so insurmountable as we once thought.

1. Ralph Harrington, “The Railway Journey and the Neuroses of Modernity,” in Pathologies of Travel, ed. Richard Wrigley and George Revill (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000), 229–59.
2. Sigmund Freud, Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, []
3. Harrington, “The Railway Journey,” 229-59; Matthew Beaumont, “Railway Mania: The Train Compartment as the Scene of the Crime,” in The Railway and Modernity: Time, Space and the Machine Ensemble, ed. Matthew Beaumont and Michael Freeman (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007), 125–53; Kate Colquhoun, Mr. Brigg’s Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain’s First Railway Murder (London: Little, Brown, 2011).
4. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century (Leamington Spa: Berg, 1986).

Friday, August 15, 2014

Happy Birthday, Panama Canal!

Today marks the 100th birthday of one of the greatest engineering projects ever completed. While plans to unite the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans existed for decades before the Canal was actually built, it took multiple attempts to successfully complete the project.

In the end, it was American money, American engineering and Caribbean labour which carved a route between Colòn and Panama City. It must not be forgotten that the American endeavour built on the failed French project, which had accomplished more work than has been acknowledged in the popular imagination.[1] But it was the American decision to run construction like a totalitarian state, controlling everything from working practices to leisure time, which allowed the Canal to open on August 15, 1914.

However, the momentous occasion was overshadowed by the deteriorating situation in Europe. Whereas the opening of the Canal should have been a great occasion for the celebration of global cooperation in what was arguably a project from which all trading nations could benefit, the opening came just weeks before the Nazi invasion of Poland. Much of the traffic during the first few years of Canal operation was naval, especially once the United States opened up the Pacific Theatre.

The Canal Record, the official newspaper of the American-controlled Canal Zone, reported the momentous occasion. The report seems subdued, especially given the years of work leading up to the event, but the situation in Europe weighed heavily on events (in fact, the congratulatory telegraph published by the Record came from the American Secretary of War). The Record reported that:

Commercial traffic between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by way of The Panama Canal was inaugurated on Saturday, August 15, by the Government steamship Ancon, which made the trip from entrance to entrance in approximately nine hours, well within the previously estimated time for the passage of a ship through the Canal. The complete trip from the ship's berth at dock No. 9. Cristobal, to the end of the dredged channel, five miles out in the Bay of Panama, was made in approximately nine hours and 40 minutes. There were no unscheduled delays, and the handling of the vessel in the locks and through the channel sections characterized the entire operation as one of the smoothest up to that time.

The Ancon carried, as guests of the Secretary of War, about 200 people, the list including President Porras and his cabinet and other Panama Government officials the members of the diplomatic corps and resident consuls-general, officers of the- Tenth Infantry and Coast Artillery Corps, officials of The Panama Canal, and a few others. A special train was run, leaving Panama at 5 a. m., on Saturday, conveying the guests from the Pacific end direct to the dock at Cristobal.

The vessel left its berth at about 7.10 a.m., arrived in the Atlantic entrance at 7.30, and at Gatun Locks at 8 o'clock. It entered the lower lock at Gatun at the same hour and passed out of the upper lock on the water of Gatun Lake about one hour and a quarter later. The entrance to the Culebra Cut section at Gamboa was reached at about 11.15, and Cucaracha slide was passed at 12.20 p. m. Pedro Miguel Lock was reached at 12.56, and the vessel passed into Miraflores Lake at about 1.19. It entered Miraflores Lock at about 1.56, and passed out of the lower lock into the sea channel at 3.20. It arrived off Balboa docks at 4 o'clock, and reached the end of the dredged channel at 4.30. This completed the official trip, and the vessel returned to Balboa, anchoring in the channel at about 5.10 p. m. People gathered to witness the passage at various points along the route, and at Balboa as many as 2,000 were present.[2]

Elizabeth Parker, who had come to the Canal Zone during construction to marry her fiancé, witnessed the opening from the deck of one of the first ships through the completed canal. Her recollection perhaps more accurately sums up the mood of the day, as a "dream of centuries had come true!"[3]

From an academic perspective, the construction and operation of the Canal remains an interesting topic of study. Whereas earlier historiography of the Canal focused heavily on the political machinations and engineering, more recent work has been more social and cultural in nature.[4] The science of malaria control is frequently cited as the main reason for the French failure and the American success.[5] The gold and silver roll (the division of black and white workers) is used as a case study for racial segregation outside the continental United States.[6] More recently yet, historians are beginning to shed light on leisure and tourism in the Canal Zone. This is one of my main areas of interest and it helps to illustrate just how much control the American administration had over the workers during construction of the Canal. Such strict control was necessary to combat disease and prevent a repeat of the French failure, but it also calls into question the status of the Zone as a utopia.[7] The dream world so often talked about by people living in Panama during construction days wasn't as open and free as one might expect.

Nevertheless, the project opened up one of the busiest trade routes in the world. In the globalized 21st century, containerized shipping has thrived thanks to faster journeys between Asia and the Americas, all because of a visionary endeavour completed 100 years ago today. Happy birthday, Panama Canal!


1. For a detailed look at the French effort, see the first third of David McCullough, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 (London: Simon & Schuster, 1977).
2. Canal Record, August 19, 1914. Online at
3. Elizabeth Kittredge Parker, Panama Canal Bride: A Story of Construction Days (New York: Exposition Press, 1955), 90.
4. McCullough, The Path Between the Seas.
5. Paul S. Sutter, “Nature’s Agents or Agents of Empire? Entomological Workers and Environmental Change during the Construction of the Panama Canal,” Isis 98, no. 4 (December 2007): 724–54.
6. Michael Conniff, Black Labor on a White Canal: Panama, 1904-1981 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985).
7. Alexander Missal, Seaway to the Future: American Social Visions and the Construction of the Panama Canal (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008).

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fundraising when Israel is at war

My recent project, A United Jewish Appeal?, was all about the role of Israel in Jewish fundraising in Toronto. Given that Israel is now at war, I have been wondering how the current conflict will affect this year's fundraising campaigns.

A recent post on Jewlicious has offered a taste of how the conflict is already affecting fundraising, albeit largely in the United States. Many large Jewish organizations are using the conflict to add urgency to their regular campaigns, while others (such as B'nai B'rith) have set up dedicated emergency funds.

The most dramatic fundraising effort in Toronto Jewish history came in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the Toronto United Jewish Appeal managed to raise over $26 million in its 1974 campaign. The circumstances were different from the current conflict, however. In 1973, Israel was caught off-guard and was fighting for survival. In 2014, Israel's superior military power and Iron Dome mean that its casualties are substantially lower than those in Gaza and fighting has been outside Israel's borders. Nevertheless, the fighting has generated great interest in Toronto and it will be interesting to see what effect the conflict will have on this year's UJA.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Three Tools for the Web-Savvy Historian

I pride myself in being somewhat of a neo-Luddite when it comes to history. I take notes on paper and tend to print anything I want to read. However, the internet has made a wealth of new knowledge and information available to a much broader audience. As such, more and more research is done online as databases (and especially keyword searching) take much of the traditional drudge work out of research.

That said, the internet is also very fragile and information is constantly disappearing, being moved, or simply updated. This makes it much harder to accurately cite from a web source. In Chicago referencing, the "Accessed on" requirement for web sources helps, but it simply states that the information was available on that date. This very useful article on shows you how to better preserve web content, cite it more reliably and find information which has disappeared. Definitely worth a read: Three Tools for the Web-Savvy Historian: Memento, Zotero, and WebCite

Monday, June 16, 2014

Remove white space from journal articles

Before the days of internet journal databases, academic articles were printed in book form. These volumes, usually a little larger than a trade paperback, were easy to read, but meant getting a copy of the entire issue (although some journals, like Past & Present, did issue reprints of popular articles) and carrying it around with you. For students, this either meant fighting for the only copy or hours of photocopying (or both).

The internet has dramatically changed the way that scholarly writing and research work. Keyword searches and enormous databases, such as JSTOR, have broadened the amount of academic material available. Research is no longer constrained by a university's library catalogue and much more material is available than ever before.

A typical pdf journal article

Most journals still publish in print format, but articles are now also available to download as pdf files (most residing behind paywalls on the databases). The beauty of pdf articles is that most are text-searchable, making skimming much easier. Electronic files can be stored on your computer, linked to citations with software such as Zotero, and won't take up all the space on your desk. For those of us who still prefer reading on paper, articles can also be printed just like any other pdf, allowing you to have the best of the printed and electronic worlds.

Problem: globs of text due to white space

However, the conventional dimensions of a printed article have migrated to the digital world. Depending on the specific journal, you will either find a nicely-formatted pdf that is easy to print or the journal page superimposed onto a 8.5x11 pdf page. This second kind is a no-win because if you try to print multiple pages on one sheet of paper (this is my trick to print what I read without killing too many trees in the process), the white space shrinks the pages into tiny globs. Likewise, it makes the full-screen reading mode on a tablet or computer much harder as the white space means less space is available for the text.

Full-screen white space

This problem has always frustrated me, but I think I have found a solution. Wouldn't it be easy if you could remove the white space from the around the text? It turns out that you can - and for free!

Enter Briss, an unfortunately-named piece of software that lets you remove the white space from a pdf (provided the file isn't secured). The program uses Java and is very fast, sorting out a 25-page article in a matter of seconds.

Once I downloaded and opened the "gz" file from the website, I was confronted with a lot of ".jar" files. Thankfully, the program is much easier to use than I feared. The following instruction apply for a Mac, but should be similar for Windows and Linux too:
  1. Move the "briss-0.9" folder to your computer's "application" folder.
  2. Open the "briss-0.9" folder.
  3. Locate the file named "briss-0.9.jar".
  4. Right-click and choose "Make Alias", this will make a shortcut to that file.
  5. Move the shortcut to a useful place (like your folder of articles). You can also rename the shortcut to a more useful name.
  6. Double-click on the shortcut.
  7. Briss will open.
  8. Choose File, Load.
  9. Select the file you want to crop.
  10. Briss will ask if you want to exclude some pages from cropping. This is an optional step.
  11. When the pdf has loaded, blue boxes will cover the parts of the file to keep. You can resize and move the boxes to keep the content you want. Note: On the file I wanted to crop, Briss was going to crop the page numbers, so I resized the boxes to keep them.
  12. Choose Action, Crop.
  13. Choose a name and location for the saved file.
  14. Done!
The result was a cropped file that was much easier to print and better for reading on screens and printing.


Technically, tampering with pdf articles is probably against the terms of use for the databases, but it is no more destructive than highlighting or making notes on the electronic copy.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Influential Railway TV 3: Last Train Across Canada

What TV shows did you watch growing up? I had the usual diet of Mr. Dressup, Sharon, Lois and Bram and Sesame Street but, even when I was very young, I was particularly drawn to the small collection of railway VHS tapes at my local library (Barney really didn't work for me, although Thomas the Tank Engine did!). What amazes me looking back is how influential those tapes were in the development of my interest in railways. At the time, I mainly saw pretty pictures of trains, but the underlying content was also seeping in. As I got older, more information and connections were made with each viewing as I kept being drawn back to the same ones. In this series of articles, I revisit and analyze the railway shows which have had the greatest influence on my study of railways. I was avidly watching many of them before I turned six.

Last Train Across Canada (1990)

This two-part documentary was produced for PBS and features Murray Sayle taking the "last train across Canada." When I first saw it as a child, I barely understood it, but I now understand it as a very thought-provoking look at not just the decline of Canadian railways, but also as a portrait of Canada during a very uncertain moment for the country's identity. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that the documentary was actually about Canadian identity, rather than a sweeping political decision affecting the national transportation policy. Questions of what it means to be Canadian, Quebec sovereignty and the draw of the United States come up throughout the journey, which ended on a rather pessimistic note, concluding that the demise of rail could well be the demise of the nation.

While its discussion of identity is fascinating and offers a valuable insight into the Canadian mindset of a quarter of century ago, its depiction of the railway network is completely inaccurate. Not to be pedantic, but I have never seen a documentary ride so roughshod over Canada's railway network and the country's geography. There never was a "last train across Canada" - or a first. Sayle's journey from Sydney to Vancouver has never been possible without taking at least three trains. In fact, he leaves out Newfoundland altogether (being a few years too late for its narrow-gauge railway). The journey is correct in that it was filmed on the eve of VIA Rail's massive cuts in 1990, which saw the country's passenger rail service halved overnight. The VIA Rail route he (largely) stuck to, via Maine and the CP's transcontinental route across Ontario and the Prairies, was indeed abandoned. That said, the crossing of the country remains possible (except for Halifax-Sydney, which lost all its service) with VIA Rail predominantly using CN's route.

According to the narration, Quebec City is next door to Montreal. Relative to Canada, this is correct, but it is still hours by train. Having visited Toronto, Sayle apparently rejoins the train just outside the city, by which he means Sault Ste. Marie. Not only is this the other end of the province, but Algoma Central territory, not VIA Rail. After a short visit with the Amish, we are back with VIA Rail briefly, before jumping across Ontario again to the Ontario Northland Railway's line to Moosonee, where he meets the Cree and finally acknowledges Canada's Native population. Throughout the show, we are constantly reminded of how empty Canada was before rail, yet this viewpoint erases centuries of Native habitation. While the documentary's perspective seems dated, Native visibility has improved considerably since it was filmed and a similar production filmed now would probably discuss Native people much more.

Jumping back to VIA, the journey skips to Churchill (missing Winnipeg and Thunder Bay completely). After polar bears, Sayle heads south and explores Prairie life, or an extension of Midwestern American life, hinting at the Prairie separatism that simmered at the time. Onwards through the Rockies and straight to the Pacific Ocean, neglecting Vancouver. In fact, the whole journey from Ontario westward feels rushed.

One particular gem in the show is a discussion about the place of railways in Canadian identity with Pierre Berton at Union Station in Toronto. Berton remained convinced that the railway was central to identity in 1990. Were he still alive today, I'm not sure he would be. In 2014, most Canadians do not travel by train at all.

As I have revisited this production over the years, the question of Canadian identity has come to be the most interesting element to me. The idea of a welcoming, multicultural society it portrayed sounds very much like a Trudeau-esque vision of Canada. It is, I think, overly simplistic. I cannot believe that Canadians in 1990 would have considered it acceptable to immigrants to never learn English or French, as Sayle suggests when he meets a Japanese-speaking cashier in Banff; they certainly wouldn't now. Canadians are portrayed as simple, somewhat parochial people. While the country remains parochial, the growth of the internet has made the world much smaller and impossible to ignore. In 1990, it was still possible to be detached from the world. In 2014, it is virtually impossible.

The people Sayle met across Canada were cordial and friendly, traits now relegated to the older generation and rural areas. Of all the stereotypes used to describe Canadians, politeness is the one I most wish wasn't disappearing. I find it increasingly hard to distinguish Canadians from Americans, but it seems Sayle found this was already happening decades ago.

Sayle's discussion of Quebec separatism was timely, as it returned to the fore with the referendum of 1995, but its urgency has since waned. The recent defeat of the Parti Québécois demonstrates that Quebecers value a distinct society and culture (something which has been largely achieved without independence), but not an intolerant one. The western provinces are still part of Canada too, but the ambivalence pulling the Prairies towards the US has grown stronger with the election of Stephen Harper who, while he pretends to "stand up for Canada," has systematically worked to dismantle everything that was distinct about Canada and has adopted sweeping American policies, from an increasingly militarized society to mass election fraud. Sayle spoke of the Prairies as empty farmland, but oil was already shifting the Canadian balance of power westward when VIA Rail pulled out of southern Saskatchewan.

Last Train Across Canada is a whimsical look at an era in Canadian railways which is now gone, even if the documentary completely butchered routes and geography in its portrayal of the "last train."  However, railway accuracy aside, it remains an important snapshot of identity across Canada in 1990 and looks at a society that was still connected with its railway - a fact I feel is no longer the case. Last Train Across Canada was released as a 2-tape VHS set but never as a DVD. A few poor-quality versions of the show can be found floating around cyberspace as well.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Influential Railway TV 2: Love Those Trains

What TV shows did you watch growing up? I had the usual diet of Mr. Dressup, Sharon, Lois and Bram and Sesame Street but, even when I was very young, I was particularly drawn to the small collection of railway VHS tapes at my local library (Barney really didn't work for me, although Thomas the Tank Engine did!). What amazes me looking back is how influential those tapes were in the development of my interest in railways. At the time, I mainly saw pretty pictures of trains, but the underlying content was also seeping in. As I got older, more information and connections were made with each viewing as I kept being drawn back to the same ones. In this series of articles, I revisit and analyze the railway shows which have had the greatest influence on my study of railways. I was avidly watching many of them before I turned six.

Love Those Trains (1984)

A National Geographic TV special, this charted a romantic history of railways based largely on nostalgia and railway enthusiasts. Its depiction of the building of the American transcontinental line is devoid of any mention of Native people, although it does mention Chinese workers and high death tolls. The production focuses mainly on the United States, but also featured South American railways and a special chartered run of the Orient Express to Turkey.

One thing that strikes me looking back is how the show painted a love of trains as a largely elite pursuit, for those wealthy enough to own swaths of California land (for a live steam park), to ride the Orient Express, or take leisure trips to luxury hotels. When more common people do appear, it is either working for railroads, or at the hobo convention in Iowa. This perhaps reflects the target demographic for National Geographic in the 1980s, but it is worth mentioned that their specials were once prime-time viewing on network TV. In terms of gender, it was surprisingly mixed, suggesting that both men and women could both work on and like trains. Women could even train to be engineers (with the help of a rather hands-on Long Island Railroad instructor...).

Overall, Love Those Trains has aged badly, showing a world so black and white that it seems impossible. It does paint a good picture of attitudes from a pre-9/11, pre-global warming world, all from National Geographic's American-centric and piercing anthropological gaze. It was released as a VHS tape and is sometimes available as a DVD-R from National Geographic.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Influential Railway TV 1: Locomotion

What TV shows did you watch growing up? I had the usual diet of Mr. Dressup, Sharon, Lois and Bram and Sesame Street but, even when I was very young, I was particularly drawn to the small collection of railway VHS tapes at my local library (Barney really didn't work for me, although Thomas the Tank Engine did!). What amazes me looking back is how influential those tapes were in the development of my interest in railways. At the time, I mainly saw pretty pictures of trains, but the underlying content was also seeping in. As I got older, more information and connections were made with each viewing as I kept being drawn back to the same ones. In this series of articles, I revisit and analyze the railway shows which have had the greatest influence on my study of railways. I was avidly watching many of them before I turned six.

Locomotion (1993) 

In my opinion, this A&E/BBC series is the most informative and best-produced series of railway documentaries ever made. The four episodes brought together archive footage, interviews and a coherent narrative of railway history from a socio-economic perspective. The episodes detailed the history of American railroads; the enormous impact of the railways on Britain; the railways' role in turning cavalry-based fighting into modern mechanised warfare (I admit, I couldn't watch this episode until my teenage years); and the future of railways around the world.

The American railroads, chronicled in Engines of Enterprise, is the most economic of the episodes. It charts the construction of railroads across the continent, the opulence of Pullman and the Robber Barons and the slow decline brought on by regulation, trucks and aircraft. One of the advantages of Locomotion was that many people who were adults in the first half of the 20th century were still alive when it was filmed. This allowed first-hand accounts from pre-WWII union organisers and railway employees, which added a fascinating personal layer to the story.

While the economic narrative of railroads is the standard for American railroad history, this episode wove it into the broader social changes in the United States, making for a very interesting account. My one criticism was the decision to end the episode with the decline of streamliners in the 1950s. This meant leaving out mergers, bankruptcies, Conrail, deregulation and the resurgence in freight traffic (which had begun when the episode was made).

The second episode, Taming the Iron Monster, has always been my favourite and has shaped much of my historical study. Even when I was very young, the account of the early days of railways in Britain appealed to me. While Engines of Enterprise focused on economics, the British story focused on engineering, architecture and people. By considering engineering, the documentary is able to demonstrate how the north of England (through coal, terrain and personalities) shaped the development of railways around the world through being the test-bed for tunnels, bridges and locomotive designs. Stations were the public face of the railways, and were designed to exude confidence. Anyone who has visited a major railway station in the UK (and even many of the smaller ones) will understand this point. I suppose what appealed to me most was the discussion of people and how they interacted with their landscape. Social reform and the trade union movement were inextricably linked with the railways, as was an increasingly mobile society.

However, I do think this episode was overly-whiggish when it came to the battle for the Lake District, in which the likes of John Ruskin managed to prevent railway construction from destroying the countryside (in hindsight, cars have caused far more damage than carefully-planned railways would have ever done). Similarly, Ruskin et al. were far more concerned about hoipaloi being able to access the Lakes than about the development of infrastructure. This look at British railways concludes with the striking parallels between early railway building (and its public reception) and the Channel Tunnel, which was under construction when the show was filmed. Just as early railways provoked a mania, the Channel Tunnel has provoked a mania for high-speed rail in the UK, with HS1 absorbing the London-Folkstone portion of the line and the controversial HS2 being debated today.

I am a rather peaceful person and the thought that my favourite mode of transportation could be a vehicle for the evils of war is not something I wish to dwell on. Yet The War Machine shows how railways took technological determinism to the extreme, fuelling larger, more mechanised, longer wars through an almost assembly-line-like movement of supplies, ammunition and people. By focusing on three wars, the American Civil War, and the two World Wars, the documentary shows how railway supply lines both expanded the scope of war and isolated it. One of these instances, the documentary argued, was the systematic extermination during the Shoah. Railways allowed for the movement of millions of people efficiently, but also in such a systematic way that few people even knew the whole picture. In this sense, the Shoah was Fordist (perhaps appropriate since Ford was anti-semitic) as each small part of the Nazi machine played its part in the tragedy with little need for an understanding of the end result. Although it is my least favourite episode, it discusses its subject well and even spoke to Soviet railways workers and used Soviet footage (even if the narration described it as "propaganda"). Railways in war is not pleasant, and as such has been largely ignored outside the academic sphere, but The War Machine is a good grounding for a general audience.

I always felt that the final episode, Magic Machines and Mobile People, was a little out of place, not just because A&E clearly re-cut it for an American audience (complete with several monologues from Jack Perkins), but also because the content didn't fit well together. The first portion, looking at the influence of railways on space and time, has come to mean more to me as my interest of railways has moved towards people's perception of railway technology and travel. Wolfgang Schivelbusch's The Railway Journey was still a new work at the time and a cultural interpretation of railway history was a nascent area of study.

However, the show suddenly jumps to Florida. Yes, Henry Flagler did essentially create the state as a sun destination thanks to extensive railway investment, but it doesn't fit neatly with space and time, even if Florida is arguably a railway-created space. After the citrus state, we jump to Japan, apparently the one place where rail is still in its golden age thanks to punctual (perhaps too punctual?) service and extremely fast trains.

The show ends with the warning that railways, even in Japan, are usually money-losers, yet in a more crowded and urban world they will remain critical to future transportation infrastructure. This prediction has come true. As oil prices continue to rise, almost every developed nation is investing in new trains, better rail infrastructure and resurrecting long-abandoned lines. Sadly, Canada remains an exception and its absence from the television series is probably warranted.

My confusion about the incoherence of Magic Machines and Mobile People is explained in the credits, which hint that there were in fact two final episodes made, one for the BBC and one for A&E. I only noticed this recently, and was delighted to find Track to the Future, the real ending to the show. Whereas the A&E version is like a bad school essay, trying to cram lots of facts together and hoping that it makes sense (note to self, don't do that), Track to the Future presents a coherent analysis of a very simple question: what is the future of rail? Rather than jumping around, the show used three case studies, all suitably glum and postmodern, to show how rail in the early '90s was dying.

While the case study on Japan is virtually identical to the A&E version, the other two are not. The show begins looking at the ruins of the Argentinian railway network, which was once one of the greatest in the world. Decimated by cuts under nationalization, the infrastructure collapsed, literally. Privatized in a last-ditch attempt to rescue some lines, the network shed over 90% of its employees and abandoned large swaths of the population who didn't live on arterial routes. Since the show was filmed, Argentina has suffered crippling economic crises and has now begun to re-nationalize some of its network in order to save it for the future. The other case study looked at Los Angeles' legendary gridlock, ironically the result of a highly popular interurban railway network. Streetcars made the city's suburbs possible, but then chained LA to cars when the tracks were ripped up. This is perhaps the most optimistic case, however, because the city has begun to rebuild its railway network (and continues to this day). Whereas Magic Machines and Mobile People was whimsical and nostalgic, Track to the Future was much more sober and demonstrated how railways will play a leading role in our future megacities.

Overall, Locomotion is now dated in its views of private business and lingering anti-Soviet feeling, but much of what it says remains incredibly relevant and sparked my interest in the social impact of railways nearly two decades ago. Locomotion was released as a 4-tape VHS set and has more recently been issued as a Region 1 2-disc DVD set. Nicholas Faith, the consultant for the series, wrote an accompanying book called Locomotion, which is definitely worth a read.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Bucyrus Biography Boo-Boo

It's not often that I manage an alliterative title, but this one works very nicely. I have recently been studying the construction of the Panama Canal, specifically leisure and tourism in the American-controlled Canal Zone. Through my research, I came across an unfortunate mistake in Bucyrus' corporate history.

While the United States gets the credit for building the Canal, the project was in fact started by a series of French companies, notably the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interocéanique. However, the French attempt failed due to a combination of inadequate machinery, financial problems and, most crucially, a lack of public health measures which resulted in thousands of deaths from Yellow Fever, Malaria and other tropical diseases. (McCullough, 239)

The successful American Canal project picked up where the French left off, but focused a great deal of attention on public health and the welfare of the workforce. As a result, rates of disease dropped dramatically, as did the associated death rates, and the project was completed in just over a decade, with the Canal opening to commercial traffic in 1914. Another important American innovation was the use of far more robust excavation equipment, including a fleet of Bucyrus-built steam shovels. (McCullough, 445)

One of the most iconic images of the Canal construction features President Theodore Roosevelt sitting at the controls of one of these steam shovels during his tour of the Canal construction in November 1906. He looks very much like a big kid playing in the sandbox in this image, and it fits his adventurous personality well. Not only did his trip result in an iconic photo, but it was also the first time that an American President had left the US while in office, changing the role of the Presidency forever.

Bucyrus, which has since been taken over by Caterpillar Inc., is rightfully proud of its role in building the Isthmian Canal, but one of its corporate history brochures makes two glaring errors about the project. The brochure, The Bucyrus Legacy, features the Roosevelt photo prominently on the cover and then goes on to explain TR's visit on the third page. The last sentence reads:
In 1908, former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt climbed aboard a Bucyrus 86,000-kilogram (95-ton) shovel on an inspection trip to the canal.
Oops! Roosevelt's trip was in November 1906, not 1908. (McCullough, 492-502) Secondly, Roosevelt was in office until 1909, so even if the trip had been in 1908, he would still have been President. This is an unfortunate error and I hope that it can be corrected in future publications.


McCullough, David. The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914. London: Simon & Schuster, 1977.

Underwood & Underwood. President Roosevelt Running an American Steam-Shovel at Culebra Cut, Panama Canal. Photograph, November 26, 1906. Library of Congress.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dissertation Thoughts

Two years ago, student Maddy Potts posted her top-10 tips for future generations to help them through the great rite of passage of the British undergraduate degree: the storied dissertation. Reading through them, I think there was a degree of tongue-in-cheek, but also some sound advice.

Today was my "D-Day," the day when the previous several year's work is submitted for the scrutiny of academics who have seen it all before - the good, the bad and (hopefully not too often) the ugly. I thought I would put together my own thoughts on her top-10 tips. Here goes:
  1. If your dissertation supervisor isn't a good match, get another one.

    Not a problem for me, mine was a perfect fit and was very interested in my project. However, without the occasional guidance, steer in the right direction and advice on footnotes from a good supervisor, my dissertation would not have been anywhere near as easy.

  2. People you meet will be disappointed by your topic or feign interest when you tell them about it.

    My view (perhaps a little snobbish) is that maybe you should find some other people to talk to. There is, however, a serious point here. Academic history can often seem shut off from the rest of the world and one of the great challenges is to find a way to make your research relevant to the general public. In my case, I tried to find the historical roots of a recent shift in Jewish views towards Stephen Harper's Conservative government, thus grounding my work in a subject of interest to people today.

  3. Follow-up questions are for courtesy only.

    Ditto my comments for #2.

  4. Don't ask others how much work they have done.

    Good advice. In my case, I was usually ahead, but you must set your own timetable to meet the deadline.

  5. Panicking and questioning the whole dissertation.

    Yes! Well, not really panicking, but plenty of walks to and from campus trying to mull through ideas only to come up with ten more possibilities. This is where supervisors are especially useful. In my case, I changed the title to better reflect my research findings in a coherent way. A simple title change made my whole thought-process much clearer.

  6. Much of your work will never make it into the final product.

    Incredibly true, both during research and then writing. I probably used less than 10% of my total research in the write-up (there might be a lesson about more concise research) and then had to cull over 2,000 words from the final version.

  7. Lots of printing.

    Yes, but I print a lot anyway. (If any big tech companies are reading this, if you can make some sort of tablet with the abilities of an iPad and the absolute glare-free screen of a Kindle, academics would be very happy) For archival research, I took digital photos, which I then renamed to match the archival record number. That way, I could quickly find an image of the particular document. Top tip: Adobe Bridge turned out to be a great piece of software for this work. Not only does it allow you to rename the image while you are looking at it, but you can zoom in fullscreen with a very straightfurward user interface to guide you.

  8. Your dissertation will become the core of your life.

    Partially true, but this is probably more of an issue if you aren't a workaholic like me. It was my life anyway. Biscuits should not become their own food group. If you let your diet slip, so will your work. The time spent making and eating healthy food will be repaid in better concentration and work time.

  9. Time will disappear even for the super-organized.

    This really depends on how much time you can spend during the summer working on research. In my case, I spent over three weeks doing research and then organizing the research to make it usable. Come the start of the fall term, I was ready to write and spent one day a week writing. By the end, I had over a month to spare and edit my dissertation carefully. Guilt when not working is a real problem and leads to stress and, in some cases, burnout. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a good solution to this.

  10. The finished product is a triumph and something you should be proud of.

    I must admit that I felt very little emotion when it was all over. Mind you, I was balancing a book manuscript at the same time and, while an academic dissertation and a book for a general audience are two different things, the two fed off each other a great deal. The dissertation helped with the research for my book, and the book helped with my academic writing. Am I proud of my work? Probably, but I feel that my chosen topic needs further scrutiny and I finished up wanting more, which bodes well for potential future research endeavours.
There you have it, Guardian-published advice remixed by me, just for the shear hell of it. I might even eventually write another piece on my actual dissertation topic, rather than just spouting abstract notions.

*I have perhaps jinxed the entire dissertation process. It might turn out that my work is entirely flawed, in which case please ignore all my above advice. Only time will tell.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Model Railways: A New Level of Total History?

Railway modellers are a strange and varied bunch, ranging from those who find it fun and a form of artistic expression (like me) to those who count every rivet and seem to never find any fun in it at all. The hobby is often branded as pedantic, but what if it was in fact a new horizon for total history?

Total history emerged in the early 20th century as the preferred historical method of the Annales School, a group of French historians who valued detailed analyses of change over time. These accounts often included microscopic detail, most notably seen in Fernand Braudel's multi-volume history of the Mediterranean, which examines everything from politics to crops. The link between total history and model railways may not be immediately apparent, but I think it is worth discussing.

I first thought of this comparison while browsing through back issues of British Railway Modelling at the National Railway Museum the other day. The cover story in the February 2014 issue featured the latest layout from the Luton Model Railway Club, a detailed and accurate representation of the "Great Train Robbery" in O Scale.

In August 1963, a group of robbers tampered with the lineside signalling near Ledmore in Buckinghamshire. With the broken signal showing danger, an approaching Royal Mail Train stopped at Bridego Bridge, where the gang was waiting. Overpowering the crew (some of whom were seriously injured), the gang made off with over £2.6 million (1963 money). The crime was well-planned and included extensive research of railway operations. After the heist, the gang split up, with members scattering around the world. Most famously, Ronnie Biggs eluded British police by hiding in South America until he returned to the UK for medical treatment in 2001. The "Great Train Robbery" shocked Britain, largely because it was an attack on the Royal Mail - a national institution - and because the train crew had been hurt. The gang's years of evading the law afterwards remain raw to this day.

With the 50th anniversary in mind, the Luton Club decided to build a diorama of the scene that was as accurate as possible. Their attention to detail is indeed incredible. For instance, their research showed that the modernization of the West Coast Main Line had seen the up fast line redone with concrete sleepers. On the layout, all the other tracks retain the wooden ones. Similarly, the partially-installed overhead electrification is accurate for August 1963. Virtually every other detail has also been carefully researched to match the night in question. The locomotive emits exhaust in a pattern accurately representing an idling diesel. The road vehicles are correct - down to both Land Rovers having the same registration plates. The Royal Mail coaches are also accurately detailed (including a great deal of interior detail), no mean feat given that the original one carrying the money was destroyed under police guard decades ago. The Robbery has become the stuff of legend and for the Club to spend a great deal of time cutting through the myth to get to the actual events is exemplary.

Is it total history? In a sense yes. The careful attention to detail would have made the Annales School proud. However, this diorama does not show change over time or have an argument. It is instead a carefully-crafted attempt to set the record straight, which is a core principle of the conscientious historian.

Railway modellers are a very picky bunch and tend to be very self-righteous (there is only one right way to do something - and naturally theirs is the right way). However, the level of controversy that this layout has generated is quite surprising. In the March 2014 issue's letters to the editor, one reader described the layout as shameful and tasteless, concluding by announcing that he had cancelled his subscription to the magazine in protest. In April 2014, other letters appeared, supporting this view, advising British Railway Modelling to never feature such layouts again and calling for a boycott of all model railway shows where the layout is on display. It's hard to tell whether this is the majority view or simply a very vocal minority, but is slightly worrying coming from a hobby which is often associated with historical research. Do these views suggest that it is somehow immoral to revisit and analyze past events? Would an accurately researched model of last summer's Lac-Mégantic derailment garner similar comments, even if it helped explain what the scene actually looked like? Is every battlefield reconstruction wrong? Does every museum displaying a photograph of a less-than-savoury scene no longer merit our patronage?

Why do people object to this model? I don't believe it glorifies the events and in our 24/7 news culture, surely it is nice to find a carefully-researched account of a crime? I honestly cannot comprehend why anyone would boycott the layout.

For those of you interesting in reading the article and seeing the accompanying photographs, you can purchase a digital back-issue of the February 2014 magazine here.

*I should probably make a distinction (and massive generalization) here between British railway modellers and North American model railroaders. In my experience, the hobby in North America is much more relaxed and more open to multiple ideas. The British fraternity tends to be far more exacting and prickly.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Should Trains Always Run on Time?

For the millions of people who travel regularly by rail, delays are a favourite topic of complaint. Running to a timetable, we expect trains to be on time and we often become annoyed when they aren't. However, what if expecting trains to run on time was actually a dangerous idea?

This question was the focus of a thought-provoking documentary recently aired on the BBC. Brakeless: Why Trains Crash recounted the 2005 derailment of a West Japan Railway commuter train and the corporate and national culture that led the driver to ignore the posted speed limit. Dreading the reaction of his superiors when they heard of his train's 80 second delay, the driver sped through a tight corner, which threw the train off the track and into an adjacent building. In a system where any delay of more than one second needed to be reported, no wonder the driver panicked about 80.

The home of the Shinkansen (Bullet Train), Japan has long prided itself on having the fastest and most punctual trains in the world. This led to an obsessive corporate culture that was not only toxic to employees, but deadly to railway crew and passengers alike. The derailment began a discussion about the place of punctuality in Japanese culture which continues today.

This is not, however, solely a Japanese problem. People all over the world complain about their trains being late. Many railway companies offer refunds to delayed passengers. Have we all forgotten the old adage "better late than never?" I am not advocating a culture of poor timekeeping or laziness, but how many things are truly so critical that you cannot afford for your train to be a little late?

Technological determinism pushed us to go faster. Electronics schedule our lives and we always seem to be rushing around. Perhaps life doesn't need to be so fast. After all, who would want to die to save a few seconds?

The documentary offers a very critical perspective on Japanese railway culture and also offers a very personal account of how survivors are coping in the wake of the derailment. At times emotional, this documentary is an interesting watch for those interested in railways, Japan, or the speed of the modern world.

Brakeless: Why Trains Crash is available on BBC iPlayer until April 7.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Union Station should be renamed after first PM, councillor says

Recently, I deconstructed the new Canadian $10 bill using memory-based historiography to show how Canada's railways are at risk. A few days later, CN announced the end of the Sault Ste Marie-Hearst passenger train, reinforcing my argument.

Now, Toronto City Council is looking to rename Union Station after Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. This would be done to commemorate "one of his greatest accomplishments," the Canadian Pacific Railway. Let us not forget that the Canadian Pacific actually toppled Macdonald's government and brought large-scale political corruption to Canada with the Pacific Scandal. There is no doubt that the construction of the Canadian Pacific was crucial to resisting American territorial expansion, even if NAFTA let the US dominate Canada anyway, and the transcontinental railway continues to play an important role in the Canadian psyche, even if most Canadians never actually interact with passenger trains.

Those in favour of the plan suggest that the station should be renamed to honour Sir John and erase the current name, which is shared by countless stations across North America. While Canada's first prime minister (and a very colourful character to boot) deserves recognition, I do not believe that the station should be renamed. Anyone familiar with public transport in North America will immediately recognise the union station as being the main hub for travelling and renaming it would lead to confusion. As long as GO, the TTC and VIA share Union Station, the name is appropriate. Perhaps more importantly, while Canadian Pacific's name continued to adorn the frontage of Union Station, CP hasn't operated passenger trains since VIA Rail was established in the 1970s. Further, CP do not even have a stake in the Union Station Rail Corridor (oh, you'd need to rename that too) anymore and CP trains haven't used the tracks for the better part of a decade. Once again, it would seem that renaming the station is just another lieux de mémoire commemorating a chapter in Canadian transportation history which no longer exists.

>>>Union Station should be renamed after first PM, councillor says - CBC News<<<

Correction Feb. 5: The original version of this post stated that CP was a co-owner of the Union Station Rail Corridor, the Corridor has been purchased by GO Transit/Metrolinx, so CP and CN are no longer co-owners.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Revisiting the Canadian $10 Bill

Back in May, I wrote the following about Canada's new $10 bill:

It wasn't exactly a secret that the new $10 bill would feature VIA Rail's The Canadian, but now it has been officially released.  Unfortunately, my first impression is that it is UGLY!

However, looking at the route map in the background, does this mean that the government will keep funding VIA all across Canada?  It would be pretty pathetic to have to re-issue bills if there were more budget cuts.
Zoom: Canada's new polymer $5 and $10 bills

Now that the bill is in circulation, I have been able to actually hold it and examine it more closely. In reality, the artwork is much nicer than the photograph suggests and it is quite an attractive design (as far as the polymer notes go). It isn't as ugly as I first thought and I expect it to grow on me.

Canada $10 Bank Note. Courtesy: Bank of Canada
The new Canadian $10 bill. Courtesy: Bank of Canada

One of the things that interested me about the bill was the route map in the background. It appears to show all of VIA Rail's routes across Canada. It can't show all of Canada's railways, because the Ontario Northland and the CN/Algoma Central are (among others) missing. However, as I warned in my initial musings, the map is now incorrect. VIA Rail no longer operates trains on Vancouver Island and the train to Gaspé has also been cancelled. As such, the map on the banknote is no longer accurate and represents VIA Rail as it was in the past, not the present.

The locomotive on the bill, F40 #6403, also no longer exists - sort of. Following the release of the new bill, VIA renumbered the locomotive to #6459 in case the bill jinxed it. Further, all F40 locomotives feature the 'VIA Rail Canada' logo on the nose, but it has been removed from the photo, leaving only the 'Canada' logo used by the government. Does this mean that VIA is erased from the image of railways in Canada?

To top it all off, the locomotive pictured was built by General Motors. When GM sold its locomotive division, the new owner, EMD, closed the entire London, Ontario operation when the unions didn't agree to a 50% pay cut. The bill's imagery is quickly becoming as dead as Sir John A. MacDonald in the top corner of the bill (sorry, Sir John).

What does this mean? Does the bill represent a Canadian past, rather than a present or future? I decided to put on my historian's hat and think about this puzzle. After a while, I decided that this new bill represents a lieux de mémoire - a concept articulated by the French scholar Pierre Nora, a leading theorist in memory history.

Nora's core concept is that memory is so prevalent because "there is so little of it left." [Nora, 7] As the past disappears, and our memory of it, we shelter in "lieux de mémoire, sites of memory, because there are no longer milieux de mémoire, real environments of memory." [Nora, 7] When we want to remember travelling by rail as a child, we get on a train and take a physical journey as well as one through our memory of past events. However, what if the train stops running? Then it has become what Nora describes as a lieux de mémoire. Railways, notably the Canadian Pacific, have a central place in the collective memory of Canadian identity. We are told in school that the railway built Canada, yet most Canadians do not experience railway travel on a regular basis. Apart from commuter rail in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, most Canadians never travel by train. [StatsCan] The reality is that passenger rail in Canada has been disappearing for generations. As a result, decades of Canadians have had little interaction with a rapidly-disappearing railway network. In recent years, VIA Rail has cut its network to focus mostly on the core Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor. As Nora puts it: "modern memory is, above all, archival." [Nora, 13] The train has already left the station, so to speak.

The image on the $10 bill is therefore a symbol of something that has disappeared from contemporary Canada: travel by train. More worryingly is that travel by train could truly be a thing of the past. Has the "continuity of memory" given way to "the discontinuity of history" as we realise that the past cannot be recreated? [Nora, 17] The lieux de mémoire is like a permanent hiatus, a safe place to put something that is gone. Why not enshrine it in a bank note?

I shall close with a final thought on the aesthetics of the bill. By choosing to depict the iconic Canadian in the Rockies, wouldn't it make sense to choose an image of the dome car at the end? It is far more photogenic and recognizable than the locomotives. You could even have the train winding through Morant's Curve... Oh wait, VIA doesn't travel through Morant's Curve anymore. Cutbacks in the 1990s meant that VIA only uses CN tracks through the Rockies. Yet another lieux de mémoire?

Nora, Pierre. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire.” Representations 26 (Spring 1989): 7–24. Online version.
Statistics Canada: Rail in Canada.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

1960 UJA Study Mission to Israel

Much of my research into the interaction between fundraising and identity in Toronto's Jewish community has focused on the city's United Jewish Appeal, the largest Jewish fundraising organisation in the city. I recently came across this video of the UJA's 1960 study visit to Israel.

A few things are interesting about this video. Firstly, it is very relevant given Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit to Israel this week. Secondly, it shows the situation on the ground in 1960. As I did my research at the Ontario Jewish Archives, I spent most of my time looking at text with little visual reference as to what Israel actually looked like. This video shows shacks and rubble as Israel dealt with a staggering increase in population and also conflicts on many fronts. Regardless of political views, the transformation of Israel from a largely agrarian society in the 1950s to the modern, cosmopolitan, waterfront of Tel Aviv today is a remarkable story.