Looking ahead: Canada During it’s Centennial Year

Yesterday, for Jonathan Vance’s Social Memory class, I presented on Canada’s Centennial celebrations.  Dr. Vance provided me with the official guide to the Centennial year and asked me to consider what role history played in the celebrations.  Was the 100th year anniversary of (the start of) Confederation looking at the past or toward the future?

Based on my review of the guide and some additional research, I decided that Canada’s Centennial was much more about the future than it was about the past.  To illustrate what I mean, here are a few of the events / programs from Canada’s Centennial year.

Confederation Memorial Buildings

In honour of Canada’s Centennial, approximately $88 million was spent on the creation of new cultural institutions all across Canada. This program was designed to encourage and facilitate a national culture.  These buildings are located in Canada’s capitals or larger cities.

Investment in Infrastructure

In addition to this program, another $88 was made available to communities for local projects.  Parks, recreational structures, community centres and recreational areas were the 4 most common investments (at 78% the total number of projects), while the top 4 history-related projects (museums / art galleries, historic building restoration, erection of memorials) made up less than 10% of the total number of projects

Focus on Youth

Many programs were designed specifically for youth. There was a Youth Travel Program, where teenagers could travel to other areas of Canada using funding from the provincial and federal governments.  6,000,000 bronze medallions celebrating the Centennial were presented to school children all over the country.  Communities also participated in beautification programs, where primary school children helped plant trees and shrubs throughout their community.  The purpose of these programs was to instill a sense of nationalism and civic duty in the next generation of Canadians.

How was the past used?

I found that when history was used during the Centennial, it provided a very linear narrative to reinforce notions of progress.  The Confederation Train for example, which traveled across the country and was visited by 100,000s of people, contained a series of exhibits relating to the country’s history.  The themes of the cars were as follows: Prehistory, European Exploration, Settlement, Confederation and Industrialization. At the end of the train, visitors were encouraged to contemplate the future of Canada.  Using one of Canada’s most powerful historic symbols, the Confederation Train was an example of looking at history in order to think about the future.

More importantly, what digital tool did you use in your history presentation??

For my presentation, I traded in my Powerpoint template for the new presentation tool Prezi.  It was the first time I had worked with Prezi and, while there was a bit of a learning curve, I don’t think I will ever return to Powerpoint.  With Prezi, you basically add all of your points and images onto a large canvas and then create a path between each item to formulate your presentation.  It creates an animated and much more visually appealing presentation (although, it is possible to make your presentation too animated, causing your audience to experience waves of dizziness / nausea).

Prezi offers both paid and free versions, the main difference being that Prezis created using the free version are  made public on Prezi’s site (so if you are working on any top-secret projects, you should splurge for a paid account, which allows you to create private Prezis).  Prezis are created in your browser, but you can download a version so that you don’t need to rely on an internet connection for your presentation.

Here is a link to my Prezi presentation, if you are interested in learning more about Canada’s Centennial or Prezi!

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Which way should the toenails face? On creating a display for the UWO Medical Collection

Today, some of us had the opportunity to help Dr. Shelley McKellar and Caitlin Dyer set up a display for the UWO Medical Collection.  We were given five (deceptively large) cases on the main floor of Weldon library on campus.

I was eager to help for a couple of reasons.  First, I don’t have much exhibit experience and this was a great way to get my feet wet, so to speak.  When we arrived at the office where the collection is stored, Dr. McKellar and Caitlin had several themes outlined and most of the objects selected.  There was still room to make some decisions, but enough structure so that we weren’t there for 3 hours figuring out what to display.

Caitlin, Brent and Jen deciding how to position the prosthetic leg.

When we got to the library, we broke up into teams of two and each of us were given a case and a theme.  Again, this was the perfect amount of freedom.  There were still many decisions to make within our own case (which items to include? which items to group together? how should the objects be laid out?), but it wasn’t completely overwhelming as I’m sure a large exhibit can be.  It was fun to watch other people work on their cases and offer (and receive) advice and opinions.

I was also interested in this opportunity because I have been working with a medical collection through my RA at Museum London.  As I am not a medical historian (far from it), I have struggled at times working with these types of items.  It can be alarming to open a box and find a prosthetic leg staring up at you.

However, I must say that I’m proud of the progress I’ve made with the collection – I am much more comfortable handling the items and getting much braver at Googling things like “tonsil guillotine.

Caitlin working on the display that she researched and designed herself. (PS: This smile isn't a pose - Caitlin was glowing with genuine excitement the whole time)

My main task at Museum London is to catalog the collection.  This involves unwrapping creepy medical artifacts from boxes, identifying them, conducting some basic research, entering them into a database, labeling them and putting them on a shelf.  Any research I do focuses on an individual item and so my understanding of medical history is a bit fragmented as a result.  It was neat to see these oh-so-familiar objects put on display so that they could tell their story.