Look kids: annotating

By , November 16, 2017 9:55 pm

I was at the Canadian Museum of History tonight in Ottawa. OHASSTA conference attendees got a special tour of the new Canadian History Hall. I loved it – so much amazing stuff.

I wanted to share this photo of a document that John A. Macdonald was doodling on during one of the constitutional conferences leading up to Confederation in 1867.

2017 Anniversaries

By , November 12, 2017 6:03 pm

2017 is an incredible year for historians with so many anniversaries to celebrate, commemorate, and ponder.

Other than Canada 150+, for me, the most significant are the Russian Revolution and Martin Luther’s writing of his 95 Theses.

My interest in Russian history goes back a long time. In university, I studied Russian history and Soviet politics. In fact, the Soviet Union broke up during my Soviet politics course in 1991. It was very dramatic for the students! I’m sure it was overwhelming for the people of the crumbling Soviet Union as well.  There is no longer a place in my grade 12 history course for the Russian Revolution, sadly. For those who are interested, check out the Economist‘s lead article on the continuities between Vladimir Putin and tsars of Russia’s past: A Tsar Is Born.

The Economist, Oct. 26, 2017


Though I am an atheist, I am very interested in the character of Martin Luther. He was a complicated and often cruel man. Five hundred years ago Luther caused a major rift in western European Christianity with his posting of his 95 Theses, or complaints, against the Roman Catholic Church. The rest is history, as they say. One of my favourite PBS history series is Empires. The multi-part story of Luther is very compelling: Empires – Martin Luther


PBS, Empires: Martin Luther


For other anniversaries, see this article in Newsweek (from an American perspective), or this one from Maclean’s (from more of a Canadian/international perspective).

Commemoration is one of the hottest topics in history today. How do we mark? How do we remember? Do we celebrate? Do we learn from the past? Judging from Canada’s experience during our 150th, these are all complex questions well worth studying.

Richard and the Giant Cat Wheel

By , November 2, 2017 10:17 pm

We have four cats. Yes, we are crazy. But Richard, our newest, is crazier. He eats dry wall. He terrorizes one of our other cats, Bailey. He is OCD and ADHD.

To use up his energy, we got him a giant cat wheel. Basically it’s a hamster wheel writ large.

See Richard run!

Return to Blogging and Skating

By , October 29, 2017 4:16 pm

It has been a long time since I have blogged here. That’s probably largely attributable to the fact that I spend so much time blogging on the OHASSTA blog, Rapport.

Blog is a bad verb. Let’s use write.

In my return, I shall write about one of my favourite fall-winter topics, figure skating.

Oy Patrick.

I love Patrick Chan’s skating – I don’t care if he jumps or not. However, I do care if he falls and doubles. In my completely outsider opinion, Patrick’s problems are in his head. Or else he trains poorly and isn’t a hard worker. I’d seriously doubt that. I doubt Marina Zoueva, his coach in Michigan, would allow that. Patrick could just skate around on his edges and he’d impress the hell out of me but I guess that’s not the sport at hand. Fourth place at Skate Canada International 2017 was a fall from grace. Tracy Wilson’s consternation on CTV said it all. Or maybe she was concerned about Brian Orser who had gall bladder surgery in Regina. Maybe Patrick’s pride has taken one too many hits in the face of all those young jumping beans who can’t skate.


Canada's Patrick Chan performs his free program in the men's competition at Skate Canada International in Regina on Saturday, October 28, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson ORG XMIT: PCH215


(National Post, http://nationalpost.com/sports/olympics/patrick-chan-emphasizing-his-strengths-and-passions-in-final-season)

I have to say, that look on Patrick’s face reminds me of those times when only half my class hands in their assignment on the due date.

Love Tessa and Scott

They are without doubt the greatest ice dancers ever. Plain and simple. Technically, emotionally, musically! Most importantly, they have range. Though I enjoyed the technical prowess of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, I was constantly annoyed by the sameness of every routine they skated. The same drive and passion for excellence, but the same level nonetheless. As fans, we need more. As skaters, I’d assume they’d need more. Skating without Tessa and Scott will be empty again.


(Toronto Star, https://www.thestar.com/sports/amateur/2017/10/28/canadian-skater-kaetlyn-osmond-wins-singles-title.html)


there are dance teams waiting in the wings. And I don’t mean the French – though they are lovely, they don’t have the range. I mean Katelyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, newly returned to greatness with their reprise of “Je suis malade”. Also, I have really come to admire the American team of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (another team that trains with Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon in Montreal). Deep edges, very smooth. Very musical. I always like what Paul Poirier and Piper Gilles come up with. Their skate to the music from Perry Mason is an interesting choice. Very understated. Ironically, one of the Perry Mason composers was jazz musician Lud Gluskin (don’t ask me how I know this). He didn’t compose the piece they skate to, but it’s a cute little connection I’ll take.


Meagan and Eric’s Big Return

As Meagan could be overheard saying in the “kiss and cry” area after their free skate, the quad is back. We all know they lost their way some time last year. They , Meagan in particular, looked so nervous leading up to that throw quadruple too loop. After that, back to the old fist-pumping confidence. I hope it will last them throughout the season. I haven’t watched much else in the pairs world. I still like Liubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch despite her frequent falls – I like the different style of choreography in their short program, “In the Air Tonight.” I also liked the choreography of Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot – very modern. But they just didn’t skate it. I do finally see what all the fuss about Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France is all about. Very promising team – very athletic, with modern choreography. LONG legs on both of them.



(Golden Skate, https://goldenskate.com/2017/10/emotional-victory-duhamel-radford/)

Happy at last.


Looking forward to the next skates.



BIG Club Meeting

By , September 21, 2017 6:35 am

Here are the documents from the Thurs. Sept. 21, 2017 meeting on Gold and Silver, club request forms, club fest …

Gold and Silver Reform (overview)


EXISTING_Club_Request Form_2017-18


Please hand all club request forms in by Tues. Sept. 26, 3 pm. There will be an envelope on the bulletin board outside room 145. No electronic submissions please.

We will get back to you by Fri. Sept. 29.

Club Fest is Thurs. Oct. 5 at lunch in Titan Hall.

Welcome New Students

By , September 4, 2017 10:03 am

Hello everyone! Welcome to my CHY4U class, whether you’re a new student, or familiar with me. I’m really looking forward to a good semester; this will be my second time around with my revised version of grade 12 World History. It’s very different from grade 11 – be prepared for a very different style. If you’re new, the course will hopefully make you realize the incredible horizons of history!


First Activity

If you scroll through my blog you’ll notice that I like to write book reviews. I would like you to write either a book review, a movie review, a documentary review, a YouTube review, a website review, or a tv show review. The one catch is that it has to have something to do with HISTORY! Any time period, not necessarily just 1450-present (the time frame for CHY4U).

Also, please reveal something of yourself in your review: what do you like when it comes to history and reading/viewing? What makes it appealing (or not) to you? What did it make you think about? What did you learn from it?

Length: a good paragraph at least – it doesn’t have to be as long as some of my reviews.


Send It To Me

My email is risa@cabal.org or risa.gluskin@tdsb.on.ca. Please send your review by Friday Sept. 8.





By , August 7, 2017 12:28 pm

Mark Kurlansky, Paper, 2016


I don’t necessarily read a Mark Kurlansky book about “something” to learn stuff about that thing. I prefer all the other things I learn along the way. In that sense, Paper didn’t disappoint. The journey included interesting stops on the topics of Egyptian papyrus, Chinese calligraphy, the Reformation, the American Revolution, the industrial process (which I am really into right now), the rag trade, and of course the printing process.

Years ago I read Kurlansky’s Salt (2002) and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was probably my first “commodity biography”, or book about a certain thing. From then I went on to acorns, soil, cochineal (little red bugs that make ink), cotton, and various other things that I can’t recall anymore. I do recall enjoying this type of historical tourism – learning a bit of this, a bit of that as I vicariously travel the globe. One more reason why I don’t need to travel in real life.

Perhaps in the subsequent years I have come to expect more of a narrative linking the tourist sites (or topics) together. Though I really like Kurlansky’s thesis, I think he only threw it in when he remembered it was important.

The narrative arc that is supposed to join the book together is what he calls the ‘technological fallacy’: “Technological inventions have always arisen from necessity. … Studying the history of paper exposes a number of historical misconceptions, the most important of which is this technological fallacy: the idea that technology changes society. It is exactly the reverse. Society develops technology to address the changes that are taking place within it.

I totally agree with this. From my somewhat Luddite standpoint in this technologically obsessed world, I wish people would recognize that the technology they use doesn’t have to drive them. Oh well, seems I’m a total loser on that one.

I agree with Kurlansky that, in historical comparison, we are not living in the most change-driven era ever. Certainly the era of the 1790s to the late 1800s was seeing much more change in daily life than we are. And the changes were far-reaching in their impact, at home where the machinery may have been putting people out of work, and abroad where slavery and imperialism were working hand in hand to entrench the use of non-white people as labour to feed the white industrialized world. That is the thesis of Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert (2015), an incredibly well researched, thorough book that holds onto its thesis very tightly. Perhaps in that sense I’m a bit disappointed with Paper because it’s more of a journalistic effort than a true history. But it’s not really a fair comparison.

Paper is still as ubiquitous as ever, despite the so-called digital revolution. Everyone should have a sense of its history. I recommend Paper, whether you read it on a e-reader or in book form. No big shock that I only read books on paper. Otherwise my library would be physically empty.




This Is Why I Don’t Like Movies

By , August 7, 2017 11:46 am

Netflix kills me! Too many choices. I cannot exist in that universe. A few days ago we actually found something we could agree on to watch: The Founder, the story of Ray Kroc ‘s creation of the McDonald’s empire.

Though I enjoyed the movie (“based on a true story”) there was something bugging me after. Finally, a few days later, I tried to look up some information about Ray Kroc’s first wife, Ethel, who just kind of disappears from the movie after he utters his desire to divorce her at the dining room table.

There’s really not too much out there on her, at least after my superficial research efforts. There is, however, a lot of information about parts of the Ray Kroc story that aren’t in the movie, or are ‘changed’ in the movie. The movie, therefore, to me, is more fiction than fact.

I know I’ve written about this before – how shocked I am when Hollywood changes something to suit its preferences, or timelines, or values. I guess I am so naive (or out of practice at watching movies) that I just forgot.

There’s not much of a place for women in The Founder. So I will say that I thought Laura Dern did a good job playing Kroc’s neglected first wife. There was also, apparently, a second wife, before he married Joan, the focus of his attention in the movie. Also, Ray and Ethel apparently had a daughter. She didn’t exist in the movie. Not important, I guess.

I will end with these two “nuggets”: one, the last time I ate at McDonald’s was probably 1989; two, I hate fiction!


My Banquette

By , July 23, 2017 10:54 am

No, not for eating in a restaurant.

For floating on Rice Lake.

What an awesome hubby I have in Val who got this for me and pulled me around on it. It’s also quite nice for sitting on the shore reading a book.


By , July 20, 2017 12:00 pm

No, not the animal. GOAT – greatest of all time. Roger Federer? While he has now won eight Wimbledon titles and 19 majors overall, he may be a contender. It’s hard to imagine him self-labeling as GOAT. I don’t know him, of course, but he doesn’t seem the egotistical type.


(ATP World Tour photo)

The most famous of all should be Muhammad Ali, the boxer, not the Egyptian khedive (for those of you who are history-minded). Ali appears to have first used this phrase to describe himself, though not necessarily the acronym which seems to be a more recent phenomenon.

Full disclosure: I hate boxing. However, I was thoroughly engrossed in David Remnick’s 1998 partial biography King of the World: Muhammad Ali and  the Rise of an American Hero. It’s more of a social history  – my favourite – than a boxing tale though it certainly does have some colourful descriptions of his most famous matches with Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. Much in the same vein as Ken Burns’s documentaries Jazz and Baseball opened the door on segregation in the US, especially in the northern states where one might not have expected it to be so strong, King of the World reveals the boxing world of early to mid-1960s in its all its grittiness. In today’s parlance, we might say it was a highly racialized playing field. Ali, with his ties to the Nation of Islam (or Black Muslims as they were derisively known by Ali’s critics), was a crucial figure in trying to recast the Black boxer as an independent figure. Not the white man’s Black man, not the Black civil rights integrationist hero.

Front Cover


Since Ali died in 2016 there have been many tributes and documentaries that have portrayed him as the ultimate American hero, most notably as the final torch bearer at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games opening ceremony. However, it’s important to remember that he wasn’t always perceived as a hero by the American public, thus the “rise of an American hero” in Remnick’s title. Because he associated with Malcolm X (before breaking off ties with him as per Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad’s wishes), because he out-rightly expressed his desire not to integrate but to remain separate, at this stage of his career Ali faced a huge public backlash. Certain sports columnists refused to even refer to him as Muhammad Ali.

At least at the stage of his career highlighted in this book, Ali was a complicated character, at once a professional athlete with excellent training habits and a fast-talking provocative player with a mouth as big as his talent.

I urge readers to pick up the book and find out for themselves what Ali – one of the world’s most celebrated heroes – was really like. It won’t hurt that Remnick, New Yorker editor, is a fabulous writer.








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