Sunday, August 1, 2010

A history nerd, yes. A science nerd, not so much.

I decided that instead of having yet another lazy Sunday, I would venture out to the Canada Science and Technology Museum and see what it was all about. Unlike a lot of the other museums in Ottawa, this one isn't centrally located, so I had to take a bus I'd never taken before to get to the Museum, which ended up working out quite well. The ride to the museum wasn’t too long at all and it probably took me under 40 minutes to get there; from the minute I left my house to when I set foot on the grounds of the museum.

My only issue was that I had to walk to the museum from the bus stop and there was really no sidewalk that went to the museum. There was also no signage that indicated I was going in the right direction. I could see “Technology Park” from across the street; it had a windmill, train, and giant rocket, among other things. I didn’t really feel like running through the park to find the museum, which I correctly assumed was at the opposite end of the park. I finally crossed the street and decided I’d walk on the grass on the side of the road that I was pretty sure led to the museum. I knew I was going the right direction because the grass had a little path that was trampled, from other people walking on it to get to the museum.

It was only a 5 minute walk and once I got past the trees I could see the museum. It was in a very low one story building and looked very industrial to me. How appropriate for a museum devoted to scien
ce and technology. I went in to the front desk, showed my museum employee pass and got in for free. The girl at the desk gave me a map that I could not make sense of, so I decided I’d just go in and make my own way around.

The museum was basically a free-for-all, which seemingly no direction to go in and no noticeable “flow” of exhibits. I usually like to read the every panel of text, but in this museum, I knew I would be reading very little text due to sheer boredom. The first little section was about Canadian innovations which was interesting. Again, it seemed like the exhibits were haphazardly scattered around and I had no idea where to go next, so I just circled through the areas, seeing what I could. I should also mention that not only was the museum one story, it was also only one huge room, which I think was why I was so confused as to where one exhibit ended and the next one began; there weren’t many walls that clearly divided different areas.

They had a little display on the Titanic, a section on canoes, a section on ships, and a really cool interactive exhibit on Braille, which was probably my favorite part of the museum. It explained who Braille was, explained the Braille alphabet, and the exhibit even allowed people to write words in Braille using wooden pegs that could be inserted into a special board. It also showed vintage and modern typewriters that people used to write Braille, which was something I’d never encountered before and thought was cool. There was a section on space and a section on cars, and there was no shortage of children running around screaming. I overhead one father saying to his toddler daughter, “Can’t I just read about cars from the future?!” who then pressed a button which caused a French voice to begin speaking about cars, at which point she covered her ears and cried, “Too loud!”

The coolest part of the museum was the Crazy Kitchen. It’s a slanted kitchen where everything seems to be on an angle and your mind gets really confused about it and tries to correct the body’s balance. Then you get super dizzy and have to stumble out of the room, like I did. That was a really cool interactive space and I know that lots of people enjoy it as much as I did. I walked quickly through the rest of museum, feeling that I'd learned enough about science and technology to last me at least another year.

All in all I would say that the Canada Science and Technology Museum was not for me, but would certainly appeal to people interested in the subject matter. It offered a lot of neat hands-on exhibits that science-minded people would probably enjoy and think were cool. I found that the gift shop had tons of science related toys and games that tied in with their exhibits, but was disappointed when I couldn’t find any postcards of the museum itself to add to my scrapbook.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Good Business is the Best Art" - Some Thoughts on Pop Life

On 11 June 2010, Ottawa’s National Gallery opened their new special exhibit called Pop Life. The exhibit originally comes from the Tate Modern and before it opened at the National Gallery, a lot of people said that parts of the exhibit were quite controversial. I had heard before going that certain galleries would be for guests “18 and over” because of some sexual themes, but really just assumed that the so-called controversial aspects of the exhibit were exaggerated, as many things these days tend to be. In the weeks leading up to the opening of Pop Life, the Ottawa Citizen published a series of articles on the exhibit, including one about whether the exhibit was appropriate for children. Well, this just made me even more curious about the exhibit, as I’m certain it did many other potential museum-goers. So this past Thursday I decided I’d check out the exhibit and see what it was really all about.

On the
whole, I really enjoyed the entire exhibit. It began with Andy Warhol’s later work, a lot of which was perceived by the art community as him selling out. I also realized how creepy some of his works are, especially his self-portraits with his wild hair sticking up and relentless stare. Another notable area of the exhibit was the stunning recreation of Keith Haring’s Pop Shop. The actual Pop Shop was opened in 1986 in New York City, and the walls, floor, and ceiling were covered in black and white graffiti, with catchy music blasting through the room. In the Pop Shop, Haring sold t-shirts, buttons, and other pieces with his art on it, and what was really cool about Pop Life was that inside the recreated Pop Shop was a counter where the public could buy recreations of Haring’s original t-shirts and other things he sold in it. I think my favorite exhibit was by Damien Hirst, called Beautiful Inside My Head Forever which featured a lot of flashy pieces, like crystals strung together in a golden display case. There were also a lot of polka dots in his exhibit, and I do enjoy polka dots.

That was all fine and good, and then I got to the juicier parts of the exhibit. Most of it was thoroughly enjoyable, e
specially Takashi Murakami’s gallery. His was Japanese pop art and included a small “18 and over” area that had some gigantic statues in it (they looked like oversized children’s figurines) that were really fun. The one that made me laugh out loud is called My Lonesome Cowboy; racy, and hilariously so. On the whole, galleries like this (of which there are a couple), I could really appreciate and enjoy, but there was one gallery that seemed sorely out of place to me.

Before I begin my main criticism, I have to start off by saying I’m obviously untrained in art appreciation, and I only make my own assumptions when I see it. However, it was the Jeff Koons Made in Heaven gallery that really made me think about what art is and what should be in a museum. It was cordoned off by a “18 and over” sign and guarded by a security guard, so I knew it would be explicit, to say the least. I walked into the gallery and was confronted by full-on pornography. Graphic pornography that I’m still confused as to how it even falls into the pop art category. Although there were a couple of non-pornographic pieces in the room (like a really beautiful glass flowers creation) that I could see the value of, the graphic pictures on the walls were very extreme. The story is this: the artist, Koons, saw porn star Ilone Staller (a.k.a. La Cicciolina) in a porn magazine, she became his muse, they ended up getting married, and he shot all sorts of pictures of them engaging in certain activities. Which is fine and dandy, but it seemed to have no relation to pop art other than association with the artist, and these works are certainly not your typical pop art.

Here is where my real problem with this area of the exhibit is: to me, this so-called art looks like something anyone could pick up and find in a dirty magazine. I saw no artistic merit to it and there was really nothing special about it. So if this type of porn finds itself in the National Gallery, what makes it so different from other porn? Why not just put all porn on display in the museum? I’m not trying to say that porn is not art, because maybe it is, to some people. But if this porn is art, then all porn is art, and all porn should also be in this museum’s exhibit. This section of the exhibit did not belong and seemed very out of place. Maybe if the exhibit was all about pornography or the history of pornography it would be better suited, but this was just awkward and seemed very random. Also, I think with the other “18 and over” galleries, I wouldn’t have a problem allowing children in (with over-18 supervision, of course!), but this gallery was just a little much in terms of intensity.

Final thoughts on Pop Life: awesome exhibit and loved nearly all of it. Not trying to rain on anyone’s parade by complaining about this porn debacle, but really, pay attention to the exhibit’s goals and determine if it really fits within that definition.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Foray into Board Games of the Past

A large part of my summer internship project involves me researching artefacts from the museum’s collection and putting them online, making them accessible to museum-goers. I’m trying to choose items that are relevant to every generation and meaningful to the average Canadian, a task that’s proved to be very interesting. Today was my first solo foray into the museum’s collections storage, a gigantic room located in the basement of the building. I headed down and was sure to bring my building pass so I could swipe into the collection room, and to also avoid being trapped in a stairwell, as the card is needed to open all doors to exit the stairwell (I keep my pass clipped to my pocket to prevent such debacles from occurring).

The collection is pretty big, so I flipped on most of the light switches (to prevent a high level of creepiness from occurring) and started to browse through the aisles. I had decided early on that one of the artefacts I’d look at would be a board game, which is always fun, plus the museum has many, many shelves of them. I dragged over the massive step ladder, climbed to the top, and started looking on the top shelf for any games that stuck out. Here’s what I found: a game from the 1880s called World Educator, a type of trivia game house in a wooden box that reminded me of the game Jumangi. The front of the box advertised that there was “over $50 worth of information!” Hmm, interesting claim for a board game to make. Upon opening the box, I discovered that the game consisted of several large cards with each divided into a grid with some sort of cryptic statement inside each grid square. As there were no instructions, I really couldn’t even comprehend how to play the game, but thought it seemed cool nonetheless.

The two other games that really got me excited were Sorry! and Monopoly. I learned today that Sorry! is based on the game Parchisi, and I also discovered that the edition I was holding in my cotton-gloved hands was from 1938! I had no idea that Sorry! had been around for so long (since 1934), as it was one of my favorites growing up, and let’s be honest, I still love it. The board looked almost identical to the one I have at home which belonged to my mum when she was a child in the 1970s. The only significant difference I saw was that the older version used cards to draw numbers instead of rolling dice. I noticed the same thing with Monopoly; all the cards and little houses looked nearly the same as my version. Notable differences: there was no board (unless it had been lost at some point); the game was in a small square box, each side about 6 or 7 inches long (how many times had I struggled to fit my awkwardly-long game of Monopoly into the blanket box devoted to storing games?); and the game tokens were colored, wooden, and the same size (preventing arguments about who gets to be the shoe).

I think that seeing these two classic games made me realize how much I love them, and how much other generations of people also loved them, which definitely provides a unique historical connection. Knowing how little these games have changed since their respective creations in the 1930s really says something to the lasting quality and popularity of the two games. I think it goes to show that once you find something that works, don’t change it!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An easy-to-use, step-by-step guide to researching Canadians who served in World War One

For a recent activity in an archives class, we were asked to compile a pathfinder to assist those researching Canadian family members who served in World War One (1914-1918). It was a very useful and informative exercise, and I hope that anyone interested in researching former Canadian servicemen/women will find this pathfinder helpful in their research!

Database #1: Soldiers of the First World War – Canadian Expeditionary Force

This database contains the personnel files of the 600,000 Canadians who enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War One. The database can be found on the Canadian Library and Archives (LAC) website at:

To begin your search:
• Click on the “Search” button on the toolbar that is located on the left-hand side of the page.
• Enter as much information as you know about the person you are looking for in the required fields.
• E.g. for a soldier named Joseph Robert Doyle, “Doyle” would be entered under the “Surname” category, and “Joseph Robert” would be entered under the “Given Names” category.
• As demonstrated in the case of Joseph Robert Doyle, I do not know his regiment number, but by merely entering his naming and clicking “Submit,” the database will generate a return.
• On the Results page, the record of a Joseph Robert Doyle is offered; to access this record, simply click on the soldier’s underlined name.
• As you will see, this generates his regiment number, date of birth, as well as where in LAC his records can be found.
• For more information, click on the “Front of Form” icon, which will provide you with detailed information regarding the soldier.
• You are now able to view and print this page for free.

Database #2: Canadian Virtual War Memorial

This database is particularly useful in finding grave and memorial information about soldiers who died in any conflict that Canada was involved in. This database can be found on the Veterans Affairs Canada website, at:

To begin your search:
• Enter as much information you know about the soldier in the fields requested. As noted above, the more information you enter, the more accurate your results will be.
• Using the example of Joseph Robert Doyle, “Doyle” would be entered under the “Surname” category, and “Joseph Robert” would be entered under the “Given Name” category.
• When you have entered all available information, click on the “Search” button.
• On the “Results” page, clicking on the surname, which is highlighted in the color blue, will give you information about Joseph Robert Doyle, including his service number, birthday, parents’ names, and finally, his burial information.
• At the top of the page, his memorial information is centred and in bold font, allowing viewers to easily see the name of a soldier and the date of their death.
• If you choose, you will be able to view the soldier’s name in the First World War Book of Remembrance, which has been digitized and put online. This is free, and if you wish to order a copy of the page, you are able to do so for a small fee.
• This database also includes a “digital photo collection of the soldier”, if applicable. In the case of Joseph Robert Doyle, there is both a newspaper clipping and picture of him.
• The database also includes information about the cemetery where the deceased soldiers are buried. In the instance of Joseph Robert Doyle, he was buried in the “Ontario Cemetery, Sains-les-Marquion,” in Nord-France. The cemetery plan is offered on the website, as is a brief description of the village it is located in, Sains-les-Marquion.

Database #3: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

This database compiles the death and commemorative information of the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces (Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, etc.) who died in the two World Wars. The database can be found on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at

To begin your search:
• Click on the “Search our Records” button on the toolbar on the left-hand side of the page.
• You are given the option of searching for a casualty or a cemetery. For example’s sake, we will search for the casualty of Joseph Robert Doyle and attempt to find information about what cemetery he is buried at.
• After selecting “Casualty” from the drop down menu, enter as much information as you know.
• Enter “Doyle” into the “Surname” category and enter “J R” in the “Initials” category (be certain to include a space between initials).
• Tip: be certain to ONLY enter the initials; in the case of our example, entering “Joseph Robert” yields zero results, yet entering “J R” yields four results.
• Joseph Robert Doyle is the second result given. By clicking on his orange name, you will be able to see his casualty details.
• You are able to click on the name of the cemetery for more information about it, and by clicking on the “Certificate” button located at the bottom of the records page, you will see his tombstone information, as well as a photograph of the cemetery.

Additional Resources:
Feel free to browse the Library and Archives Canada website, as well as Cyndi’s List, a website that lists free and searchable databases relating to genealogy. The most useful information relating to Canadian military history can be found here:

Friday, December 11, 2009

I now know how the Internet works! Some reflections on digital history...

I’ll be honest. When I began the digital history course, I was a little intimidated. Here I was, reading about things I’d never even heard of in my life, learning how to write html, and starting to write a blog. As someone who is a little wary of technology, this course has opened my mind to so many things I didn’t even know existed. It has raised questions that I couldn’t have dreamed of asking, and has really given me a new outlook on the role of technology in society.

Perhaps the part of this course that has been most significant to me is the changing role of the internet and the implications it will have in the field of history. With the internet becoming increasingly available to people all over the world, access to online books, newspapers, and journal articles is almost limitless. It makes me wonder what the role of the historian will be in the future. Especially with websites like Wikipedia, where everyone can collectively edit articles, making them fairly accurate, it’s hard to imagine what bigger innovations could arise in the future. With all of this information available online that could formerly only be found in university libraries and offices of academics, people now have a chance to learn history on their own, without the help of a university or professor. This makes me wonder what the role of the historian will be in fifteen years. Will we be relevant? Will we even be needed anymore? These questions make anyone pursuing an education in history nervous; are we doing all this work for nothing? Will people need us to interpret the sources anymore, or are we just wasting our time?

And though my immediate response was yes, we should restrict public access, it’s now obvious to me that all the historical sources, data, periodicals, etc. should be openly available to the public. For someone who cannot afford to get an education, of course they should be able to educate themselves using online sources, whether they be for history or computer science. Why should those of us lucky enough to be at universities have the monopoly on information distribution? People in North America are free to go to libraries to educate themselves (and we all know how old some of those books are), so why shouldn’t they be provided with the most up-to-date publications via the internet? I think that this is an issue that historians will continue to struggle with. Especially for older generations who aren’t used to using computers or the internet, it’s hard for them to see the importance of it to younger generations. It’s easy for me to champion the cause of open-source and availability for all because of the generation I grew up in. Computers are a part of my everyday life, which is something that can’t be said for many people older than I am.

That said, I was reluctant to start a blog and create a Twitter account. I used to role my eyes when I heard people talk about Twitter and “tweeting,” and a few of my friends even gave me a hard time about having my own Twitter account. I was nervous that I would become one of those people who couldn’t tear themselves away from their social networking sites. We all know these people; they’re the ones whose online lives greatly overshadow their actual lives, and what fun is it to live only online? This didn’t happen. Once I started to use Twitter, I saw how useful it can be. It doesn’t just have to be a place where you tell the world what you ate for breakfast, it can be used to post news articles, job offers, and send out a query and wait for responses. I think of how many times my classmates and I used Twitter to coordinate rides, meeting times, and ask/answer general questions about assignments that definitely saved us the time we would have lost if we all had to call one another on the phone.

Another surprisingly useful thing that I learned in this course was html. At first glance it looked to me like gibberish and ugly text written in Notepad, but then I learned that the gibberish actually meant something, and that you could use this gibberish to make really cool-looking webpages. As frustrating as it was in the beginning, being able to see the end result of a webpage that looks the way you imagined it in your mind is completely satisfying. It even became, dare I say it, fun to play around with, seeing which tags could be changed to make certain effects on the page. Although it became easier to do, I started to wonder when, exactly, I would ever use it in real life. I assumed I wouldn’t ever actually use it, that is, until I made a Google website. There was something I wanted to change, but just couldn’t figure it out using the options given, so I ended up going into the html and changing it on my own. I was so excited that I could actually fix minor problems that arose, and especially because if I’d never learned html, I would never even have dreamed of being able to fix it on my own.

Concluding thoughts about digital history: I ended up liking it a lot and learning tons of things that were mind-boggling but gave me many new perspectives. I really didn’t consider the implications that the internet would have on history until now. And as soon as I started this course, it seemed like so many things relating to digital history just starting popping up all over the place. I’m hearing tons about digitization and open-source, two things I previously knew very little about, and that I now have opinions on. I learned that I can read books online if I want to (though I’m still not there yet), and that hackers often aren’t the stereotypical bad people we’ve come to think of them as. I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that the opportunities the internet has afforded us are limitless and that we have the potential to do so much more with it, should we choose to.

So finally, I’d like to say thank you to Bill Turkel for providing me with a very positive experience in learning about digital history. Your patience for what were probably very silly questions is greatly appreciated.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Awakening

I first read Kate Chopin's The Awakening in my first year English forms of fiction class and loved it. I was told by my professor that it’s interesting to read the book at different stages in life, so I’ve been hoping to read it again soon (I just need to find the time!). That said, I figured this would be the perfect book to use for this week’s assignment; it’s surprisingly old enough to be fully available online at Project Gutenberg.

Using TAPoR, I popped the url into the box designed to find concordances and typed in the word love to see what would come up. I found that it came up 40 times, and that it mostly appeared in the second half of the book, less than I had expected, considering the book is only 128 pages. The protagonist (Edna) in the novel has an affair with a younger man, so I typed in affair next. To my surprise, it only came up four times. And in all cases, it referred to a different kind of affair, as in, “dinner was a very grand affair.” Interesting. Having read the book so long ago, maybe they referred to the affair as something else entirely. It’s nice that the generator at TAPoR gives you the context in which the word was written, allowing users to make distinctions like this. Even the word marriage only appears in the book nine times. This was surprising to me since Edna greatly struggles with her marriage to her husband.

All in all, the generator is very cool. It allows you to identify the frequency and patterns of when certain words appear in books. This could be useful for anyone, but I could really see this being useful to someone in an English literature class. It could help people analyze books more thoroughly when knowing when and where certain words appear, thus helping them identify key themes at certain points in the book. I could personally see this tool as being very helpful in researching a paper, whether it be for a history class or an English class. The reason why I say this is because I have a very bad habit of going through my sources, seeing a quote I like, then forgetting where I saw it, and then manically thumbing through every page of the book until I find it. If the book I was looking through was digitized and online at a place like Project Gutenberg, I could easily type in a unique word from the quote I was searching for and easily find the passage! Plus, I could even use it to find other related significant quotes. Yes, this tool could be very useful to us, though perhaps not until more of our recent sources have been digitized.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Official Website

I figured that it would be a good idea to post the link to my website on here in an actual post, instead of just on my profile. I have to say, making this website was pretty simple compared to have to write my own html or css file. That said, while I was putting together the site a few weeks ago, I found myself actually going into the html version of the website to adjust certain things. Plus, I'm pretty sure that if I didn't know how to "work" html, it would have taken me weeks to figure out how to link to different websites! So here is the link to my official website. Any comments are appreciated!