Do you know a Canadian historian? (::nods::) Are they impossible to shop for because they already own all the books? (::nods vigorously::) Then have we got just the thing for you!
Welcome to the Second Annual Unwritten Histories Holiday Gift Guide for Canadian Historians! Once again, I have compiled a list of gift suggestions for historians and other history professionals!
Some important caveats: this guide does not (with one exception) include books. However, if you do want some book suggestions, check out my previous blog posts on upcoming publications in Canadian history). If you are shopping for a history buff, I would highly recommend the 2017 Book and Gift Guide from Canada’s History.
Second, while I am Canadian, and many of the recommendations I’ve included down below are specific to Canadian history, this list should be helpful to history professionals no matter their country of origin or residence.
And third, I haven’t repeated any of my suggestions from last year, because well, where’s the fun in that? So, for even more suggestions, make sure to check out last year’s gift guide!
Without any further ado, let’s get brainstorming!
The Jewish Exception
While I was talking about this blog post with my husband, he asked a fascinating question: can you give a Jewish friend a nice menorah for Chanukah? I was puzzled by this question — why would you buy someone a menorah? — but it made me realize that many non-Jews might want to know whether or not to get their Jewish friend a gift for Chanukah, and if so, what would be appropriate. If that’s the case, you’ve come to the right place (I know, you’re shocked).
Expert Tip: The word “Chanukah” is Hebrew, so when it appears in English, it is spelled phonetically. That’s why there are a million ways to spell it. Whether you go with a Ch or a H, or one K or two, it’s up to you, though no doubt your spell-checker will having something to say about it.
This is a very tricky question. First of all, it is important to keep in mind that gift-giving on Chanukah is a relatively new phenomenon (like less than 50 years old), and many families don’t follow this new tradition. There is a long story about why we now give gifts for Chanukah, but that’s a topic for another blog post. But in general, you should know that it is not a requirement that you give anyone a gift for Chanukah. If you want to be traditional, your best options are to either give chocolate coins or a dreidel. Most coins are now available in pharmacies, but the special ones for Chanukah (certified Kosher!) and dreidels are readily available inside any synagogue gift shop. And yes, you can go inside the gift shop even if you aren’t Jewish. We don’t have gentile alarms. 😉
Second, don’t buy your friend a menorah. Most Jews already have one, and if they don’t, odds are they will want to pick one for themselves. That’s because menorahs are not like Christmas ornaments, or even Christmas trees. They are intensely personal religious objects that are supposed to have special significance. Most people only ever own one, often purchased when they leave home or get married. (The one exception to this is children, since it’s become a new thing for kids to have their own menorahs. Most synagogue gift shops will have some, as will any Judaica store in your city.) A better option would be to give your Jewish friend a fancy set of Chanukah candles, like these. I grew up with the $1 variety from the pharmacy, so these beautiful candles are always a treat.
And of course, if you really want to go all out, any of the options below work well for anyone who celebrates a holiday this time of the year, no matter their religious beliefs. I mean, who doesn’t like presents?
Donations are one of the best options for gift gifting, especially for people who already own all of the things. So why not consider donating — either one time or on a regular basis — to an organization you want to support, in your recipient’s name! Two organizations that definitely deserve support are Rick Harp’s Media Indigena, an online magazine and podcast dedicated to things Indigenous. They have both a Patreon account and PayPal, and you can find out more information here. Equally awesome is the Indian and Cowboy Network, which is behind podcasts like Think Indigenous, Métis in Space, The Henceforward, and Red Men Laughing. They offer several sustaining membership programs with great perks starting at just $10 a month!
On a similar note, there are two great books that you can get for a general audience and donate to a good cause (and we’re working on a list of good Canadian history books for a general audience!). First is the Graphic History Collective’s Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle, with Paul Buhle. Because, really, who doesn’t want to support the Graphic History Collective? The other book is Adele Perry’s Aqueduct all about Shoal Lake and the Anishinaabe community of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. Royalties from the book all go to the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation’s Museum of Canadian Human Rights Violations.
For those who are looking for more personalized presents at a range of different price points, one of the best places to look is etsy.com. Etsy has handmade items, supplies for crafting, and lots of custom options. They even have their own gift guide, but the best part of this site is that you can search specifically for hand-crafted items made by Canadians! Do you know someone who loves paper crafts or stationary? Check out this shop. I personally really love delicate jewelry that is nature-inspired, and LoopsJewellery, fancy pop, and BirchStreetStudio15 are all great Canadian shops for those kinds of pieces. You can literally find just about anything at any price point on this site.
On a similar note, no matter where you live, there are local artists and businesses that have items available for sale. When we lived in Victoria, there were lots of little shops featuring art prints, pottery, jewellery, and more by local artists. These all make fantastic gifts, and you can find something at just about every price point.
This is also a great opportunity to support Indigenous artists, many of whom offer artwork directly on their website. For instance, Christi Belcourt has a number of gorgeous art prints current available, as does Alan Syliboy. To inquire about purchasing some of these prints, you will need to email the artist or their organization directly, and this information is always available on the site. Stephanie Pettigrew also recommended the Alan Syliboy shirts that are available through the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre here.
Now this may shock you, but many history professionals are also total geeks. While we might be varied in our geek-dom (my husband likes Star Wars, though I will always be a Stargate fan), ThinkGeek has lots of topics, whether you like Doctor Who or Harry Potter. If only this Time Turner actually worked…
And once again, you can never go wrong with handmade items. Instagram has some fantastic accounts with tons of great ideas. Some of the best for DIYers are Five-Minute Crafts, Tasty, Nifty, and So Yummy.
Graduate Student Level ($0 to $20)
One item that I have used every single day for years and, in my opinion, is heavily under-appreciated, is my book stand. Mine looks like this one, but you can get fancier versions like this. I use this thing for everything – reading novels, taking notes from scholarly books, watching videos or films on my Ipad mini, etc… Seriously, this thing is a lifesaver.
Speaking of lifesavers, some of you know that I am a magical unicorn because I can’t drink coffee or alcohol (I know, I know…) My vice of choice, consequently, is tea! I love Tetley’s as much as the next person, but if you really want to treat someone, try sending them Murchies! It’s the tea of choice for discerning historians, especially since they have tea blends like Rideau Hall, CBC Radio, Baker Street, Library, or, if you’re feeling ironic, Canada 150 (described as “a mosaic black, green and oolong teas, blended with a hint of maple syrup to celebrate our nation’s history and diversity”). They also have lots of green, white, and fruity teas, special winter and holiday collections, gift sets (this one looks perfect), and all of their teas are available in bag and loose forms!
I recommended Political Circus last year, but this year they also have postcard sets, like this one of women in politics, Prime Minsters of Canada Bunting Set (in paper and digital formats!) and a Justin Trudeau paper doll, complete with boxing shorts, pride flag, unicorn suit (lol) and child (as an accessory!)
On a similar vein, this website offers a variety of Canadiana, with such wonders as a poutine snow globe, a “real change” coin purse and, because I’m so mature, a “phoque off” onesie (or socks!) And almost everything on the site is under $20.
Another cute Canadian history option is these enamel pins, shaped to look at the Charter, poutine, maple syrup, and even one for medicare! But the best one is probably the Tickle Trunk pin. though this one for the Friendly Giant is also super cool. I think I need a hug now.
This idea comes from one of the librarians at the Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC Library. The RBSC has a wonderful open collection of material that is in the public domain. This includes high resolution images (that are freely accessible) of political, war, and travel posters, that would look fantastic printed out and framed. Check out their collection of Berkley posters from 1968-1973, WW1 and WW2 posters from Canada and abroad, or these wonderful travel posters from the 1920s to the 1940s. Just one warning: some of the travel posters have some problematic depictions of people and places.
Do you like medical history and plushy toys? Then reenact the Cholera Epidemic of of 1832 with this adorable Giant Microbe of the Cholera bacteria! Other good options for Canadian historians include Typhoid Fever and the Flu (it’s the 100th anniversary of the Spanish Flu epidemic in 2018!)
Coming in right under the deadline is this wonderful set of baseball cards from the Chatham Coloured All Stars, featuring players from the 1934 season. The cards were created as part of a digital archive project called Breaking the Colour Barrier: Wilfred “Boomer” Harding and the Chatham Coloured All-Stars (1932-1939). You can get the whole set for just $10, and the proceeds go to supporting the work of the Chatham Kent Black Historical Society in Chatham, Ontario. The same goes for all of the other Chatham Coloured All Stars merchandise in the shop! What a super cool project. And thanks to Melissa Shaw for tweeting this out!
Postdoc Level ($20 to $50)
I know that I also mentioned notebooks last year, but there are some really cool new ones that are available this year! For example, this notebook, by the ever popular Moleskine, is a not only a smart notebook, which means that it is optimized for digital scanning, but it also comes with a free three-month subscription to Evernote Premium! This is really helpful for those of us who use Evernote as a brain dump and note-organizer. Another cool smart notebook is this one, which is not only optimized for digital scanning, but can also automatically send them to the correct app. And, because that’s not cool enough, you can also erase your writing by popping the notebook in the microwave and use the notebook over and over again. And don’t worry, it won’t try to kill you in your sleep (we think). 😉
Another great option for artwork is Zoe Todd’s Society6 shop! Yes, the amazing scholar Zoe Todd. She creates beautiful artwork of fish in her spare time. Her shop offers prints, mugs, tote bags, and even pillows! I particularly love this image of a whitefish, but all of her artwork is amazing.
The places where historians tend to hang out (libraries, archives, basement apartments), tend to be quite cold. So why not give them a nice warm scarf, like this one, with the text of Anne of Green Gables printed on it! You can also grab the matching fingerless gloves here! And there are lots of other options to choose from as well! Like the scarf for Persuasion,…. hint hint husband.
One of the best games I’ve come across for historians is Cards Against Humanity, self-described as “a party game for horrible people.” There are two decks. One player asks a question from the Black Card, and everyone else has to put together a response with their White Cards. The funniest/most sarcastic player wins! You can get the original deck here, and there are lots of fun expansion packs, like 90s Nostalgia, and even a Canadian version. And the best part is that you can download all of these cards for free and print them yourself. The manufacturer says that it should take about an hour and $10 per set. And you can also download the Canadian version!
While I am a magical unicorn, I’ve never met another academic who doesn’t need coffee to survive. A good French Press is a necessity. My husband has used this one for years, and loved it. You can also combine it with an electric coffee grinder and/or a nice travel mug (this one is highly recommended, or you can always go with a classic like this Klean Kanteen, or a Thermos), and you’re all set!
These are neither Canadian nor historical, but I really couldn’t leave them out: woodland animal ornaments! Get the whole set for $47.70 (including a fox, squirrel, deer, bear, raccoon, and hedgehog) for for $5.95 individually.
Sessional Instructor Level ($50 to $100)
This etsy shop, by Raymond Biesinger, has created maps of Canadian cities at important moments in time. Relive the opening of the CN Tower in Toronto,=, the Winnipeg General Strike, Calgary during the 1988 Winter Olympics, or Montreal during Expo 67! This shop also had this cool poster of the evolution of Edmonton’s music scene, or this one, a pastiche of Canadian design from the 1990s.
Touch Screen Stylus pens are always a good option! These are great options for anyone who does transcription or takes notes on a tablet. While you can get cheaper ones, in this case you are better off with good-quality ones like this fantastic pen, which comes highly recommended by our stylus expert, Stephanie Pettigrew.
Are you an absent-minded professor who frequently loses their keys, wallet, or mind? Well, we can’t help you with that last one, but there is a company called Tile that makes these little tags for your stuff, so that when you lose them, your phone can track them! And if you lost your phone, it will make it ring, even if it’s on silent!
While CBC no longer sells items themselves, they do allow companies to license their logos. One of those companies is zinc cufflinks, which makes wonderful cufflinks with CBC logos from days past. They also have earrings, as well as cufflinks made with TTC tokens!
Tenure-track/Tenured Professor Level ($100 to $250)
I know many an academic that has been considering buying a Fitbit, like this one that syncs with your phone and has a heart-rate monitor. Everyone I know who has one seems to love it, and has told me that it has made a big difference in their activity-level.
On a similar note, academics seem to come in two varieties: those who run/hike/do yoga, and those whose shoulders are permanently hunched over from sitting at a desk all day. Both varieties would love a really nice yoga mat! You can get these for about $20 at most fitness stores, but if you really want to splurge, and your recipient is a hard-core yogi, this one is super cool. They’re great for stretching, but also work well for office naps!
Check out this gorgeous shadow box made of recycled hockey sticks with a map of Canada cut out! Also available are a moose motif, a Trans Canada motif, or a classic beaver motif, all of which are slightly less expensive.
One gift that is always appreciated is a wool blanket. My husband’s parents gave us a lovely woollen blanket from MacAusland’s Woollen Mill, located in PEI. They’ve been producing woollen blankets since 1932, and make the blankets on site. You can see some of their blankets here (they also have yarn!), though you will need to actually call them to make a purchase. The blankets run around $100 and up, depending on size. It’s also worth seeing if there are any mills in your area.
This one is more for the general history geek, and comes courtesy of my husband: the HMS Beagle Storm Glass. This is a replica of the storm glass, which is like a barometer, that was onboard the ship that brought Charles Darwin to the Galapagos Islands in 1831.
University Administrator Level ($250 and up)
This suggestion comes from Danielle Metcalf-Chenail, who has apparently lived a life parallel to mine: writing retreat! Adam Barker and Emma Battell have been telling me I should go on one of these for years; this is basically like a vacation, but you get to stay in a nice place for an indeterminate period of time, and just focus on your writing! You can find them basically everywhere — either formal ones, or you can make-your-own getaways too (popularly known as “vacations”). For those who are more budget-minded, did you know that Parks Canada offers these things called oTENTiks, which are apparently a mix between a tent and a cabin, at many locations around the country? I didn’t, at least not before talking to Stephanie. You can rent them for around $90 a night, depending on location and season. Some parks also have other options, like yurts at the Bay of Fundy for around $115 a night. You can see what’s available at your location of choice.
Curae is a workshop that makes highly-detailed wooden topographical relief maps of Canadian waterways, and then fills them with blue resin. The results are just absolutely stunning. You can purchase one of their existing pieces, or commission your own piece! They also offer coaster sets of $40 for those of us who can’t afford their larger pieces, and these too can be customized!
Finally, One of the most stereotypical items associated with professors is the tweed jacket, which would make a lovely gift. You can go for a classic, or try something more modern like this. Even better would be to have one custom made by a tailor! Bonus points if the jacket has leather elbow patches!
I hope this guide has made your holiday season a little less stressful! These guides are always fun to put together, and they are always a welcome distraction from marking. Have you started your holiday shopping yet? I like to get it done early, while my husband always waits until the last minute; but he’s really cute, so it works out. I hope you enjoyed this year’s gift guide! If you did, please consider sharing it on the social media platform of your choice! And don’t forget to check back on Sunday for a brand new Canadian history roundup! See you then!