Unwritten Histories

The Unwritten Rules of History

Category: Historian’s Toolkit

Paleography à la Française

excerpt of seventeenth century trial of Anne Lamarque, June 1682. Taken by author at the archives of BANQ Vieux-Montréal

Signatures from the first deposition in the Anne Lamarque case. Fonds Judiciaire BANQ Vieux-Montréal, June 1682. Photo taken by author.

Note From Andrea: Today we have another special post by Stephanie Pettigrew! Enjoy!

When I first started doing my research, the biggest problem I encountered was simply deciphering my texts. As many of you already know, I work on documents from sixteenth and seventeenth New France. In North America, there are far more resources available specifically for English etymology and paleography, the study of historic handwriting and handwritten texts. Christopher Moore contends in a recent blog post that paleography is dying a slow and painful death, and I don’t completely disagree with him; the growing dependence on crowd-sourcing transcription projects is a huge concern. But even when sources are transcribed for you, as a historian you are still expected to consult the original source. Several universities offer undergraduate courses in medieval English and middle English. One school that I attended even had a course on reading medieval Scottish handwriting (complete with its own textbook!). Leah Grandy also has already done some fantastic blog posts introducing the issue of paleography, which I highly recommend (“What Does That Say?!”: Getting Started with Paleography is particularly helpful!) While all of these are valuable resources, they aren’t really helpful when it comes to dealing with my documents. So in today’s blog post, I’m going to talk about some of the main challenges of working with early modern French written texts and provide you with some tips and tricks that will hopefully make this work a little bit easier!


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Film Favourites: Recommended Films on Canadian History

Film posters for The War of 1812, Been There Won that; Forbidden Love; Action.

Let’s face it, our favourite classes are the ones with movies. If you’re around my age, you remember being excited by the sound of squeaky wheels and rattling, since it usually meant you were watching a movie in class. The same is still true in university, whether you are a student, a TA, or a professor. However, it can be hard to find good films to show in classrooms that are engaging for students, but also historically accurate. A couple of months ago, there was a fascinating discussion on Eryk Martin’s Facebook timeline about recommended films for teaching pre-Confederation Canadian history. So, inspired by that discussion, and with his permission, I have put together a list of recommended films for teaching Canadian history.

This list is broken down into two parts: my personal recommendations, and recommendations from fellow history professors. I would especially like to thank Stephanie Pettigrew, Donica Belisle, Carmen Nielson, Matthew Hayday, Ian Mosby, Adele Perry, Jenny Ellison, Janis Thiessen, Kesia Kvill, Sarah Dowling, and Liz Huntingford for their fantastic suggestions. Also, I have roughly organized the films and videos chronologically. In my recommendations, I have further divided the films and videos from each other, and included some additional ones I would like to show in class, but haven’t yet.

A couple of important notes or warnings: please make sure that when you are showing a feature film in a classroom that you have the appropriate license to do so. In other words, make sure the copy of the film you are screening has been approved for classroom or public screenings. If you are using the film through your institution’s library, you should be fine, but it’s always good to check. Second, as a recent discussion on Twitter initiated by Tina Adcock has shown, content/trigger warnings are important. I have listed the ones that I think are relevant below, but always use caution when screening films to avoid doing harm to your students.

Also, my husband wanted to name this blog post “Class-y” films, but my better sense vetoed. 😉


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Reflections on a Summer Course

Screenshot of my syllabus

Summer: time for sunny days, blue skies, lazy days at the beach….

LOL Yeah right….

Let’s face it: no one likes teaching or taking summer courses. Not only does the weather make you want to spend all of your time outside, but the sheer pace of summer courses is just exhausting. With that in mind, and considering that I just finished teaching one, I thought that I would use this blog post as an opportunity to reflect back on my experiences and talk about what worked and what didn’t, in the hopes that we might all learn a thing or two.


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Guest Post: Digitizing Legislative Documents and the BNA Legislative Database

This week’s special guest post comes to us from a familiar face: Stephanie Pettigrew, whom you may remember from this year’s CHA Reads! I’m very excited to share this guest post from her, which is based on her work on the upcoming British North America Legislative Database. This database, which is hosted by the University of New Brunswick under the direction of Elizabeth Mancke, collects together all legislation passed by the Pre-Confederation colonies of eastern British North America, including Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, PEI, New Brunswick, Upper Canada, Lower Canada, the United Canadas, and Newfoundland. The database is still under construction, but once it is complete, it will be an invaluable resource to historians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as anyone who teaching Pre-Confederation Canadian history. It seeks to, among other things, remedy some of the searching problems found in other databases, like Early Canadiana Online (ECO). So without any further ado, enjoy!

Stephanie Pettigrew

Stephanie Pettigrew is a PhD candidate at the University of New Brunswick studying the history of witchcraft in New France. She is also the project coordinator for the British North America Legislative Database (bnald.lib.unb.ca), which seeks to digitize all the pre-confederation legislative acts from the provincial legislative assembly.


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A Guide to Online Resources for Teaching and Learning about WW1 in Canada

A war effort poster: “Salvage! Every Little Helps” / Sia R. Chilvers. Library and Archives Canada, e010696424; Acc. No. 1983-28-190 / CC by 2.0

A war effort poster: “Salvage! Every Little Helps” / Sia R. Chilvers. Library and Archives Canada, e010696424; Acc. No. 1983-28-190 / CC by 2.0

(Newly updated as of February 27, 2017!)

I’m actually rather surprised to find that no one’s really done this before. This collection started out as a Word document that I used for creating classroom activities for my survey classes. The one-page document has now grown to seventeen pages. Before anyone yells at me for leaving things out, I do want to warn you that this is not a comprehensive list.  I have tried to limit this list to resources that are available from verified sources, archives, museums, universities, and historical societies. There are a ton of personal websites by genealogists and military history enthusiasts that are great, but because I can’t verify their sources personally and because this list is aimed mostly at educators, I chose to leave them out.

Each link will be listed by title, then institution. I have included a short description of each link, and which sections will be of particular interest or use to educators.

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Historian’s Toolkit: CBC Digital Archives

So guess who is Active History’s newest contributor? Me! Over the next year, I’ll be writing a few blog posts for Active History about the teaching of Canadian history. My first post went up today, and is my latest Historian’s Toolkit, focusing on the CBC Digital Archives. Here’s a sneak peak:


Anyone who has searched the internet for videos to use while teaching Canadian history has run into one big problem: the overwhelming dominance of American media online. Adding “Canadian” or “Canada” to your Google search doesn’t necessarily solve this problem. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t great Canadian videos, soundbites, and films available. You just have to know where to look for them! This post is going to focus on my favourite place for Canadian audio-visual material: the CBC.


Read the rest here!

Historian’s Toolkit: Flickr Commons

Flickr Commons

In our Historian’s Toolkit series, we look in depth at one online resource that history professors can use to teach Canadian history. You can view other posts in this series by clicking here.

Have you ever wondered where I get the awesome pictures that I use in the Roundups? One of my favourite places is Fickr Commons, so in this edition of the Historian’s Toolkit we will be taking a closer look!

It’s often a challenge for Canadian historians to find good visuals for lectures, blog posts, or publications. One factor is the tremendous prevalence of American images online, which makes searching for purely Canadian content something of a nightmare. The other problem, especially for blog posts or publications, is that of copyright (though lecturers should also be considering this problem!). Many images that are available, either though digitized archival collections or museums, are still under copyright or you need to ask permission to use them.

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Historian’s Toolkit: Transcribe



In our Historian’s Toolkit series, we look in depth at one online resource that history professors can use to teach Canadian history. To see others from this series click on the category, “Historian’s Toolkit.”

**Check back on Friday for a special blog post all about Victoria Day!**

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