Sunday, March 27, 2011

Westminster Veterans Hospital

In response to an e-mail request I had a look at what was available on the Westminster Veterans Hospital in London, Ontario. Online there is very little. Most of what is online is on the services that veterans receive today. My father is there today, and he and mother met at the old Westminster Hospital when he was undergoing physiotherapy in 1946.  There were good reasons for me that made the e-mail request very intriguing to follow up.

As the hospital looked in 1977.
Information available in archives in London is another story. A great deal is available to hunt through. The London Room at the London Public Library has copies of two reports done for the London Health Sciences Center in September, 2000.

“Historical Documentation of the Veterans Psychiatric Institute, London Health Sciences Center, London, Ontario, September., 2000. Prepared by Historica Research Ltd.”
“Historical Documentation of Western Counties Wing Buildings, London Health Sciences Center, September, 2000. Prepared by Historica Research Ltd.”

Both reports are in binder form, and available in the archives section of the London Room. As well, the London room has a complete collection of the “London Free Press”. “The Free Press” seems to have taken an interest in the hospital, and devoted considerable space through the years to coverage.

In book form there is several available. It looked at two.

Jennifer L. Granger (ed.), “Delaware and Westminster Townships: Honouring Our Roots”, (2 vol.’s) The Aylmer Express Ltd. 2006.
John R. Sullivan, Norman R. Ball, “Growing To Serve: A History of Victoria Hospital, London, Ontario”, The Victoria Hospital Corporation, 1985.

Library and Archives Canada has the blueprints of the original buildings that comprised Westminster Hospital. If you are looking for names of residents, and staff, I suspect that that information is now held by the University of Western Ontario. When Parkwood Hospital took over the running of the veterans’ programs, files, documents etc., were handed over to the university’s archives. How far the university has gone in cataloguing this information is the big question.

I will follow up with more information as I have it. What struck me in the little research that I did was some unique stories that emerged. I will double check the sources, and then post a few of them in the future.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How Many Historians Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb?

I couldn’t resist this piece from Prof. David Leeson of Laurentian University. The links are for those who didn’t realize that there is a Laurentian University!

“There is a great deal of debate on this issue. Up until the mid-20th century, the accepted answer was ‘one’: and this Whiggish narrative underpinned a number of works that celebrated electrification and the march of progress in light-bulb changing. Beginning in the 1960s, however, social historians increasingly rejected the ‘Great Man’ school and produced revisionist narratives that stressed the contributions of research assistants and custodial staff. This new consensus was challenged, in turn, by women’s historians, who criticized the social interpretation for marginalizing women, and who argued that light bulbs are actually changed by department secretaries. Since the 1980s, however, postmodernist scholars have deconstructed what they characterize as a repressive hegemonic discourse of light-bulb changing, with its implicit binary opposition between ‘light’ and ‘darkness,’ and its phallogocentric privileging of the bulb over the socket, which they see as colonialist, sexist, and racist. Finally, a new generation of neo-conservative historians have concluded that the light never needed changing in the first place, and have praised political leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for bringing back the old bulb. Clearly, much additional research remains to be done.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

One Lovely Blog Award

2011 must be blog award year. Ian Hadden from Ian Haddon’s Family History nominated this blog for the One Lovely Blog Award. It makes me think that there is actually someone out there who is reading this blog. Well what do you know !

The rules of this award are much like the previous blog award.

1. Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who granted the award and their blog link.

2. Pass the award on to 15 other blogs that you have discovered.

3. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

Well, as I have indicated in previous posts on my family blog “Hillman’s Of Elgin County” I am not a huge blog reader. I’m too demanding I think. I do keep track of the following:

This Intrepid Band

For All My Relations

Adventures In Genealogical Education

I see that many that I do read already have this award. What I will do is put together a list and post it in a week or so. Thanks Ian.

Get Out Of Jail Free Card

It’s fascinating sometimes at how war creates an atmosphere where some of the craziest ideas immerge, and sometimes works. Who would ever thought that you could use the Monopoly board game as a tool for prisoner of war escape attempts.

A very useful item to have if you want to escape is a reliable map. A paper map has drawbacks. They get soggy when wet, and if you look at my father’s P.O.W. map there is a tendency to burn when too close to a flame. Someone in MI-5 (British intelligence) got the brainstorm of using silk rather than paper for the maps. Silk doesn’t get soggy, and is quiet when opened.

As it just so happens the British maker of the Monopoly board game John Waddington Ltd. had perfected the technology of printing on silk. So maps geared to where the P.O.W. camp was located (the camps were regional) were produced, and put into the monopoly playing pieces. The story was classified until 2007 when the John Waddington company, and its employees were honoured.

Who would have thought it!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Word For Today

Sue Light’s blog, “This Intrepid Band”,  introduced a new word to me - a $20 word at that - prosopography.

“Prosopography is an investigation of the common characteristics of a historical group, whose individual biographies may be largely untraceable, by means of a collective study of their lives, in multiple career-line analysis. Prosopographical research has the aim of learning about patterns of relationships and activities through the study of collective biography, and proceeds by collecting and analysing statistically relevant quantities of biographical data about a well-defined group of individuals. This makes it a valuable technique for studying many pre-modern societies. “ (1)

This definition makes my editor’s bone twitch. Secondly, what’s their definition of pre-modern?

Apparently prosopographical research is highly dependant on the collection of data in the form of an electronic data base (read computer). I assume that the data is reliable. Prosopographists (I think this would be their description) seem to cover bases in history, biography, and genealogy. The study is multi biographical in that they accumulate data on people that have connections in common. For genealogists that would be looking at all of the members of a family tree in a specific time period (ie. The Smith clan in Smithville, Somewhere in the World., from 1700 to 1750). The data on the Smith’s would tell you about their connections, and how they operated within and upon institutions - social, political, economic, legal, and religious.

Two examples are Barbara Harvey, “Living and Dying in England 1100–1540: The Monastic Experience (1993)”, and Michael Erben, “"A Preliminary Prosopography of the Victorian Street", (1996)”. I can accept these studies as pre-modern. Athough where pre ends and modern begins is a good subject for a well lubricated debate.

I think I will look up these books, and try to get a feel for prosopography.

(1) Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopaedia.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

History and Genealogy

For some time now I have been mulling over an article written by James Tanner in his blog “Genealogy’s Star”. In his article, “Is History Genealogy ?” (October 6, 1910) James writes:

“In a real sense, all history is genealogy and genealogy is nothing more, or less, than detailed localized history. Traditional history was focused on the grand scheme of politics and society. It deals with wars and only mentions individuals as they become prominent.”

The more I think about it the more I disagree. A bit too generalized I think. For me history is an interpretive story or narration if you will. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a well researched historical narration in which the author leaves interpretations up to the reader. Everyone, it seems, has an agenda somewhere.

I have always tried to figure out what “traditional” history is or was. I suspect that the reference is to the “textbook” history of the kind that was inflicted on all of us in high school (not that I can remember that far back !).

When I was in graduate school from 1971 to 1974 the up and coming flavours of the decade were women’s studies, economic history (vast economic forces folks), and computer studies. Yes folks the computer was beating at the wall of the ivory tower, and the fight was on. A merry battle it was since it generally took place during well lubricated meetings of the graduate students’ society.

Genealogy at that time was known to me as local history. Believe it or not there was a chair of local history. Two professors that I studied under, James J. Talman and Frederick Armstrong, were hand in glove with the library’s archivist in amassing a collection of papers, and memorabilia, that is now housed in the excellent J.J Talman Collection at the University of Western Ontario.

It seemed to me at the time that research was generally done by the graduate students for the benefit of the professors. I am inclined to think that that has not changed. Interpretation of that research is the issue that spawns new articles, and books. As archives become available after copyright limits expire new facts come to light, and new interpretations emerge. In my own field a good example is the way in which historians today are revising their views of Sir Douglas Haig (I‘m not convinced). Secondly, more books are being written which have been influenced by letters and diaries that were written by veterans. More and more I am seeing historians use what we would view as being within the definition of genealogy.

For me that is a good thing as it adds colour, and interest, to the lives of our ancestors. It puts them into perspective. Frankly 90% of what I have seen, that is to say, this individual was born in 1900, died in 1950 was son of, or daughter of, makes me yawn. My response is - AND? I guess my training. such as it was. required me to use the word why quite a bit. When I look at my own family tree I ask why quite often. My great great great grandfather immigrated from Wiltshire either in 1830 or 1831 - why? He came to Canada - why? Why not the United States or Australia? He settled in Southwestern Ontario - what was the attraction that brought his family here? Why did the family largely stay, and not go west young man (sorry couldn’t resist) ?

I guess for me history is all about finding the answers to questions. Here I am guilty of generalizing just a tad. One prays that the answers are in a well written form.