University-Museum Partnerships: The “Placing Memory” Project and Community-Based Research

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Organization of Military Museums of Canada conference in SAIT’s lovely Heritage Hall.

Recently, I was invited to participate on a panel at the Organization of Military Museums of Canada conference in Calgary. The organizer wanted to bring together scholars who had something to say about the potential for partnerships between museum curators and university scholars, based in part on some of the innovative ideas around public engagement articulated in The Participatory Museum, by Nina Simon. My contribution was to explain the nature of the partnership between the Ambrose University History program and the Museum of the Highwood in High River. Here is the text of my paper: Continue reading

A Professor’s Summer (2016)

Over the years, friends and family members have often joked with me that once the summer comes, I don’t really have to work. Usually (I think) this is in fun, and my standard reply is something like, “I don’t remember seeing you in grad school …” It’s my way of reminding them (and myself) that the great job I have came at a price. (It’s worth noting that my wife Colleen paid about as much of that price as I did!)

img_0286More seriously, one of the great joys of my work is its variety. The semesters are usually very busy, and then the summer takes on its own rhythm. I work from home much of the time, do a little gardening, and much of the cooking and cleaning. As I was invigilating a final exam this morning, I decided to think through my summer plans in a bit more detail. Here’s a rough sketch: Continue reading

Local History Research in and by the Community

Over the past year, members of the Ambrose University history program have been working on a local history research project: “Placing Memory in High River’s Built Environment.” The project explores the connections between physical places and the sense of community identity and collective memory in the town of High River. It’s been a great opportunity for our Ambrose history students to get hands-on experience with real world research, as they have traveled to High River to interview members of the community. Now, back at Ambrose, they’re working together to interpret the interview transcripts, looking for historical themes and key places in High River.

Ambrose history students interviewing a local volunteer at the Museum of the Highwood, High River.
Ambrose history students interviewing a local volunteer in High River.

One of the exciting parts of the project has been working with our partners. The Museum of the Highwood has supported us with background information, archival photos, and other research resources. The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation has funded our project to the tune of almost $12000. And the High River Library has given us meeting space and promotion in the community. Once we’re done the project, we’ll deposit the digital audio files of our oral history interviews with the Museum of the Highwood, to replenish their supply of oral history material that was lost in the flood of 2013. Continue reading

Christmas Through the Eyes of Medieval Christians

Recently, I was asked to contribute a word to our church’s monthly newsletter. I found myself reflecting on two ideas–the many things I’ve learned by interacting with the history of Christianity and the meaning of Christmas. The following was an attempt to bring these two ideas together:

Christmas Through the Eyes of Medieval Christians

One of the pleasures of studying history for a living is the regular interaction I have with Christians from the past—believers long dead but still speaking to me through their writings, if I make time to listen to them. In their wisdom, they often remind me that my view of God and my understanding of Christianity is strongly shaped by my culture, and quite different from the way Christians in the past understood these things. Continue reading

Loving Our (Refugee) Neighbours

Refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East are no longer front page news. After a month or more of non-stop reporting, most of our media organizations have moved on to other stories, no doubt sensing a measure of compassion fatigue across the Western world.

Not that there aren’t plenty of tragic refugee stories out there. Brandon Stanton–he of the famous Humans of New York blog–recently travelled to Europe and the Middle East to capture the testimonies of those fleeing terror and violence in the region. Recently, he added some accounts from Iraqis fleeing their own version of chaos and calamity, like the family who received death threat text messages everyday, then woke up to find their house on fire or the government clerk who fled in the night, when he learned the militia was going to kill him. But Stanton has not only chronicled these stories of suffering. He has also given us stories of hope, of kindness, and of love expressed by Europeans who see the refugees as fellow humans in need.

And there are great initiatives out there. One of the newest is a Kickstarter campaign to donate about $1.225 million to enable the UN Refugee Agency to provide sleeping bags, food and fresh water, clothing, and education for 5,000 Syrian refugees. Around 18,000 people have contributed and the project is almost fully funded (as of October 7, 2015).

A few weeks ago, it was my turn to share a devotional at our church board meeting. I had been reading and thinking a lot about the refugee crisis, and was wanting to understand the problem not only politically but also theologically. In preparation for the devotional, then, I began to think about where Scripture might speak to this issue. Continue reading

Imagine You’re a Refugee

Imagine you’re a refugee. What might that look like?

For starters, imagine your hometown–the place your family has lived for generations–has been destroyed. Imagine your government–when faced with opposition demands–has deployed your national military against your fellow citizens, shooting those it saw as a threat to its hold on power. Imagine that opposition groups took to arms too, and that a violent civil war erupted. Imagine that after four years of fighting, over 250,000 of your fellow citizens have died in the conflict–most of them ordinary people–and that over four million people have fled your small country. Imagine that you’re trapped in this civil war that involves well over thirty different organizations fighting in seven main belligerent groups. Imagine these belligerents have been using artillery, poison gas, torture, and murder against one another. Then, imagine an invasion by a new belligerent–a barbaric fundamentalist movement which employs murder, rape, and pillage indiscriminately, including the beheading of innocent captives.

Imagine your neighbourhood looks like this: Continue reading

Responding to the Refugee Crisis

Recently a friend and former student asked me what I thought about the backlash to the refugee crisis. Throughout the summer, we have seen heart-wrenching stories and moving images of desperate refugees from bombed out Syria. But in the wake of the outpouring of sympathy for Syrian refugees in the late summer of 2015, other voices have argued against taking refugees into European and other Western countries, because of the danger that ISIS might be sending Islamic warriors into Europe among the refugees. And when the refugees refuse to register in countries like Hungary, this seems to confirm the view that they are dangerous.

The truth is that I’m not sure I have a satisfying answer to this question. Truthfully, there are several interrelated issues that complicate this crisis: Continue reading