October 27, 2017 - Lawson Hall
The History Department celebrated its centenary in 2017. On October 27, 2017 there was a celebration of the department and a commemoration of the way Western faculty and students have contributed to our understanding of the past, especially Canada’s history.
As 2017 is also the sesquicentennial of Canada, we organized three events that connect Western’s History Department and 150 years of Canadian history: Greatest Canadian Competition, Historians Between Two Ferns, and an Historical Knowledge Contest.
The Festivities Begin
Chair Francine McKenzie welcomed students, faculty, local historians, alumni, emeriti, and friends of the History Department to its centenary celebration. Everyone looked forward to an afternoon of fun and educational events, beginning with tours of the department, the display of a new timeline showing the origins and growth of the History Department, the digital history lab, the medical artifacts collections, and a pop up digital exhibit on London neighbourhoods curated by Mark Tovey, MITACS Post-doctoral fellow in public history.
Greatest (Dead) Canadian Competition
A packed classroom listened to nine contestants champion their nominees for “Greatest (Dead) Canadian”, hosted by Alan MacEachern. There was a real mix of nominees – from Mary Two-Axe Earley to Lucy Maud Montgomery, Frederick Banting to Leonard Cohen. And of nominators, too – undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and the broader London community were all represented. Most impressive was that, with only three minutes to make their pitch, all the champions made informative, creative, and impassioned arguments as to why their Canadian was the greatest Canadian. James Flath, for example, revealed unexpected musical talents with an original ballad about his candidate, Yip Sang. Carla Joubert made a moving case for Annie Pootoogook. Jonathan Vance employed a costume and a cute dog to support his case for L. M. Montgomery. For the three judges -- Amber Lloydlangston of Museum London, Joel Ralph of Canada’s History, and History doctoral student Sara Poulin – it was difficult to decide who should end up with the $200 grand prize. They chose – drumroll – student Sara Raza’s entertaining and educational introduction of anti-slavery activist and publisher Mary Ann Shadd. Congratulations, Sara! – and Mary Ann!
Talman Room Dedication
Next, everyone moved downstairs for the Talman Room dedication. When the History Department moved into Lawson Hall in 2011, it reconnected with a key figure in the development of the department: James Talman, professor from 1939-1987 and chief librarian from 1949-1970.
Before becoming a history professor and chief librarian, Dr. Talman was an undergraduate student at Western. He studied theology, but always loved history. He enjoyed history so much that he did an MA in history at Western before moving to Toronto to do a PhD. By the time he completed his doctoral training, the Depression had started and jobs were scarce. He found work as a librarian and archivist in Toronto before returning to Western in 1939 as assistant librarian and a lecturer in History. His office was in Lawson Hall and under his guidance the library’s collection quadrupled in size.
Dr. Talman was promoted to a professorship in the History Department in 1949 and he retired in 1987. He taught a lot of courses during his career, including Canadian, Ontario, American, and Latin American history and the history of journalism. He also supervised 22 graduate theses at Western. Dr. Talman was a specialist in Ontario’s social, intellectual, and cultural history, with a particular interest in religious history. He wrote extensively about the London area, too, including works on prominent early settlers, and histories of Huron College and – with his wife, Ruth – of Western University. All together he wrote over 300 articles and books, a remarkable achievement.
The History Department dedicated Lawson Hall 1218 to Dr. Talman because he helped put the History Department on the map as a place for serious historical research and excellent teaching and for the advancement of Canadian and Ontario history.
Several people who knew James Talman attended the dedication and shared their memories of him, including Raj Jain, who was hired by Dr. Talman as a librarian; Rod Millard, an emeritus faculty member; Ragnhild Talman, his daughter-in-law; and Mariann Talman, his granddaughter.
Historians Between Two Ferns
Following the room dedication, we held the first ever event in what is now the Talman Room, combining commemoration, historiography, and the current state of Canadian and American history. Rob Wardhaugh and Laurel Shire discussed how their respective fields have and have not changed over the last 100 years. Some topics considered essential a century ago have fallen by the wayside whereas others are firmly entrenched. Even though university courses now include discussions of race, class and gender, dominant national narratives persist. Wardhaugh and Shire discussed current historical debates – such as the commemoration of John A. Macdonald and Robert E. Lee – and what these debates tell us about how history is alive and contested in the present. They fielded tough questions from the audience, including being asked to predict what historians will be teaching about Canadian and American history in 2067.
The afternoon ended with the historical trivia draw. Congratulations to our winners: Michael Brown, Maggie O’Riordan-Ross and Maggie Morris.