Reinvigorating Research

It’s march and staying on top of all my obligations have been tough. But trekking out to the sheppard and Bathurst with my bff liz today was certainly worth it.

In the period of research I was assigned, I had a really hard time getting enough information to form a sufficiently substantial piece of writing. More importantly, the historical narratives I was able to synthesize made a lot of sense, but i couldn’t find a personal stories, specific details, to anchor my writing.
At the Archivist the person who was helping us was great, and introduced me to a book about a bakery at spadina and dundas. The history of the bakery illustrates perfectly the historical narrative I tried to making in my piece of writing and will be the first of many specific stories that I can use to anchor my writing for the 10s and 20s in Kensington.
So now that I have new information, I can do some serious revision and reorganization of my section in the coming week and I might try to trek out one more time to find some other sources like that.

Attending the inaugural event for the KMHS was great fun today too. The turn out was great, we got a nice compliment from dennis in his opening remarks, and the speakers were fantastic. I was certainly reinvigorated today about our project and ready to hit the home stretch in stride.

Reading Week is a Misnomer

I find that one of the hardest times to actually be productive in the school year is over reading week. it really should be called “eye before the storm” week, because its the moment of calm before the craziness of the final sprint starts.

That being said, I’ve been so bogged down with interviews and other courses of the past week and a half I really haven’t had much time to focus on our project. Fortunately, it gets better after Tuesday next week, when I won’t have another assignment to do for at least 2 weeks, so I’m planning on buckling down and really catching up then.

Nevertheless, I was able to review Matt’s feedback of my writing. Much of my own concerns that I had before I turned it in were qualified, I ended a bit too abruptly and could use a bit more elaboration. But his comments also gave some good ideas for perhaps some comparative work on Jews in New York to enhance my overview of Kensington Market in the 1910s and 1920s. Also, when I was writing the essay, I was worried that I would go off and focus on outside Toronto history too much, but I think Matt actually was encouraging me to locate Jewish settlement in Toronto in larger Toronto settlement trends, which is a good place to pick up my research again.


As I sit here struggling to finish and draw together all my thoughts on Kensington Market in the 1910s and 1920s, I’m fairly frustrated. I certainly have only scratched the surface. I’ll need to spend a lot more time hopefully in the reference library finding just more info on this particular time period. I’ve found that the physical limitations of my area of study has really stymied my ability to tell a story of the time. There were lots of really influential people and institutions at this time, but most accounts of jewish theatres, or famous rabbis are on McCaul street or Dundas east of Spadina, not in Kensington Market!

So I think I’ve been able to create a bit of skeleton to work with, and found a couple interesting resources, but because I think the term ‘Kensington Market’ is relatively new, its hard to find literature on the specific historical moment I’m writing on. Moreover, I’ve been multiple whole sections of the UTL stacks on Canadian Jewish studies of Toronto that focus more on the political movements in the city, strikes, religious segmentation, and immigration, more than locating specifically with the creation of a ‘Jewish Market’ in Kensington in the 1910s and 1920s.
Soooo… that leads me to a few conclusions:
1 my research so far is just incomplete, I’m not looking in the right places and I need to re-think my approach
2 Maybe there just aren’t enough secondary sources about the 1910s-20s Kensington to really situate the ‘encyclopedic’ type narrative I am trying to tell
3 Most of the best information I can draw on is in primary sources, obits from the star, or maps and images, that will be much tougher to find, and with the time that I have from now until the end of the term, pretty challenging for me to build onto the secondary analysis of Kensington at this time. But maybe that’s my only option at this point. I have been trying to browse through The Star archives, but like Cochrane mentions in her very informative and authoritative history of Kensington, the “jewish Market” was sort of shunned by must of WASPy Toronto and really was not in their minds at all.

Oh well. Time to extract what I can from this book on Canadian Syanagogues and call it a night.

Baby Steps

This week, team cobra made a positive step in the right direction by meeting with the Kensington market historical society to review our proposal. The meeting was really productive. All the members, present at least, of KMHS were very impressed with the work that we’ve put in so far. Although it sometimes feels like we haven’t actually gotten that much done at times, it helped me realize how much productive thought we’ve put into the formation of our website so far. The KMHS agreed that our format, which differed from the initial conception communicated to us at the first meeting, was both technically achievable and practical.

Our meeting ended by discussing the next phase of our project—research . I am focussing on the 20s and 30s in Kensington Market which is characterized by Jewish influx and the transformation of a residential area, to a mixed-use, enterprise and housing space. The KMHS directors told me there was a considerable amount of literature on this era in Kensington Market, but so far my research has been a bit frustrating. In my first go at the tenth floor stacks at Robarts, I found about 8 books with only 1 or 2 pages on jewish settlement in Kensington, and they were often more focussed on demography than on social history. I am going to Robarts after class tomorrow, with a more refined approach in my search for hardback resources, I found about 5 or 6 promising resources just that cover jewish immigration and settlement in Canada in the 19th and 20th century which i think will provide more of the historical work I’m looking for. I also had a bit of a eureka moment when I came across an article I actually studied last year in GGR336, urban historical geography of N. America. The article discusses jewish settlement in the Toronto, especially the ward, but more importantly highlights the jewish communities connection to the garment industry. by the 20s and 30s I suppose the garment industry was still a common employer for Jewish Kensington market residence, who are spending their money earned in the textile mills on produce back in their own neighborhood.

POOF! A market appears!

Also, the article maps jewish resettlement from the ward to other neighborhoods (e.g. Kensington) which will help locate the eventual relocation of jews in the 40s 50s and 60s. This is vital because it will help contextual jewish settlement in Kensington as part of a more general migration pattern of askenazi jews in Toronto.

More personal websites

As we all try to do independent research this week, I tried to focus more on the design aspects that I had limited time to explore this past week. After getting off to a good design start in last weeks class, conceptually, in my mind, I feel like we finally have a good backbone to work with for the layout of our site. And, I definitely think it is best to use the parent theme matt suggested just for the simple ease of use and troubleshooting reasons, that might be a slight change, but I’m looking forward to doing that in class or soon after this coming week.
I’ve been trying to find some examples of other community historical websites relevant to people who may even visit our website one day. My goal is to see what they’re doing specifically that we may not have thought of, since the people interested in exploring historical websites are possibly other folks involved in some way with another community history society.
The following three websites

All have their strengths and weaknesses just like we discussed in the first semester. However, they give visitors a much more personal connection to the volunteers and facilitators of each historical society and historical society event. I think this is one aspect that we haven’t considered enough, if we want KMHS to be able to build membership, or maybe reach out to other post-secondary or secondary students to do volunteer research for them, the KMHS site must feel personable and welcoming of community members. One way to do this, talk more about the background of the historical society founders and profile their accomplishments or involvement with KMHS. Another way is to take photos and develop a page that chronicles KMHS events, one of which is happening in March, so we could even include it in our website and set up the infrastructure for more posts like it.
Definitely something to consider.

Progress! woo!

This week, I think we’ve made some fairly good progress. I was particularly involved in discussing layout and wordpress themes, and the editing of our proposal. At our meeting this past Tuesday, I think touched on some of the key questions and important problems that we must grapple with to execute this project successfully. Although we were able to put to use our first term HIS495 knowledge when evaluating our audience, examining our research methods, and critically thinking about the challenges we may face, we are lacking most on the general historical knowledge. I think our discussion as a group hit a wall because to a certain extent we are ready to see how the content itself will dictate our project now that we have a decent skeleton. Nevertheless we identified a lot of good research resources (props anneliese) so now we all need to acquire at least a basic knowledge of the Kensington market history.
Next up, I think we also had a formatting breakthrough that actually makes a lot of sense. We came up with a tab based system that would chronicle by decade Kensington market. Within each decade tab, we’ll have a general overview with a google map and nodes, available to highlight specific interesting people or institutions representing a certain time period. This way we simplified our original plan, and allowed for users to always be presented with a broad overview of a certain time period before diving into the specifics, so they don’t feel overwhelmed with information. Though as I’m writing this, we may want to include just a chronicled list of our more specific articles. This would insure that somebody who might just want to know about a particular person or institution could easily find it as well, and not have to sift through the decade tabs.
KMHS was super keen on a timeline, so hopefully the tab model will be suffice. Lets hold our breath. But either way, Team Cobra will find a way!

HIS495 Project: An Unexpected Journey

I lived in Kensington Market a couple years ago and I do feel a strange connection to the place. It’s like a funky, grungy haven in a rampantly gentrified and condo-fied (I made a word!) city. Thus, I was super keen to focus on it for my project. What was also more appealing for this project was that it seemed like it had more a structure than other projects, so I thought I could get away with doing some things in the actual structure of the website the Kensington market historical society wants, and to do some things that just interests me.
After our first official meeting, I was so thankful to have matt there guiding us through this process. Not to brown-nose, but without matt right now this would sort of be a mess because I feel like all of the members of the historical society have a very different vision for what this website should look like and focus on. Or even the extent of it. Even more tricky will be the content work that we do, after all, I am a history student and do enjoying writing histories. I think they all have a different vision for how much historical work we as students will be doing and how much technical work we’ll be doing as well.
So… with only one person with any real experience working on projects like this (matt), having his realistic, pragmatic, and educational experience approach was key. Especially because this has to be an engaging project for us, not just free student and professor labor to setup a website and then hand it over.
Honestly, I’m really not pessimistic about the project, I have lots of fun ideas, most of which will probably be too elaborate, but that’s ok, I’m ready to get goin! Also, I forgot how painfully formal the real world is sometimes… whoa…

I love maps!

As a visual learner, I need to connect the ideas that I am supposed to learn with images. I’ll even try to recall the shape of a text box, or color of the print when I try to remember ideas I have read from a text. For me, GIS is very exciting, because if I were to study the Salem Witch Trials, as Knowles mentions, it would be very helpful for me to see a recreated map of the city, or town, or see where each member of the town lived in relation to one another. Even more exciting for me is the possibility of using geovisualization to evaluate the transformation of cities over time. I would love to take a google maps type tour of Rome in 1748. Furthermore, being able to connect buildings that remain from the time period with their surroundings in different centuries and the present day, offer very exciting possibilities for education and exploration using GIS.
I had a great sigh of relief when I saw the maps of the 2008 presidential elections by Mark Newman. After so many years of watching the news and seeing simple bi-coloured maps of the states’ electoral college vote, I feel like I saw America in a completely different light. I could pick out large urban centres easily, Chicago, the Bay area, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, and others that make up a huge portion of the left leaning populous in America. While, the impact of liberal cities were accentuated, the maps also helped me understand how diverse each state is. It reminded me of deeply conservative areas in western New York, and central Pennsylvania, that can be easily forgotten, just as much as urban areas in the simple bi-coloured electoral college maps. Theibault’s explanation of colour in maps/data sets as a visual cue certainly struck a chord with me as well. Utilizing coulour contrasts for our purposes in the design of our webpages can help direct different users to different destinations according to what their looking for. In fact, with a simple legend, perhaps a whole website could be categorized by topic via the colour of fonts or textboxes. A user wouldn’t even have to read a whole title, if they knew they only had to look for one font colour, that could reduce their search time significantly.

Cleveland Historical Website Review

After unsuccessfully trying to Stumbleupon some interesting history websites, I was linked to a website called Historical Cleveland via my frequent casual online browsing of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Historical Cleveland turns out to be a strangely similar project to that which we are working towards in our class. It is developped by Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University, and for many of its posts, it worked collaboratively with local muncipalities, libraries, and historical societies for specific articles on topics in different neighborhoods and suburbs in Cleveland. At first glance, the website is colorful and appealing, but it is evident that this website is geared toward the local population or anyone who has a little background or familiarity with Cleveland. Apart from recently added or featured stories, on the sidebar is a list of “tours” that a reader can take, that focus on a wide variety of topics, most of which are neighborhoods, or defining events in Cleveland. If I wasn’t at least familiar with most of the entries, it would be difficul to figure out where to begin. I think a comprehensive summary of the site, its breadth and depth, and maybe a very brief timeline or summary of Cleveland history is badly needed. Feeling overwhelmed, I scrolled back up to the top of the webpage, and only found 4 tabs, “home” “Stories” “tours” and “About,” nothing to help situate or direct my research.
To be fair, I this website could be very useful for an elementary or secondary school student who is searching for specific examples of certain themes in American history. For example race relations. There is an interesting entry about a race riot at the once immensely popular Euclid Beach, additionally, there a fascinating article on the defiantly integrated community of the Ludlow neighborhood as well.

Similarly, Historical Cleveland offers culinary tours of Cleveland, tours focusing on arts, culture, immigrant history, architecture, urban planning, and many more, all of which could offer great specific examples of larger trends in American history. This is one way the Historical Cleveland could be a helpful resource for the general public, especially for young history students.
Some entries include audio and short films relevant to said topic, but are poorly incorporated into the main article. If they were integrated better, with an image to go along with an audio file, instead of a small Windows 95 looking toolbar to the side of the article, it would be much more captivating. Additionally, to fully understand what each audio file is about specifically, you have to click on an info button, that brings up a full screen display that usually is only a few sentences. I think there could be a better way of summing up what the particular audio files contain with the info button at all. The best thing about the video files is that they don’t try to do too much. They usually fit effortlessly into the objective of the article, but they don’t try to steal the show.

Overall, I think the history on the website is great. My last critique is of the content of the entries themselves. I noticed a pattern similar of unequal focus and detail in each article that was common when we studied other user generated websites (Wikipedia). The Wikipedia effect is most obvious usually in the synopsis of each individual article. Many articles try to locate specific Cleveland phenomena/events with other national trends, or past/present occurrences. Some do this successfully, while others don’t. Many other articles don’t even try to situate the local history they are telling in a broader narrative. I think this inconsistency could be frustrating for readers. There are pros and cons for both consciously trying to situate local histories in national narratives, or just remaining local, but for the purpose of this website, I think it would be best to leave it at the local level, and let the reader make broader connections after reading the article.

I can’t believe it, I think I’m arguing for Standardization

The only thing I really remember from Gilgamesh, when we read snippets of it in my World History class in high school, was the final line. When Gilgamesh returned from his adventures, he went and wrote it all down. He made a standard copy that didn’t depend on tone and rhythm to be communicated to other people. He utilized written language for exactly the purpose it was intended, standardized communication. That is the only reason we still enjoy the story of Gilgamesh. Furthermore, the Gilgamesh story that I read was translated from ancient Sumerian, of course, and certainly suffered from all the flaws that Portelli points out. As much as I agree with Portelli’s assertion that creating a transcript of a teacher’s lesson would be like using a translation for literary criticisms, written language is important for offering a standard way to communicate certain ideas clearly. I worry that, paying extreme attention to how punctuation may not respect the tone and rhythm of an interviewee, may distract a historian from reaching a broader audience.
The standardization of language, especially written language is trite, and certainly does eliminate some of the emotion and feeling that is apparent in oral communication, but how do you maintain a broad audience? One of the initial problems we dealt with in this class was how difficult it was for scholarly historical work to reach a broad and diverse audience. With great attention to tone, feeling, nuanced rhythms, and learning how to interview properly, I am convinced that a historian can create great history that resonates with a community that is inherently connected to the interviewee. But I don’t know if that jump can be made to other communities to reach a wider audience. A historian may very well be able to harness his/her ability to become a good interviewer, to create narratives which pay close attention to nuanced pauses and develop all the skills Anderson and Jack mention, but will a lay reader unfamiliar with certain customs and historical writing be able to extract the entirety of what the historian hopes to communicate. Is a standardized, though bland and diluted, communicative mechanism, sometimes more important, just so that we can engage with a broader audience, just so that we can pass the story on in standard way.