Author: Matthew Barlow

The Montréal Massacre

Twenty-nine years ago today, a violent misogynist marched into the École Polytechnique in Montréal, separated the men from the women and gunned down fourteen women.  Another fourteen were wounded.  He then killed himself.  In his suicide note, he blamed feminists for ruining his life.  He claimed that feminists attempted to play the advantages of being women whilst also seeking to claim advantages that belong to men.  He had a list of nineteen prominent women in Québec whom he considered to be feminists and whom he wished dead. The Montréal Massacre shocked a nation.  I was sixteen and living at the other end of the country, in the suburbs of Vancouver.  This felt a little more real for me because I am from Montréal.  My mother, also a montréalaise, was ashen-faced and shocked watching the news, crying.  At school the next day at school, a Thursday, the shock was real and palpable.  Nearly all of us felt it.  Nearly all of us were sickened.  Some were crying in the hallways.  Some looked like zombies.  We talked about this incessantly.  We didn’t understand.  We didn’t understand such violent misogyny. I remain shocked by this event even today.  What I didn’t know or understand about violent misogyny as a teenager I now do.  I am a professor myself and teach my students about misogyny.  And violent misogyny.  I often talk about the...

Read More

Triumphalism in Boston’s Famine Memorial

Last week I mentioned the haunting and beautiful Irish Famine memorial carved from bog wood by the artist Kieran Tuohy. I spend a lot of time thinking about and, ultimately, teaching Famine memorials in both Irish and Public history classes.  For the most part, Famine memorials are similar to Tuohy’s sculpture, though perhaps not as haunting.  They show desperate, emaciated figures carrying their worldly goods in their arms and trying to get to the emigrant ships leaving from the quay in Dublin, Derry, Cork, etc.  The Dublin memorial is perhaps the most famous. The Irish memorials tend to reflect stories of leaving, the desperate emigrants heading to the so-called New World.  Death is secondary to these narratives, though just as many people died as emigrated due to the Famine.  Take, for example, my favourite memorial on Murrisk, Co. Mayo.  This one depicts a coffin ship, though unlike many other monuments, it reflects death, as skeletons can be found aboard the coffin ship.  In fact, if you look carefully at this image, you can see that the netting is actually a chain of skeletons, depicting the desperate refugees who died aboard these ships. The stories told by Famine memorials in North America differ, however.  They offer a solemn view of the refugees arriving here, sometimes acknowledging the arduous journey and the pitiful conditions in Ireland.  But they offer a glimpse...

Read More

National Unity and Conscription in Canada

The First World War has a complicated legacy in Canada.  When the war broke out in 1914, Canada was by and large still a colony of the United Kingdom, despite Confederation in 1867.  The young Dominion’s foreign policy was still controlled in London (as was the case for all of the Dominions: South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia in addition to Canada).  Thus, the UK went to war, so, too, did Canada.  As our historians tell us, by the time the war ended on 11 November 1918, Canada had arrived on the global stage. The Canadian Expeditionary Force of the First World War had performed more than admirably.  The tenacity and valour of Canadian troops became legendary.  For example, despite the lack of complete and formal training, the CEF quickly established itself as a forward-leading trench invading force.  The performance of the CEF was made all the more impressive, I argue, given the fact that they were not all that well-equipped (this seems to be a constant for the Canadian military).  For example, they were saddled with the underperforming and quick-to-jam Ross rifle (due to graft and corruption in Ottawa, of course), and malfunctioning machine guns.  And then there was the Canadian knock-off of British webbing that tended to breakdown and disintegrate in trench warfare. The combination of the performance of the CEF, along with the the diplomacy and...

Read More

The Great War and Monuments in Canada

Across Canada, the cenotaph is a central component of the central square of villages, towns, and cities.  Erected in the wake of the First World War, these cenotaphs faithfully record those who gave their lives in the first global conflict.  The First World War was the ‘war to end all wars.’  While not nearly as massive or bloody as the Second World War, it is the First World War that is remembered as The Great War. These cenotaphs recording the war dead are deeply embedded on the landscape.  And, unlike so many memorials, they are not invisible.  Growing up, I was always aware of them and what they meant.  They were solemn and dignified, almost always identical, obelisk shapes.  I remember reading the names of the dead on them, and not just on Remembrance Day. The dead of the First World War seemed so faraway from me, growing up in the 1980s, beyond living memory for me.  My grandparents served in the Second World War.  And whilst my grandfather’s service as a tailgunner in the Royal Canadian Air Force held a certain romance, it was nothing compared to the First World War. As a boy in Canada, I didn’t know a lot about the conditions of the War.  I learned these in university and the romance of the war dropped away quickly.  And I learned more and more about...

Read More

America’s Irish Famine Museum

A little while ago, I got to visit Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Qunnipiac University in Hamden, CT.  My wife’s Aunt Claire lived in Hamden, and as a good Irish American woman, she loved this museum and it is one of my great regrets that I did not get to the museum with her before she died last spring.  May she rest in peace. I was on a tour at the museum, despite my deep knowledge of Irish history, the Famine, and the diaspora, to say nothing of the practice of museums in general.  I kind of regretted this.  Our experiences of museums and their collections are mediated by the docent.  And in some cases, this can work really well, we get docents who are knowledgeable and personable and they make us think about the artefacts, collections, exhibits in ways we would not otherwise.  In sbort, the docent, as Franklin Vangone and Deborah Ryan note in their Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums, ‘can make or break the visitor experience.’  Vangone and Ryan advocate a more personable approach to docent-led tours, one that lets the experience of the docent in the museum, come through.  This is to avoid rote-memorization.  They also advocate a non-linear interpretation (amongst other innovative measures) of the museum, one that can account for multiple interpretations and stories simultaneously. The other major problem with docent-led museum tours...

Read More

Subscribe