Latest Event Updates

Public History Profiles: Jessica Knapp, Pt. 1

Posted on Updated on

Each year Western University’s Public History MA program attracts dozens of applicants eager to engage with Canadian history outside the Ivory Tower. Only a select few are admitted (fourteen students for the 2014-15 academic year). Jessica Knapp received her Public History MA earlier this year and has already made great progress applying her classroom and practical teachings with the Canadian National History Society (CNHS), the publishers of Canada’s History. For your benefit and entertainment, she has offered to share her experiences with us. This is the first of a two-part profile that gives personal insight on how to – and how not to – land your dream public history job.

jess knapp

How did I get a job right out of graduate school?

Some might say it is a miracle, others might attribute it to it being in the right place at the right time, but I would say it took the right skills, passion, and an open mind to land my current position at Canada’s National History Society (CNHS).

I enrolled in the Public History program at Western University after completing my Bachelor’s degree in History and English at the University of Windsor, because I thought it would help me understand the different career paths that were available to me. Besides the fact that I was a passionate history student who was skilled in conducting research and desired to share my findings, I didn’t know what I could do. It was only with this Public History program that I developed the skills to work as an archivist, a curator, a director, a consultation, heritage planner, and the list goes on.

I was able to assess the job market from a safe-ish distance and develop the skills necessary to succeed once out of graduate school. This program goes a step further than just preparing you for a job, they give you an opportunity to experience the job. The third semester of the program, a.k.a the internship, is where everything came together for me.

I had developed a few different contacts with which I was interested in interning for, but it came down to a passion I carried with me from before the program: historical publishing. Prior to the program I would have assumed that my only career paths would be with a university press, and I almost interned at one, but by talking to the internship coordinator, Mike Dove and previous graduates, I was directed to Canada’s National History Society.

It was a risk, the Society’s headquarters are based in Winnipeg, and I had only ever lived in southern Ontario. After more research about CNHS, I discovered they are one of Canada’s largest public history charities, publish two magazines multiple times a each for two different audiences, and deliver numerous awards to Canadians furthering their communities’ and classrooms’ interest in history. This is when I was convinced I wanted to intern with them. I wasn’t learning a single skill or working with a single person, I would develop a variety of skills and work as part of a team.

I made it so I had an opportunity to work with and get to know everyone in the office, I worked hard, and kept asking for more to do. When I was concerned that there was more I could gain from my internship I asked my supervisor if it could happen, and the answer was always yes.

It was about halfway through my internship that I decided I would like to work for CNHS for a longer period of time. I made my intentions clear to my supervisor and we discussed the possibility. My work ethic had been proven, my ability to work as part of a team, as well as on my own, my ability to think creatively and implement those ideas was also expressed. It is all those basic requirements of a job, as well as my passion for history that let CNHS consider hiring me.

Let it be known that it wasn’t a clean slam dunk, I stressed and struggled with the idea that I might not be offered a position, so I continued to apply for jobs in the heritage section that I was trained and qualified to work at from my experiences in the public history program.

The trick with finding a job in the heritage sector, is finding the organization that has the money. We might not be in this profession for the money, but we live in a world where money has become a necessity. An unpaid internship is a risk you DO NOT have to take.

CNHS saw the value in my work and my dedication that had developed in the short four months I had been there, and they were able to find the money within the organization to justify hiring me.

In a sentence: I was given a task, I completed it and continued to ask for more responsibility until I was a person that other employees needed something from, until I became a resource for them.


Interactive Exhibit Design Part 4 – Playing Games

Posted on

This is the last of four blog posts dedicated to last winter’s Interactive Exhibit Design course. This set of projects incorporated games and elements of play to encourage visitors to engage with past events.

Laura Walter designed a board game that took players through the entire course of human history. To add an extra layer of interaction, Laura used the Layar app to present players with audio and visual questions that determined whether or not they would advance on the board.

Gianluca Mazzanti and Riley Nowokowski built an exhibit that would give children an opportunity to learn about the social impact of car culture by driving a remote control car over a switch. The switch was connected to a computer through a Makey Makey and would play vintage car commercials when activated.

Joe Fonseca used RPG Maker VX Ace to build his own computer game to take players through various eras of East Asian history. By playing the main character, you can travel back in time to discover important facts about the past while eluding ghosts that will send you back to the present.



Interactive Exhibit Design Part 3 – Touching Artifacts

Posted on

This blog post is the third in a series featuring the final projects of the Interactive Exhibit Design course that were presented at the conclusion of the Winter 2014 semester. These three projects tackled the most pressing challenge of creating museum exhibits: turning the ephemeral the or abstract into a tangible experience.

Jessica Knapp installed an Arduino board and a Wave shield into a anatomical model of a human skull to bring Shakespeare to life. A visitor can hold the skull in the style of Hamlet and listen to it recite lines of dialogue. By writing some code in C++, Jessica wrote a program that played three different lines of Shakespeare in response to three different combinations of button-pressing.

Stephanie Johns designed an exhibit detailing the history of nail polish. By connecting a cardboard outline of a hand  to a computer terminal with a MaKey MaKey, Stephanie built an exhibit that allowed visitors to cycle through videos about the history of nail polish by pressing one of the contact points at the end of each digit.

To illustrate the elaborate layers of women’s clothing in the era of the American Civil War, Elizabeth Miron installed LED lights into the clothing of a doll. The LEDs were controlled through a Phidgets and a program written in Max 6 so that at each push of a button, an LED would light up to indicate the corresponding layer of clothing on the doll and a description of that layer would appear on a nearby computer terminal.

Interactive Exhibit Design Part 2 – Music and the Museum

Posted on Updated on

This is the second blog post in a series that features projects complete as part of last Winter’s Interactive Exhibit Design course. These three projects allowed visitors to interact with an exhibit through movement and music.

Gabrielle Bossy designed the World’s Smallest Rock and Roll Museum as her interactive exhibit, which included a home-made gramophone, constructed from a sewing needle and a cone of construction paper. The museum featured a collection of album covers that could be scanned with the Layar App on a smartphone. Once scanned, the app activated a video that provided additional information about the album and then played the music video for one of the songs featured on that album.

Ryan Hunt used a Kinect video game controller to let visitors play music by moving different parts of their body. The Kinect sensor is made compatible with a Max 6 interface through a tool called Synapse. Once the user’s movements could be read by Max 6, Ryan used Ableton to turn the body’s movements into music.

Oliver Jones attached an accelerometer to a conductor’s baton. Using the accelerometer as an input device, Oliver used Max 6 to build a patch that read the vertical motion of the baton. By waving the baton, a user could set the tempo for a piece of music.

Interactive Exhibit Design Part 1 – Mapping

Posted on

HTST 9832 offers graduate students the opportunity to design and build interactive exhibits to experiment with different ways of presenting historical research. In particular, the course introduces historians to interaction design, physical computing, and fabrication through hands-on learning that culminates in the creation of a final project.

The first set of projects to be featured on this blog feature mapping to allow visitors to interact with museum exhibits.

Stacey Devlin’s project used Phidgets and Max6 to create an interactive map of 16th Century Portuguese trade networks. Stacey connected a joystick to a computer to allow users to navigate between trading ports. The journey is traced on a map while information about each port is displayed on a computer screen.


Amina Musa used a MaKey MaKey to connect a map of East Africa to a computer monitor. Pushing a button on the map activates a video that display images and information about the corresponding region.


Michael O’Hagan used a similar approach to connect his model of the Second World War Prisoner of War camp in Running Mountain National Part to a computer. The physical model is matched by a virtual model built in Google Sketchup. Pressing buttons on the model brings the virtual model onto the computer screen and displays archival photographs of the corresponding location.

Idi Amin and the Expulsion Decree of 1972 by Shezan Muhamedi

Posted on Updated on

Uganda Argus, August 5th, 1972

On 4 August 1972, Major General and President Idi Amin delivered a speech to officers and men of the Airborne Regiment while in Tororo, in Eastern Uganda.  The president declared that there was no room in Uganda “for the over 80,000 Asians holding British passports who are sabotaging Uganda’s economy and encouraging corruption” (Uganda Argus, August 5th, 1972). Amin told his soldiers that he “wants to see that the economy of Uganda is in the hands of Uganda citizens, especially ‘black Ugandans'” (Uganda Argus, August 5th, 1972). This speech marked the beginning of the Asian exodus. Ugandan Asians had 90 days to leave the country or face drastic consequences. It ultimately marks the beginning of the resettlement of Ugandan Asians and the dramatic scramble of not only my family but thousands of others who were forced to leave Uganda. However, not everyone believed the expulsion decree was going to last. Some Asians in Uganda believed the decree would be recanted and that they would be able to stay.   There were a number of motives behind Amin’s expulsion decree beyond that of economic sabotage. Here are just a few:

  • Amin criticized South Asians for their failure to integrate with black Ugandans which by and large was a fair assessment. There were seldom instances of intermarriage and collaboration between Ugandan Asians and black Ugandans. This issue, however, must be considered in context of the colonial hierarchy created by British imperialists in Uganda which placed white British colonials at the top, brown South Asians in the middle, and black Ugandans at the bottom).
  • Amin also wanted to ‘Ugandanize’ the economy by returning control of the commercial sector to black Ugandans who he viewed as true Ugandan citizens.
  • Another reason presented by Amin was that God had advised him to expel the Asians from Uganda which was revealed to him in the from of a dream.

What is particularly interesting within the initial expulsion decree made by President Amin is that he requests that his soldiers “assist him in defending the public against ‘those people who are sabotaging the economy of Uganda. The troops must be prepared to arrest any saboteurs who are trying to undermine the economy of the country and to confuse the people” (Uganda Argus, August 5th, 1972). It is clear that the threat towards South Asians living in Uganda was very real. Even before this warrant to arrest South Asians in Uganda, Colin Legum, the Commonwealth Correspondent for The Observer, a British newspaper based in London, argues that “Amin’s soldiers are making conditions increasingly intolerable for Asian businessmen and their families. Many are forced to pay regular sums to officers and soldiers for protection; girls have been raped; men and women have been arrested; and a number of prominent leaders of the Asian community have simply disappeared without trace” (The Observer, August 6th, 1972. Emphasis added). Even Mr. Kibedi, Uganda’s Foreign Minister was quoted saying, “If they still remain [after the 90 day period in which they will be forced leave] they will soon see what happens to them” (Telegraph, August 7th, 1972. Emphasis added). The threat of physical danger was real and 80,000 Ugandan Asians were faced with an ultimatum to leave the country in 90 days or else face the repercussions of remaining with the country.

The actual number of 80,000 Ugandan Asians has been largely contested. Most newspaper articles and academic works draw an estimate of closer to 50,000. Ultimately, there were some Asians that remained in the country after the expulsion period upon the request of the President. Amin would come to realize that his expulsion decree wreaked havoc on Uganda’s already fragile economy.

You can read more about Shezan’s research on the experience of Ugandan Asians on his blog.

Mapping the Canadian Forestry Corps in Keppernach (Scotland) by Michael O’Hagan

Posted on

One of my more recent interests is the work of the Canadian Forestry Corps (CFC) during the First World War. The CFC was raised specifically to supply the Allied armies with a desperately-needed resource: timber. Whether it was to needed to support dugouts, hold barbed-wire, or aircraft frames, wood became one of the most basic resources of the First World War. Composed primarily of lumberjacks and foresters, the CFC eventually operated in France, England, and Scotland and succeeded in preventing a timber shortage. For a bit more of a background, you can read another of my posts here.


The CFC was organized into numbered companies of about 100-200 men and were assigned specific forests or woodlands to cut. One of these companies, the 107th (originally No. 7), received a timber limit in Keppernach, Scotland (South of Nairn in the Scottish Highlands). The area in which the company found itself in, the Forest of Cawdor, was no comparison to the Canadian “wilderness” they had left behind. Between 1825 and 1854, over fourteen million trees had been planted here, in an area covering just over 4,000 acres. The majority of the area was populated with Scotch Fir, the most-desired wood for wartime use.


The company’s advance party of fifteen men arrived in late July 1916 and within ten days, had a Scotch mill up and running. A Canadian mill was built in August and the mills ran almost continuously until the camp closed in August 1917. By September 1917, the company had cut 6.5 million F.B.M.

As I’m interested in the relationship between forests and war as well as forest regeneration, I decided to see what I could learn using GIS. Fortunately, the online war diary of the 107th Company includes a relatively uncommon map of the company’s operation at Keppernach.

 Even more fortunate, when you search Keppernach in Google Maps, the first (and only) result is Keppernach Farm and takes you to the exact location the 107th Company worked in (see below). This saved me quite some time as I would have otherwise had to search all over Nairnshire for roads that matched up with my map.

In trying to locate some contemporary maps of the site, I discovered that Scotland, and Great Britain for that matter, has some great HGIS sources available online, notably A Vision of Britain Through Time and Old Maps Online.While some of these require you to live in Britain (A Vision of Britain) or charge for digital copies, I was able to get some high quality and detailed maps.  Here’s an example from the National Library of Scotland.  These maps were produced by the Ordnance Survey and published in 1905 so they provide the perfect backdrop to CFC operations in the following decade.


I then threw everything I had into Quantum GIS (QGIS) and georeferenced the maps.


While the hand-drawn CFC map doesn’t line up perfectly with the other layers, it still provides a sufficient sense of what the operation looked like. I was somewhat surprised to find that from the air, it is impossible (for me at least) to tell that this forest had been completed cleared in 1917 and that the roads, pathways, and borders remain virtually unchanged. I also found it interesting in that the forested area had actually expanded (likely the result of interwar afforestation efforts brought about by the wartime shortage of timber) and that you can still make out the site of the Canadian camp (large rectangle on the left).


Now with a base to work from, I added the information found in the war diaries and the historic map to produce the following:


For the moment, this is a chance for me to refresh my GIS skills (which I apparently lost while home for the holidays) and a quick experiment to see what I can extract from the archival records. While it is very much a microhistory, I’m hoping that it will lead to some new information and insight into the role of the Canadian Forestry Corps.


For more information about the Canadian Forestry Corps and my research, please visit my blog.