Tag Archives: Black slavery

A film in the Borderlands – Thu March 19, 2015

In my historiography class we’ve been talking about the Borderlands approach, and I realize that my whole project operates within that zone and that approach.  It can be seen geographically, in the 19th century migration of African Americans back and forth across the US – Canada border, and the evolution of each nation’s laws respecting extradition and protection, and of separation, control and repression.  But my project also seems to reflect a “virtual borderland” within Canada West.  It is a borderland that lies between the races, as well as within the Black community in Canada West: a borderland between freeborn and newly-free.  Mary Ann Shadd might also have seen a virtual borderland (although she wouldn’t have called it that) between the segregationists and the non-segregationists (such as herself), as well as between men and women; all of these, including race, being human-constructed borderlands.

Today I spent the day in the edit suites – as I have much of this week – and the film is coming along well.  I need to find some more sounds of demolition while I’m at home.  The demolition video that I bought and downloaded is ‘silent film’ so I have to supply all the corresponding sounds and fit them into the timeline so that they match the visual action.  Right now, I’m re-using the same crash sounds too often, and you notice – well I notice – the repetition.  I also want to re-record the poems.  And there are a slew of other problems that need attention.  My plan is to have the film complete – or at least close to complete – by the end of next week so that I can devote time to my paper, as well as my other coursework.

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From Concept Onwards – Thu November 6, 2014

As planned, I finished my Concept Proposal this week and submitted it today to Drs. Walsh and Miller.  It seems like a document with so few words, and yet it consolidates much of what I have been thinking of and researching over the past weeks.

Over the past week I’ve been thinking about subaltern histories, histories of everyday life, oral histories and what John Brewer calls “Microhistories” and the silences in these histories.  According to Brewer, in his “Microhistory and the Histories of Everyday Life”, academic writing about “everyday life” stems from 17th century antiquarian writing, and was followed in the early 20th century by Marxist writing.  But according to Brewer both were founded in nostalgia and romanticism.  As well, these histories may have been about everyday life, but were not necessarily first-hand accounts.  According to David Kyvig in his book Nearby Histories: Exploring the Past Around You, the writing of oral histories and first-hand accounts has also been around for hundreds of years, but it was not until the 1940s that Allan Nevins formulated the recognized oral history method, in his Columbia Oral History Project.

It is not entirely surprising, therefore, that Benjamin Drew would collect and publish “slave narratives” in 1856, nor that the Federal Writers Project (FWP) would do the same in the 1930s.  These were not written for nostalgic purposes, but rather were likely politically motivated in Drew’s case, and possibly in the FWP case as well.  Whatever the motivation behind their collection, the narratives and the photographs that sometimes accompanied them, represent a valuable archive of primary source information about a group of people that might never otherwise have recorded their own histories.  And even had they recorded their histories, they would have needed to preserve them until the 1960s or 1970s when these sorts of narratives began to be of interest to professional historians and archivists.

So with my Concept Proposal in place, I need to start thinking about the next tasks and the next main building block for the film – The Treatment.  Assuming that the Concept is acceptable to Drs. Walsh and Miller, I need to begin compiling more archival images and accompanying sound effects.  I need to get outside with the video camera again to get any remaining outdoor footage before winter sets in.  I also need to start to consider sources of music and make sure that I have permissions for all my images.  As well, if I am going to need any original art, I need to think about how to make that happen.  So this coming week will be devoted to at least starting some of these tasks.

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Nov. 7, 2012 – Crossing the Detroit River…but which way?

This week I found a pretty interesting aspect of Black history in Canada which I will describe below.  But before I get to that, I will mention that I organized my virtual exhibit a bit this past week, as planned.  It still needs work but I have made progress.  Omeka suggests using standardized metadata values and I believe this is a good idea.  My background in Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence makes me wary of the problems of poor data quality.  Already, as I enter information for one exhibit item I have a hard time remembering what sorts of data values I used on other items, and I only have about 3 items!  So I created an Excel Spreadsheet with drop down lists of the data values that I intend to use for the different metadata fields in the exhibit. I can cut and paste valid values from the spreadsheet into the exhibit to keep the data consistent.  It’s not an ideal solution, but it helps.

I went on reading more of Fred Landon’s book, Ontario’s African-Canadian Heritage: Collected Writings by Fred Landon, 1918-1967, and was despairing a bit that he retained such a pro-Canada view of slavery throughout his life as a writer of history.  Even as late as 1967, he neglected to mention some of the negative aspects of Canada’s history of slavery (although the 1967 article was only partly about Canada.)

But then I read the 1919 article by Justice William Renwick Riddell, entitled “The Slave in Upper Canada.”  Perhaps his legal background led him to seek both sides of each story.  He begins the article by clearly asserting that Canada not only had slavery when it was New France, but that it continued to have slavery after the British took over, and sustained slavery until 1833.

We Canadians have a fond image of our country as a place where fugitive slaves took refuge after escaping from the U.S.  In particular, we think of slaves, as well as other Black refugees, coming across the Detroit River into Amherstburg, Ontario where they could find the hope of a better future.  But Justice Riddell points to an earlier period and makes quite a startling observation.  In the early 19th century, Blacks indeed escaped across the Detroit River, but they were escaping from Canada into the U.S.!  In 1787, the July 13 Ordinance of Congress in the U.S. disallowed slavery in any new state northwest of the Ohio River.  And in 1805, when Michigan was incorporated as a state, this ordinance came into full effect, and Detroit became a truly free destination for many escaping Canadian slaves.  This flight of slaves was so significant that in 1806 a Black militia was established in Detroit made up entirely of escaped Canadian slaves. (Riddell, p. 386)

From a historiographical standpoint, this tells me that at least some Canadian historians, as early as 1919, such as Riddell, were considering the Canadian Black experience from a different standpoint.  My observation up to this point had been that Canadian historians tended to view this history through rose-tinted glasses, and that the only balanced discussion came from observations made by people outside of Canada.  For example, Benjamin Drew’s 1856 book of slave narratives was more balanced, but Drew was American.  However, my sample size of readings is small so far, and I haven’t been able to settle yet on a clear idea.

So this coming week I will continue to review the literature.  I want to look at some other Canadian historians writing in the 20th century, as well as find some from the 19th century.  And I will also have a look for a picture of the 1806 Detroit Black militia of escaped Canadian slaves for my virtual exhibit.

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