And So It Begins!

Well, the first week has been off to a good start, albeit a little bit hectic. (#firstdaystories How was your week?) It’s funny how things turn out, really.

Here’s what happened to me:

hotdayrun

I have one course this semester. I often feel reluctant to tell people this, because usually they scowl and say they hate me. But that is just how my university career has worked out, and I’ll be honest—it’s pretty sweet. I feel a little like this guy:

source:http://l-o-t-r.tumblr.com/post/44019175865/why-is-this-page-so-awesome-its-now-my-go-to-for-epic

source:http://l-o-t-r.tumblr.com/post/44019175865/why-is-this-page-so-awesome-its-now-my-go-to-for-epic

Or, at least, I want to feel like that guy. The class is one night a week, two hours, mostly reading—easy!

It was on Wednesday, which happened to be the same day as my Life @ U of T Community Crew meeting. The meeting was at 4 pm, and the class was at 6 pm, so it was fine.

I decided to use my morning wisely. I did laundry. Oh, the joys of living independently!

source: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/home-alone-gif

source: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/home-alone-gif

The laundromat is close to my house, so I can go home between cycles. It takes six trips altogether to finally clean my clothes. While I’m waiting around at home I usually read, or watch a bit of a movie, visit the internets, or, as I decided to do on this particular day, I work out.

Why did I choose the hottest day in September to start a healthy exercise routine?

source:http://a-gif-for-you.tumblr.com/post/25312355771/when-people-ask-you-what-day-it-is-during-summer

source:http://a-gif-for-you.tumblr.com/post/25312355771/when-people-ask-you-what-day-it-is-during-summer

But once I was good and exhausted and thoroughly drenched in sweat, I threw on a quick set of clothes, and ran out to grab my laundry. It was 3 pm. When I got home I was going to shower, change (into clean clothes), grab my books, my bag, and head off to my meeting, and then my class. I was feeling exactly like this guy:

source:http://www.reactiongifs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/clintnod.gif

source:http://www.reactiongifs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/clintnod.gif

And that’s when everything went ridiculously wrong! I had forgotten my keys!

There I was, stranded outside my apartment, burning up in the 40-degree heat, sweating buckets, underdressed, no books, no bag, holding a huge sack full of shirts, shorts, socks, and underwear, and time was ticking!

Luckily, I had my wallet and my cell-phone. But, of course, it was starting to thunderstorm! I really had no choice. It was almost 4 pm. I had to go!

I took the subway to St. George station (blessed TTC!). Along the way, I realized I had forgotten to find out where I my class was being held. Also, the room had been changed for my Life @ U of T meeting, so I really had no idea where I was going.

Find a computer, public access Internet! So where did I go—Robarts! I looked up the building code and room number for my class, and found the new location for my meeting. Then I hit the washroom, rinsed my face, and changed into a clean shirt. Turns out laundry is pretty useful to carry around.

source:http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/will-ferrell-gif

source:http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/will-ferrell-gif

Well, not that good, but I was feeling better. I went to my meeting, met some new people, ate a Timbit or two, and then hurried through the rain to my class.

And my class was great!

It was introductory, but the readings sounded new and intriguing, and the professor was very enthusiastic, which is of paramount importance for evening classes!

In the end, it was a good first day. Unexpectedly hectic, but good for just that reason. It was a jumpstart back into managing my university career. At times things can be chaotic and uncertain. There will certainly be surprises. But that’s life, really. Who knows what will happen? I’ll do what I have to do, and hopefully in April I’ll feel like this guy:

source:http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m039l83fru1qm135p.gif#i%20feel%20good%20gif%20500x275

source:http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m039l83fru1qm135p.gif#i%20feel%20good%20gif%20500×275

 

‘Til we meet again, U of T, stay diamond!

 

-Stephen.

Why I love U of T

With Valentine’s Day on our collective consciousness I thought that now would be an ideal time to share with all of you the things I love about the institution I have dedicated the past five years of my life to. While the University of Toronto receives a lot of negativity from students for a plethora of reasons I won’t get into here, I am ultimately happy I chose to pursue my undergraduate education at the U of T and with the onset of graduation in a few short months I know that I wouldn’t have wanted to attain my degree anywhere else! Here’s why:

The history

Did you know that the University of Toronto (which was founded in 1827 as King’s College) is older than Canada? I bet you also didn’t know that University College and Victoria University’s Annesley Hall are considered National Historic Sites by the Canadian government! Throughout the university’s long lifespan, many prominent Canadians have called it home, a short list including: William Lyon Mackenzie King, Lester B. Pearson, Adrienne Clarkson, Malcolm Gladwell, Naomi Klein, Margaret Atwood, Donald Sutherland, Harold Innis, Northrop Frye, Marshall McLuhan, C. B. Macpherson, etc. et. al. You don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate university’s long legacy as one of Canada’s premier academic institutions!

The campus

The University of Toronto is an oasis of learning and self-discovery amid the hustle and bustle of Canada’s most prominent urban environment. The campus itself is beautiful, an appropriate mixture of centuries-old buildings and urban planning mixed with modern innovations and cutting edge architectural design. It is easy to forget the sheer beauty that defines the U of T campus as you simply keep your head down in a rush to class in the mid-February cold. Due to its location in Toronto’s downtown, the university offers its students exposure to unique social, economic, and cultural experiences that can only be found in highly developed metropolitan centers.While I can only speak to my experiences with the St. George campus, I hear that the Mississauga and Scarborough locations are nice as well for reasons unique to them!

The Faculty

While not everyone will agree with this assessment, I can honestly say that I have generally had a positive experience with most of my Professors and instructors during my 5 years as an undergraduate student. Faculty are, on the whole, passionate about what they teach and are excited to share their knowledge with you. Some of the most prominent intellectuals and academics today can be found on the Faculty lists of U of T’s various departments and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study under them.

The students

Perhaps the most important category on this list, the University of Toronto student body is all at once intelligent, sophisticated, socially engaged, and welcoming. While I can only speak to my own experience, some of the most intelligent people I have ever met and some of the best friends I ever hope to meet are University of Toronto students. Canada’s future leaders, intellectuals, and innovators can be found sitting next to you in any given lecture and I am often awestruck at the caliber of student found at the U of T.

The libraries

An appreciation of the wide variety of libraries and the vast collection of academic materials within them is something we as students tend to neglect when thinking about our time at the U of T. Very rarely have I sought to take out a book from one of campuses libraries and found it unlisted. The University of Toronto Libraries is the fourth-largest academic library system in North America — we should not take it for granted.

The prestige 

Call me pretentious, but I enjoy my association with one of North America’s (if not the world’s) premiere institutions of higher learning. There’s a reason students from all around the globe flock to the U of T for study.

Let me know why you love U of T in the comments!

Give me a W!

The women's intercollegiate hockey team, 1926.

The women's intercollegiate hockey team, 1926.

And then an o-m-a-n. That’s right, woman! March 8th is International Women’s Day. And there has never been a better time to celebrate our presence on campus.

The long history of female progression within the university hierarchy is a great story. Here’s some women’s U of T trivia to put in your back pocket and pull out when you want to impress others with your handle on the history of women at U of T.

In 1875, Grace Annie Lockhart became the first woman in the British Empire to earn a Bachelor’s Degree at Mount Allison College in Sackville, New Brunswick. Trailblazers like Lockhart became inspirations for other Canadian women who wanted a higher education. Here at the University of Toronto, the late 1800s saw notable female figures carving new paths for women on campus.

Clara Benson, whose name was given to the first female athletic centre on campus, was one of the female students from the late 19th century who pushed the boundaries and accomplished great things. During her undergraduate years, Benson championed co-ed sports on campus and was a member of the first co-ed team (golf). And here’s a fun piece of trivia: in the late 1800s there was a 13-hole golf course that ran throughout the university grounds from Bloor to College.

The University of Toronto was the first school to produce a female graduate in Law. In 1897, Clara Brett Martin graduated and became the first female barrister in the British Empire. It is impossible to imagine how difficult it must have been for Martin to succeed as such a minority. Her words encapsulate this much more eloquently than mine ever could:

“If it were not that I set out to open the way to the bar for others of my sex, I would have given up the effort long ago. You would not believe how many obstacles I have had to overcome single-handed.” -Clara Brett Martin 1899 (1874 – 1923)

(quoted from http://www.law.utoronto.ca/students_content.asp?itemPath=2/18/8/0/0&contentId=1274)

As women, we owe these pioneers our greatest gratitude. International Women’s Day is a forum to impart this history and knowledge to current students. This is an important piece of history that all female students should be aware of. It was not that long ago, only just over a century, that women were the unwelcome minority on campus. An examination of the progress women have made within the university can serve as inspiration for groups that are still being marginalized.

The Status of Women Office is organizing many of the events on campus for International Women’s Day. There are events occurring on campus and throughout the city, from theatre to lectures, there is an event for every woman and man (who of course are welcome to attend).

On Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Hart House Circle, you can participate in a Chalk Chase! Presented by Hart House and the Faculty of Physical Education and Health, this is one of the first sports played by women on campus. From the description, I would describe this is an elaborate game of tag, with hints of hide and go seek.  It sounds like it will be a blast! The Department of Physical Education has a list of “active” events for Women’s Day.

Happy International Women’s Day!

-Lori

Mmmmm…books!

I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday! I did. The best thing about the break was that I finally had some spare time to read for pleasure. I love reading. I read all genres, whatever the book – as long as it has a few believable characters, I’m along for the ride. I usually have a few books waiting on the bench for their turn to become my latest mental feast. But this break I found myself without any new reading material.

The only book store I have been to since September is the U of T Bookstore. Which is very sad, but nevertheless was necessary to get through the term. To my delight on this holiday break, I had a great reason to go book shopping!

I have a few favourite bookstores in the downtown core but, I thought it would be great to review some of the independent book stores near campus. I tend to lean towards used bookstores only because they are cheaper, but there are some good new book stores near campus too.

I started out on the west side of campus which is quite close to my very favourite bookstore ever, Seekers. Seekers is located at 509 Bloor Street W, between Bathurst and Spadina underneath Kilgour’s restaurant. Seekers reeks of incense and it is divine. I have books from Seekers that I purchased years ago that still emit the lovely aroma of Nag Champa incense. Apart from the lovely stinkiness that is Seekers, they also have a really great selection of used fiction and non-fiction books. They are open seven days a week from noon till midnight, which is perfect if you are wandering down Bloor at night with nothing in particular to do. You can sit and read in this store relatively unbothered for hours.

The Bob Miller Book Room is a really unique independent book store that stocks a wide range of humanities and social sciences books. You may have purchased a textbook from this store for an art or history course. They stock a lot of interesting non-fiction. They are an academic bookstore yet they carry an intersting range of material that you may want to read for pleasure. The store has the feel of a library and is very quiet. Their specialty is art, history, and music. They are located on Bloor near bay at 180 Bloor Street West in the Lower Concourse. They are really easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled.

Right near Campus on Spadina is Ten Edition Books.This an eclectic little book store filled with not only books but memorablilia. Rooting around this store is a pleasure for any bibliophile. They are located a hop skip and a jump from campus at 698 Spadina Ave. just north of Sussex.

If you are a woman, or a fan of women, you may enjoy The Toronto Women’s Book Store, located at 73 Harbord St. This store specializes in books that deal with anti-oppression, politics and feminism. A visit to this store may rekindle your inner feminist!

If you happen to get a chance to browse for new reading material try out these independent book stores. If you love reading, going to these great little book stores is like going on a treasure hunt! I may just be an enormous geek, but I think this is a great way to spend a lazy Saturday.

Happy New Year!
-Lori

The Bound Paper Thingy Affair

BOOK

Mental note to self, this is called a BOOK!

Empress Irene was playing hard to get.

I had been trying in vain to research this stealthy 8th century ruler of the Byzantine Empire for five days and I was coming up empty handed. Last year I had gone on a tour of the monolith that one of my professors affectionately refers to as “Fort Book”. The Robarts tour was informative and it had included a 45 minute workshop in e-resource search engines. So as I began my research, I purposefully typed Irene’s name into the scholars portal search engine. I employed all the steps that I had been taught. But, Irene was not materializing in cyber space.

Sometimes when I’m craving a sweet, I will look into my fridge over and over again in the vain hope that a tasty treat will become visible. I keep looking even though I have already looked in the fridge ten times. I think I’m hoping that a chocolate cake, will magically appear behine the mayo. After spending four hours late one night typing the same keywords into the search fields over and over again, I realized Empress Irene was no more likley to appear on my laptop screen than a cake was to appear in my fridge. I have been told the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Empress Irene was driving me crazy. I knew I needed professional help.
I recalled being told about a service that is offered through the libraries, to help students do research for papers. I found the site to book a research consultation on the library’s main site,
It was two days later when I met with Dave Hagelaar at Kelly Library. Dave was great! I didn’t even have to explain to him who Empress Irene was. He was already well aware of her historical significance and the fact that she was a very cheeky Empress to research.

The Research Consultation Room at Kelly Library

The Research Consultation Room at Kelly Library

In my week of searching I had found one article about Irene. Dave found eighteen in a matter of minutes. I was unable to find any e-resources. Dave found five.

Dave is my new hero. He not only showed me that the articles existed, he also taught me how to find them. Did you know that if you leave the search field blank and press go, the search engine pulls from a much wider group of databases? I didn’t. Did you know that if you put an asterisk at the end of a word in a search field that the engine will pull up that word and every conceivable ending for that word that occurs within the database? I didn’t.

At one point, in trying to explain to him that my search had yielded only books, so excited was I that I couldn’t recall the word book. It came out something like this “all I can find are those bound paper thingies”! I’m not usually this dense…but in the dark, scary pit of researching an elusive historical figure, the blinding light of rescue is just that, blinding. The overwhelming relief I felt, coupled with the mental processing of new search methods left me short for words.

I am happy to say that I have now found Irene. She’s in my binder. It’s okay if she executes a successful escape because I now know where to find her.

Kelly Library’s research consultation service is brand new this year, so it’s not hard to get an appointment. But do it now…before word gets out about how great this resource is. Research consultations are available by appointment at most of the main libraries on campus. According to Dave, Kelly Library receives a mix of appointment requests from undergrad and grad students. So this resource is really for everybody.

Happy Researching!

-Lori

Sciences vs. humanities: A debate after class

I was walking home last week with a classmate. We got into a lively debate after he told me that he didn’t really see the point in studying the humanities. Yes, I am currently completing my B.Sc. through Ecology & Evolutionary Biology; and yes, I do agree that being able to conjure specifically right and wrong answers on assignments is a wonderful thing. I even understand what my classmate meant when he argued that many areas of study in the humanities (post-structuralism comes to mind) totally transcend the practicalities of daily life. It’s no secret: Anna Karenina isn’t going to teach anyone how to read an MRI, Baudrillard will not illuminate nanotechnology, and Ibn Rushd can tell me little about genetic polymorphisms.

I further believe that, aside from the obvious differences in the skill sets learned in the sciences versus the humanities, there are other fundamental distinctions between the two genres. Never, for example, while I sat through a history lecture was I as emotionally moved as I was in my science courses. Whether it’s limnology, plant biology, Arctic geography or introductory geology, science  touches frequently (even constantly) on issues that pertain to the physical, chemical world. Therefore, in science lectures, there is no escaping the realities of anthropogenically driven climate change, global warming, habitat fragmentation and resource depletion — the big and scary issues that face all humans on our planet today. While I would get really intellectually excited about almost all of the material in my history classes, it never conjured the same emotional response. There is no immediacy with history. Its players have passed, its ideologies are relics of another world. The dead are dead, and although we have a lot to learn from them, they could never haunt me the way that ocean acidification or boreal forest degradation does.

But as a student who initially completed a history specialist and who has only recently switched over to the sciences, I nevertheless found myself, while my friend ranted, cheering for the other team: after all, how can anyone call the humanities useless? No, history has not furnished me with armour built of shining absolute answers, nor would have English or philosophy. But I don’t believe that the “hard sciences” can really do this either. While there are axioms upon which our understanding and manipulation of the world are based, the boundaries of science change as fast as Parisian fashions. We are constantly shaping and reshaping our repertoire, amending what we once thought was scientific fact, and editing our theory. We graduate with logical tools that can be applied systematically to the world, but not as timeless, walking encyclopedias.

Furthermore, the humanities shouldn’t have to compete in an arena based on absolute answers. The point is not that they can tell us what or how to be, but that they teach us about the greatness and vileness of all the people, ideas and ways of life that have preceded us; of the intellectual transformation of human societies over time; of the (often scary) strength of religious and political ideology. And yes, while we do write paper after paper iterating our own perspectives on such topics, it isn’t the conclusions produced through academic discourse that matter so much as the dialogue itself. The act of communicating is what makes the humanities valuable.

Where would we be if no one had ever seriously questioned social Darwinism, papal infallibility, or the anti-Semitism of earlier centuries, not to mention the misogyny and homophobia still rampant around us today? Who would we be now, as a society, if no one before us had openly questioned the things we have done as a species, and the ideals we have embodied, manifested in literature, art, philosophy? We live in a relatively open society today, wherein we all (theoretically) enjoy enshrined equal rights and legal protection under a universal law code, not because there are right and wrong answers to everything around us, but because a precedent of discussion has enabled us to question all values, and has ultimately led us to use the values that we accept as the basis for our daily lives. The conclusions themselves are of secondary importance to the humanities. Instead, it is the ability to engage in meaningful dialogue that is the legacy of the arts.

And to me, that’s just as important as any mathematical law or scientific theory.

- Mary

U of T: The inception

Setting: Upper Canada, town of York. Early 1827. It is winter and it is cold. From a bird’s-eye view, the town is a barely discernible band along the north shore of Lake Ontario, surrounded by a patchwork of farmers’ fields, themselves enveloped by dark forests that stretch to the horizon. There is little noise, the falling snow muffling any sound that might have arisen from the town’s straight dirt roads, now frozen, and instilling a sense of isolation, of the separateness of all other things. Inside, a fire sparks in the hearth and a quill scratches paper.    

At least this is how I imagine U of T’s inception: John Strachan, the Anglican bishop of Toronto, sitting in his rectory writing to the British Crown, explaining why a university was needed in Upper Canada. The British colonies of Upper and Lower Canada were self-proclaimed bastions of empire, carving an existence out of the boreal north, far from the industrial centres of London and Manchester, and the refinement of Victorian society. The isolation must, at times, have been oppressive: Kingston lay a few days to the east, along the lake’s edge. Further still were Montreal, and then at last Quebec City, the seat from which the metropole could be again be reached. England, an ocean’s journey away, was nevertheless totally cut off in winter, the St. Lawrence River freezing over and becoming unnavigable.

The isolation might not have seemed so pervasive except for the giant nation growing to the south, a beast with republican ideals and riotous political beliefs, encouraging elected representation and the abolishment of monarchy. Strachan, among many others, worried that many of Upper Canada’s youth, in search of higher education, were forced to study in the States — a dangerous endeavour, as their heads could easily be filled with dangerous republican thoughts during their extended stays.

John Strachan. UTA, John Strachan B1983-1064/2000-20-11MS

John Strachan. UTA, John Strachan B1983-1064/2000-20-11MS

To any North American today, it might seem excessive to worry about the influence of those promoting responsible government, the mainstay of our current political system. But the Canada of 1827 was a distinctly different place. Only a few years earlier, the War of 1812 had raged between the United States and Britain, being fought mainly on the frontiers of what is today called Canada. The same year that Strachan received his royal reply, in 1827, aluminum was discovered by Friedrich Woehler, and the first railway was opened in Austria-Hungary. Schubert wrote Winterreise in 1827, and Ludwig van Beethoven died.

Upper Canada itself had been created only 30 years before Strachan’s request. The colony was governed largely by appointed officials belonging to the Executive and Legislative Councils. The Family Compact, a Protestant clique of strict conservatives, effectively controlled the appointed councils, thus ensuring their own interests were represented. For reasons moral to political and economic, various colonial groups were worried about the influence of the United States. They thought having their own college might prove instrumental in keeping social and political evils at bay.

It was in March that the royal charter arrived, which authorized the “establishment of a College … for the education of youth in the principles of the Christian Religion, and for their instruction in the various branches of Science and Literature … at or near our town of York … to continue forever, to be called ‘King’s College.’” King’s College was to have the archdeacon of York as its president, and its teachers were to be restricted to Church of England members. The municipality purchased 150 forested acres north of the town. Plans and designs for the school, to be built at Queen’s Park, were produced over the next couple of years. Due to unforeseen difficulties, however, King’s College did not open its doors to students until 1842, at which point other Canadians had their own ideas about how the University, and the country, should be run. Robert Baldwin, in particular, eventual leader of the first responsible government of Canada, was set against the University’s religious affiliation.

In 1849, only seven years after the official opening of King’s College, Canada’s new responsible government — formed in 1840 with the Act of Union, which saw Upper and Lower Canada combined — passed a bill in Parliament that made the University officially secular. King’s College was renamed the University of Toronto that same year, on May 30. On January 1, 1850, the University opened its doors under the new policy, marking the birth of U of T as we know it today. In a pre-emptive response to what he knew would happen to King’s College, Strachan opened Trinity College, an institution with direct religious connections, just before the dissolution of his prized university.

U of T Campus, circa 1859. UTA, Campus Map of area bounded by College, St. George, Bloor and Surrey Place, c. 1859 A1965-0001(20)

U of T Campus, circa 1859. UTA, Campus Map of area bounded by College, St. George, Bloor and Surrey Place, c. 1859 A1965-0001(20)

King’s College thus came to a conclusive end on the first day of 1850, and the University of Toronto was born. The very tool that the Family Compact and colonial clergy had hoped would save religious and political identity in Canada was ironically transformed, in less than a decade, into a secular institution under a responsible government, both of which are still familiar to us today.

- Mary

Volunteering: Boon or Bane?

2006. Holding butterfly nets in the Financial District. 5 a.m.:

A flutter between my cupped hands, and a slight beating of feathered wings. In my hands I hold a little bird.

It’s a good thing my friend is so persuasive, or I never would have tried it. Waking up at 4:30 a.m. to bike downtown and wander around the financial district donning butterfly nets is neither comfortable nor glamorous. But my friend, an avid environmentalist, heard about FLAP, an organization that retrieves injured birds after they’ve flown into Toronto skyscrapers (which occurs with scary frequency during migration seasons), and brings them to a wildlife sanctuary to nurse them back to health so they can be set free again. She willfully persuaded me to join her, and the shame of wandering around downtown with nets soon gave way to a strange and alien feeling, what I can now only describe as a kind of reverence: in my hands I was holding the tiniest of creatures, say a barn swallow or a kingbird, who performed physical feats that I could only dream of – flying from above the Arctic Circle down to Mexico and back again; navigating rain and snow, city lights and wind turbines. There was something intoxicating about holding and helping something that was so small and superhuman.

2005, before 2006:

“Volunteering: Hohoho. Get real! Pay me, then I’ll consider it. Volunteering = anathema.”

Today, I guess my line of thinking hasn’t changed all that much – except that now, rather than immediately guffaw at the idea of spending what very little free time I have working but not getting paid, I’ve come to see that volunteering can actually be worthwhile. My disparagement has now become: “I wish I could get paid doing something this interesting.”

FLAP was my first experience volunteering, and aside from the early mornings, it left a remarkably good taste in my mouth. I’ve since been more willing to try out different positions, from time to time surveying availablities on U of T’s Career Centre website. It’s not that I am any richer now, or that I have more free time than I used to. I am still stuck at a crappy part-time job which helps me pay my bills, and am busier than ever with school. The difference is that I’ve realized that volunteering is actually worthwhile, a fact that my previous incarnation refused to ackowledge. It gives me work experience, teaches me skills, can be fun, and provides someone (or some bird) a service. Through volunteering I’ve been able to formulate some concrete ideas on what I do and don’t like about various kinds of work.

A major misconception about volunteering is that it will take up all of your free time. At U of T I’ve discovered two ways to volunteer that require barely any extra work, and which have both proven beneficial:

a) Being a volunteer note-taker. I already go to class, I already take notes, and reviewing them shortly after I initially write them down has only helped raise my marks. All I do is type the notes up or scan them and upload them, or I bring them to the Accessibility Services, where they can do this for me.

b) Being a history class representative. I hate talking in front of groups, it’s my Achilles’ Heel par excellence. But once I started taking fourth year seminars, class sizes diminished to around 10-15 people, and last term when the prof asked for a volunteer (I still don’t know what came over me) I reluctantly raised my hand after everyone else refused to. I realized that being a class rep is actually one of the easiest tasks around: the hardest part is remembering to make announcements when they’re emailed to me by the HSA. There is one meeting per term that reps are expected to go to (I’m ashamed to say that forgot to go this time around [but I still didn't get the sack!]), and I make the occasional class announcement. Simple and easy, and it kept me in touch not only with other history students, but also with the department at large.

-Mary

Replace my body with bits of metal: into the future

I am slowly becoming Darth Vader

It’s not just that I knocked my teeth out in a bicycling accident and had to replace them with titanium implants. It’s not the molar fillings, either. It’s not even that both my tonsils and appendix have been extruded and incinerated, my body complete no more. It’s more than that. 

Every year the Force gets a little weaker. The Dark Side pulls a bit stronger, whispering to me from my bedside: “You don’t know what you’re doing,” when I wake up in the middle of the night. I’m a little more uncertain about the golden path I used to imagine was my future and I trust the efficacy of my happy space-ship (this humanities degree) decreasingly with time. 

It all started when I was 22, had returned from travelling around the world and decided that it was time to get a proper education (much to my mom’s supreme relief). I tried for Ryerson’s photography program, was admitted, and enrolled. Three weeks in I realized there was no way that I was going to become a photographer, let alone finish the degree. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my camera anymore or the 4×5, and I enjoyed spending my days in the darkroom. I just knew that photography wasn’t where I wanted to be professionally, and it was school that allowed me to make that differentiation. 

So at the end of the year I switched programs, applying to U of T and registering in Arts and Science, with an interest in pursuing history. All went blissfully well for three years, my head filled with terra cotta dreams of grad school and a long life spent deep in dusty archives, reading long-forgotten texts from behind circular bifocals. But it was this year, the last year of my degree, that a voice started to nag.

“Come hither,” it would say, beckoning me to the other side. “Look what I can offer you: a B. Sc. One more year at U of T, and this future could all be yours. Come with me, Mary. You cannot escape your destiny.” The Dark Side has a way of calling, an enticement hard to resist. 

I admit that it’s partially the imminent reality of getting out of school that has led me to consider staying at U of T one final year. I also love my science classes, which when trying to convince myself to get out of school, has proved a disadvantage. Simultaneously, however, there is also a contradictory fear, the fear of never making up my mind, that shouts at me to simply accept my degree, stick it on my wall, and move on to other more diverse galactic battles. Meanwhile my mom, who bugged me for years to get into school, now phones me the odd evening. “Get out of there!” she bosses, like she can’t remember ever thinking any other way.

Futures are tricky beasts, murky places. A few people know exactly what they want to do in life and how they mean to get there, but I don’t think they’re the majority. Most of us have to make pretty big decisions without the prescience necessary to know if we’re doing the right thing. You just can’t trust the Force so much as you get older.

Some days I think it would’ve been easier to have simply stuck it out at Ryerson. I would have graduated by now, could be working, making money, be well on my way to living that adult life. But then that life materializes in my mind, and it is a continuous reality in which I do not love the part I play.

In retrospect, at 80 (with a head fully replaced by black tin), I will probably realize that the choices I’m making now are not as big as they seem. I am getting older, I do have relatives pestering me to graduate, but in the end, it is only one more year; a brief interlude by the end of the saga, and one that holds a whole new host of potential futures, of fantastic destinies.

 

- Mary

“Uh, so what did I learn from humanities?” Mary gets a rock for Christmas

“So really, what’s the point?” 

This is the question that creeps into my consciousness with frightening regularity. Particularly now that I’m finishing university and graduating with a specialist in history, without any palpable skills other than supposedly being able to think analytically and write using moderately good grammar. (Incomplete sentence). 

So what is the point? I’ve been here for four years, have taken a myriad of classes on a bunch of thoroughly dead people, picked up a few polysyllabic words, and now am being thrust back out into the real world where not hiding in the parallel universe popularly known as U of T forces me to ask myself, “Why did I learn all that stuff?” It’s pretty harsh, but some days I think it’s true that in a lot of ways, the humanities are a little useless: I don’t know how to build a bridge or read an x-ray. I’m not going to get out of school and immediately jump into some high-paying job, my students loans becoming last night’s trivial bad dream. 

I have my own reasons for studying what I do, and while sometimes I do regret having gone into history rather than something a little more practical (read: when I’m looking through the classifieds), there are also moments when I feel I have been privy to a world through which the ever-elusive past has built a fortress around the present, and has let me come inside; moments when my education in history can be directly exported into the real world. 

Such an instance occurred when I received a rock for Christmas. It was a grey rock, and hard. It came directly from the Shetland Islands, the most northerly of Scottish isles. It was sent to me by some of my boyfriend’s relatives, crofters who heard that I had taken HIS362, a class on Hanseatic history. For those who are interested but unaware, the Hanseatic League was composed of a group of very active German traders working in the North Atlantic between the 12th and 16th centuries. They set up a trade monopoly that, at its peak, delivered goods between Scandinavia, Russia, and England, all in little medieval boats. (In time their ships evolved). The Hansa established trading houses, churches, even steelyards in the countries they visited: hence the rock for Christmas. Apparently, sometime between the 12th and 16th centuries, the Hansa came to Shetland and set up a trading house there too, made entirely of stone. My boyfriend’s uncle, a dry-stone dyke builder brought him one day to the ruins of the merchants’ lodging, now sitting on private property. The ruins are slowly being claimed by the ocean, but the larger part of the structure is still intact. He noted that the house had been built using dry-stone construction, and (being a rock proficient) he also pointed out that there were rocks included in the walls that were not native to Shetland. Meanwhile, a pile of rocks sits nearby at the mouth of a local Shetland estuary, and so it’s popularly believed that these foreign rocks were used as ballast on Hanseatic ships, brought from offshore and far-away trading posts. 

Upon hearing that I had a penchant for these German merchants, his relatives sought permission to send me one of the stones from the ruins (a stone which, by the way, had already fallen off the building’s crumbling walls and was about to be swallowed by the sea). It now sits, grey and hard, on the illustrious mantel of my fake fireplace. I like to imagine its fourteenth-century travels, from Novgorod down the chilly Volkhov in a Russian river boat, through the Gulf of Finland and into the Baltic and North Seas, finally to find itself, for six hundred years, sitting on a windy island among a bunch of people it could barely understand. (Those Shetland accents!) 

I wrote my former professor upon opening my Christmas present, and he agreed that it was entirely possible that this was indeed an authentic ruin of a Hanseatic fort. These moments are a good reminder that, disconnected as I am from both the dead and the far-away, the past permeates the present, is not so alien as it often feels. While my education doesn’t qualify me for some amazing technical job, it has opened my eyes to the feats of our ancestors, and how they shaped where we are today. To the thousands of generations that have preceded us and which, for the time being, have culminated in the present moment: right here, right now- until we too fall into the historic past, remembered by the walls we have built, the words we have written, the stones we have carried.

 

-Mary