What can we learn about evidence-based practice when we read about Tecumseh?

The October 2013 issue of Fife & Drum, the the newsletter of The Friends of Fort York and Garrison Common, can be accessed here:


When I first encountered the newsletter, I printed it out and found that the font – which appears to be 10-point Adobe Caslon Pro – was too small for me to read at any length.

However, I read enough of the first article in the newsletter to realize at once that the content is of interest.

I used Adobe Acrobat Pro to convert the article to a larger font in Microsoft Word, and at that point read the beginning of the newsletter more closely.

Popular Culture’s Hold on Tecumseh

The lead article, by Kyle Carsten Wyatt, is entitled: “Popular Culture’s Hold on Tecumseh.”

Kyle Wyatt, as the article notes, is the managing editor of The Walrus magazine, and a Friends of Fort York board member. He holds a Ph.D. in American and Indigenous literatures from the University of Toronto.

An aerial view of Fort York looking east shows the substantial progress on the Visitor Centre that’s been made over the summer. Photo by Danny Williams. Source: October 2013 Fife & Drum newsletter published by The Friends of Fort York and Garrison Common

I recall reading with interest Wyatt’s article about ‘garrison and condominium mentalities’ in the May 2010 issue of The Walrus, a magazine that takes an evidence-based approach to reporting about many topics – including how best to address issues such as addiction, by way of example, as I’ve discussed in recent posts.

Wyatt’s article about Tecumseh, which you can access at the link at the beginning of this post, begins with the following opening paragraphs:

  • Earlier this year, the Montreal-based CSL Group completed Tecumseh – a 228.5-metre, 71,405-tonne Trillium-class self-unloader. The cargo ship, among the most advanced in the world, enters service for CSL’s Americas division just in time for the two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Thames, and the death of its famed namesake.
  • Tecumseh joins a centuries’ long tradition of letters, song, and material culture that purports to honour the nineteenth-century Shawnee leader while simultaneously evacuating his name of meaningful historical significance or culturally specific agency. This tradition operates like an empty ship: a vessel that governments and private concerns, in Canada and the United States, can fill at their discretion with partisan interpretations of the past and propaganda for the present. The Shawnee Confederacy and Tecumseh’s role in the War of 1812 become mere containers, the contents of which are determined by colonial powers.

[End of excerpt – As a complement to the recent photo (above) click here to view an archival photo of Fort York looking west prior to the condo development.]

This is a valuable article and well worth reading.

Evidence-based practice as viewed by a professional historian

The article brings to mind the concept of evidence-based practice.

A professional historian, if I understand correctly, deals with evidence in the form of archival records and the like.

There’s a truism, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, that war is politics – which entails the systematic application of instrumental reason – by other means. Conversely, there’s a truism that politics is war – which entails the management of organized violence – by other means.

The case of Veit Harlan – among many others – underlines the fact that history can be readily twisted and distorted to serve political ends including the conduct of genocide.

From a political perspective, evidence as found in archives isn’t necessarily of much interest.

From a political perspective, accurate and balanced information can, indeed, stand as a detriment to effective communication.

A reliance on purportedly scientific reports prepared by a fake scientist, and the enactment of tight controls over discussion and dissemination of scientific evidence, as highlighted in an earlier blog post, serve as illustrations of useful strategies in this regard.

A corollary to the article by Kyle Wyatt, regarding popular culture and Tecumseh, is that it follows that in order to create a politically useful myth about a historical figure, the less you let the historical facts get in the way, the more compelling your story will be.

The converse is also true: If the event you have an interest in a historical figure about whom no mythology has been constructed – as is true, by way of example, of Colonel Samuel Smith – you can have a great time imagining the life of that person by referring to the historical evidence related to the times in which he or she lived.

From the viewpoint of a professional politician the evidence that matters, from what I can gather, is the evidence that helps a person attain specified political objectives.

This is evidence based upon a study of tactics and strategies that lead to electoral success, or that lead to the enactment of policies in alignment with specified ideologies, in specified circumstances.

Evidence-based practice as it pertains to usability

I will conclude with a comment about readability – or usability – with reference to the experience of the reader, the end-user of a published text.

The above-noted newsletter is published, from what I can gather, in a text that is set in 10-point Adobe Caslon Pro.

Given the size of the font, a question arises: How many people will actually read this first-rate content?

Some usability research may be helpful.

The feedback that I’m pleased to share regarding this topic is from a person who is highly impressed and inspired by Fort York, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts.

The communications strategy would be more effective, in my view, if the font size were to be increased to about 11.5 or 12 points.

Part of the readership demographic for such a newsletter involves people over fifty who are keen about history but not so keen – for reasons related to a decrease in visual acuity as the years go by – about tiny print.

To arrive at a larger font, and maybe slightly increase the line spacing for enhanced readability, you’d need to reduce the length of articles in such a newsletter – possibly turning some of them into blurbs instead of full-length overviews.

The result would be a newsletter of the same length – that is, ten pages – that would likely reach a wider audience of keen readers.


The discussion brings to mind a subsequent post, entitled:

Memories are malleable – capable of being stretched or bent into different shapes

A Feb. 10, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Opinion vs facts: why do celebrities so often get it wrong? Celebrities often make wildly inaccurate claims and comments to millions of people. But the workings of our minds mean we’re all prone to such behaviour.”

A Jan. 23, 2017 article at earlycanadianhistory.ca is entitled: “Anishinaabeg in the War of 1812: More than Tecumseh and his Indians.”

1 reply
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A previous post is entitled:

    Memories are malleable – capable of being stretched or bent into different shapes

    I am reminded of a Feb. 2, 2024 New York Times article which is entitled: “A Leading Memory Researcher Explains How to Make Precious Moments Last.”

    An excerpt reads:

    Rather than being photo-accurate repositories of past experience, Ranganath argues, our memories function more like active interpreters, working to help us navigate the present and future. The implication is that who we are, and the memories we draw on to determine that, are far less fixed than you might think. “Our identities,” Ranganath says, “are built on shifting sand.”

    Why We Remember: Unlicking Memory’s Power to Hold on the What Matters (2024): A Kirkus Review of the book reads:

    A well-informed tour of a mysterious and crucial part of the brain, promising greater self-awareness and mental clarity.

    A professor of neuroscience and psychology delivers a wide-ranging study of how memories make us who and what we are.

    Memory is a quirky thing, writes Ranganath, director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California, Davis. We can remember song lyrics from 20 years ago, but we can also forget what we ate yesterday. The author has been trying to understand memory for decades, and he admits that a huge amount still remains a puzzle. He explains the mechanisms of memory in the brain and the different types and levels of memory, as well as the evolutionary reasons for it. Many theories have been posed about how memories develop, but the current thinking involves “a phenomenon called error-driven learning,” where memory is a constant process of reworking experiences to fit our larger mental picture. Memory failures have been linked to depression, poor sleep, and other ailments. Ranganath explains how fake “memories” can be inserted by repeated suggestion, to the point that people have “remembered” and confessed to crimes they didn’t commit. Some memories, especially those of traumatic events, break into our consciousness unbidden. The author suggests that they can be kept under control by persistent and intentional rejection, although it takes effort. He also offers tips on how to not forget routine things (phone, keys) by connecting their image to something else. It’s useful advice, but much of the book is devoted to Ranganath’s examination of theories of memory and the new generation of testing. Anyone expecting a simple how-to guide on improving their memory may be disappointed. The author’s research is undeniably intriguing, but the book will appeal to specialists more than general readers.

    A well-informed tour of a mysterious and crucial part of the brain, promising greater self-awareness and mental clarity.


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