History Slam Episode Seventy-One: Race, Gender, and Rap

By Sean Graham

When teaching courses on the history of popular culture, one of my favourite exercises is to play a song and then ask the class what the song is about. With certain songs, students come up with answers pretty quickly, while in other cases, it takes a little more prodding. In all cases, though, it’s a lot of fun to examine the music in an effort to understand its cultural significance and the artists’ expression of identity.

As a relatively new style of music in the mainstream, rap has not received the same scholarly attention as other genres. Jazz of the interwar period and folk of the Vietnam era have been studied extensively, but rap is just now coming into focus for historians. This is a critical development as it’s a style ripe with material for study.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Francesca D’Amico about her research on rap in North America. We chat about the differences between Canadian and American artists, gender representations, and race construction. Continue reading

History Slam Episode Seventy: First Nations, Calgary Stampede, and the 1923 Raid on City Hall

By Sean Graham

Perhaps best known for barrel racing, cowboy boots, and more pancakes than any human should ever consume, the Calgary Stampede is the biggest event in the city each summer. It’s so important locally that after the floods in 2013 that left the grounds under water, officials scrambled to ensure it opened on time only three weeks later. Rodeos have held a special place in the mythology of the West – we we looked at that in an episode with Mary Ellen Kelm in 2013 – and for a lot of people, the Calgary Stampede has been the central image of the imagined West.

As has been well documented, the romance of the rodeo has been clouded by gender inequality and the treatment of animals. But perhaps the biggest issue with rodeos is the treatment and representation of First Nations.

During the 2015 Canadian Historical Association Annual Meeting, Susan Joudrey presented on a generally unknown event that sheds on the representation of First Nations at the Calgary Stampede – the 1923 Raid on City Hall. The raid was an organized event to generate publicity for the Stampede where a group of First Nations men ‘invaded’ Calgary City Hall, expelled the mayor, and set up a new municipal government. While the event certainly generated plenty of attention in the local press, it speaks to role First Nations played in Stampede and the racial environment in which the event grew.
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History Slam Episode Sixty-Nine: Historica Canada and Heritage Minutes Contest

By Sean Graham

I’m fairly confident that everyone in my elementary school classes could recite the ‘Burnt Toast’ Heritage Minute by memory. It seemed to air multiple times each episode during re-runs of Degrassi on the CBC. While that one stood out the most for me and my classmates, other Heritage Minutes like Laura Second (“Take me to Fitzgibbon”), the Halifax Explosion (“Come on Vince, come on!”), and Orphans (“Johnson, sir, Molly Johnson”) are seared into the memories of millions of Canadians – whether we like it or not.

The Minutes are not perfect and their limitations have been well documented. Historica Canada’s 2012 decision to revive the minutes re-ignited the debate over their content and representation of Canadian history. The new Minutes have made an effort to be more inclusive and less celebratory (during the podcast it is revealed that Historica is currently producing a minute on residential schools), but overall their style is similar to those from the 1990s.

It is that format, however, that makes Heritage Minutes really accessible in today’s media environment. The idea of running one minute commercials doesn’t make nearly as much sense today as it did 20 years ago, particularly amid stories of people cutting off cable subscriptions in greater numbers, but so much internet content is consumed in short installments. Watching a one minute video on YouTube isn’t a significant investment and the ability to embed videos into web pages adds versatility. These clips are a terrific entry point into historical discussion for students used to on-demand content.
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History Slam Episode Sixty-Eight: Grindstone Island and Non-Violence Resistance in Canada

By Sean Graham

In the past couple of weeks, the History Slam has looked at war resistance and human rights. Following a similar theme, this episode examines non-violence. The first thing I ever had published examined non-violent resistance in the context of the American Civil Rights Movement. The part about it that I find the most fascinating is that you need 100% buy in from the participants. As demonstrated beautifully in Selma, if one person retaliates, the whole movement can be compromised. To make a poor comparison, given how hard it is to get four people to agree on what type of pizza to order when watching sports, I find it remarkable that so many movements have successfully implemented a non-violent approach.

In North America, arguably the most prominent example of non-violent resistance is the aforementioned Civil Rights Movement. While not nearly as celebrated, Grindstone Island in eastern Ontario also has an interesting history with non-violence. Inhabited by Charles Kingsmill, the first admiral of the Royal Canadian Navy, in the early 20th century, his daughter inherited the site after his death. Intrigued by non-violence, she opened the island to serve as a Quaker non-violence training centre. What followed, as detailed by Tarah Brookfield during the CHA Annual Meeting, was an experiment with mixed results.
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History Slam Episode Sixty-Seven: The Canadian Museum for Human Rights

By Sean Graham

Human RightsOver the past few years, there has been plenty written on the changes in Canada’s national museums. A good deal of the focus has been on the renovations to the newly re-named Canadian Museum of History, but there has also been plenty of news out of Winnipeg and the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights. There have been questions related to the turnover in staff, the freedom granted to researchers, and the narrative used in publications. For as much as these have shaped the museum’s first year, however, they have been covered elsewhere and are not the focus here.

During the Canadian Historical Association Annual meeting, several curators from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights presented a panel on the visitor experience and exhibit construction at the museum. The discussion largely centered on the museum’s efforts to use first-person accounts and create an innovative environment for visitors.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Jodi Giesbrecht, manager of research and curation at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. We chat about the geography of the building, the creation of the exhibits, and the challenges of presenting difficult material in an engaging manner.
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History Slam Episode Sixty-Six: Worth Fighting For

By Sean Graham

WorthThe United States has a long history of war resistance and war resistors. From the Quakers resisting the Revolutionary War to Muhammad Ali’s famous refusal to go to Vietnam, American history is replete with examples of people who did not support the nation’s military goals. Depending on who you talk to, these people are heroes, traitors, or somewhere in between, but regardless of the perception, war resistance in the United States has received plenty of attention from historians south of the border.

With a shorter history and fewer armed conflicts, the same cannot be said of Canada. The narrative of war – in particular the two world wars – serving as universally unifying endeavours is particularly strong (as noted during this roundtable from the CHA). There is an emerging literature challenging that view, however, and giving voice to the thousands of Canadians who have openly challenged and questioned the country’s military actions.

One example of this is Worth Fighting For: Canada’s Tradition of War Resistance from 1812 to the War on Terror. The book is an edited collection that traces the history of those who resisted war throughout Canadian history. The book includes every major conflict in which Canada has been involved as well chapters on the Canadian reaction to and reception of Vietnam war resistors and draft dodgers.
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History Slam Episode Sixty-Five: Canadian Mysteries

By Sean Graham

logo-site_enEmbedded in the seemingly endless hand-wringing about why people are no longer interested in history or, at least, how historians can better disseminate the past in an increasingly digital world, is how history is taught to students in the 21st century. I once had a professor tell me that the most effective ways for university historians to create an interest in history is through their teaching because, in a world where articles in peer-reviewed journals get marginal readership, their classes represent the biggest audience for their work. When you talk to students, however, many lament that their history classes are boring or that they do not see the relevance of studying the past.

For as much as those of us who are tasked with teaching these courses like to complain about the lack of attention spans and poor writing skills of today’s undergraduate students, ultimately the responsibility does fall on instructors to create an engaging classroom environment. As Chad Gaffield has pointed out, the days of the traditional lecture format are likely coming to an end as digital and multimedia tools make it easier to experiment with various pedagogical techniques.

One of those tools is the Canadian Mysteries website. The site features a variety of events from Canadian history and provides students with the tools and materials required to investigate the matter. Ahead of its time when it was first conceived in the 1990s, one of the keys to the site is that it doesn’t simply give students answers, but rather invites them to engage with primary material in order to experience the historian’s role in examining past events. The site includes a great diversity of material, ranging anywhere from Klondike Gold Rush to Herbert Norman to the most recent mystery focusing on the Franklin Exhibition.
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History Slam Episode Sixty-Four: Canada Day & National Symbols

By Sean Graham

Maple LeafIt’s Canada Day up Canada way on the first day of July.
And we’re shoutin’ “hooray” up Canada way, when the maple leaf flies high.
When the silver jets from east to west go streaming through our sky.
We’ll be shoutin’ “hooray” up Canada way when the great parade goes by.

O Canada, standing tall together!
We raise our hands and hail our flag;
The maple leaf forever!

-Stompin’ Tom Connors

In this episode of the History Slam I talk with Joel Girourd, the Director of State Ceremonial and Protocol and at the Department of Heritage. We chat about how things become official national symbols, the protocols that surround national symbols, and policies surrounding the flag. Have a safe and fun Canada Day!
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History Slam Episode Sixty-Three: Metis and the Medicine Line

By Sean Graham

Metis It’s rare that a book is called the definitive book on the subject. But that’s exactly how one review summed up Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People. The book begins with the surveyors tracing the 49th parallel through the Prairies and tracks the Metis as they interact and adjust to the changing social, environmental, and political landscape that accompanied both American and Canadian expansion. In doing so, he situates the Metis as active participants in defining the borderland while also circumventing the official narrative surrounding the Canadian-American border when it proved beneficial.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Professor Hogue about the book. We chat about the construction of borders, the treatment of Metis people in Canada and the United States, and the challenges of researching without a paper archive.
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History Slam Episode Sixty-Two: Congress Recap 2015

By Sean Graham

300px-UOttawa-Tabaret_Hall-2008-05-05Every year the Canadian Historical Association holds its Annual Meeting as part of the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences. This year the event was held at the University of Ottawa which, as an Ottawa denizen, was quite nice. I didn’t spend any time looking at maps, figuring out where the book fair was, or trying to find restaurants.

This year the CHA welcomed a record number of participants (605) to its annual meeting. That number was likely buoyed by the representatives of the national capital region’s numerous museums and historical research firms, but it does demonstrate that, despite the public hand-wringing, history is not dead.

Over the next couple of months, we will have a wide variety of podcasts from the CHA Annual Meeting. In addition to new episodes of the History Slam, there will be recordings of conference sessions and the keynote and presidential addresses.

For the first of these podcasts, I decided to continue what has become an annual tradition for the History Slam. As we did for Victoria and St. Catharines, we decided to use the opportunity presented by Congress to reflect on the week that was as well as address the utility of conferences.

In this episode of the History Slam, I chat with Michel Duquet, executive director of the Canadian Historical Association, about his experience at Congress. We also discuss the CHA’s role in promoting history as well as its efforts to address the linguistic imbalance at the annual meeting and the lack of papers looking at non-Canadian issues. I also talk to Benoit Longval, a graduate student at the University of Ottawa, about the graduate student experience at Congress, the pros and cons of roundtables, and the logistics of the CHA.
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