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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History Slam Episode Sixty-One: The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas and the JFK Assassination

By Sean Graham

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Over the past fifty years, that assassination has resulted in investigations, speculation, and conspiracies about how and why Kennedy died. From the Warren Commission to the Oliver Stone movie, JFK and the circumstances of his death have captured a place in the American imagination. The circumstances of his brother’s and son’s deaths have, along with the romance of life in Camelot, further cemented Kennedy’s place as an American cultural icon.

In 1989, a temporary exhibit opened in Dallas exploring the assassination, its aftermath, and JFK’s legacy. That temporary exhibit has since evolved into the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. Located on the same floor where Lee Harvey Oswald shot the President, the Sixth Floor Museum takes guests from the early days of the Kennedy administration to Walter Cronkite delivering the news to a stunned nation to the conspiracies surrounding the assassination and all points in between. Visitors are guided by an audio tour that supplements the printed material and in addition to the videos and other artifacts, are able to get a glimpse of Oswald’s view onto Elm Street.
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History Slam Episode Sixty: Studying Professional Wrestling

By Sean Graham

Between the ages of 5 and 12 I spent many Saturday mornings scanning the television channels looking for the wrestling shows. Whether WWF (now WWE) or WCW, I loved watching the matches and seeing how the storylines unfolded from week to week. As I slowly discovered that the outcomes were pre-determined I gradually lost interest, but over time I have come to appreciate the ways in which professional wrestling promoters are able to tell stories. Of course there are issues with the ways in which professional wrestling depicts women and minorities and the industry’s issues with substance abuse are well documented, but at its core professional wrestling is about telling stories.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with A.J. Ortega from the University of Houston-Victoria about studying professional wrestling in an academic setting. We chat about the challenges of legitimizing the industry in the eyes of academics, problems associated with the use of stereotypes, and his experience as a professional wrestling referee. In addition to his work on wrestling, you can find his writing at www.ajortega.net.
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History Slam Episode Fifty-Nine: Curling in Canada

By Sean Graham

“It’s not just a rock. It’s forty-two pounds of polished granite, with a beveled underbelly and a handle a human being can hold. And it may have no practical purpose in and of itself but it is a repository of human possibility and if it’s handled just right it will exact a kind of poetry. For ten years I’ve drilled for oil in ninety-three countries, five different continents and not once have I done anything to equal the grace of a well thrown rock sliding down a sheet. Not once.” – Chris Cutter (Paul Gross) in Men With Brooms

While that may be a slightly-over-the-top romantic description of curling, it does speak to the place the sport has in this country (Full disclosure: I had the opportunity to be an extra in Men With Brooms, an experience which also gave me the chance to meet Leslie Nielsen and have him sign my copy of Airplane. Because of this, I will forever claim that is an amazing movie). Since the sport entered the Olympics, however, some of the romance seems to have been removed from the game. We’ve gone from overweight guys smoking darts on the ice to a time where curlers are being suspended for PEDs.

Over the past year, I’ve had an opportunity to travel to some of the Canadian Curling Association’s national championships to talk to curlers about the state of the game. From veterans to rookies, there is a clear sense that the sport represents something uniquely Canadian but at the same time there are serious issues that must be addressed in order to ensure its long-term survival.

In this episode of the History Slam I revisit some of my conversations with curlers over the past year. I’ve talked to Olympic Gold Medalists like Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris, world champions like Mary-Anne Arsenault, national champions like Lisa Weagle, and mainstays on the tour like Chelsea Carey and Stefanie Lawton. We address the state of curling in Canada, the introduction of relegation to the Brier and Scotties, the concept of professional curlers, and the sport’s general diversity problem.
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History Slam Episode Fifty-Eight: African Canadians in the U.S. Civil War

By Sean Graham

The first time I learned about the American Civil War (1861-1865), it was kind of along the lines of this:

Of course any war is more complicated than a single word, but that succinct answer nicely sums up how a lot of people think of the Civil War.

And yet, since slavery was abolished in the British Empire in the 1830s, it doesn’t directly address the way in which Canada and Canadians were involved in the war. Historians like John Boyko have written about how the Civil War influenced the Canadian political landscape in the lead up to Confederation, but less is know about the people who crossed the border in order to participate in the bloody conflict. Even within that context, the story of African Canadians fighting in the Civil War is underrepresented.

In his book African Canadians in Union Blue: Volunteering for the Cause in the Civil War, Richard Reid, Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph, addresses that under-representation by examining the men who left British North America to fight for the North. Reid highlights the various personal motivations of the soldiers and sailors who enlisted while also highlighting the seemingly universal desire to fight for freedom, justice, and equality.
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History Slam Episode Fifty-Seven: Unlikely Diplomats: The Canadian Brigade in Germany 1951-1964

By Sean Graham

Unlikely DiplomatsOn December 4, 2014, the Canadian War Museum and UBC Press book launch as part of their joint Canadian Military Series. The series features a wide range of military historians and their examinations of this country’s military history. The books launched on this night discussed consumerism on the home front during the Second World War, the evolution of Canada’s Army in the second half of the 20th century, African Canadians serving in the American Civil War, and the Canadian Brigade in Germany.

In the latter, Isabel Campbell examines how the Canadian army and their families served a key diplomatic role while serving in Germany through the 1950s and early 1960s. Living in Ottawa – and being constantly surrounded by diplomats (Hi Norwegian Embassy curling team!) – makes the idea of soldiers and their families as diplomatic tools rather intriguing as it goes against the common conception of diplomats as career civil servants who get dedicated street parking spaces and inexplicable police escorts.

Canada’s German mission is also notable because of its significant domestic legacy. It is not uncommon to meet someone in this country who has spent a portion of their life living in Germany. As a result, the culture and values fostered by the Canadian brigade and their families has been brought back with returning members and has played a role in shaping Canadian life through the second half of the 20th century.

In her book, Campbell explores the brigade in a new and unique way. Capitalizing on newly declassified documents, she examines the diplomatic roles spouses and children played while accompanying soldiers while also re-assessing the notion that Canadian officials were fully united with their NATO allies in Germany.
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History Slam Episode Fifty-Six: Franca Iacovetta and the 2014 Berkshire Conference

By Sean Graham

For four days this past May the University of Toronto hosted the 2014 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women. The ‘Big Berks,’ as it’s known, is considered by many to be the biggest women’s history conference in the world and this was the first time it had ever been held outside of the United States. In the lead up to the conference, we featured a series of posts examining the conference’s growth and significance to the historical profession. And since the conference, we’ve had three podcast episodes recorded during the conference.

The Berks was the largest conference I have ever attended – events took place all over the University of Toronto’s downtown campus – and just thinking about the logistics of organizing such an event makes my head spin. The task of putting the whole thing together was undertaken by Franca Iacovetta, whose team worked for three years in organizing the conference.

In this episode of the History Slam I talk with Franca Iacovetta about the Berks and her role as chair of the conference. We chat about the process of organizing the conference, the place of inclusivity in the event, and how women’s history has evolved over time. We also look at how younger scholars have been welcomed into the event and try to get to the bottom of the weird clown posters at the University of Toronto.

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