History Slam Episode Seventy-Six: Continental Cup of Curling

By Sean Graham

20160115_001610This past weekend at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, curlers from around the world competed in the Continental Cup. Four Canadian teams and two American teams made up Team North America while Team World consisted of teams representing Norway, Sweden, China, Japan, Switzerland, and Scotland. In one of the most exciting finishes in the event’s history, Team North America won, clinching the victory during the final end of the final game.

Last year, we did an episode on curling in Canada and how the sport has achieved its status as part of Canadian society and culture. In this episode of the History Slam, we follow up on that episode by exploring curling’s international presence and some of the key issues facing the sport. To do so, I traveled to Las Vegas and had the opportunity to talk to some of the players about representing their countries, the addition of mixed doubles to the Olympics, and the regulation of new technology and sweeping methods.
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History Slam Episode Seventy-Five: Paper Cadavers

By Sean Graham

Paper CadaversBetween 1960 and 1996, the Guatemalan Civil War pitted the government against leftist rebel groups. Both during and after the war, there were accusations that government forces committed human rights violations against civilians. The government denied these allegations and claimed that there was no documentation to substantiate any of the claims. That was until a cache of documents from the National Police was found in an abandoned headquarters in 2005. That launched a massive effort to preserve and archive the documents. Despite official efforts to destroy the material and threats of physical violence, a group of volunteers worked tirelessly to ensure that it was possible to figure out what happened during the war.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Kirsten Weld of Harvard University about her book Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatamala. We chat about the uncovering of the archives, the process of reclaiming the material, and the contested nature of building memory.
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History Slam Episode Seventy-Four: SHARIAsource

By Sean Graham

On November 16, parts of Harvard University were closed for a few hours following a bomb threat. Access to Harvard Yard was restricted while police searched several buildings. It was an interesting experience – the helicopter circling above was certainly unique – particularly in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Paris. Despite the fact that, at the time, there was no information about who made the threat or why, message boards were full of epithets referring to this being the product of a Muslim plot. (I don’t know why I still read the occasional message board)

Occurrences of Islamophobia have been well documented recently, with one of the prime claims being that Muslims want to impose Sharia Law in North America. Sean Hannity, for one, is obsessed with Sharia Law. What you find, though, is that a lot of these claims are inaccurate, based on extreme examples, or oversimplified. While this is partly the result of the sound bite media environment, it also speaks to the challenge of finding thorough, well rounded, and accessible English language material on Sharia.

To help counter this, the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School is launching SHARIAsource, a new website devoted to providing accurate and accessible information about Sharia Law. In working with scholars and practitioners around the world, the editors are hoping to provide a space to provide information, engage in debate, and serve as an outlet for primary sources.
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History Slam Episode Seventy-Three: The League of Nations

By Sean Graham

God: Woodrow Wilson, what happened to your Fourteen Points? Wilson: Don't worry God, we didn't follow your Ten Commandments either.

God: Woodrow Wilson, what happened to your Fourteen Points?
Wilson: Don’t worry God, we didn’t follow your Ten Commandments either

I first saw this cartoon when I was in the eleventh grade and I still keep a copy of it with me. There was something about it that I really liked – I’m sure it had something to do with my fascination with the League of Nations. That fascination was born out of the cursory manner in which we studied the League in school. It was treated as a side note, something that existed but was ineffectual and, therefore, not worth studying over events like the Great Depression and the Second World War. In short, it was the William Henry Harrison of international organizations.

The principal reason for why the League is viewed in this way is because in its ultimate goal – that of preventing another war following the Great War – it did not succeed. The significance of this failure cannot be overlooked, particularly as we observed Remembrance Day yesterday, but it does not make the League unworthy of study nor does it diminish some of its important achievements. It was, after all, more than just a precursor to the United Nations.

As we live in an increasingly global environment, there is a renewed interest in the history of international organizations. As Columbia University professor Susan Pedersen, author of the new book The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire, notes in today’s episode, the League of Nations archives have had to expand in recent years to accommodate the increased number of researchers consulting the files. She says that a majority of these researchers are graduate students, a clear sign that the League and other international organizations strike a chord and are considered important in providing context to modern concerns.
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History Slam Episode Seventy-Two: Religion and Belief in British Columbia and Ontario

By Sean Graham

Revivals and Roller RinksThis year at the Canadian Historical Association Annual Meeting, we recorded ten episodes of the History Slam. I am extremely grateful to the CHA and the Department of History at the University of Ottawa for help in getting everything done. It was a lot – I spent the majority of the Tuesday in a meeting room recording episodes – but it was also a lot of fun. Perhaps the only downside is that we had to hold an episode for nearly six months before it could be posted.

The episode that finally gets to emerge today is one on a topic that I’ve always enjoyed: religion. During my comprehensive exams, one of my favourite books was Revivals and Roller Rinks by Lynne Marks of the University of Victoria. I really enjoyed the way she examined people’s leisure time and its connection to religious participation. As we talk about in the episode, it’s difficult to study the depth of a person’s belief in a particular deity, but we can examine their participation in a church and how they self-identified in census records. With the great variety in motivations for joining a religious organization, there is so much to unpack when studying the history of religion.
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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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