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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History Slam Episode Fifty-Five: Celebrating Canada Part 2

By Sean Graham

Last Wednesday we posted the first part of our first ever two part episode in which I talked with Matthew Hayday, Marc-André Gagnon, and Robert Talbot about the Celebrating Canada workshop. Then on Friday we posted a recording of the roundtable discussion that kicked off the workshop.

In this episode of the History Slam, I chat with various participants in the workshop about their contributions to the Celebrating Canada project. I start by talking with Lee Blanding, Sessional Lecturer at Langara College, about issues of multiculturalism during centennial celebrations. I then chat with Anne Trepanier of Carleton University about the contested terrain and conflicting celebrations that occur on the final Monday before the 25th each May. This is followed by my conversation with CDCI’s Gillian Leitch in which we discuss representations of British identity during parades in Montreal. Marcel Martel of York University and Joel Belliveau of Laurentian University stop by to talk about the evolution of Empire Day. I then chat with Peter Stevens of York University about the changing meaning of Thanksgiving in Canada. The episode concludes with Cristina Ogden and the 2005 Alberta Centennial celebrations.

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History Slam Episode Fifty-Four: Celebrating Canada, Part 1

By Sean Graham

Full disclosure: I live in Ottawa and regularly walk past Parliament Hill and the National War Memorial on my way to Library and Archives Canada. For me, last Wednesday was a surreal day and in the week since the majority of the people with whom I have spoke have agreed with that assessment. Throughout the day I was confused, sad, scared, and angry. I was locked down in a building at Rideau and Dalhousie Streets (about 4 or 5 blocks from the memorial) and yet as I walked home around 5:00 everything seemed a little too normal – with the possible exception of more traffic. When I finally got home, I turned on the CBC and watched until both Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair spoke.

At the time, I appreciated hearing from them both. Say what you will about Stephen Harper’s speech, but that he didn’t seem to be shaken was somewhat reassuring in the moment. Say what you will about Thomas Mulcair’s speech, but his paternalistic delivery was somewhat soothing in the moment. And yet when I woke up on Thursday and watched the speeches again, I was incredibly disappointed in what I saw: two men encapsulating their political ideologies in speeches intended to address a national tragedy.

Upon further reflection, however, my anger or disappointment waned and I thought about how these moments of national reflection are coated in political ideology and competing conceptions of Canada. Similar messages can be found in Remembrance Day ceremonies just as they can in Canada Day celebrations. For as much as I want to believe in an altruistic intention of those who organize these types of events, it is difficult to ignore their political or ideological underpinnings.
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History Slam Episode Fifty-Three: What to Wear to the Birth of a Nation

By Sean Graham

What-to-Wear_WEB_featuredThe story has been told thousands of time in the same way: the Fathers of Confederation met in Charlottetown and Quebec in 1864 and laid the groundwork for Confederation. These were men of vision who, according the video shown at the PEI legislature, had few major disagreements and passed the time in congenial discussions while crafting the framework for the new nation. From George Brown to George-Étienne Cartier to John A. Macdonald, Canada was born out of the minds of the men who convened in 1864. Or at least that is the interpretation presented to grade-school kids across the country.

But why stick to that narrative? This doesn’t necessarily mean we have to denigrate the Fathers of Confederation (based on the over-the-top interpretation of the aforementioned video, such a task would be impossible), but we can at least look at the years and events leading to Confederation from a different perspective – although this one may be historically problematic.

Through the summer Prince Edward Island held a variety of celebratory events commemorating the 15oth anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference. The celebrations ranged from musical acts to visual art to culinary displays and went beyond merely telling the story of what happened in 1864. In a lot of ways it was really a celebration of the province as a whole and its place within Canada.

One aspect of the celebration that did re-visit the Charlottetown Conference, however, was the theatrical production ‘What to Wear to the Birth of a Nation.’ Written and performed by Laurie Campbell and Rebecca Parent, the show looked at the Conference from the perspective of the women who were on hand in Charlottetown. From their perceptions of a new nation to the daily realities of summer in PEI, the show examines these women’s presence and sheds light on the contributions that have not made it into the traditional narrative of the nation’s birth.
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History Slam Episode Fifty-Two: Seriously! Crashes and Crises as if Women Mattered

By Sean Graham

This is the final episode in our series of podcasts recorded at the 2014 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women. The conference was held May 22-25 at the University of Toronto.

Seriously“To be taken seriously is a major reward that can be bestowed on a person.” pg 4

“The unquestioned presumptions about what and who deserves to be rewarded with the accolade of ‘serious’ is one of the pillars of modern patriarchy. That is, being taken seriously is a status that every day, in routine relationships, offers the chance for masculinity to be privileged and for anything associated with femininity to be ranked as lesser, as inconsequential, as dependent, or as beyond the pale.” pg. 10

The above quotes, taken from Cynthia Enloe’s Seriously! Crashes and Crises as if Women Mattered, explore the idea of what and who is taken seriously. In her book, Enloe makes the compelling case that women have systematically been denied the distinction of being taken seriously. In focusing on recent military and economic issues, Enloe carefully documents how women have been dismissed and denied access to the critical discussions that have shaped major policy decisions.
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