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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
“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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
The 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. Continue reading →
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.
“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. Continue reading →
This is the second 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.
The 2014 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians that was held in Toronto was a remarkable event for a variety of reason, not least of which was the incredible scope of the research presented. While the conference broadly dealt with women’s history, there were plenty of sub-fields on display. From the history of sexuality to health to class, the conference was a terrific display of the tremendous diversity within the historical profession.
As someone who never had extensive exposure to women’s history, one of the most interesting panels I attended during the conference was the one discussing the history of women in science and engineering. Of particular interest were the stories of early pioneers in these fields and the struggles not only to thrive in a competitive environment, but also to overcome the culture that attempted to restrict their access to professional opportunities. These women were not only talented scientists and engineers, but also leaders in the women’s movement and opened doors for future generations. Their stories are full of sacrifice and struggle. Continue reading →
In the spring, I taught HIS 3375, History of Popular Culture in Canada, at the University of Ottawa. Since the course had a participation element, I thought it would be fun to have an ice-breaker activity. So I compiled a list of ten questions that ranged from the hard-hitting “What is the first movie you remember seeing?” to the nonsensical “You get abducted by aliens – would you rather be in their zoo or their circus?” (A question first discussed on Seinfeld) which ten randomly selected students would have to answer. In prefacing the activity, I stressed that the students should not be worried because none of the questions were particularly personal and that I would answer the questions too.
In the past, I’ve been accused of being too private, so it’s not surprising that I wouldn’t include personal questions in the class. Afterwards, however, a colleague asked why I seemed so averse to divulging personal information in class when, on occasion, it might be relevant to the course material. In the case of popular culture, for example, does the fact that I have an irrational dislike of the NHL (hockey is great, but the NHL has destroyed the sport) not shape the way I discuss the league’s significance to Canada?
Not long after that discussion, I read Justin Bengry’s post on Notches entitled “‘Coming Out’ in the Classroom: When the Personal is Pedagogical” in which he discusses the issue of professors revealing their sexuality to their students, with specific reference to queer history courses. In addition to questions over an instructor’s personal background influencing their interpretation of the past, the post also discusses whether including personal information can help foster positive relationships in classes by breaking down barriers, and thus improving classroom dynamics. Continue reading →
Just over a year ago, Canadian news outlets started to report on nutritional experiments that had been conducted on First Nations kids at Residential Schools. For a couple of weeks the stories continued to appear on the front pages of newspapers and on nightly newscasts across the country. Featured prominently in many of these stories was Ian Mosby, the historian who wrote the article for Social History/Histoire Sociale detailing the experiments that spawned the media frenzy. As I wrote at the time, it was particularly impressive how Ian navigated the media attention. It would have been easy for him to attempt to take centre stage and use the exposure to further his career. Instead, he was steadfast in ensuring that the story remained the focus.
In the year since, Ian has continued to shed light on the experiments and their long-term ramifications. (Check back tomorrow for a podcast of a talk he delivered in the fall at Acadia). As he wrote in his wonderful piece “Of History and Headlines: Reflections of an Accidental Public Historian”, the stories that have emerged in the past year from survivors of these experiments have been powerful and serve as a reminder of the humanity that can occasionally be lost in studying the humanities.
For as much as Ian stayed in the background during the story, however, I was curious to know what exactly the experience was like. After all, it’s not every day that an article you write spawns front page stories across the country. Dealing with the media (I’ve done some radio interviews on my research on the CBC) can be difficult, time consuming, and intimidating. At the same time, however, it can be fun and rewarding. Continue reading →