Between 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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
The 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. Continue reading →
It’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! Continue reading →
Every 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. Continue reading →
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 →