By Sean Graham
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As someone who studies the history of radio, it is a little embarrassing to admit that I spend just as much time listening to podcasts as I do the radio. For me, the ability to listen when I want, where I want, and on the platform I want, make podcasts a great option – granted I mostly listen to them while walking back and forth between my apartment and Library and Archives Canada. But that freedom and accessibility, while at the same time not being restricted by time constraints or commercials, are the major appeal of podcasts.
Given the overall purpose of this site, it seems natural that podcasting would represent a component of connecting “historians with the public, policy makers and the media.” To that end I am happy to introduce History Slam, a new podcast that will be featured on this very site. While the podcast section already features some great lectures and conference presentations, History Slam will be different in both form and content. Each edition will feature discussions and debates around various historical topics or issues relevant to the understanding of history. Whether we talk with a historian about their new book or a musician about including historical references in their songs, History Slam will focus on the stories of the past, how those stories influence us today, and their role in shaping our shared culture.
Studying history has offered me plenty of unique and interesting experiences as I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to live in North Bay, Regina, Ottawa, and Barbados while also travelling to various parts of the country for conferences and research. And while not wanting to get too stereotypically philosophical, I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that the people make the place. For as much as geography and weather shape the physical environment, it’s the people and their stories that make a place distinct and memorable. Discovering these people and stories from the past is, to me, the best part of studying history.
Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned through my studies – although this may just be the result of trying to navigate the sometimes murky waters of grad school – is that it is essential to be able to maintain a sense of humour. Whether it be being delayed 12 hours on a train between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay (not as bad as you would think) or being stared down by a wild monkey on a sidewalk in Barbados (scariest thing ever), I’m usually able to find the humour in situations and I try to bring that to the way I look at history. It’s not that the podcast is going to make fun of history, but rather the goal is to have fun with history by looking at the past in different ways.
If nothing else, I hope that the podcast is an adequate expression of the passion that everyone at this site has for history. I truly believe that there is a wide audience for history and the more platforms and formats through which we can offer historical content, the better. After all, as an 8th grader I got kicked out of class for ranting about how awful history was and in 10th grade a barely pulled a 60% in Canadian history (a big thanks to Mme. Dingwall for not failing me as it was definitely a generous 60%). But once I really started to understand what history was and why it mattered, I started to appreciate it more and more – to the point where while my friends from high school and undergrad have gone on to fame and fortune (or at least gainful employment) I’m more than happy to make little to no money while going through archival records 60 hours a week. My hope is that that passion for history comes through in the podcast and that it is interesting and relevant to specialists and non-specialists alike.
Therefore, the podcast could perhaps best be described by saying that within a relaxed environment we’re going to try and have some fun with history while highlighting stories from the past. We already have a couple things lined up like a discussion on the impact of archive closures and, perhaps what I am most excited about, the first ever Prime Ministers’ fantasy league draft, but we’re always looking for suggestions. I’m going to start using the Twitter, so you can follow me and send suggestions to @drseannyfevers – I realize that a WKRP Cincinnati reference may be a low percentage play, but it’s starting to grow on me! In addition, any and all ideas or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and I look forward to any feedback!
In our first episode I was happy to welcome the great Ian Milligan as the inaugural guest. We chat about his new project, the state of the digital humanities, and the place of history in society, plus we preview future editions. A big thank you to Heather MacDougall, Adam Wonder, and Donna Lang at the University of Waterloo for their help and providing the recording space! So without further ado, here is the premier edition of the History Slam!
Sean Graham is a doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa where he is currently working on a project that examines the early years of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He has previously studied at Nipissing University, the University of the West Indies, and the University of Regina and like any red-blooded Canadian his ultimate dream is to be a curling champion while living on a diet of beer and poutine.