Off-Campus History
Episode 19 - Making History Podcasts with Sean Graham

Episode 19 - Making History Podcasts with Sean Graham

June 20, 2022

Today we’re having a very meta discussion about history podcasts! As anyone listening to this right now can attest to, podcasting has become an important medium through which people learn about history, and enjoy history-focused entertainment. Shows ranging from Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History to Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History to Leah-Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson’s The Secret Life of Canada and many, many more have become a huge part of how the public engages with history.

I’m joined by Sean Graham to discuss the history podcasting space. Sean is an adjunct professor of history at Carleton University whose research focuses on the early history of CBC radio. He’s also the host and producer of the History Slam podcast. History Slam is affiliated with ActiveHistory.ca and has been running for about 10 years—Sean has released almost 220 episodes at the time we’re releasing this podcast. His show features conversations with historians about a wide variety of topics, mainly on Canadian history. Often his episodes involve interviewing a historian about a recent book they’ve published. It’s a really great podcast and if you’re interested in my show, I think you’ll also like the work that Sean is doing over on the History Slam. You can find the History Slam at http://activehistory.ca/podcasts/ or wherever you get your podcasts, and follow Sean at https://twitter.com/theseangraham!

Today we chat about the world of history podcasting. To what extent was historical content a part of early CBC broadcasting, and how is podcasting today different from that? What are some of the decisions and considerations that Sean has made over the course of creating a long-running history podcast? Why are so few history podcasts run by academic historians, and what are the benefits of academic historians getting into podcasting? What do popular history podcasts do well, and what are some of the limitations of the medium? All this and more on today’s conversation!

For those interested in the early history of radio in Canada, check out Mary Vipond’s classic work Listening In: The First Decade of Canadian Broadcasting, 1922-1932 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992). For those looking for some analysis of the world of history podcasting, have a look at Janis Thiessen’s article “Canadian History Podcasts,” Acadiensis 50, no. 2 (Autumn 2021): 236-247.

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Podcast logo is made by https://www.instagram.com/nethkaria; music is from “Mystery,” recorded in 1919 by Paul Biese and his Novelty Orchestra. Follow the show on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/offcampushistory/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/offcampushistory)! You can also email the show at offcampushistory[at]gmail.com.

Episode 18 - Our Flag Means Death with Chris Baldwin

Episode 18 - Our Flag Means Death with Chris Baldwin

May 30, 2022

On today’s podcast, we’re discussing the brand-new television series Our Flag Means Death! (Spoilers ahead!)

Our Flag Means Death is a romantic comedy about pirates in the early eighteenth century. The story follows Stede Bonnet (played by Rhys Darby), a landed gentleman who abandons his comfortable lifestyle and family to become a pirate. Unfortunately for Stede, he’s not very good at piracy, which leads him and his ragtag crew to many misadventures. Stede eventually meets up with Blackbeard (played by Taika Waititi), who teaches Stede about how to be a pirate while Stede teaches him how to have fun and how to be emotionally vulnerable. The two become very close and develop a romantic relationship.

Today we dig into the history behind the show. How does the show challenge assumptions about gender and sexuality in the eighteenth-century Caribbean? How did race and slavery historically relate to piracy, and how does the show depict those subjects? And we often think of the late seventeenth and late eighteenth centuries as the “Golden Age of Piracy”—what caused it to begin, and why did it come to an end?

To discuss all this with me and more, I’m joined by Chris Baldwin. Chris is a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto whose research focuses on privateering, race, and slavery in the Caribbean during this period. He also recently taught a course on the history of piracy!

For those of you interested in learning more about the history of Caribbean piracy, check out Mark G. Hanna’s Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015). We also made frequent reference in this episode to A General History of the Pyrates, a 1724 book by Captain Charles Johnson that is the source of many popular beliefs and myths about pirates. If you’d like to read it yourself (though be advised this book should not be taken as an accurate history), you can find it here: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/102498705!

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Podcast logo is made by https://www.instagram.com/nethkaria; music is from “Mystery,” recorded in 1919 by Paul Biese and his Novelty Orchestra. Follow the show on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/offcampushistory/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/offcampushistory)! You can also email the show at offcampushistory[at]gmail.com.

Episode 17 - Ken Burns’s The National Parks with Jessica DeWitt

Episode 17 - Ken Burns’s The National Parks with Jessica DeWitt

May 9, 2022

On today’s podcast, we’re discussing the 2009 PBS documentary series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea!

As you may have guessed from the title, this series covers the history of the national park system in the United States. The series was directed by Ken Burns, who I think is fair to say is the most celebrated maker of American history documentaries. The series won two Emmy Awards, including one for Outstanding Nonfiction Series.

Our conversation today focuses on the first episode, “The Scripture of Nature.” This episode covers the years 1851-1890, which include the establishment of the first national parks—Yosemite and Yellowstone. The documentary presents an argument that the national parks are deeply democratic, egalitarian institutions in American life—as the title claims, “America’s Best Idea.”

Today we scrutinize this narrative, discussing the history of settler colonialism, race, class, and gender and the national parks. We also talk about how people in the past thought about the purpose of parks. And we compare the history of the US National Park System to the histories of other systems of parks, such as Canada’s national parks and the state and provincial parks systems.

To discuss all this with me and more, I’m joined by Dr. Jessica DeWitt. Dr. DeWitt is an expert in environmental history; she holds a PhD from the University of Saskatchewan, where her dissertation focused on park history. She is Editor-in-Chief for the Network in Canadian History & Environment, which is Canada’s main scholarly organization for the study of environmental history. Check their site out here: http://niche-canada.org/!

For those of you interested learning more about the relationships between settler colonialism, ideas about nature, and environmental history, check out William Cronon’s book Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983). Another excellent resource for people interested in learning more about race and the national parks specifically is Carolyn Finney’s book Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

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Podcast logo is made by https://www.instagram.com/nethkaria; music is from “Mystery,” recorded in 1919 by Paul Biese and his Novelty Orchestra. Follow the show on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/offcampushistory/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/offcampushistory)! You can also email the show at offcampushistory[at]gmail.com.

Episode 16 - The Revenant with Sam Derksen

Episode 16 - The Revenant with Sam Derksen

April 18, 2022

On today’s podcast, we’re talking about the 2015 film The Revenant!

This movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, a fur trader in the western United States in the early 1820s who goes on an epic quest for revenge. The movie saw significant financial and critical success; it grossed over $530 million USD worldwide, and was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning three.

Today we dig into the movie’s portrayal of the fur trade. Was the fur trade really as violent as it seems in the movie? Does the film accurately capture the relationships between different Indigenous nations and European/American traders? How would the fur trade look different in other fur trading regions of the continent, and in other periods of the fur trade?

To answer all these questions and much more, I’m joined by Sam Derksen. Sam is a PhD Candidate at McGill University and an expert on the history of the fur trade. His current research focuses on the history of the North West Company, a major fur trader in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

For those of you interested in reading a book covering some of the themes we discuss in this time and region, check out Elizabeth A. Fenn’s book on the Mandan people Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People (New York: Hill and Wang, 2014). For those who’d like to read a classic work on Indigenous-European/American relations in the fur trade, have a look at Richard White’s The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

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Podcast logo is made by https://www.instagram.com/nethkaria; music is from “Mystery,” recorded in 1919 by Paul Biese and his Novelty Orchestra. Follow the show on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/offcampushistory/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/offcampushistory)! You can also email the show at offcampushistory[at]gmail.com.

Episode 15 - Wonder Woman with Melissa Wing

Episode 15 - Wonder Woman with Melissa Wing

March 28, 2022

On today’s podcast, we’re talking about the 2017 film Wonder Woman!

This first entry in the new Wonder Woman film series stars Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana. The movie revises Diana’s origin story from the Second World War to the First World War, representing a relatively rare portrayal of World War One in a major American motion picture. And a lot of people watched Wonder Woman’s portrayal of the First World War—the movie grossed over 800 million US dollars worldwide.

Today we get into the history behind the movie, focusing on its portrayal of World War One. How does it handle the portrayal and interpretation of war themes such mechanization, total war, and trench warfare? Or social history themes such as race and gender? How about important historical issues like war guilt? To what extent does the film rely on tropes from movies about World War Two, retroactively applying them to World War One?

To answer all these questions and much more, I’m joined by Melissa Wing. Melissa is a graduate student at the University of Victoria who specializes in the history of Canada during the First and Second World Wars. Melissa has also worked as a historical researcher for on-screen portrayals of World War Two.

For those who’d like to learn more about the fascinating history of Wonder Woman comics, check out Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014). For an account of what life was like on the Western Front that’s packed with soldiers’ accounts in their own words, have a look at Tim Cook’s The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War (Toronto: Penguin, 2018).

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Podcast logo is made by https://www.instagram.com/nethkaria; music is from “Mystery,” recorded in 1919 by Paul Biese and his Novelty Orchestra. Follow the show on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/offcampushistory/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/offcampushistory)! You can also email the show at offcampushistory[at]gmail.com.

Episode 14 - The Lighthouse with Kate Bauer

Episode 14 - The Lighthouse with Kate Bauer

March 7, 2022

On today’s podcast, we’re talking about the 2019 film The Lighthouse!

This movie stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as two lighthouse keepers stationed on a remote island off the coast of New England in the 1890s. At least one, if not both, of the characters are driven increasingly mad by the isolation of their post. Inspired by an unfinished Edgar Allan Poe story, this movie is creepy as heck and not for the faint of heart!

Today we dig into the history behind the movie. Who were the people that worked as lighthouse keepers, and what were their lives and jobs really like? Did the isolation of working at a lighthouse really drive their keepers mad? When and why did the Canadian and American governments decide to start paying for a network of lighthouses?

To answer all these questions and much more, I’m joined by Kate Bauer. Kate is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Toronto whose research focuses on the environmental, political, social, and technological history of lighthouses! 

For those who would like to read the unfinished Edgar Allan Poe story that inspired the film, you can find it here (it’s very short): https://eapoe.org/works/tales/lightha.htm. For those interested in learning more about the historic relationship between lighthouses and government claims to sovereignty, check out this 2020 blog post Kate wrote: https://niche-canada.org/2020/08/20/of-lobsters-and-lighthouses-searching-for-sovereignty-at-machias-seal-island/. Listeners who would enjoy a more general overview of lighthouse history should read Theresa Levitt’s A Short Bright Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse, 1st ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013).  

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Podcast logo is made by https://www.instagram.com/nethkaria; music is from “Mystery,” recorded in 1919 by Paul Biese and his Novelty Orchestra. Follow the show on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/offcampushistory/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/offcampushistory)! You can also email the show at offcampushistory[at]gmail.com.

Episode 13 - The Last Dance with Kevin Winterhalt

Episode 13 - The Last Dance with Kevin Winterhalt

February 14, 2022

On today’s episode, we’re applying an academic eye to sports history! We’re discussing The Last Dance, a 2020 documentary series about Michael Jordan and the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls in the 1980s and 90s. For those unfamiliar, Jordan is frequently considered the greatest basketball player of all time, and became one of the most recognizable celebrities on the planet in this period.

Sports history is a big area of public historical interpretation, and so I think it’s important that historians grapple with it too, though perhaps asking different questions than get asked in sports journalism. Today we get into why historians should care about sports history, what Jordan and the Bulls meant to the history of the late 20th century, what it means historically that the public loves to rank “the greatest players of all time,” and much more.

To discuss all this with me, I’m joined by Kevin Winterhalt. Kevin is a PhD student in history at the University of Colorado Boulder whose research focuses on the intersecting histories of sports and politics in the later twentieth century US.

For those who’d like to read what is a journalist’s insider take on Jordan from the time, check out Sam Smith’s The Jordan Rules: The Inside Story of a Turbulent Season with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls (Simon & Schuster, 1991). For those looking for an in-depth biography of Jordan, have a look at Roland Lazenby’s Michael Jordan: The Life (New York: Little, Brown  and Company, 2014).

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Podcast logo is made by https://www.instagram.com/nethkaria; music is from “Mystery,” recorded in 1919 by Paul Biese and his Novelty Orchestra. Follow the show on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/offcampushistory/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/offcampushistory)! You can also email the show at offcampushistory[at]gmail.com.

Episode 12 - Stand! with Nick Fast

Episode 12 - Stand! with Nick Fast

January 24, 2022

On today’s episode, we’re discussing the Winnipeg General Strike’s depiction in the 2019 film Stand!

Stand! is a Canadian musical about two Romeo and Juliet-like recent immigrants whose families disapprove of their relationship due to their different backgrounds. The two of them become involved in the Winnipeg General Strike during their love story. This movie is not so easy to find; I accessed it through my local library, so check there, but you can also check this link for links to streaming services that have it: https://stand-movie.com/about/.

For those who don’t know, the Winnipeg General Strike was a major strike in 1919 that essentially shut down the city’s economy. At the time, Winnipeg was Canada’s third-largest city and a vital industrial hub in the nation’s economy. Over 30,000 workers joined the strike, which was about one-sixth of the city’s population at the time. The strike lasted six weeks before ultimately failing when Winnipeg’s mayor called on the North-West Mounted Police to break it. Though the strike did not succeed in any immediate improvements to the lives of workers—in fact, many suffered consequences for participating in the strike—it is remembered as an important event in the history of labour and capitalism in Canada.

On today’s podcast, we talk about how Stand! depicts the history of the strike, labour, relations between different ethnic groups, and much more. To discuss all this with me, I’m joined by Nick Fast. Nick is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Toronto whose research focuses on the history of labour and capitalism in North America, with a focus on Winnipeg.

For those who’d like to learn more about the history of anti-immigrant bigotry in Canada’s labour movement, read David Goutor’s Guarding the Gates: The Canadian Labour Movement and Immigration, 1872-1934 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007). For those interested in the history of the legal status of labour movements, read Judy Fudge and Eric Tucker’s Labour Before the Law: The Regulation of Workers’ Collective Action in Canada, 1900-1948 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).

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Podcast logo is made by https://www.instagram.com/nethkaria; intro and outro music is from “Mystery,” recorded in 1919 by Paul Biese and his Novelty Orchestra. Follow the show on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/offcampushistory/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/offcampushistory)! You can also email the show at offcampushistory[at]gmail.com.

Episode 11 - The Green Knight with Morgan Moore

Episode 11 - The Green Knight with Morgan Moore

January 3, 2022

On today’s episode, we’re discussing the 2021 film The Green Knight!

The Green Knight is a 2021 film directed and written by David Lowery. The film is based on the Arthurian tale “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” which was first recorded as a poem in a fourteenth-century English manuscript. In both the original poem and the film, the story follows Gawain, a nephew of King Arthur who undertakes a quest to face the Green Knight and fulfil a promise made one year prior. Along the way, Gawain experiences strange and magical trials and tribulations. On today’s episode, we delve into the history behind The Green Knight—including the origins of Arthurian legends, how and why the movie differs from the original poem, and how the movie portrays the medieval world.

To discuss all this with me, I’m joined by Morgan Moore. Morgan is a PhD student at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Medieval Studies. Her research is about the relationship between performance and manuscripts in medieval England and Wales. As part of that expertise, she knows a lot about Arthurian tales generally and the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight poem particularly!

For those who’d like to learn more about the origins of the King Arthur legend, check out Tom Shippey’s review of Nicholas Higham’s book King Arthur: The Making of the Legend in the London Review of Books: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v40/n24/tom-shippey/so-much-smoke. And for those who want to understand the movie a little better, including some comments directly from the director, check out these Vox and Vanity Fair articles: https://www.vox.com/22585318/green-knight-explained-ending-spoilers-girdle-winifred-temptation; https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2021/07/green-knight-ending-explained-does-he-die-gawain-dev-patel.

Also, for those interested in getting more involved in academically studying this type of topic, check out the Celtic Studies Association of North America, of which Morgan is a board member! Learn more at https://celticstudies.org/.

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Podcast logo is made by Instagram.com/nethkaria; intro and outro music are clips from “Mystery!” which recorded in 1919 by Paul Biese and his Novelty Orchestra. Follow the show on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/offcampushistory/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/offcampushistory)! You can also email the show at offcampushistory[at]gmail.com.

Episode 10 - The Diefenbunker with Erin Isaac

Episode 10 - The Diefenbunker with Erin Isaac

December 10, 2021

On today’s episode, we have a very special crossover episode! We're taking shelter and visiting the Diefenbunker with Erin Isaac, host of Historia Nostra.

Officially styled Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum, the Diefenbunker is a museum and historic site housed in a Cold War era nuclear bunker a little outside Ottawa, Canada. In 1959, the Canadian government commissioned this 4-story bunker. The idea was that if a nuclear attack hit Canada, important members of the military and government could take shelter inside and continue to run the government from there. The bunker was completed in 1961, and though no nuclear attack ever struck Canada, the site was used as a military base and communications headquarters until it was closed in 1994; that same year, it became a National Historic Site. Today, the Diefenbunker is a historic site that recreates the experience of life in the bunker. The site also has some exhibits providing a more general overview of the period.

To discuss this with me, I’m joined by Erin Isaac. Erin is a PhD student at Western University whose research focuses on themes of religion, race, and the environment in early North America. Erin is also the host of Historia Nostra, a YouTube channel that primarily explores how history is told and interpreted at museums and historic sites. Erin and I visited the Diefenbunker together, and she has a tie-in episode about our visit that you can see here: https://youtu.be/TcgrN56XE8E. Check out Historia Nostra's many other excellent videos here: https://www.youtube.com/c/HistoriaNostraNA!

For those interested in learning more about the history of preparation for nuclear war in Canada, check out Andrew Burtch’s Give Me Shelter: The Failure of Canada’s Cold War Civil Defence (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012). Those interested in thinking about the stories our historic sites tell should also check out Claire Elizabeth Campbell’s Nature, Place, and Story: Rethinking Historic Sites in Canada (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017).

In making this podcast and video, Erin and I met with a couple members of the Diefenbunker’s staff and learn a bit about the museum to them. Thanks to Sean Campbell and Jordan Vetter for taking the time to talk to us, and to the museum for covering our admission. Check out the Diefenbunker’s website at https://diefenbunker.ca/!

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Podcast logo is made by Instagram.com/nethkaria; intro and outro music by Instagram.com/nelamusica. Follow the show on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/offcampushistory/) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/offcampushistory)! You can also email the show at offcampushistory[at]gmail.com.

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