Year at Harvard

In the week or so that I’ve been in Cambridge, MA, I’ve discovered that Harvard is a pretty interesting place. From the newly refurbished art museum to the yard, the place is teeming with activity and history. While the complete lack of straight or easily navigable streets is a little difficult to deal with, I think I’m getting the hang of it. Before I did, however, I continued a time honoured tradition for me in a new place of getting lost early on and wandering aimlessly through the streets. In North Bay this meant hopping on random buses and hoping to end up back on campus while in Regina I somehow ended up at a gas station on the edge of town asking to use the phone to call a cab. In Cambridge, I walked in circles for a couple of hours trying to find the history department – which I’m happy to say I finally did. But since then, I have managed to orient myself to the campus and have started to settle into my new responsibilities.

But what exactly am I doing here? This has been the most common question I’ve been asked over the summer – and only a couple times was it asked with a sense of disbelief that someone like me could have gotten a position at Harvard. The easy answer is that I’m here to be the William Lyon Mackenzie King Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Canada Program at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. What that entails, however, is a little more nuanced.

In addition to participating in the Canada Program’s activities, I will have the opportunity to work on turning my dissertation into a manuscript as well as starting a new research project. The research project is not entirely a continuation of my dissertation, but it’s also not not a continuation either. While the dissertation was an institutional study of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from its inauguration in 1936 to the outbreak of the Second World War, the new project will expand the temporal framework while further investigating the corporation’s inclination towards continental integration.

One of the things I discovered during the dissertation research was that not only did the CBC air American programs, but it also sent its programs to American networks for national broadcasts. This was not restricted to major event broadcasts like the Royal Tour of 1939, as it would appear as though CBC programs aired nationally in the United States on a regular basis. The motivation for this on the part of the CBC is clear – it ensured continued cooperative relationships with the American networks while also retaining the ability to use their programs’ American distribution for advertising purposes – but what is less clear is why American networks were engaging with the CBC in this way. The smallest American network, Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS), was short on programs, so that it aired the most Canadian content of the three networks is not surprising. But that CBS and NBC aired Canadian content runs counter to our common conception of cross-border cultural exchange. The ultimate goal of this project is to understand the American motivations for airing early CBC programs while also trying to get a sense of audience reactions to Canadian content.

In North America, we generally write of national radio networks. We discuss the continental system in discussions of wavelength interference, but the international scope of radio goes well beyond the allocation of frequencies. Networks engaged in cross-border exchange with great regularity so it is imperative that we examine radio not in terms of nationality but instead through an international gaze. This allows for a more thorough analysis of radio networks and a better understand of how they developed through the 1930s and 1940s. The dissertation touched on this, but this new project presents the opportunity to fully explore an under-explored aspect of the CBC’s operations.


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