History Slam

Use and Abuse of Patriotism in Sports

The 2018 Paralympic Games came to a close on Sunday, thus completing another Olympic cycle. The next major international sporting event comes this summer when Russia hosts the FIFA World Cup. And right now, March Madness, one of the most bet-upon sporting events on the calendar, has the NCAA in the spotlight.

What’s interesting about these events is that, during the competitions, the athletes are at the forefront of the media attention. The stories that emerged from Pyeongchang over the past month have been remarkable. From Scott Moir and Tessa VIrtue’s triumph to the gut-wrenching semi-final loss of the Canadian wheelchair curling team, these sporting events are wrought with emotion. From the elation of winning to the pain of losing, people from around the world wave their countries’ flags in support of their athletes – and in the NCAA case, people root for their alma mater.

All the while, companies capitalize on the emotional attachment to the events to try to sell us stuff. The Olympics, World Cup, and March Madness all feature targeted ads based off our patriotism (most professional and collegiate teams refer to themselves as ‘nations’) while at the same time highlighting the amazing performances of the athletes.

What gets left out, however, is the backdrop against which these events take place. The International Olympic Committee has been known to have executives made outlandish demands of host committees while at the same time demonstrating a remarkable level of disinterest in the host cities’ financial state, so much so that they are having difficulty finding places that want to host the Games. FIFA has had plenty of examples of corruption and bribery, particularly when it comes to the next two World Cups. As for the NCAA, the highest paid employee in 39 of the 50 states is a men’s basketball or football coach. The players, however, don’t get paid and, in a lot of cases, are subject to tougher restrictions on movement and outside financial opportunities than the adults who are, allegedly, teaching them about responsibility.

But these things don’t get the same attention or scrutiny as the games and results. I’ve often wondered if that’s because these sports so effectively capitalize on patriotism to draw us in. By doing so, we are not watching somebody else. Instead, we are included in the action, which is why so many people talk about how many medals ‘we’ won when referring to their home country. By creating an environment in which the audience has a vested interest, it becomes much easier, if not a necessity, to ignore the seedy underside of these events.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with co-host of the Game of Stones Podcast Scott Graham about the use and abuse of patriotism in sport. We talk about the negative side of international organizations, whether we can separate the events from the organizers, and if these systems are based on exploitation. We also debate the benefits of international sports and how to best consume these events.


From Left to Right

It’s Wednesday, which means a new episode of the History Slam over at Activehistory.ca. In this episode, I talk with Brian Thorn about his book From Left to Right: Maternalism and Women’s Political Activism in Postwar Canada. We talk about the book’s origins, the nature of women’s activism on both the left and right of the political spectrum, and the issues supported by those on both sides. We also talk about women’s participation in the political process and the book’s connection to the current events. You can find the full post here.

Blood, Sweat, and Fear

Earlier today over at Activehistory.ca, the History Slam returned from its winter hiatus. And we came back with a good one as I got to  talk with Jeremy Milloy about his book Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Violence at Work in the North American Auto Industry, 1960-1980. In the episode, we talk about what constitutes violence in the workplace, why he chose to study the auto industry, and the decline of collectivity. We also chat about violence’s role in productivity, how gender and race influence violence, and how universality of these issues. You can find the full post here.

Lace Up: A History of Skates in Canada

Originally posted at Activehistory.ca


For the past three-and-a-half years I have had the pleasure of working with Jean-Marie Leduc and Julie Léger on a book looking at the history of skates. Mr. Leduc is a renowned expert on skates with one of the biggest private collections in the world that has been displayed at museums and exhibitions across the country, including during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. When the opportunity came up a few years ago to work on a book, it seemed to me an interesting idea that would make for a good read.

On November 10, Lace Up: A History of Skates in Canada was released. The book traces the development of skates from bone skates used by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years to the skates used by today’s world champions. Through Mr. Leduc’s collection, the book explores how skates and their technological innovations shaped how people got around on ice. At the same time, as skates continued to evolve, new winter sports were invented based on the improved technology. For instance, the development of stop picks on figure skates allowed for the speed, agility, and aerial components required in today’s competitions.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Jean-Marie Leduc about Lace Up. We talk about the origins of his extensive skate collection, how he built the collection, and some of his favourite pairs. We also talk about the book, how we put it together, and what readers can expect. If you are in the Ottawa area, you are welcome to join us for the book launch on Tuesday December 5 between 5 and 7 at Alex Trebek Alumni Hall at the University of Ottawa.

The Magnificent Nahanni

Our newest episode of the History Slam was released at Activehistory.ca yesterday. In this episode I talk with Gordon Nelson about his book The Magnificent Nahanni: The Struggle to Protect a Wild Place. We talk about his geography background, the physical landscape in the park, and the process of establishing a national park. We also discuss Indigenous communities in the North, their involvement in the process, and the traditional ways in which the land has been used. We conclude by talking about Canadians’ affinity for natural landscapes and whether we do enough to protect those landscapes. You can find the full post here.

Heritage & Human Remains

In the most recent episode of the History Slam, which was published on Wednesday, we looked at what happened after human remains were found during the construction of Ottawa’s new LRT system in 2014. In the episode I talk with City of Ottawa archivist Paul Henry about the Barrack Hill Cemetery, which used sit in what is now downtown, the discovery of human remains, and the process of re-interring the remains. We also chat about the effort to identify the individuals, funeral practices before the Victorian age, and how spatial meaning is altered with changes to the physical landscape. You can find the full post here.

Hunting Nazi Treasure

Yesterday saw the release of our most recent episode of the History Slam Podcast over at Activehistory.ca. In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with two of the central figures behind the new History Channel series Hunting Nazi Treasure. First, I chat with Robert M. Edsel about The Monuments Men, the Monuments Men Foundation For the Preservation of Art, and the challenges of finding the art’s original home. I then talk with Series Producer Steve Gamester. We discuss the show’s investigative style, the production effort of shooting on location, and the difficulties in telling this story. The show debuts on Tuesday October 24 at 10 E/P. You can find the full post here and be sure to subscribe to the History Slam on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.