Monthly Archives: September 2020

Not really real: The trouble with popular history

I’ve been into music and sports for longer than I can remember. I used to dream about playing hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but when that dream didn’t come true, I fantasized instead about being a rock and roll star. I learned how to skate and shoot a puck, and how to play the guitar and sing, but fame and fortune eluded me at every turn.

That didn’t put an end to my passions – it just redirected them. I became very proficient in sports and music trivia, which I recognize now as the start of my interest in history as a discipline. I absorbed facts about music and sports as fast as I could read them, along with the stories associated with those facts. But something has become clear to me as I have turned from journalism to professional history – a lot of the stuff that I read and thought I knew was not necessarily true.

Popular history has been populated by legends and myths that have been passed down through the generations, and rarely if ever being questioned. These may have been stories that were reported accurately at first, only to become exaggerated over time. Or maybe they were sensationalized from the very beginning. Either way, they were accepted as fact. And when that happens, they become extremely difficult to dislodge from the public consciousness.

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Accidentally on purpose: The unknowing public historian

Lawson Hall, the home of History at Western University

“Public practices of history are not new and many historians acknowledge today that they had been doing public history without knowing it.”

– Thomas Cauvin, “The Rise of Public History: An International Perspective,” Historia Critica, no. 68 (2018), p. 22.

I was in my fourth year of university and working on my History Capstone project when I realized that I had already worked as a historian, and in fact I had been working in public history for years.

Well, sort of.

My Capstone topic was “Public History and Commemoration in Owen Sound, Ontario,” which is my hometown. As I researched the local museums and parks that had been named in commemoration of Owen Sound citizens, one of my top resources was the archives of the local newspaper. Having worked at that paper as a reporter for 16 years, I knew before I even started that it would be a treasure trove of primary sources documents.

What I didn’t immediately realize was that my own work held a place of prominence in that collection.

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Fab Five: Who was the real Fifth Beatle?

I took a Beatles history course in the Winter 2018 term, something that would have been inconceivable for 18-year-old me in 1988 as I sang “I Saw Her Standing There” at my high school’s talent assembly. This term paper and that course are, by far, the highlights of my undergraduate career.

(That said, please excuse the MLA citations; I had not yet switched my major and learned that Chicago-style is the preferred format for History).

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For the past five-and-a-half decades, we have lived with the notion of The Beatles as “The Fab Four.”

Of course, at the beginning there were five Beatles in the group. In fact, six men are considered to have been full-time members of the band.

But, also for the past five-and-a-half decades, as we embraced and accepted the idea of a Fab Four of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, there has been speculation as to who, if anyone, could or should be considered the so-called “Fifth Beatle” – a person who is or appears to be as much a part of the band as the Fab Four themselves.

This paper will examine a number of leading candidates for the title of Fifth Beatle. They are, in alphabetical order: Neil Aspinall, Pete Best, Brian Epstein, Mal Evans, Murray Kaufman, George Martin, Chas Newby, Jimmy Nicol, Billy Preston, Tony Sheridan, Derek Taylor, and Stuart Sutcliffe. Each of these people have compelling cases, but this paper will show that if any one person really deserves the title of Fifth Beatle, it was the group’s producer, George Martin.

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