Category Archives: Western

The Double J Jukebox: One Week in Music History

When our Digital Public History class was told we each had to do a podcast as a class assignment, and it could be about anything, in any format, as long as it was historical, I knew immediately what I wanted to do.

You may already know that I worked in radio for a couple of years last decade. I started as a reporter and then I became a newscaster, and for the most part it was pretty cool. (Terrible pay, but a cool experience.) But what I really wanted to be was a disc jockey.

I grew up surrounded by – no, immersed in – music. My mother was a semi-professional singer, and my sisters were talented singers too. My father and his brother played the guitar. Either a radio or a record player was always on at our house. And because my parents were into country music while my older siblings were ’60s and ’70s kids who loved Top 40, I received a very eclectic musical education at home. Nobody was surprised when I eventually started playing the guitar and singing too.

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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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