The History Collective

Never Forgetting and Never Remembering 9/11

I hadn’t planned on writing anything for the commemoration of 9/11. I know that there will be many other who will write more moving and thoughtful pieces about this anniversary. And I still maintain that, however this post was prompted by the controversy surrounding a mattress ad from Texas that showed two sales people crashing into two towers of mattresses.  It was tasteless, crass, offensive, but also I am ashamed to say, a little funny and not surprising.

The outrage that followed was predictable and justified.  3000 people died that day and the aftershocks are still being felt around the world fifteen years later with 100s of thousands dead and entire geopolitical regions destabilized and shattered.  The terrorists who flew those planes certainly have gotten a macabre rate of return.  For many, the memories of that day are still fresh, but missing from the outrage (the store was forced to close due to the controversy) is the reality of historical tragedies – they do get forgotten.  Obviously not forgotten in the literal sense, but the raw and throbbing wounds do close and in their place is the scar tissue of one line notices on a calendar.

While for many of us fifteen years ago seems like yesterday, but there is an entire generation that were not even born before 9/11 that are coming of age.  In addition are those born within 2-3 years of the event that have no memory of it.  For them, the wounds are not raw – 9/11 is history and not a shared experience. For them, 9/11 may very become what Pearl Habour is to my generation – something that happened a long time ago carrying no emotional meaning.  The first time I was made aware of the emotional forgetting came in 1999. I was teaching a class on the Cold War where I mentioned watching the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and how important that was to us as it marked the end of the Cold War and the beginning of hopes that we were entering into a new era of global peace (so much for the end of history).  In return I got blank stares. They were unaware of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It happened only 10 years earlier.  They were alive at the time, but there was no collective memory of it. What for me was a defining image of my life was one more dusty historical fact. And as much as we intone the modern credo “Never Forget,” one day there will be a generation that never remembered.

P5311643Jason Sager is a professor of history whose interests are wide ranging although his research focus is early-modern French intellectual history.  He loves a good eclair and sells historical and literary themed mugs through Old Berlin Designs ( and and can be reached on at and on twitter: @drjasonsager

“You want to work for how many hours?!”: A brief history of the Nine Hour Movement in 19th Canada.

This is a copy of a piece I wrote the Advocate, the official newsletter of Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association (WLUFA) for September 2016 in preparations for their contract negotiations with Laurier University.

Across this country, we celebrate Labour Day.  We celebrate the achievements won by labour movements of the past and present – our 5-day work week, 8-hour work day, the minimum wage, and not sending our children down into mine shafts. While every Labour Day is an important reminder of these hard-won victories, this year’s Labour Day holds particular significance for Contract Faculty at Laurier.  As we pivot from the hazy dog days of summer to the bustle of a new school year, we also are entering into the serious business of contract negotiations.

Continue reading ““You want to work for how many hours?!”: A brief history of the Nine Hour Movement in 19th Canada.”

Donald Trump: Tyrant of the United States of America

To be honest, I truly did not think that I would be still writing about Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee as we now head into or careen out of control, depending on your point of view, towards the RNC Convention on July 18-21.  And yet, here we are.  The rise of a demagogue such as Trump is not unprecedented of course, but the fact that a major political party is about nominate someone so manifestly unfit for the Presidency of the United States has compelled me to add my own thoughts about what such an eventuality may mean for the country. Continue reading “Donald Trump: Tyrant of the United States of America”

Who owns the Colosseum?

One of the most enduring symbols of the Roman Empire has just been given a facelift.  Built under the reigns of the emperors Vespasian (69-79 CE), Titus (79-81 CE) and Domitian (81-96 AD), the Flavian Amphitheatre, or as it’s better known, the Colosseum has ignited the imaginations of generations of tourists, historians, archeologists and just about anyone else who has seen the structure either in person or a Google search. Continue reading “Who owns the Colosseum?”

Bringing the past up to speed: thoughts on digitization and its impact

When I was first asked to write for The History Collective, I was unsure what to talk about. I am not currently involved in any groundbreaking research, nor am I in the process of completing a PhD. I’ve been out of the game for a while, so to speak—a casual observer of academia more than a participant. A friend and fellow writer suggested that I produce a piece about digitization, something that I’ve been involved with intermittently over the past 5-6 years. At first thought, it didn’t seem all that promising. From 2011-2013, I supervised a two-year project to digitize a collection of 130,000 Second World War aerial photographs at LCMSDS, an interdisciplinary research center at Wilfrid Laurier University. The images are fascinating, definitely; but there’s little to say about the actual process of digitization. As I recently reaffirmed at another job—this time to digitize the municipal address records for the City of Waterloo—digitization is incredibly tedious work. It’s the final product that’s important, not the process itself. Continue reading “Bringing the past up to speed: thoughts on digitization and its impact”

Trump’s Horse: How the Trump Campaign Satirizes Democracy

By now it is fair to say that barring some unforeseen event, like a national restoration to their senses, or a direct intervention by the Republican leadership, that Donald Trump is almost certainly going to be the Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America.  His big wins throughout the primaries, along with Marco Rubio  dropping out of the race after his disastrous loss in Florida, has swept the path to the nomination pretty clear. Not only has Trump maintained his popularity among his supporters, but he is benefiting from his self-serving opponents who are now jockeying for his favour in case he actually wins the nomination.  Continue reading “Trump’s Horse: How the Trump Campaign Satirizes Democracy”

How the Modern University may go the Way of the Monasteries

The other evening, I met up with a good friend and former colleague from Wilfrid Laurier University at one of my favourite haunts in Waterloo. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening as it had been some time since we had last seen each other. Surrounded by exposed brick and artificially distressed wood, I was reminded of why I loved the academic life so much even though as a contract faculty member I was underpaid and underemployed during my career and often at the hands of the tenured faculty.

Continue reading “How the Modern University may go the Way of the Monasteries”

The Myth of the Barter Economy

The Atlantic has a fascinating piece on the myth of the barter economy entitled (of course) “The Myth of the Barter Economy” (Feb 26, 2016, Article here.). Its premise is based on the assumption that pre-modern societies organized their economic systems on an arbitrary formula of 16 chickens to 20 potatoes is in fact more historical myth than historical fact and that this as with so many other historical economic myths can be traced back to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.

Everything is fine until the inevitable inflation.


Continue reading “The Myth of the Barter Economy”

Vikings: The One Where Bjorn goes Fishing

In the second episode of Vikings, we seem to have a nod to Oscar season as Bjorn, having just set out to explore and conquer southern Europe does his best Leonardo DiCaprio impression from the Revenant, including an encounter with a bear. Although fortunately for the audience, he is spared an ursine sexual assault (that’s a sentence you don’t write everyday). There isn’t really much to say about this story line. Bjorn has no dialogue and all we see him do is fish for his dinner. It may set the scene for reminding us of his fortitude, but there is no plot or character development which is unfortunate since that screen time could have been replaced with more about the drama taking place at Kattegat which is sadly absent from this episode. Continue reading “Vikings: The One Where Bjorn goes Fishing”

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