Canada Games Research Spotlight: Elizabeth Vlossak

NOTE: This is the latest in a series of Q&A stories featuring Brock University faculty members who are integrating the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games into their research projects. For more information on Brock’s academic activities around the Games, visit brocku.ca/canada-games

Associate Professor of History Elizabeth Vlossak’s research interests include the cultural history of war, women’s and gender history, border studies, nations and nationalism, critical heritage studies, and memory and the politics of commemoration. Her publications include Marianne or Germania? Nationalizing Women in Alsace 1870-1946 (Oxford University Press, 2010), and articles and book chapters on postwar reconstruction and commemoration, Nazi forced labour policies and writing the history of nationalism. Vlossak is passionate about connecting local community members with history and collaborating with them on public history projects. She has presented her work to historical societies and libraries in Niagara, is a founding member and associate fellow of The History Lab, a scholarly community engagement partnership, and is the co-director of the Sport Oral History Archive.

Vlossak is one of 11 Brock researchers and scholars who received funding under the 2020-21 round of the VPR Canada Games Grant program. Here, she discusses her research project titled “Digitizing the photographic legacy of the Canada Games.”

Please give a brief overview of your research project.

“Digitizing the photographic legacy of the Canada Games” is a collaborative research initiative between the Sport Oral History Archive (SOHA), which I co-direct, and the Canada Games Council (CGC). I am leading the SOHA digitization team, which includes two Brock History honours students and a recent grad from Ryerson’s Master in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management program. We will be digitizing between 500 and 1,000 printed photographs, slides and negatives from the CGC’s photograph collection. Our goals are to enhance SOHA’s Canada Games Collection of oral history interviews through the inclusion of digitized Canada Games photographs on SOHA’s website, as well as to support CGC in its efforts to preserve their cultural heritage and make it more accessible to the public.

What do you expect will be the outcome of your research?

We’ll be developing a comprehensive digitization strategy to support both SOHA’s and CGC’s mandates, which will allow us to explore the broader purpose, best practices, benefits and risks of digitization. These issues will be the focus of ‘Why hasn’t this been digitized yet?,’ an interactive creative work for the public to be exhibited at Brock during 2022 Canada Summer Games. The two student research assistants will also be conducting their own research on visual culture and sport history using the collection they helped digitize, and will present their work as online exhibits on SOHA’s website. SOHA will also use this digitization initiative to make our current and future collections more interactive, accessible and user-friendly. Finally, we hope the initiative will lead to more collaboration between SOHA and CGC, as well as future collaboration with other community partners on oral history and digitization projects.

How will this contribute to knowledge or understanding of the Canada Summer Games? 

The CGC’s offices in Ottawa house a collection of tens of thousands of printed photographs, slides and negatives dating back to the first Canada Winter Games in Quebec City in 1967. While some of these images are available to the public online and in published texts, most are not, and some have begun to deteriorate. SOHA’s photograph digitization initiative will not only help CGC preserve its photographic legacy, but make many of these previously-unseen photographs from past Canada Games accessible to students, researchers and the public. These images, along with SOHA’s Canada Games oral history interviews, will enhance our understanding of the history of the Canada Games and the impact of the Games on youth, sport, host communities and Canadian identity.

How did you become interested in this research?

Last year, I conducted 30 interviews with people from across the country who had some relationship to the Canada Games, including athletes, coaches, organizers, volunteers and past and current members of CGC. These interviews became the first collection of SOHA, a digital, interactive archive that seeks to preserve the history and legacies of sport in our communities. At the same time, I had become increasingly interested in including visual sources alongside the interviews to enhance SOHA’s interactivity, in particular the Canada Games Collection. I had heard about CGC’s photograph collection and spoke with the CGC about their efforts to develop a long-term and sustainable documentation and archives management system to preserve their collections and make them available for public consultation. While libraries, archives and other cultural institutions now prioritize the digitization of their collections for preservation and increased accessibility, the costs associated with digitization can be prohibitive. This has prompted more cultural heritage institutions to collaborate with academic institutions and research teams to fulfil their digitization mandates. I figured that if I could secure some funding, I could assist CGC with a photograph digitization initiative that would also be of great value to SOHA and our students. I presented the idea to CGC, and they were very enthusiastic about working with us. This is a really exciting and unique opportunity for the research team and for me.

How do you plan on sharing your research? 

A selection of the digitized Canada Games Council photographs will be accessible on SOHA’s website, along with the student research assistants’ exhibits, hopefully by December. ‘Why hasn’t this been digitized yet?’ will be on display at Brock during the Canada Summer Games in August 2022.

Do you have any advice or tips on how colleagues in your Faculty can incorporate the Canada Games into their research? 

I started working on a Canada Games-related project just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and I’m amazed at how many unexpected research opportunities have emerged since then. It’s important to remember that the Canada Games aren’t just about sports, and that there are so many other facets related to the Games that can lead to amazing, innovative research projects. It’s also important to talk to a lot of different people, to think creatively and to look for connections, sometimes in the most unlikely places.


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