Because, let’s face it – who has time to catch up on all the journal articles published in Canadian history?
Welcome back to the Best New Articles series, where each month, I post a list of my favourite new articles! Don’t forget to also check out my favourites from previous months, which you can access by clicking here.
This month I read articles from:
- History Compass 15, no. 9 (September 2016)
- Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 15, no. 3 (Summer 2017)
- Canadian Journal of Disability Studies 6, no. 3 (August 2017)
- London Review of Education, 15, no. 2 (July 2017)
- Journal of Canadian Studies 50, no. 3 (Fall 2016)
- Canadian Journal of Law and Society 32, no. 1 (2017)
- Canadian Historical Review 98, no. 3 (September 2017)
Here are my favourites:
Stéphane Lévesque, “History as a ‘GPS’: On the Uses of Historical Narrative for French Canadian Students’ Life Orientation and Identity,” London Review of Education, 15, no. 2 (July 2017): 227-242.
Author’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/s_lvesque
What it’s about: In this article, Lévesque conducted research into what French Canadian students at both the high school and university levels understand about Canadian history and how this relates to their own historical consciousness and national identity. Students were asked to tell the story of Quebec in their own words, and were also asked to provide information about how they self-identified with respect to nationality. These narratives were then broken down and analyzed to find common patterns. Lévesque concludes that how students defined themselves with respect to their national identities influenced both the structure and content of their historical narratives. Lévesque argues that the ability to understand how historical narratives operate is an important skill that is often under valued in our current educational system, but is vitally important for understanding how individuals see themselves in relation to the past, present, and the future.
What I loved: I think this article had me as soon as Lévesque started talking about the need to understand what students do know about Canadian history. This article touches on, what is to my mind, a fundamental issue: how does the history we teach influence how students see themselves and others as Canadians? I think that educators at all levels need to start thinking more deliberately about the kind of messages that we send when teaching introductions to Canadian history. Moreover, we must continue emphasizing the need to understand that there are multiple histories of Canada, each one of them valid. But if the recent monuments debates are any indication, we have some serious thinking to do.
Favourite quote: “This study reveals that young French Canadians are far from being historical amnesiacs, as often portrayed publicly.” (p. 233)
“In a multinational state like Canada, we cannot expect national groups to be neutral on issues of history and identity as these are vital to the survival of their societal culture. Yet, the simplied narratives of the nation that public schools convey to students, notably the French Canadian survival narrative, do not equip them to live and orient themselves in a highly diverse country made up of differing memories and histories. To be truly usable, students’ stories of Canada must be more complex and multidimensional in nature. In order to play a more productive role in this process, history educators need to be more conscious of and proactive in providing students with what I call engagement in narrative competence. [….] Students must come to understand and appreciate that there are diverse, and possibly contradictory, narratives of the collective past that coexist within a national historical culture.” (p. 242)
Suggested uses: This article will be of interest to anyone who teaches history in any capacity. It should be mandatory reading for individuals who design high school curricula, though I recognize that is pretty unlikely. I think this will also be of interest to anyone who is interested in the history of education or history education.
Jane Nichols and Lori Chambers, “In Search of Monkey Girl: Disability, Child Welfare, and the Freak Show in Ontario in the 1970s,” Journal of Canadian Studies 50, no. 3 (Fall 2016): 639-668.
What it’s about: Centring on the story of the exhibition of a five-year-old girl, whom history only remembers as “Pookie” or The Monkey Girl, at the CNE’s freakshow in 1973, and the subsequent public outcry, this article explores how understandings about the meaning of “child welfare” shifted from the 1960s to 1970s. Nichols and Chambers focus specifically on the concept of “in the best interest of the child,” and how this phrase has been interpreted, as well as how this influenced decisions about whether to allow children with disabilities to stay with their families or be institutionalized. Finally, they explore the intersections of poverty, child welfare, and disability, largely in relation to Pookie’s mother’s assertion that such steps were necessary in order for her to support her child, as a single mother who depended upon government welfare.
What I loved: First of all, I think this article was amazingly upfront about its limitations, as well as the challenges involved in finding archival sources. Moreover, the authors also discuss issues of language and ethics, particularly “the risk inherent of reproducing that which we seek to challenge.” (p. 642) It is rare indeed for historians to include such suggestions, and I would love to see more of this. I also greatly appreciated the article’s emphasis on agency, even when the only possible choices were undesirable. However, I do feel that the exceptionally long introduction (including the historiography and the history of the freak show, for a total of thirteen out of twenty pages minus the endnotes) had a negative impact on the argument’s effectiveness. Nonetheless, I think this is an important avenue for further research.
Favourite quote: “Moreover, Pookie’s case opens the door to seeing these small moments of history as part of the overall fabric of the past, which includes children with disabilities.” (p.643)
Suggested uses: The first thing that came to my mind was that this article would be fantastic for writing a lecture on the history of child welfare. That said, I also think that anyone who studies the history of children, disability history, or the history of the welfare system would be interested in this article.
Karen Pearlston, “Avoiding the Vulva: Judicial Interpretations of Lesbian Sex under the Divorce Act, 1968,” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 32, no. 1 (2017): 37-53.
What it’s about: This article is a critical examination of the impact of the 1968 Divorce Act on the visibility of lesbians to the legal community. One of the less-well known additions to the Divorce Act was the inclusion of a “homosexual act” as grounds for divorce. This is significant because, unlike sex between two men, sex between two women was not regulated under the Criminal Code. Pearlson argues that while male homosexuality was considered a public matter, female homosexuality only became an issue when it impacted marriages and families.
What I loved: The main reason why I include this article here is because this is such an important part of Canadian history, and one that remains extremely understudied. Also, this is a great article for anyone who likes to read about uncomfortable judges.
Favourite quote: “This article is dedicated to the 1970s and 1980s lesbian-feminists and anarchists who worked angrily and joyously to politicize the vulva.” (p.37)
Suggested uses: Again, perhaps this is because I was just teaching about postwar Canada, but I think this article would be fantastic for a lecture. It will also be of interest to anyone teaching or researching the history of sexuality and/or legal history.
- Alejandra Dubcovsky, “Communication in Colonial North America,” History Compass 15, no. 9 (September 2017).
- A thorough historiographical review of the historical literature on Indigenous and settler networks of communication, and related fields.
- Martha Walls, “The Disposition of the Ladies: Mi’kmaw Women and the Removal of the King’s Road Reserve, Sydney, Nova Scotia,” Journal of Canadian Studies 50, no. 3 (Fall 2016): 538-565.
- Fascinating story of urban colonization and town planning in the early 20th century
- Liza Piper and Heather Green, “A Province Powered by Coal: The Renaissance of Coal Mining in Late Twentieth-Century Alberta,” Canadian Historical Review 98, no. 3 (September 2017): 532-567.
- A superb example of policy-related research.
That’s it for this month! Did you have any favourites? I’d love to hear about them! I hope you enjoyed this blog post. If you did, please consider sharing it on the social media platform of your choice. And as always, don’t forget to check back on Sunday for a brand new Canadian history roundup! See you then!