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:
Here are my favourites:
Donald Fyson, “Les prisonniers de guerre américains à Québec, 1812-1815,” Bulletin d’histoire politique 25, no. 2 (2017): 63-84.
Author’s Twitter: @DonaldFyson
What it’s about: Part of this issue’s sub-theme on the War of 1812 (the other is the Lower Canadian Rebellion) from the perspective of Quebec historians, Donald Fyson’s article seeks to fill a gap in the literature. While there is a great deal of scholarship on British soldiers being held in American prisons (though extremely problematic and based largely on taking propagandist statements at their word) and civilian prisons in Quebec, there isn’t a great deal written about American prisoners of war held in Quebec City. While Quebec only held a small proportion — 3,000 out of a total of 20,0000 — of American POWs, and usually only on an ad-hoc basis, this was still more than 10 times the number of civilian prisoners held during the same period, and therefore deserving of study. Fyson uses a list of prisoners contained with the British military archives collection at LAC as the basis of his study, which focuses on the demographics of the POWs themselves as well as their living conditions.
What I loved: This is a fascinating twist on classic military history. In effect, Fyson gives American POWs the same treatment as Tim Cook and Jonathan Vance does for Canadian soldiers during WW1, in the sense that this is a social history of the experience of war. The narrative and analysis are straightforward here – there is no discussion of theory or discourse. But the emphasis on ordinary soldiers is particularly novel, especially for this time period, and the details are fascinating. Coming on the heels of the hullaballoo of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, this was a refreshing take on a topic that has been beaten to death.
Favourite quote (s): “Il est évidemment impossible de garder pendant l’hiver des prisonniers dans des navires sur le Saint-Laurent, non seulement par souci humanitaire, mais également pour des raisons sécuritaires.” (It is evidentially impossible to keep prisons on prison-ships on the St. Lawrence over the winter, for humanitarian reasons as well as concerns over security.” P. 69
“Quand Québec est mentionnée, c’est pour l’inclure dans la liste des lieux maudits.” (When Quebec is mentioned, it is usually only for inclusion on lists of the worst prisons.) p. 70
Suggested uses: At one point in the article, Fyson compares his analysis to those of American scholars, arguing that they tend to take primary sources that were obviously produced as propaganda as reliable sources of information. I think that this article would present an excellent opportunity to have students, probably in third year and above, compare Fyson’s work to American scholars covering the same subject. This would be very instructive in terms of teaching students about the problems of using primary sources uncritically, how different historians can use the same sources and come to drastically different conclusions, how the introduction of new evidence can completely change everything, and how political bias can impact research. Of course, this would also be a great article to use in any military history course or course on the history of 1812. Plus, it’s just a really nice read.
Mona Gleason, “Knowing Something I Was Not Meant to Know:” Exploring Vulnerability, Sexuality, and Childhood, 1900-50,” Canadian Historical Review 98, no. 1 (March 2017): 35-59.
Author’s Twitter: @MonaGleason
What it’s about: This article is a call for the use of a new category of analysis: social age (here defined as “social attitudes and norms associated with people at different life stages p. 36”). While the use of chronological age has been extraordinarily helpful, particularly with respect to the history of children, social age provides historians with the opportunity to discuss the social construction of life stages. To demonstrate the usefulness of this category of analysis, Gleason applies it to the subject of childhood vulnerability, particularly with respect to sex. Relying on her own work as well as research by others, Gleason takes us through adult social norms with respect to children’s vulnerability in three periods: 1900 to 1920, 1920s to 1930s, and 1940s to 1950s. Each section addresses three themes: debates about sex education, the debate over sexual health and sexual danger, and norms regarding health and gender socialization.
What I loved: From previous monthly reviews, most of you know that I absolutely adore Mona Gleason’s work. She does not disappoint in this latest work. Gleason’s discussion of social age is fascinating and exciting, and opens up so many possibilities not only in the history of children and childhood, but history more broadly. What really stood out for me in this piece, however, is that it is simultaneously a call to action for historians to use their skills to participate in the shaping of social policies, like the debate over sex education in schools. Gleason points to the protests that arose about the 2015 Ontario sex-ed curriculum. This article not only helps to consider these protests within a historical context, but Gleason is also able to argue, quite convincingly, that efforts to shield children from sexual danger and to “preserve their innocence” more frequently serves to make them more vulnerable to sexual abuse while also reinforcing racial, gender, and class structures of power. This type of work, combining scholarship with social justice activism, is a standard that we should all strive for.
Favourite quote: “Sacred and completely caught off guard when she began menstruating at the age of twelve, Daryna turned to her mother for reassurance. “All I’m going to tell you,” she recalled her mother saying, “is that now you are a young lady and you are able to have children and if you have children before you get married, I will kill you.” P. 52
Suggested uses: Obviously, this article would work well in any course on the history of childhood or the history of sexuality. However, I would only use this article in upper-level classes. This is because it is mostly a historiographical review, and I don’t think lower-level students will be able to understand the distinction between historiography and primary source scholarship. But in a 4th year class, and at the graduate level, this would be a great option. I also think that this is a necessary article for all scholars with an interest in social and/or cultural history to read.
John Borrows, “Challenging Historical Frameworks: Aboriginal Rights, The Trickster, and Originalism,” Canadian Historical Review 98, no. 1 (March 2017): 114-135
What it’s about: In this article, John Borrows looks at the ways in which Indigenous history (specifically, “the history of “the idea” of Aboriginal and treaty rights” p. 114) has been used and abused in the Canadian court system over the course of the 20th century. Borrows compares and contrasts the concept of originalism, a method of interpreting law that privileges original intent, with that of living constitutionalism, a method of interpreting the law consistent with current societal and cultural norms. Consequently, history rather than human rights has been seen as the dominant factor in resolving court cases involving Indigenous history. This history, of course, referred to what Indigenous peoples were doing when European explorers and settlers first arrived. Not only does this reinforce colonialism, but it also undermines the right of Indigenous peoples to self-government.
What I loved: I would like to be John Borrows when I grow up. 😉 In graduate school, I had the privilege of attending a classroom talk he gave, and it completely changed the way that I understood the relationship between Indigenous peoples and legal systems (both British/Canadian and Indigenous). I loved his talk then, and I love this article now. Seriously, I love all the things. His analysis is thoughtful and hard-hitting, in the best of ways. While Gleason is advocating for historians to play a more prominent role in the shaping of public policy, Borrows argues instead that history has been used as a weapon by the legal system. I loved that he encourages historians to think critically about what happens to their scholarship once it is sent out into the world and to interrogating the ways in which academic historical scholarship has been used to reinforce court limitations on Indigenous rights.
Favourite quote: “We do not test freedom of religion for Catholics, Muslims, or Jewish people by what happened in the past when they were subject to greater persecution. We do not judge the rights of gay people to marry by whether such practices, customs, and traditions were integral to a ‘‘once-upon-a-time’’ Imperial or Canadian culture, when constitutions were patriated. We would certainly not deny unions the right to assemble and strike, or the rights of visible minorities to be free of discrimination, based on whether such rights were recognized at the time Europeans contacted Aboriginal peoples or asserted sovereignty over them. Yet Aboriginal peoples suffer from historicism; their constitutional status is inextricably linked to the very acts designed to diminish their land-holdings and government: contact, the assertion of sovereignty, and treaties.” P. 132-133
Suggested uses: Strangely enough, I think this article works well paired with Gleason’s article, in the sense that both address the relationship between history and public policy. I think pairing them in a classroom would result in fascinating discussion. I think that this article is a must for any course on legal systems in Canada as well as any course on the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada. I’m not sure if any law professors read this blog, but seriously, check this article out. Finally. I think that this article is an absolute must-read for all Canadian historians working today, not just historians who work in the area of Indigenous history or legal history. There is so much that can be learned here, and so much that we, the historical community, should be doing to address the role we play in reinforcing the colonial regime. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
- Ilene McKenna, “La culture musicale militaire au Canada au temps de la Guerre de 1812,” Bulletin d’histoire politique 25, no. 2 (2017): 85-100.
- It’s a history of music from the War of 1812. Come on, that’s just cool.
- Indigenous Historical Perspectives Section, Canadian Historical Review 98, no. 1 (March 2017): 60-143.
- This latest issue of the CHR is a “Historical Perspectives” issue, a regular feature where a number of historians provide perspectives on issues that are of particular relevance today. The topic for this Historical Perspectives is “New Approaches to Indigenous History.” All of the articles in this section, including Borrows,’ are excellent and deserve to be read. With the exception of Borrows, all are primarily historiographical: Brenda Macdougall discusses the role of space and place, particularly with respect to historical geography; LIanne C. Leddy talks about Indigenous and environmental histories; and Mary Jane Logan MacCallum discusses Indigenous medical/health history. All are invaluable for scholars working in those particular fields. This section also contains a bibliography of all of the CHR’s articles on Indigenous history. However — and this is noted in the editors’ (Dimitry Anastakis, Mary-Ellen Kelm, and Suanne Morton) introduction — prior to this issue, there has only ever been one article published in the CHR by a self-identified Indigenous person. I’m glad to see this problem being addressed, and hope to see many more articles by Indigenous authors in the near future.
It’s a bit of a quiet month, but this issue of the CHR makes up for that, I think. I hope you enjoyed this blog post. If you did, please consider sharing it on the social media platform of your choice. If you would like to see more posts like this in the future, please consider making a donation to Unwritten Histories using Patreon link below. Don’t forget to check back on Sunday for our regular Canadian history roundup! See you then!