Best New Articles January 2017

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:


Claire Campbell, “Idyll and Industry: Rethinking the Environmental History of Grand Pré, Nova Scotia,” London Journal of Canadian Studies 31 (Autumn 2016): 1-18.

Author’s Twitter:  @HKHClaire


What it’s about: In this article, Campbell unpacks the dominant narrative of the Grand Pré, Nova Scotia UNESCO World Heritage site. The site is largely recognized for being an example of seventeenth-century Acadian farming techniques, a history that is deliberately connected to current efforts to modern environmentally-friendly farming techniques as well as the tourism industry. This narrative plays into the Golden Age of Acadia narrative, imagining Grand Pré as a pre-industrial idyll. However, Campbell considers Grand Pré in its larger provincial, national, and transnational context, and show how the current landscape has been shaped by problematic industrial farming practices in the 19th and 20th century as well as contemporary agricultural economics.

What I loved: I always love reading Campbell’s work, since she is a superb writer. This article, however, stands out (at least for me) because of how she handles the issue of commemoration, and what happens when a location is designated as a historic landmark. As she notes, such designations, and the subsequent desire to make locations appealing to tourists, often rest on the construction of a historical narrative that freezes the historical site in time and space. I think her argument also allows for a third narrative, beginning before the Acadian settlement and continuing to this day, of settler colonialism. While this isn’t the focus of the article, I definitely think that this third narrative would strengthen her overall argument. I also really loved how she considered Nova Scotia (and Canada) in a transnational and imperial context. We need more work on this subject!

Favourite quote: “Since at least the 1970s we have acknowledged the human imprint in national parks, as ‘cultural landscapes’, but the inverse is not true at historic sites, which are generally tied to or responsible for representing a particular chapter in the national narrative. As such, they feature an older idea of heroic human enterprise (what Parks Canada calls ‘human creativity’) with the land as backdrop or raw material, transformed as part and evidence of the nation-building project. “ p. 5


“Nova Scotia would dine out on its standing as the ‘Orchard of the Empire’ for the next 80 years, enjoying the symbolic, political and economic currency of its special relationship with, especially, British markets. While her sea captains brought home plants as biological trophies, Nova Scotia was itself reshaped to export its own plants, to compete actively (and successfully) with other agricultural producers around the world.” p. 9

Suggested uses: This article is a must-read for any course on public history, commemoration, heritage studies, museum studies, and conservation. I also think that this article would work well in a first year survey, as a way of introducing the concept of historical narratives as well as the methodology of environmental history. Finally, this article would work well in any course on the Atlantic/Maritime provinces, or a course that considers Canada in a transnational context. And of course, this would be a great article for anyone working in any of these fields.


Edward MacDonald, “Economic Dislocation and Resiliency on Prince Edward Island: Small Producer, Distant Markets,” London Journal of Canadian Studies 31 (Autumn 2016): 19-34


What it’s about: The traditional narrative of Prince Edward Island (PEI) depicts the province as identical to the world of Anne of Green Gables. The kindly Islanders are well meaning, hardworking, and hard-done-by. However, this narrative and its inherent passivity ignore the innovative ways in which Islanders have handled various crises, including the collapse of the shipbuilding industry in the late 1870s. MacDonald profiles four specific initiatives to rejuvenate the Island economy: lobster fishing, fox farming, seed potatoes, and tourism, demonstrating the stubbornness and resilience of Islanders.

What I loved: In the interest of fair disclosure, you should know that Ed is a close friend of my husband’s family. I can’t think of anyone else who is as kind, thoughtful, and passionate about accessible history. This is especially evident in this article. While on the surface this article is a straightforward exploration of four different economic initiatives, underlying this is a sharp and nuanced argument about national and provincial mythologies, imagined identities, and the idea of a Golden Age on PEI. It is a marvelous addition and extension of Ian McKay’s arguments in Quest of the Folk.

Favourite quote: “Societies create collective storylines in order to justify their presents by reference to their pasts. The stories are simple and durable, linking heritage with identity, and rather than adapting themselves to changing times, the times have a tendency to adapt to them.” p. 19

Suggested uses: First of all, I would say that this is just a fun article to read. Plus, there are foxes. 😉 But on a more serious note, I think anyone with an interest in PEI would benefit from reading this article. This article would obviously also work well in any course on PEI, and/or the Atlantic/Maritime provinces. It would also fit very nicely into an introductory course on environmental history


Michèle Dagenais and Ken Cruikshank, “Gateways, Island Seas, or Boundary Waters? Historical Conceptions of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River since the 19th Century,” The Canadian Geographer 60, no. 4 (Winter 2016): 413-424.

Author’s Twitter: @DagenaisMichele


What it’s about: This article is an analysis of previous work, from the late 19th through to the early 21st centuries, on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River systems. Focusing specifically on narrative constructions of both waterways individually, Dagenais and Cruikshank track the different ways in which they have been perceived, and how these perceptions have changed over time. Very much a cultural history of both waterways, this article also considers the extent to which they have, or have not, been incorporated into national and regional narratives.

What I loved: In my opinion, this article stands out because of its methodology and research. Dagenais and Cruikshank have utilized the latest technology to build an online bibliographic database on both water systems. It seems like the database may be online and freely accessible, implied by the inclusion of a web address, but at the time of this writing, the website claims to be “temporarily unavailable.” This is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone do this kind of historiographical analysis, and to approach the more recent historiography as a cultural artefact. It’s not clear whether they were using qualitative or quantitative methods, or a combination of both, but I can see so much potential for this type of analysis. But I want to know more! What might we learn, for example with a fully-searchable database of historical documents that would be able to track how frequently certain words were used? And then being able to compare different sets of sources? I’m totally nerding out here.

Favourite quote: “This paper results from a first examination of a bibliographic database that we have recently assembled (, which contains most, if not all, of the studies on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence published in the past two centuries, all disciplines combined. It contains several thousand references on a large variety of subjects including: history; hydrography; commerce; transportation and navigation; industrial activities; travel and tourism; geology; flora, fauna and fish; water quality; and drinking water.” p. 414

Suggested uses: Someone needs to use this in a historical methods class.


Robert Muckle, “Archaeology of an Early Twentieth-Century Nikkei Camp in the Seymour Valley,” BC Studies, no 192 (Winter 2016/17): 125-148.

Author’s Twitter: @bobmuckle

Link: (I can’t link to the article directly, since it’s a photo essay).

What it’s about: This photo essay is a glimpse into current archaeological research on Japanese-Canadians in BC in the early twentieth-century. When most of us think about Japanese-Canadians, they are often positioned as either living in cities or being locked away in internment camps. Until reading this article, and following Muckle on Twitter, I had no idea that Japanese-Canadian families also lived and worked in logging camps. Muckle provides a short history of the logging camps in the Seymour Valley before showing images of his excavations and some artefacts alongside longer descriptions and explanations of his preliminary findings.

What I loved: The pictures! If you’re just reading the article, you are missing out. The journal issue itself printed the photos in black and white, but they are available in colour on the BC Studies website (use the link above, click the down arrow for “photo essay,” and then click on “photo.” Omg, the pictures are so cool! But on a more serious note, this is a fascinating look into a little-known aspect of BC history and the history of immigrants/racialized and ethnic peoples in Canada. I also loved that, while Muckle does not draw overt attention to it, his research was done in collaboration with the Japanese-Canadian community. He invited their input regarding the significance and meaning of some of his findings.

Favourite quote: “One of the most potentially significant artefacts is a woman’s shawl pin (Figure 15). When the author showed the pin to a few dozen elderly nikkeijin, the consensus opinion was that it was a pin for a woman’s shawl. Not only was it a woman’s artefact, they claimed, but since this kind of artefact was only worn during winter, it was also good evidence that the camp was occupied during winter.” p. 141

Suggested uses: It may sound strange, but I think this article is a great opening for a larger conversation about the relationship between historians and archaeologists. I posted a link on Twitter a little while ago to an article that argues in favour of a closer working relationship between historians, archaeologists, and geneticists (which you can read here). I happen to agree, and I think that Canadian historians and archaeologists stand to benefit significantly from more collaboration. For what else is archaeology but another form of material history, and vice versa? This could also be a fruitful avenue for discussion in a course on historical methods, specifically in a discussion about how scholars can collaborate with communities. Finally, courses on BC history or the history of Asian immigration to Canada would also benefit from using this article.


That’s all for today! Have you read any of these journal issues yet? Any thoughts on the articles? let me know in the comments below! And don’t forget to check back on Friday for our regular Upcoming Publications blog post! See you then!

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