Best New Articles May 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:

* The articles were published in their “latest articles” section, which contains articles that will appear in the next issue.

Here are my favourites:



Carmen Nielson, “A Much-Fathered Nation: Feminist Biography and Confederation Politics,” Canadian Historical Review 98, no. 2 (June 2017): 356-374.

Author’s Twitter: @Carmen_nielson


What it’s about: This article is part of a special themed section in the CHR, on the subject of Confederation and biography. Nielson argues that Confederation biographies, both old and new, ignore gender as a category of analysis, and that doing so is inherently problematic. By leaving the masculinity of the “Fathers of Confederation,” unexamined, scholars fail to understand the extent to which a man’s personal and public identities were (and are) interrelated, the interconnectedness of formal politics and public performances of masculinity, and the influence of patriarchal nationalism and imperialism.

What I loved: This just hit all of the right notes for me. I’ve long been frustrated by the continued belief that gender history is women’s history. Because when I look at politics, I see not just individuals, but carefully constructed images that project idealized citizens. To use an American example, I find it fascinating the way in which, in many respects, presidential candidates, their wives, and their children campaign together. The image of the sober, religious, family man is, or has been, key to the success of many candidates, and is an excellent example of cultural politics. I absolutely agree with Nielson that introducing a gendered analysis into Confederation biography, and all biographies, has the potential to reveal many important insights and to help us to critique our modern political culture. Also, it’s a small thing, but I really appreciate how Nielson (and also Perry in this issue) refers to both women and men by their last name. There is a disturbing tendency among individuals both inside and outside of the academy to refer to men by their last name, and women by their first. Seeing Nielson refer to Anne Nelson Brown as Nelson Brown is visually jarring, and rightly so.

Favourite quote: “The content and trajectory of Confederation negotiations were undoubtedly influenced by discordances in politicians’ masculine performances and contestations over the terms of ideal political masculinity. Alliance building, networking, speech making, and arts of persuasion were fundamentally gendered processes and politicians’ capacity to inhabit masculinity in ways that resonated with voters and allies was crucial to building constituencies of political support. Macdonald’s (perhaps apocryphal) quip that voters preferred him drunk to Brown sober points to how particular enactments of masculinity were inter- woven with, and sometimes inseparable from, men’s political positions.” P. 372

Suggested uses: I firmly believe that anyone who does biographical history should read this article, though I know that many remain unconvinced as to the utility of feminist analysis. This paper could also work well in a course on gender history in Canada, at the higher levels. But mostly you should just read this piece because. 🙂


Dennis Molinaro, “How the Cold War Began… with British Help: The Gouzenko Affair Revisited,” Labour/Le Travail 79 (Spring 2017): 143-155

Author’s Twitter: @Thescitizen


What it’s about: This article, based on newly de-classified arguments, from the National Archives in the UK, makes the case that the Gouzenko affair, particularly its handling with respect to the media, was engineered largely by British intelligence, in order to detract American attention from the fact that one of the highest ranking spies exposed by Gouzenko was, in fact, a British nuclear physicist (Dr. Alan Nunn May). The British government deliberately leaked information about Gouzenko to the press, and against the wishes of then-Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. This had the added bonus of giving the public (in the West) reasons to believe that the Soviet threat was real.

What I loved: Dennis Molinaro has put together a groundbreaking study that will completely overhaul our current understanding of the Gouzenko Affair and the start of the Cold War. To put it another way, it was a giant PR stunt organized by the British to save their behinds. This article is a classic example of why historians need to ask the right question, think outside of the box, and question why people behave in certain ways. It also points to the vast array of documents pertaining to Canada that live in archives outside of this country.

Favourite quote: “These new revelations reveal that the British were willing to use every power available to them to see the event unfold in a manner acceptable to them; Canadian interests were not the priority. The actions of the British – who were willing to work directly with Canada’s security service to influence the Canadian government – demonstrate a high level of mistrust in Canada’s elected officials and contempt for its democratic process.” P. 151

Suggested uses: I can’t think of many people who wouldn’t want to read this. It will appeal especially to historians of the Cold War, military historians, diplomatic historians, and political historians, and work equally well in any course on those subjects.


Nancy Christie, “Women in the Formal and Informal Economies of Late Eighteenth-Century Quebec, 1763-1830, Gender and History 29, no. 1 (April 2017): 104-123.


What it’s about: This article is based on a detailed examination of the judicial archives of Quebec (criminal and civil) as well as approximately 70 years worth of newspaper ads in English and French. It argues that, contrary to previous assumptions that the involvement of women in post-Conquest Quebec in commerce declined, it actually increased, particularly in textiles and fashion. Christie argues that, in spite of legal restrictions, women from all classes and ethnicities — especially married women — participated in formal and informal trade networks.

What I loved: This article is a tour-de-force in terms of research. I can’t even imagine the amount of work that went into such extensive primary source research. But the rewards are clear from the amazing stories that Christie is able to recover, particularly the insights into informal trade networks. This article is, for the most part, absolutely fascinating to read.

However, I was very uncomfortable with the tone of this article with respect to the subject of historiography. I do think that Christie is absolutely correct in her assertion that the use of these new sources results in a dramatically different understanding of entrepreneurial women in post-Conquest Quebec. But I felt that her critique of prior scholarship on this subject was unduly harsh, particularly concerning her singling out the work of Jan Noel and her methods. I think we would all be better served by approaching the work of other scholars with due consideration.

Favourite quote: “However, sexual slander was not entirely unrelated to a woman’s economic power: it is evident that the widow Penelope Crisp was called a strumpet by her son-in-law because she had independently carried on her late husband’s shoemaking business and had increased its profitability, having hired a new apprentice and a black servant.” P. 111

Suggested uses: This article, aside from the issue I mentioned earlier, is a great read, and I think will appeal to many readers. Really, the stories are quite wonderful. It will be especially of interest to scholars of Quebec, the colonial period, business history, and women’s history, and useful in courses of the same nature.


Benjamin Bryce, “Citizens of Empire: Education and Teacher Exchanges in Canada and the Commonwealth, 1910-40,” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History (2017): 1-23.

Author’s Twitter: @BenjaminBryce2


What it’s about: This article examines the work of Canadian teachers and politicians, from 1910 to 1940, who sought to engender a very specific notion of Canadian imperial citizenship, where citizenship, in this case, was defined as “civic and cultural behaviour” (p. 4). Rather than considering the heavy emphasis on Britishness in Canada in this period as a vestige of the nineteenth century, Bryce shows how it was actively cultivated and designed, particularly by those of British descent. This was largely an effort to mitigate the influence of American cultural ideas in Canada (though the economy and trade). Their work was actively supported by their British counterparts, who hoped to strengthen the remnants of the declining British Empire by reconceiving it as part of a new “Commonwealth of Nations.”

What I loved: I really loved how this article made it very clear just how invested many Canadians were in the British imperial project and the extent to which Canadian nationalism was (and is) inextricably tied to colonialism. I also greatly appreciated the transnational aspects of Bryce’s research and analysis, particularly in how he considers Canada not in isolation, but as part of a larger network of former British colonies. His description of the teacher exchanges was also fascinating…. let’s just say that some of the Canadian teachers were not impressed by British schools.

Favourite quote: “An explanation of how Empire Day was celebrated at one Ontario school in 1940 offers a particularly revealing example of the imperial curricular content found at Canadian schools and how Canadian and imperial citizenship were promoted together. Dorothy Moorcroft described [how] children dressed in typical English, Scottish and Irish clothing and another boy representing ‘the white population of Australia’ appeared on stage in front of their classmates. These children were joined by a barefoot girl in a long red skirt who represented India, and a second girl depicted the Maori of New Zealand by appearing as ‘another barefooted, dusky complexioned miss, wearing a shawl or cloak made from an old ecru curtain’. One child represented ‘an eskimo boy’ by having ‘a dusting of cocoa on his face’ and another in an Indian costume, ‘complete with war paint’.” P. 5-6

Suggested uses: While I don’t know if I would recommend this article for a survey class, I think it would be a great addition to any course on Canadian history from the 2nd year and upwards. It would be fantastic in any course that considers Canada in an imperial context or a history of education course. My sense is that further research will reveal that this emphasis on the “British culture of Canada” in schools continues well after 1940, as well as the extent to which religion was an important part of this process.


Jessica Riggi, “Lutte de représentations et question constitutionnelle à l’Assemblée nationale, 1985-1991. Le passé en tant qu’arme rhétorique,” Bulletin d’histoire politique 25, no. 3 (Spring 2017): 59- 77.


What it’s about: This article explores how politicians from different Quebec political parties have employed references to historical events in order to make their points in the period under study, 1985-1991 (particularly concerning the Meech Lake Accord and the fall out). According to Riggi, they use and interpret these events in order to serve their political goals, particularly when it comes to discussing constitutional issues. However, the same events can be used to make quite divergent political points. Riggi divides these historical events into two categories: the distant past and the near past, and argues that while both are used on a regular basis, the more recent events — particularly the Quiet Revolution, the Repatriation of the Constitution, and the 1980 referendum — had the most political currency.

What I loved: This is another piece that is extremely timely, especially, as Stephanie Pettigrew notes, considering Philippe Couillard’s recent call to renegotiate Quebec’s constitutional status. But aside from that, this article is a fascinating and insightful look at the ways in which politicians, no matter their context, have regularly interpreted historical events for their own purposes. It is also a significant argument as to the relevance of the past and why historians and scholarly historical analysis remain critically important.

Favourite quote: “’Ce n’est pas en vain [que le Québec] a choisi comme devise Je me souviens,’ nous rappelle l’éditorialiste du Devoir Bernard Descôteaux, qui ne pouvait mieux dire.” P. 61 (It is not an accident that [Quebec] chose as its motto, “Je me souviens (I remember), as Le Devoir editorialist Bernard Descôteaux remembered, and I couldn’t have said it better myself.)

Suggested uses: This article would be fabulous in any political history course, or even a political science course that focuses on political rhetoric. I think this would also be perfect for courses on Quebec history, commemoration, and memories. Also, it should be a fascinating read for anyone watching what’s happening in the US right now, and the rhetoric around the notion of the “Founding Fathers.”


Also Recommended:



That’s all for this month! The predominant themes seem to be transnationalism and fine-grained analysis. hmm…

You know, this is getting much harder now that I know so many of you! 😛 Btw, if you have an article coming out somewhere, or know someone who does, please let me know about it, either in the comments, on Twitter, or by email (unwritten histories [at] gmail [dot] com) ! I sometimes miss articles in journals that are not Canadian specific, but I do try to be as comprehensive as possible.

I hope you enjoyed the latest instalment of my Best New Articles series! If you did, please consider sharing it on the social media platform of your choice. And don’t forget to check back on Sunday for our regular roundup, though this will be just a single-week edition. 😉

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