Best New Articles July 2016

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 posted 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 top picks from July:


Jeffrey L. McNairn, ““The common sympathies of our nature”: Moral Sentiments, Emotional Economies, and Imprisonment for Debt in Upper Canada.” Histoire sociale/Social history 49, no. 98 (May 2016): 49-71.

Author’s Twitter: @JLMcNairn


What it’s about: This article focuses on the fight to end imprisonment for debt in Upper Canada during the 1820s and 1830s. However, the subject matter is secondary to the larger point, which is that historians of early Canada should consider historic understandings of emotions and morality. He argues that the language of sensibility, or appeals to emotion, was used by both opponents and supporters of imprisonment for debt. In such a way, the concept of empathy entered into Upper Canadian understandings of the meaning of justice. However, inserting sensibility into every case also meant that it was difficult for legislators to find alternative means of handling the problem of insolvent debtors.

What I loved: I really liked that the analysis of emotion was at the heart (hahaha) of this article. But I think my favourite part of the article, and one that I would love to see expanded maybe into its own article, was the section that dealt with the debtors themselves, their resistance, deceptions, petitions, and anger. I found it curious that debtors themselves used the language of rights more so than that of sensibility. Lots of potential for analysis there.

I had one serious problem with this article: the largely absent intersectional analysis.

There is absolutely zero discussion of class and ethnicity/race in this article. I seriously doubt that all debtors were middle-class white men, and I’d be curious to see whether or not the language of sensibility was also marshaled in the defense of individuals who were Indigenous, Black, working-class, or living in poverty.

McNairn does slightly better with the issue of gender. He does briefly reference how sensibility fit into notions of masculinity at the time, but I would have thought that such a discussion should be central to an article of this nature. On the flip side of things, few women are mentioned, and they are all referred to exclusively as “widows,” no names. In footnote 7 he explains that, “Few if any women were gaoled, a result of a combination of coverture and cultural expectations, which rendered a woman’s imprisonment especially shocking: “Common Decency,” Kingston Chronicle, December 1, 1826. Imprisoning women for debt was abolished in 1843.” But I can’t help but wonder how sensibility worked for or against female debtors.

Favourite quote: “They embraced their obligations to family as well as to creditors, but this material conception of family often blended with a more affective one. Matthew Leech had been “torn from all domestic Comforts” while G. S. Waldron pleaded to “restore me to the bosom of my family again.” These were powerful demands for moral standing in the face of insolvency by men of domestic sensibility as well as protective patriarchs who, like other moral agents, were moved by the suffering of others. Thus another confessed, “I was child enough to weep” tears of sympathy for his family, not unmanly ones at his own suffering.” p. 65

Suggested uses: Again with the timeliness… This article could be used in an undergraduate class to provide insight into the reemergence of “debtors prisons” in the United States, where individuals who cannot afford to pay their fines are forced to serve lengthy jail sentences. (You can check out John Oliver’s video on “Municipal Violations” to learn more about this). This would be a great opportunity to talk about the relevance of the past to the present, particularly in a 200-level and up class, perhaps on the working-class, criminal history, etc. Similarly the article could use be used alongside Catherine Anne Wilson’s “Reciprocal Bees” article to talk about networks of social obligations.

I think this article could also be useful in an upper-level course or a graduate level course to talk about the history of emotions and the “affective turn.”


Andrew Horrall, “The “Foreigners” from Broad Street: The Ukrainian Sojourners from Ottawa who Fought for Canada in the First World War.” Histoire sociale/Social history 49, no. 98 (May 2016): 73-103


What it’s about: This article focuses on the experiences of fifty-five Ukrainian men who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. All of these individuals originally came to Canada as sojourners, doing dangerous work in the hopes of one day returning home with extra money for their families. The War offered an opportunity for these men to work for a much higher pay. Their experiences during the War show their skills at navigating Canadian society despite a limited understanding of English as well as the strength of their personal bonds. During the war, the Ukrainians enjoyed roughly the same status as Canadians of Anglo-American heritage. But afterwards, this status and the surrogate families these men enjoyed dissipated, and, with the collapse of the Russian Empire, these men faced difficult futures as Canadian citizens.

What I loved: I’m such a social history geek. I absolutely loved learning about the minutia of the lives of the Ukrainian sojourners. The level of detail in terms of archival research is so impressive. The tables at the end are just glorious. I also loved that this article expands our knowledge of how people from different ethnic groups and nationalities experienced WW1.

Favourite quote: “When King George V presented Konowal with the VC, he is said to have whispered, “your exploit is one of the most daring and heroic in the history of my army. For this, accept my thanks.” P. 87

Suggested uses: The first thing that sprang to mind here was to use this article a part of my active learning activities for the class on WW1 in my pre-Confederation course. I do a jigsaw style exercise where students are broken into groups and are asked to research how a particular ethnic group experienced the war. Then they form new groups and teach each other about the ethnic group that they studied. This would also be a great compliment to James W St. G Walker’s classic, “Race and Recruitment in World War 1: Enlistment of Visible Minorities in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.” This article would also be great in an upper-level or graduate course on how to do archival research as well as on archival preservation and competing narratives. I had no idea that the Department of Veterans Affairs destroyed so much information from the files of WW1 servicemen.


Jason B. Crawford, “Forgetting Montreal’s Gay Downtown: The Popular Gay Geographic Imagination and a Miş-mash History of the Present,” Quebec Studies (June 2016): 165-186.


What it’s about: This article looks at the history of the gay community in Montreal. While mostly associated with the Gay Village, the centre of the gay community in Montreal used to be the downtown area. However, for a variety of reasons, largely due to attempts at history by journalists, this part of Montreal’s queer history has been forgotten. Crawford argues that we need to resist constructing dominant narratives of social history, particularly queer social history. There should be no one authoritative history, but many histories.

What I loved: While Crawford is looking specifically at queer social history, I think his insights regarding the problem of dominant historical narratives can and should apply more broadly to history in general. That said, the real show-stopper in this article is the experimental play script towards the end. Crawford’s script is an attempt at reimagining the ways in which multiple and contested narratives of history can operate side by side. That, and the rewriting “I Will Survive,” as you can see below, was just awesome.

Favourite quote:

At first I was afraid, I was petrified

Kept thinking I could not keep a man right by my side,

I spent oh so many nights thinking

What am I doing wrong, and I grew strong

Now I have men all night long …


And so you’re back, from outer space

You just walked in to find me there

With that young man upon my face.


I should have changed that stupid lock

I should have made you leave your key

If I had known for just one second you’d

Be back to fuck with me


Go on now go, fly out the door

Don’t turn around now, ’cuz I’m working as a whore

Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt with me good-bye,

Did you think I’d crumble, did you think I’d unzip your fly?


Oh no not I, I will survive, for as long as I can spread my legs

I know I’ll stay alive. I’ve got all my life to live,

I’ve got all this ass to give and I’ll survive

I will survive. Hey pay! P. 176

Suggested uses: While I definitely think we need to teach queer history in introductory Canadian history classes, I don’t think this is the best article to start students off with. That said, I think it would be awesome for an upper-level or graduate course on queer history. It would be a great way to talk about how queer history has its roots in the activist movement, and what happens as a result. I also think this would be a great piece for discussion in a course on historical methods, particularly with respect to its inclusion of theatre as a mode of historical writing.


Alexandre Turgeon, “Grande Noirceur et Révolution tranquille
en 140 caractères: deux mythistoires du Québec contemporain sur Twitter en 2012,” Quebec Studies, supplemental issue (July 2016): 29-58.

Author’s Twitter: @alexturgeon


What it’s about: This article looks at the perception of history as depicted on Twitter during the 2012 Quebec university student protest and the 2012 Quebec electoral campaign. More than 6,000 tweets made reference to the Great Darkness/Grand Noirceur (the Duplessis years) – and to the Quiet Revolution/Revolution Tranquille. These terms were used to invoke a specific image and rhetoric that spoke to current events. For instance, many of the officials and leaders involved were accused of bringing on the Great Darkness 2.0 or of betraying the principles of the Quiet Revolution. However, as Turgeon argues, this discourse was based on an over simplified perception of both the Duplessis years and of the Quiet Revolution. Instead, he considers the perception of these events as “mythhistories” or “mythhistoires,” and uses them as a tool to study how Twitter is employed in the new political landscape.

What I loved: There are two parts of this article that stand out for me: the use of Twitter and the Internet as historical sources and the analysis of perceptions of history. So many lament the decline of letter writing, but the conversations haven’t stopped; they’ve merely moved elsewhere. I thought it was great to see a historian using use an unusual source. Also, the use of memes was awesome. Turgeon’s explanation of his methodology for using Twitter was also really helpful.

Part of my research involves looking at perceptions of history, so of course I was going to be interested to see how it was treated here. I really like the concept of “mythhistoires,” and how they can be used as metaphoric shorthand. Someone totally needs to look at the concept with respect to the Republican Party. 😉

Favourite quote: “Cela dit, une telle utilisation sur Twitter de la Grande Noirceur et de la Révolution tranquille, aussi pratique soit-elle pour ces utilisateurs, n’est pas sans conséquence pour ces mythistoires. Lorsque ceux-ci sont convoqués sur le réseau social, ce n’est pas tant pour parler du passé québécois, du Québec de l’après-guerre, que pour traiter du présent ou de l’avenir du Québec. Que l’on ne s’y trompe pas: lorsque la Grande Noirceur et la Révolution tranquille sont évoquées, au mieux est-ce pour établir une comparaison avec le passé où le présent, s’il ne brille pas nécessairement de tous ses feux, prime toujours néanmoins sur l’autre, sans faute.” P. 37

Suggested uses: I think this article would work really well in an upper-level or graduate course on historiography and historical method. It would be a great opportunity to talk about the challenges facing historians who use more recent sources while also discussing their benefits regarding the democratization of archives. Similarly, I think this article would be great for teaching students about how history can be used for political purposes.


That’s all for this month! Don’t forget to check back on Sunday for a brand new roundup. And starting on Tuesday, we’re going to have a whole month of Back to School posts! I’ll be talking about how to write syllabuses for survey classes, a new historian’s toolkit, lesson plan organization, journal writing, and more. There will also be a special school-supply themed What’s In My Bag post too! Don’t miss it!

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