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:
- Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, 26, issue no. 2 (2015)
- Urban History Review, 44, no. 1-2 (2016)
- Bulletin d’histoire politique 25, no. 1 (automne 2016)
- Canadian Journal of Urban Research 25, no. 1 (Summer 2016)
- British Journal of Canadian Studies 29, no. 2 (September 2016)
- Individual articles from the latest issues of History Compass and the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
*The latest issues of the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History is also out, but is not yet available online for readers. Hopefully I’ll be able to include it next month
Here are my favourites:
Carolyn Podruchny, Mary Ellen Kelm, Ian Mosby, Susan Neylan, and James Daschuk, “James Daschuk’s Clearing the Plains: A Panel Discussion,” JCHA 26, no. 2 (2015): 41-81.
What it’s about: This is a collection of short pieces by a number of Canadian scholars reflecting on the impact of James Daschuk’s Clearing the Plains. Carolyn Podruchny introduces the panel; Mary Ellen Kelm contextualizes the book within the historiography of settler colonialism; Ian Mosby discusses how the book was able to have such an impact on the public imagination; Susan Neylan discusses her experiences using the book in a seminar course; and James Daschuk responds and talks about his experiences writing and publishing the book.
What I loved: Much of the panel centres around a discussion of Daschuk’s argument that there were two phases of Indigenous population decline: the first was through epidemic disease and was largely organic, while the second era was, in his words, marked by ethnic cleansing. Kelm questions this division, and the use of the term “organic” for the earlier period, and Daschuk’s use of the term “ethnic cleansing” rather than “genocide.” I happen to agree with her remarks and I think this is a fascinating discussion about history and politics. At the same time, I really appreciated how Mosby and Daschuk also talk about making academic writing accessible to the public, and how publishing with a popular (as opposed to academic) press made such a big difference.
Favourite quote: “Settler colonies thrive on historical amnesia and intractable problems, including those associated with reserve conditions, begin to seem natural. Books such as Clearing the Plains demonstrate that there is nothing natural about the conditions of settler colonialism. And what can be made, can be unmade.” P. 51
Suggested uses: I think this collection of articles would work fabulously in a 4th year or graduate seminar on Canadian or Indigenous history, alongside a reading of Daschuk’s book itself. As Neylan notes, it is a wonderful choice for “unsettling national narratives.” (p. 61) There is so much rich material for discussion here. I also think this is a good collection to read for historians in general, largely because of Daschuk’s discussion of how the publication and marketing of his book impacted its reach.
Peter Grant Anderson, “Comparing Nineteenth and Twenty-first Century Ecological Imaginaries at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm,” Canadian Journal of Urban Research 25, no. 1 (Summer 2016): 38-48.
Author’s Twitter: @
What it’s about: In this article, Anderson takes a look at the creation and management of two different parts of Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm: the Dominion Arboretum (1889) and the Fletcher Wildlife Garden (1990), seeing them as two different ways of imagining nature. As he notes, the first garden represented a reimagination and recreation of the prairie landscape under the auspices of settler colonialism, while the second is an imagination of “unspoiled wilderness,” that is only able to exist due to extensive human intervention.
What I loved: I really love the analysis of trees, plants, and animals as agents in the colonial process. It brought up images of the cottonwood trees I remember from the Little House on the Prairie series. I always wondered why they were so important. It also reminded me of Colin Coates’s The Metamorphoses of Landscape and Community in Early Quebec, which I really enjoyed and use in my pre-Confederation classes to discuss the reshaping of the landscape as a colonial project.
While I do love this article, I would have liked to see Anderson push his argument a little bit further. It strikes me that these are both gardens that reimagine a settler colonial landscape. Anderson mentions that the re-wilding project of the second garden as an attempt to restore the land to its untouched state, before human settlement, this raises questions of which human settlement he and the gardeners are referring to. I kept thinking of Sabina Trimble’s article from last month about the proper usage of wilderness and the idea that North America was empty land as both being discourses used by settler colonialism.
Of course, I also love the image of the careful discussion and management of the butterfly meadow….
Favourite quote: “The evocative intervention required to build the amphibian pond and the ongoing questions regarding the butterfly meadow serve as examples of the constant human action required to create landscapes for small animals and native plants, rather than strictly to support human economies.” P. 43
Suggested uses: I think this would be a good article to use in any Canadian environmental history class, regardless of the level, as an example of how gardens and plants reshape imagined landscapes. I can just imagine sending students out into the real world to look for examples of these imagined landscapes. I happen to live near a park that is an arboretum, intended to preserve the original landscape of Richmond. The artificiality of the environment, its erasure of Indigenous history, and the massive efforts needed to keep the pond from draining seem like excellent opportunities for analysis.
Damaris Rose, Lisa Dillon, and Marianne Caron, “Lives of their own, a place of their own? The Living Arrangements of ‘Business Girls’ in Early Twentieth-Century Canadian Cities ,” British Journal of Canadian Studies 29, no. 2 (2016): 225-248.
What it’s about: Using microdata from the Canadian Century Research Infrastructure Project as well as print media, Rose, Dillon, and Caron examine the living arrangements of so-called “Business Girls,” young female clerical workers between the ages of 15 and 29 from 1921 to 1951. They are particularly concerned with the relative autonomy that these women gained through the feminization of office work, and whether or not the image of the “Modern Girl” presented in the media was reflective of the actual experiences of young women in this period.
What I loved: As I commented to my husband, this article was ‘Andrea-bait’: women’s history, social history, and Montreal. But while I love women’s history in general, what I loved about this article was the effective way it combined quantitative and qualitative analysis to focus on the everyday lives of young, single women. The census data and the media descriptions combine to create a rich portrait of a group of individuals that are rarely studied in Canada. Also, this article features the best explanation for its focus on Anglo-Protestants that I’ve ever seen. Not only do the authors break down the young women by ethnicity and religion, but they also note that the overwhelming dominance of Anglo-Protestant women in this period to argue that “the figure of the ‘business girl’ and the debates about her well-being, autonomy, and personal goals were fundamentally grounded in a white, Anglo-Protestant universe,” though, as they note, there are important class differences to keep in mind as well. (p. 233)
Favourite quote(s): “The 1920s saw growing recognition by ‘experts’, the media and the burgeoning and increasingly corporatised apartment building industry that it was both legitimate and respectable for the ‘Modern Girl’ to experience a fully independent living arrangement before marriage. In this discourse, learning how to create a home-like environment in one’s own place was excellent practice for the female youth trajectory’s end: marriage, which implied leaving paid employment in favour of full-time homemaking. As a Vancouver Sun reporter put it:
Can the modern women broil a steak as well as she can tap a typewriter? … A great many are keen enough on it to undertake two jobs … one in an office and the other in looking after a little apartment … Business girls like to have a place to invite their friends for a meal. (Milligan 1932).” P. 240
“”The four bachelor girls in this story found it, and it led to a home that was as cosy as it was manless.”” P. 241
Suggested uses: Let me count the ways. I can particularly see it being used in a historical methodology class as a tool for discussing the relative merits of quantitative and qualitative data, as well as effective ways for combining the two. This type of discussion could take place as a number of different levels, since this article is very clearly written and easy to understand. I wouldn’t hesitate to even use it in a first-year class. I can also see this being a great option for any kind of women’s history course, to talk about the use of age as a category of analysis and discourse around the Modern Girls or in quantitative history course to discuss the CCRI project and how census data can be used effectively in historical analysis.
Kristine Alexander, “Childhood and Colonialism in Canadian History,” History Compass 14, no. 9 (2016): 397-406.
Author’s Twitter: @
What it’s about: This article is a historiographical review of the history of childhood in post-Confederation Canada, with a special focus on the way in which scholars have dealt with the concept of settler colonialism. Alexander particularly tackles the “social forgetting” of the experiences of Indigenous children that have allowed settlers Canadians, both members of the public and the academy, to ignore how childhood and education have been shaped by colonialism.
What I loved: There are a couple of things about this article that really stand out for me. First, I absolutely agree with her statement that you can’t understand the history of childhood and education in this country without understanding the experiences of Indigenous children. Education and childhood are so tied up with nation-building and colonialism. I also loved that it really made me think. When I first saw this sentence — “Yet despite their absence from this first wave of scholarship on the social history of childhood in Canada, Indigenous young people were central to the aspirations and actions of the settler state” — I misread it as the absence of Indigenous children from urban schools (likely because the next sentence includes the term “logic of elimination”.) While obviously this is not what Alexander meant, it got me thinking about why there were no Indigenous children in my schools as a child, at least that I knew of, which led me to thinking about why it is that we don’t think of Indigenous children as individuals who attend schools in urban areas. Obviously this isn’t the case, but I think there is a lot of unpacking to be done here. Finally, I also really appreciated the final comments in her article about the problematic predominance of non-Indigenous scholars in the Canadian historical community.
Favourite quote: “Whereas earlier scholarship failed to acknowledge settler colonialism and its effects on all young people, more recent studies – thanks to Indigenous activism and legal challenges, new research on Indigenous education, and the reports of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada – have had to take this into account. But this shift in understanding is both late and partial, and it proves Mary Jane McCallum’s point that the Canadian historical profession, which continues to be dominated by settler scholars, remains largely “isolated from Indigenous scholarly critique.” It is significant, for example, that the vast majority of the scholars cited here – like the vast majority of tenured professors of history at Canadian universities – are non-Indigenous, though several Indigenous early career scholars are making important interventions through traditional publications and on the internet.” P. 402
Suggested uses: This is a must-read for anyone doing the history of childhood in Canada, whether they are an established scholar or a graduate student. I think it should also be integrated into every history of childhood in Canada course being taught.
Kristin Burnett, Travis Hay, and Lori Chambers, “Settler Colonialism, Indigenous Peoples and Food: Federal Indian policies and nutrition programs in the Canadian North since 1945,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 17, no. 2 (Summer 2016).
What it’s about: Picking up on Ian Mosby’s work around food and colonialism, this article looks at food insecurity in northern Indigenous communities from 1945 to the present. As the authors argue, this food insecurity is a deliberate move on the part of the federal government in pursuant with an ideology of settler colonialism. This articles examines three government programs: Family Allowances, Food Mail, and Nutrition North Canada.
What I loved: I think this article is a great example of the ongoing settler colonialism in Canada, and the ways in which settler Canadians continue to benefit from a system that disenfranchises Indigenous peoples. I learned so much from this article. For instance, I had no idea that Nutrition North Canada pays subsidies to retailers directly. I was also really struck by the note at the end of the article which reads:
“We pay our respects to the Indigenous peoples who have a long history on Turtle Island and on whose stolen lands we currently reside. We would like to acknowledge the kindness, generosity and patience shown to us by the community members who made this project possible and taught us a great deal about respect.” (n.p.)
Especially considering the recent 2nd Building Reconciliation Forum, I think that this article could be an opportunity to open discussions about, as Kisha Supernant put it, “building conciliation, rather than reconciliation,” in the academic community. I would also add that this should not be restricted to scholars who work on the history of Indigenous communities, but is the responsibility of all academics, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, working today.
Favourite quote: “The histories of food insecurity as manufactured by the settler state are complicated and framing them as part of colonialist violence and the assimilatory logics of elimination is an important political act.” n.p.
Suggested uses: This article would work spectacularly well in any course on Canadian history, food history, or Indigenous history. It’s also a great opportunity to talk about foodways, identity, nationalism, and the state, particularly in relation to the ongoing settler colonial project. As I noted earlier, this would also be a great opportunity to talk about and do the work of re/conciliation, especially in upper-level and graduate seminars.
- For sheer entertainment value, see this line: “L’une de ces nouvelles découvertes, déclarait Hébert, était qu’on avait trouvé quelques bouteilles de whisky américain vides à proximité du corps d’Eugene Lindsey; or ce dernier était réputé pour boire très modé- rément et pour n’acheter que du whisky canadien.” P. 122 I dare you not to find that funny.
- Also, some fascinating discussion about the relationship between the media and the legal system, plus some good old-fashioned true crime.
- I really enjoyed Kenny’s treatment of the idea that Vancouver (and the lower mainland) has no past. I think this article could be a great opportunity to talk about the relationship between politics, colonialism, and history, though it might work best with students who actually live in the area.
So those are my favourites from this past month! Have you read any of these journal issues or articles? What did you think? What are your favourites? Let me know in the comments below, on Twitter @ or on Facebook on the Unwritten Histories page.