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Reviewed by:
  • Creating Historical Memory: English-Canadian Women and the Work of History
  • Nathalie Cooke (bio)
Beverly Boutilier and Alison Prentice , eds. Creating Historical Memory: English-Canadian Women and the Work of History. Vancouver: U of British Columbia P, 1997. 308 pp. ISBN 0-7748-0673-7, $75.00 cloth; ISBN 0-7748-0641-9, $25.95 paper.

Could a "woman" be a "historian"? Editors Beverly Boutilier and Alison Prentice pose the question in their introduction, prompting us to read the ten essays in this collection as answers, and as explorations of those two socially constructed terms "woman" and "history." Affirmative answers, needless to say, since this is a collection about the creation of historical memory by historians who, as women and Canadians, were themselves making history. "Yes," all ten essays suggest, "women" could be and were "historians," before proceeding to illustrate just what kind of women historians one found making history in Canada between 1870 and 1970.

This is not a history book; rather, it is a collection of essays about the making of history, a historiography. As such, it is a significant addition to [End Page 247] the shelves of those interested in Canadian history, as well as Canadian studies, and women's and gender studies. The essays are organized in loosely chronological fashion. The first two sections--"Community Building" and "Transitions"--focus on historical research outside academic institutions. The last two--"the Academy" and "New Departures"--explore women historians, their research, and its impact inside academic institutions. Boutilier and Prentice broaden their definition of history by necessity: the formal definition of historical practice, developed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as something carried out by academically-trained historians in institutional settings, excluded women historians in very real ways, as Prentice effectively proves in her article "Laying Siege to the History Professoriate." At first glance, the cover photo of Miss Ethel Hurlbatt surrounded by her male colleagues in the 1922 McGill convocation procession seems to prove women's presence in the academy during the early decades of this century. However, the essay in which it appears--Prentice's own--demonstrates a systematic exclusion of women from permanent positions in English-Canada's own premier research institutions. The University of British Columbia and the University of Saskatchewan come off slightly better than McGill, Queen's, and the University of Toronto, by the way.

If Boutilier and Prentice broaden the definition of history by necessity, they also do it deliberately, as a way of questioning the distinction between amateur and professional as applied to the term "historian." Boutilier's own contribution focuses on Sarah Anne Curzon, an amateur, accomplished, and relatively well-known historian. Curzon was a founding member of the Women's Canadian Historical Society of Toronto, and an early activist for women's rights in Toronto. Boutilier argues persuasively that Curzon's "resurrection" of Laura Secord--the woman who crossed enemy lines to tip off the British to an oncoming assault in the 1812 war--as an "imperial" and "national" heroine brought women's rights issues to the forefront of political discussion in Canada during the 1890s. Through Laura Secord--heroine housewife and mother--Curzon illustrated the relationship between women's work and the preservation of Canada as a British nation, and argued that women as well as men were "nation builders" and "makers of history."

The choice of words is Boutilier's, of course; they echo the book's title, and speak to all the women profiled in this collection. In turn, the collection's title echoes that of the Makers of Canada series of history books, published between 1903 and 1908. Women were neither the authors nor the subjects of the Makers of Canada series. Here, by contrast, in terms of both [End Page 248] the history they "make," and their determination to participate in historical inquiry despite the obstacles, the women profiled in these ten essays are all makers of history and of historical memory.

Ostensibly, this collection focuses on English-Canadians--defined here as women who "worked in English," and who were either born here or spent their careers here (9). It's a broad definition that allows for the inclusion of...


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