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416 The Canadian Historical Review The National Album: Collective Biography and the Formation of the Canadian Middle Class. ROBERT LANNING. Ottawa: Carleton University Press 1996. Pp. x, 202. $26.95 Presbyterian minister, principal of a woman's college, and paragon of community respectability, William Cochrane was the type of admirable Canadian whose life would certainly have been profiled in a volume of short biographies in Victorian Canada. Cochrane was himself the principal author of such a series: The Canadian Album: Men of Canada, or Success by Example, which featured some 3000 mini-portraits of 'exemplary ' Canadians in the late nineteenth century. In an intriguing study directed to both historians and sociologists, Robert Lanning examines the genre of the collective biography. What, he asks, was the 'cultural and intellectual basis of [its] production, [its] formative concepts, and [its] construction of meaning'? The author argues that the short biography was designed to be instructional , not merely informative, and that it typically embraced and promoted the social values of the emerging middle class. Like 'object lessons' in Canadian schools, which moralized to students by way of real-life examples, The Canadian Album and Celebrated Canadians (compiled by civil servant and part-time biographer H.J. Morgan) exalted the life of the well-bred. The successful Canadian, most often a politician, clergyman, militia-man, businessman, or educator, came from humble but respectable roots; was invariably industrious, often prevailing over adversity; served his community selflessly; and contributed to the development of the nation. Women were largely excluded from these tributes, with the exception of their place in Morgan's 1903 volume, Types ofCanadian Women. Lanning credits Morgan for at least acknowledging the presence of prominent women, but notes that they were frequently praised more for their associations - 'wives of ... etc.' - than for their individual accomplishments. This, too, reflected women's treatment within middle-class society at the turn of the century. According to Lanning, these hagiographical portraits served a larger, more political purpose in an era of significant, and periodically disruptive , social change. They offered ordinary Canadians the prospect of mobility and success, but within a social structure that still valued hierarchy and deference, and that depended increasingly on the authority of expertise. The moral lesson: Progress in Canada must be accompanied by stability; social change must be partnered with social control. Lanning has made a perceptive and reasonable reading of the biographies, and the theme will undoubtedly resonate with students of Canadian intellectual history and ofthe middle class. Many will already 416 The Canadian Historical Review The National Album: Collective Biography and the Formation of the Canadian Middle Class. ROBERT LANNING. Ottawa: Carleton University Press 1996. Pp. x, 202. $26.95 Presbyterian minister, principal of a woman's college, and paragon of community respectability, William Cochrane was the type of admirable Canadian whose life would certainly have been profiled in a volume of short biographies in Victorian Canada. Cochrane was himself the principal author of such a series: The Canadian Album: Men of Canada, or Success by Example, which featured some 3000 mini-portraits of 'exemplary ' Canadians in the late nineteenth century. In an intriguing study directed to both historians and sociologists, Robert Lanning examines the genre of the collective biography. What, he asks, was the 'cultural and intellectual basis of [its] production, [its] formative concepts, and [its] construction of meaning'? The author argues that the short biography was designed to be instructional , not merely informative, and that it typically embraced and promoted the social values of the emerging middle class. Like 'object lessons' in Canadian schools, which moralized to students by way of real-life examples, The Canadian Album and Celebrated Canadians (compiled by civil servant and part-time biographer H.J. Morgan) exalted the life of the well-bred. The successful Canadian, most often a politician, clergyman, militia-man, businessman, or educator, came from humble but respectable roots; was invariably industrious, often prevailing over adversity; served his community selflessly; and contributed to the development of the nation. Women were largely excluded from these tributes, with the exception of their place in Morgan's 1903 volume, Types ofCanadian Women. Lanning credits Morgan for at least acknowledging the presence of prominent women, but notes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 416-417
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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