- Within and Without the Nation: Canadian History as Transnational History ed. by Karen Dubinsky, Adele Perry, and Henry Yu, and: Canada and the Third World: Overlapping Histories ed. by Karen Dubinsky, Sean Mills, and Scott Rutherford
In his influential book, Imagined Communities (Verso, 1983), Benedict Anderson wrote about the formation of nation states based on ideas of territorial separation and boundedness – a distinct people, with a distinct culture, occupying a discrete territory. Historians, anthropologists, and others have contributed to the creation of such national and [End Page 601] cultural “imagined communities.” Canada, of course, is no exception to this process, even though Canadian history has in some ways always looked beyond Canada, theorizing connections to Great Britain, links and ruptures between Indigenous nations, French, English, and other immigrant peoples here, and the influence of the United States. Even so, Canadian history usually delineates the spatial limits of Canada, telling history from within the boundaries of the nation.
These two edited volumes by (mostly) Canadian-based scholars both attempt to transcend the nation and write Canadian history as transnational history in terms of global comparison, contrast, and commonality in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Dubinsky, Perry, and Yu) and Canada’s relationship to the “Third World” (Dubinsky, Mills, and Rutherford). The authors encourage scholars, students, and the public to think across instead of within, something that is especially important today when so much political rhetoric (including that by Donald Trump and that leading up to Brexit) calls for harder borders and fixed identities. As these books show, transnational histories not only pose an important critique to these existing narratives, but they also provide history with important theoretical tools and methodological practices for understanding processes that extend beyond national borders.
Within and Without the Nation starts with a vignette to illustrate how a very Canadian event – the Montreal Massacre by Marc Lepine in 1989 – can be understood through a different lens, one that widens the story to a global context and includes a history of colonization, the Algerian War, immigration to Canada, racist intolerance here and abroad, and the violence of war, torture, familial abuse, and, finally, the Montreal Massacre itself. This is but one “powerful example,” the authors write, “of a Canadian story that ties this country . . . to a host of nations, events, ideologies, political systems, cultures of meaning, and relationships well beyond Canada’s borders” (4). The collection of fifteen essays, written in 2008 and 2009, explores what linking Canada to locations “beyond” can mean for the practice of history as well as what historians of Canada can contribute to transnational histories and methodologies.
There is already a rich literature that takes up historical processes that extend beyond the nation. In the Canadian context, historians of racialized and migrant groups, of the rust belt of the Great Lakes region, of the history of women, and of the Indigenous and agricultural west have placed Canada within wider networks. Historians have situated Canada within the wider worlds of the Americas, linking Canada not only to the United States in transborder and comparative [End Page 602] study but also to Mexico, Cuba, and Argentina. New imperial histories of the British Empire that analyze questions of race and gender and the rich connections and continuities between Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have situated Canada within a shared historical landscape. And histories of radicalism have explored global networks of radical thought and protest that Canadians have participated in. Although historians of Canada have produced remarkable histories that extend between, across, and beyond national boundaries, “the question of the limits of national frameworks and the possibilities of transnationalism for histories of Canada has received only sporadic attention” (11).
This book, then, explicitly theorizes Canadian history as transnational history and, in so doing, includes analyses that both query and work beyond...