Class in English-Canadian Historical Writing: Neither Privatizing, Nor Sundering
- Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d'études canadiennes
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 27, Number 2, Summer 1992
- pp. 123-129
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Point-Counterpoint: "Sundering Canadian History" "Point-Counterpoint" this quarter takes the form ofthree counter-positions or commentaries on the"centralist" viewsofCanadian history asarticulated by Michael Bliss, in his essay "Privatizing the Mind: The Sundering ofCanadian History, the Sundering ofCanada" [Joumal ofCanadian Studies, 26, 4 (Winter 1991-92), 5-17). Michael Bliss lamented thegrowingdegree ofspecialization amongcurrentCanadian historians and the loss ofa vision ofCanada as "a national entity." Class in English-Canadian Historical Writing: Neither Privatizing, Nor Sundering Canada is a small country with a small historical profession. Nearly every Canadian historian knows every other practitioner in his field. The output of a small group is, naturally, limited. Smallness also reduces proportionally the stimulus ofcompetitionand clashofopinion that exists in larger groups. This difficulty is increased by the centralized nature ofhistorical training in Canada. At least until very recently most of the advanced graduate work in English Canada has been done at Toronto. One school and one approach has consequently tended to dominate the field.... The fact is that Torontonians have trained others in their own image. Consequently there is an unfortunate sameness about Canadian history.... This situationcanonly be changed by the emergenceofstrong new schools of history. For the health of Canadian historical writing, Toronto's monopoly must be broken.' So wrote Ramsay Cook in fall 1968, a rather propitious year for signalling new Journal ofCanadian Studies Vol. 27. No. 2 (Ete 1992 Summer) M.A.P. beginnings. Some 24 years later historical writing in Canada faces a new crisis ofconfidence . Thecurrent crisis in English Canadian historical writing is two-fold. On the one hand there is a conservative, if not reactionary , lust for the good old days ofcentral Canadian and University ofToronto dominance in both historical and historiographic terms. On the other, thereis a far more serious methodologicaldebate about the role ofsynthesis and theory in historical writing. One starting point for any discussion of the demise ofthe old Canadian history is the decline ofthe University ofToronto's DepartmentofHistory from its oncedominant position in the world of English Canadian historical writing. While this unhappy fact is much commented on in private, it is seldom discussed publicly. Nevertheless, this decline has beenoneofthe majordevelopments ofthe past twenty years. While I offer no statistical proofhere, Toronto's nearly-exclusive control of the production of anglophone doctorates in Canadian history is long gone. More importantly, the intellectual hegemony of the Department of Careless, Creighton, and Underhill has not been replicated by subsequent generations.2 Although the Department of History at Toronto's other university prides itself on having inherited that mantle, I suspect that few outsiders will share in that rather grandioseself-assessment. My point here is not to disparage either the York University or University of Toronto departments, both of which contain fine 123 historians, but rather to accentuate the riseof the regional universities and the rapid expansion ofdoctoral studies in history. The institutional transformation of historical writing is, ofcourse, largely related to the rapid expansion of Canadian tertiary education in the 1960s and 1970s. This growth created more universities, more history departments, and eventually, more historians. Recent Royal Society ofCanada data suggests that in 1987-88 there were 988 full-time members of Canadian university history departments, of whom 131 or 13% were women. Between 1982-87 Canadian universities awarded 281 PhDs in History or about 47 annually. Of these new historians, 82 or about 30% were women. These numbers should make clear that for those male historians who feel all questions concerning women in the profession are now solved will find over the next few years that things are not quite so easy.3 The changes in the profession, however, have transcended the quantitative, for they have opened up new career paths and transformed expectations and commitments. Regional universities a re not a new phenomenon after all, but in the past twenty years it has become professionally respectable to pursue a careerin one. Moreover, the regional universities have begun to develop aspirations and to take themselves seriously in the fields of research and graduate teaching. In the east this is evident in the development ofthe History PhD programs at Dalhousie, the University of New Brunswick , and, most recently, Memorial University of Newfoundland. What is...