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Canadian Review of American Studies Volume 23, Number 4, 1993, pp. 41-60 41 Almost Americans: Continental Sharing With the United States, the Great Academic Changeover and the Quest for Canadian Paradigms of U.S. History Reginald C. Stuart Given Canada's proximity to the United States, Canadians' tendency to define themselves as not Americans, and the almost oveiwhelming American presence in Canada, one might expect to find a Canadian paradigm of U.S. history in virtually any work written by a Canadian. Historians in Canada have used paradigm theory to study history in general, so why not themselves? Furthermore, since the idea of a paradigm to explain historical change relies upon the identification of a given community with a distinct intellectual outlook, the sheer paucity of Americanist academics in Canada seems a significant advantage (Kuhn 1970, 174ff). Unfortunately, historians of the United States working in Canada really constitute a more variegated group that one might suppose. Their interests range across several hundred years, a myriad of topics, and the selection of methodologies and concerns found among any large body of working scholars . Even the term "Canadian" poses difficulties. Do we mean Canadian by residency, nationality, academic training, or birth? Would an American who acquired Canadian citizenship twenty years ago and now works in Montreal be more Canadian for such purposes than an American who moved last year from Detroit to Windsor? What about Canadians living in the United States writing about U.S. history? And, like the United States, Canada is an inclusive society. So would ethnic background be a factor? How many of location, national origin, or current citizenship would qualify an historian 42 Canadian Review of American Studies for our community of practitioners? How do we quantify our factors and concoct an equation to decide who belongs in the community? The notion of Canada and Canadians as "almost American" may cut through some of the difficultiesand provide a theme. Canada shares North America with the United States culturally and economically in a way that Mexico, and other far smaller Latin American countries between the Rio Grande and the Isthmus of Panama do not. The vast United States domi. nates Canadian sensibilities, and recent work on Canadian-American re. lations suggests a return to the continentalist interpretation first articulated in the Carnegie series. Despite efforts to define their national identity as a series of opposites to the United States, Canadians and Americans are variations of a North American culture.1 For Americans who look north, furthermore, Canadians seem "almost Americans," cousins, rather than foreigners, despite the international bor· der. They share material ambitions and tastes, democratic philosophies, representative systems of government, working languages, demographies (except for African Americans and French Canadians), standards of living, social rankings, daily habits, economies, recreation and entertainment tastes, and stages of social and economic development. This sense of Canadians as neighbours, "almost Americans," prompted one congressman to label Canadian criticism of U.S. policies "downright an-American.,, Another reduced Canadian ambivalence to a simple equation: "Half you Canadians want everythingwe've got; and the other half of you are afraid you'll get it" (Gwyn 1985,263n). Many Canadians feel a deep ambivalence towards Americans and the United States. "Almost American" seems a sign for what might be, or a painful awarenessof vulnerability and lack of independence. So, on the one hand, Canadians cross the border eagerly and easily, intermarry, watch American television, read American authors, do American crossword puzzles in the Globe and Mail. And, on the other hand, they shudder at American materialism, social decay, and global adventurism. They vicariously enjoy products made in America, even yankee excessand sins, all the while certain, and smug, about Canada's moral superiority. Canadians, however, are not nearly as well informed about the United States as they imagine.Many who move to the United States are surprised ReginaldC. Stuart I 43 when they penetrate myths and stereotypes. Robert Fulford, editor of SaturdayNight , complained that Canadian thought about the United States resembled a void. Richard Gwyn opined that Fulford may have understated the case. Alan Gotlieb, a former Canadian ambassador in Washington, found Europeans far more sophisticated in their understanding of the United States than...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 41-60
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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