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The Catholic Historical Review 88.2 (2002) 391-393
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Storia del Canada:
Dalle origini ai giorni nostri
Storia del Canada: Dalle origini ai giorni nostri. By Luca Codignola and Luigi Bruti Liberati. (Milan: Bompiani. 1999. Pp. 815. C= 12.39 paperback.)
This book is a remarkable achievement by two Italian academics who have dedicated most of their professional lives to the study of Canada. Codignola and Bruti Liberati are professors of history, the first at the University of Genoa and the second at the State University of Milan. A synthesis of Canadian history in two parts, Storia del Canada bears the distinctive imprint of each author.
Codignola's section covers the precolonial, colonial, and nation-building periods culminating in 1867 with Confederation that marks the union of the most populous British North American colonies. His is a breathtaking and up-to-date [End Page 391] overview. With rare skill that in Canada has largely been stifled by the highly specialized nature of the discipline, he integrates social and cultural themes within a comparative Atlantic perspective. For instance, the development of New France is discussed with reference to other British and French colonies in North America and the Caribbean, as well as to the relative strengths and differing strategies of the colonizing powers. One can only concur with one reviewer's assessment of this section as the finest synthesis available in any language.
For his part, Bruti Liberati has given his shorter segment a clear political character, concentrating first on external relations, particularly with Canada's successive metropolises, Great Britain and the United States, and then on domestic politics. The direction changes somewhat abruptly in the final chapter which provides a succinct and effective survey of the history of Italian Canadians. Given the vast quantity of material published in all aspects of Canadian social history over the last thirty years, as well as the particular interests of the Italian reading public, Bruti Liberati's choice of focus seems quite reasonable. However, the disparity between the two authors' approaches is also glaringly evident.
Few of the many overviews of Canadian history published in the recent past have succeeded in integrating religion into their narrative and certainly none has done so more deftly than Storia del Canada. Although practitioners of religious history have hardly been idle especially in the last dozen or so years, their work has largely been ignored by the broader community of historians who have alternately viewed religion as being synonymous with discord, backwardness, or bigotry. By contrast Codignola and Bruti Liberati have both conducted extensive research in the Vatican Archives. The first has in fact spent the better part of his career emphasizing how valuable a source the Archives are for Canadian history.
Guided by the notion of cultural compromise, Codignola's discussion of the Huron-Jesuit encounter of the 1630's and 1640's is a sophisticated one that not only takes into account Amerindian agency, but the Jesuits' rich missionary experience elsewhere in the world. Equally at ease in his treatment of Catholicism and Protestantism, he rightly emphasizes the crucial political and social roles played by the Church in ensuring the survival of New France prior to 1650 and the British North American colonies before 1840. In the final chapter on colonial consolidation after 1840 Codignola masterfully illustrates how a religious consensus emerged around the twin poles of Catholic Ultramontanism and Protestant Evangelicalism. Although both French and English Canadians used these religious expressions as mutually exclusive nation-building tools, the French Canadian minority were more dependent for their survival on the Catholic Church of Quebec, which ensured their territorial and national integrity right up to the Quiet Revolution.
Religion is present, as it should be, in Bruti Liberati's skillful discussion of two major issues: the Manitoba Schools Question (1890-1897), a provincial dispute [End Page 392] over denominational education that made Wilfrid Laurier the first French Canadian Prime Minister of the Dominion; and the Quiet Revolution (1960-1966) that banished religion as an expression of national identity in Quebec and ended the Catholic...