Podcast: Ian McKay on the Right-Wing Reconceptualization of Canada

by Announcements on March 15, 2011

John Buchan, 1st Baron Lord Tweedsmuir

Ian McKay, professor of history at Queen’s University, recently delivered an engaging and provocative talk titled “The Empire Strikes Back: Militarism, Imperial Nostalgia, and the Right-Wing Reconceptualization of Canada”.  McKay’s talk was the keynote address of the 15th annual New Frontiers Graduate History Conference at York University.

The talk is available here for audio download.

McKay is the author numerous books, including The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia (1994) and Rebels, Reds, Radicals: Rethinking Canada’s Left History (2005).  He won the Canadian Historical Association’s MacDonald prize for his book Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People’s Enlightenment in Canada (2008). More recently, McKay co-authored In The Province of History: The Making of the Public Past in Twentieth Century Nova Scotia (2010), which was reviewed here on ActiveHistory.ca.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

B.F.R. Edwards March 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm

This is indeed a highly thoughtful and provocative talk. I would be curious to hear McKay speak at greater length, however, on John Buchan’s “Canadian” novels (Sick Heart River and The Long Traverse). I would argue that in reading these — novels he wrote only briefly before his death, inspired by that same trip north that McKay references — Buchan displays a far less imperial notion of Canada. While I do not dispute McKay’s uneasiness with Buchan’s popular writings (the vast majority from which he quotes were written long before his Canadian experiences), I believe a close reading of Buchan’s two “Canadian” novels reveal a changed man, one who demonstrated a more enlightened view of Canada’s diversity of origins, predating ideas of “multiculturalism” by some thirty years. It is also worth noting that Buchan’s more enlightened ideas (in said “Canadian” novels) drew considerable uneasiness from the Canadian government of the day, but in part fuelled his wide popularity among Canadian citizens.

I by no means disagree with any other elements of McKay’s talk, but found his attack on Buchan perhaps somewhat unfair. As an historian who shares McKay’s worry for the new right-wing “warrior nation” perspective of Canada, and who agrees fully that the last 50 years revealed many positive and worthy national traits that the new citizenship guide intentionally overlooks, I felt it necessary to challenge him a little on the Buchan-bashing. I may be wrong, but in my own close readings of Buchan’s Canadian work, the man is far less frightening.

Sancho May 25, 2011 at 10:31 am

As is typical of such pretentious, well-heeled, publicly-funded tenured radicals, McKay has not actually read Buchan’s books. Why would he bother? He already knows it all.

Doug June 21, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Not read Buchan’s books? I’d love to see your evidence, Sancho.

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