The Future of Loyalist Studies

As part of our partnership with the new early Canadian history blog Borealia, we’ll be posting highlights from that website here every Saturday in November.

By Christopher F. Minty

benjamin-west-john-eardley-wilmot-1812-yale-center-for-british-art-paul-mellon-collection“Intractable issues vex loyalist studies.” These were the words Ruma Chopra used in an essay, published in History Compass, in 2013. She’s right. As of mid-2015, loyalist studies has come to an important juncture, and the paths historians, researchers, and students go down in choosing their approaches to loyalist studies, within the next decade or so, will affect scholarship for well over a generation.[1]

To be sure, in recent years loyalist studies has made considerable strides. Scholarship by Chopra, Maya Jasanoff, Judith Van Buskirk, Phillip Papas, Keith Mason, Christopher Sparshott, and the writers and editors of The Loyal Atlantic and Loyalism and the Formation of the British World, among others, have pushed loyalist studies forward into new, exciting areas. Above all, they have placed it within an Atlantic framework and questioned what it meant to be a “loyalist.”

This scholarship, in turn, is being driven forward by a number of graduate students and junior faculty. The likes of Kimberly Nath (Delaware), Pete Walker (Columbia), Sophie Jones (Liverpool), Christina Carrick (BU), Justin Clement (UC, Davis), Rachel Hermann (Southampton), and Don Johnson (North Dakota State), among others, are bringing new methodologies and outlooks to loyalist studies or aspects of it. But with this upturn in scholarship, where are we to go from here? [Read More]

Being Part of Something Larger: A Review of Imprinting Britain

As part of our partnership with the new early Canadian history blog Borealia, we’ll be posting highlights from that website here every Saturday in November.

By Keith Grant

Michael Eamon, Imprinting Britain: Newspapers, Sociability, and the Shaping of British North America (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015).

Grant image“Were I to name the most striking peculiarity of our neighbours in the United States, I would say that they are set apart from the rest of mankind by a certain littleness.” So wrote the pseudonymous Verax to the Nova-Scotia Magazine in 1789. Yet for the colonial print community of Halifax and Quebec City, being British meant “being part of something larger” (19).

One of the pressing questions for provincial Britons was how to be “British” despite their distance from London, the centre of imperial power. Michael Eamon argues in Imprinting Britain that eighteenth-century residents of Quebec City and Halifax used the press and various forms of sociability to fashion a distinctive British identity. At a time when British Americans in the Thirteen Colonies were wrestling with the same questions with strikingly different results, the colonists of these two cities chose to express their commitment to British liberties alongside propriety, civility, and monarchy. While affirming their place in the British Empire, elites in Halifax and Quebec also participated in the British Enlightenment, that cultural and intellectual movement that emphasized reason, practical scientific knowledge, and the improvement of society—the British Enlightenment tending to be more moderate than some of its more radical, republican expressions. The colonial print community of Quebec and Halifax, then, managed to express their liberty while remaining part of “something larger”—the British Empire and its moderate Enlightenment.

Imprinting Britain is a meticulous study of every extant English-language newspaper printed in eighteenth-century Quebec City and Halifax (among other printed and manuscript sources). But it is not only a study of texts or readers in isolation: this is a book about print as sociability, as well as print and sociability. That is, Eamon explores how print facilitated a communal identity, and how print interacted with other sites of sociability—clubs, lodges, coffeehouses, and theatre—to define Britishness in these colonial capitals. [Continue Reading]

Unrest, Violence, and the Search for Social Order in British North America and Canada, 1749-1876

As part of our partnership with the new early Canadian history blog Borealia, we’ll be posting highlights from that website here every Saturday in November.

By Elizabeth Mancke

Mancke 1

Benjamin Sulte, Histoire de Jos. Montferrand, L’athlète de Canadien (Montreal: Beauchemin et Fils), 73; detail (Public Domain).

From the mid-eighteenth century to the early Confederation era, British North Americans and then Canadians confronted a wide range of phenomena that could engender disorder: imperial wars, rebellions, the arrival of immigrants, epidemics, political unrest, and relations with First Nations. All, directly or indirectly, presented challenges to maintaining social and political order. In response, British North Americans and then Canadians engaged in protracted discussions about the definition of order and experimented with strategies to confront and limit disorder when it broke out. These discussions and processes reinforced the pervasive belief, held by both Canadians and outsiders, that Canada developed historically distinct relations shaped by notions of “peace, order, and good government,” or, in the terms of this project, themes such as unrest, violence, and the search for order. Processes of negotiating order and disorder, however, varied dramatically across British North America. But despite distinct political, social, and cultural dynamics, the colonies shared enough practices and temperaments that something recognizably Canadian emerged as part of the national identity. Yet very little inter-colonial analysis has been done to comprehend what British North Americans understood by “peace, order, and good government.” Rather, scholars who study incidents of unrest and violence in Canadian history more often employ comparisons to events in Europe or the United States, often with the effect of highlighting the distinctiveness of British North American developments.

A group of approximately 25 historians is undertaking a SSHRC-funded project to re-examine “Unrest, Violence, and the Search for Social Order in British North America and Canada, 1749-1876.” Explicitly designed to encourage inter-colonial comparisons, this project attempts to analyze how unrest varied across colonial societies, and how provincial leaders sought accommodations to maintain or regain control when discord threatened. In this endeavour, we have set ourselves a challenge: to think critically about the ways in which political and social order were defined and refined in British North America and into the early years of Confederation. The provinces were not monolithic in ethnic, religious, or social composition, and British North Americans disagreed on what constituted political and social order. The current understanding of those processes has been overwhelmingly couched in evolutionist values of a positive and logical progression to achieve superior forms of political and social order. The positivist and nationalistic ideals that have dominated the historical scholarship of this period – often expressed as “colony-to-nation” – merit re-examination. [Continue Reading]

Exploring New Directions in Active History

Tom Peace & Daniel Ross

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 2.25.33 PMSeven years in, it’s time to take stock of the Active History project. Since our founding symposium in 2008, Active History has branched off in a number of directions. Those include–but are not limited to–an annual lecture series (History Matters), a long-running podcast (History Slam), and a working group within the Canadian Historical Association. And then there is the website. Today, is home to well over 1,000 blog posts, papers, podcasts, and videos, and more and more people (between 20,000 – 25,000) are reading them every month. Not bad for a wordpress site run by a small group of volunteers.

Most of all, these activities reflect the fact that Active History is comprised of a growing community of people who believe history should be collaborative, relevant, and accessible to a wide audience. Many are practicing that kind of history every day, as community members, scholars, heritage professionals, or teachers. From the start, the project has been as much about building and strengthening connections within that community as putting forward any particular vision of what Active History is, or could be. That’s the spirit behind the New Directions in Active History Conference, taking place next week (October 2-4) at Huron University College in London, ON. Continue reading

Introducing Borealia

By Keith Grant and Denis McKim

borealiaIt was a packed house in Ottawa this summer for a Canadian Historical Association session entitled, “Who Killed Pre-Confederation Canadian History?” The large turnout and energetic Q & A period seemed to belie the title’s sense of demise: the history of early “Canada” appears to be alive and kicking.

Tom Peace and Robert Englebert, the organizers of that session, have rightly drawn attention to the relative underrepresentation of Pre-Confederation history at the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association, and wonder if this signals a wider crisis in the field. However, David Zylberberg has recently questioned this narrative of decline, observing that other measures—such as dissertations, faculty hires, or prestigious book prizes—suggest an enduring interest in early Canadian history. We might add, anecdotally, that for better or for worse, historians who work on New France, Indigenous peoples, or the British Empire often hang their academic hats at more specialized conferences or journals. Early Canadian sessions, for example, were a significant presence at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture (Halifax, June 2014), and at the American Society for Environmental History (Washington, March 2015). Or recall the lively pieces by Jeffers Lennox (on the geography of interactions in early Nova Scotia) and Nancy Christie (on families and authority in counterrevolutionary Montreal) in recent issues of the William and Mary Quarterly. Plenty of good work on early Canada is being done; it’s just that a good deal of it is being done in contexts that aren’t overtly Canadian. Continue reading

New Directions in Active History: Update #2

Conference planning for October’s event is going well and we have a handful of updates for you.

First and most importantly, if you have not yet registered, the rate is going up on 1 September (Tuesday).  You can access the registration form here:

Also, our preferred rate at the Delta ends on 4 September. The Delta is in downtown London, just blocks from major London Transit hubs and the VIA rail station. The college can be easily accessed on London Transit.  To book one of these rooms call 519-640-5004 or 1-800-236-2427 and quote “New Directions in Active History – Public.” Grad student accommodation will remain available until full.

If you are presenting at the conference, we have posted abstracts here: Please review them for accuracy and let Daniel Ross <> know ASAP if there needs to be any modifications.

If you are on Twitter, we will be using the hashtag: #ActiveHist2015 for all conference events. Feel free to use it to promote the conference, your session or poster.

Finally, for those of you coming from out of town (and of course locals who want a night out!), we have been able to arrange history-based walking tours of downtown London. Both tours will begin at 7:30 p.m. downtown (about 10 minutes on the bus from Huron). One tour will be led by Kym Wolfe, author of Barhopping into History and Hopping into History, and will focus on London’s oldest surviving taverns and bars in heritage buildings (as well as local brewing etc…). The other tour will be led by the London branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and will focus on the history and architecture of downtown London. Both tours will cost $15 and include a complementary drink at the end. If you have already registered, please contact me in order to be added to the list.  You can pay when you arrive at the conference. If you have not registered, we have modified the registration form in order for you to pay for the tours with your registration fee. Spaces are limited.

Our Bodies and Inescapable Ecologies: A Look at the Mining Community of Sudbury, Ontario

By Kaleigh Bradley

“Where does the body end and ‘non-human nature’ begin? When we recognize that human bodies are directly affected by their environments, we are forced to acknowledge that humans are not simply agents of environmental change, but objects of that change” – Linda Nash, Inescpable Ecologies

Last week I was surprised to hear about the toxic leak of nitrous oxide at Vale’s Copper Cliff Mine in my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario. Residents near the mine were told to leave or stay inside with their windows and doors shut until the toxic leak had cleared. Air quality readings showed levels of nitrous oxide that were about fifteen to twenty times higher than usual. A high-ranking mine employee told the CBC that the leak posed “no risk to the community,” although exposure to nitrous oxide is known to cause respiratory issues and it can be lethal in high doses. I wonder if after the gas had dissipated, and the residents and workers returned to their regular activities in the area, if they were completely safe from exposure? And what about the150 kilotonnes of sulphur dioxide that Vale’s Copper Cliff mine continues to release every year, despite its promise to reduce emissions? Is Sudbury a safe place to live today, even if it is a little greener?


Typical blackened rocks and stunted trees in Sudbury, ON. Source: Wikipedia.

Growing up in Sudbury, I didn’t think much of the industrial landscape that surrounded me. A
mining town with its black rocks, stunted trees, slag hills, and iconic Superstack, Sudbury was home. It was not until I began to venture outside of the Sudbury region that I realized something was very unnerving about my hometown. Trees growing in other cities, like Ottawa or Toronto were much taller and healthier. There were also several different species of trees besides birch or spruce lining the forests along the highways just outside of Sudbury. Rocks outside of town were any colour but black, and as far as I could tell, there were no slag hills, orange streams, or green-ish tailings ponds at our family’s cottage, about a 40 minute drive away. These other environments that I visited were not pristine because most ecosystems have been manipulated by humans. But why was Sudbury so different?

Continue reading

The Second Battle of Ypres and the Creation of a YMCA Hero is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 12 May 2015

 By Jonathan Weier

Weier, Second Ypres and YMCA Hero - image 1Among the approximately 2000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force killed at the Second Battle of Ypres in late April and early May 1915 was the only Canadian YMCA worker killed in combat during the First World War. YMCA Honourary Captain Oscar Irwin, attached to the 10th Battalion of the CEF, was killed when he joined the battalion as it set out to retake St. Julien from the Germans in the early morning of April 23rd.[1] Irwin appears frequently in the YMCA’s commemoration of its First World War service, as the heroic embodiment of the YMCA’s masculine ideals, its message of service, and as a symbol of Christian sacrifice. Irwin’s example, both in life and in death, provided a venue by which the YMCA and its workers could address the tensions and challenges faced by many men involved in non-combatant service during the First World War. Continue reading

Sexing Up Canada’s First World War is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 3 March 2015

By Zachary Abram

VD Poster 1Canadian cultural memory of the First World War is conspicuously asexual considering Canadians had among the highest rates for venereal disease in the British Expeditionary Force, with an infection rate that reached as high as 28.7%. [1] Anyone with a passing interest in the First World War is familiar with Trench Foot and its symptoms are synonymous with the squalor of trench warfare. Yet, only 74,711 cases of Trench Foot were treated during the entire war.[2] Venereal Disease accounted for 416,891 hospital admissions in the British Army.[3] A soldier was five times more likely to be admitted to hospital for syphilis and gonorrhea but in the popular imagination it is Trench Foot that persists. There is a reticence, perhaps the result of inherited Victorian prudery or the unwillingness to “sully the reputations” of the war dead, to discuss soldiers’ sex lives. As a result, discussions of the First World War tend to elide the bedroom in favour of the trench. Continue reading

Promises Broken, or Politics as Usual? is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 27 January 2015

By Jonathan Scotland

Despite the Conservative Party of Canada’s fondness for promoting its support for Canada’s military, since assuming government in 2006 the federal government’s relationship with veterans has been rocky at best. By the close of last year’s parliament it seemed that new criticisms were being leveled at Julian Fantino, Minister of Veterans Affairs, on a daily basis. His department’s handling of the New Veterans Charter (NVC) and treatment of soldiers’ mental health came in for special criticism. Critics also added neglected war graves, unspent funds, cuts to the Veterans’ Affairs’ disability awards branch, and inadequate access to a growing list of complaints. Fantino, at least, was struck off that list early in the new year when he was replaced as Minister by Erin O’Toole, a sign the government is trying to repair its reputation with veterans.

In British Columbia wounded veterans have taken Ottawa to court over the change from life-long pensions to one-time, lump-sum payments. This shift, the veterans argue, amounts to a breach of trust between soldiers and the crown, a social contract that dates to at least the First World War.

Their suit builds on Aboriginal case law by invoking the honour of the crown. If it succeeds, it will be precedent setting. Veterans’ benefits will henceforth be enshrined as a permanent fiduciary responsibility.

With parliamentary sovereignty at stake, government lawyers are vigorously seeking to have the suit thrown out.

At the heart of the case are Prime Minister Robert Borden’s wartime commitments to Canada’s troops. Continue reading