Taking History to the People: Women Suffrage and Beyond

By Veronica Strong-Boag and Tiffany Johnstone

History as both “facts” and “meaning” has regularly generated debate and disagreement among citizens, policymakers, and scholars. The nature and prospects of democracy and justice supply a special source of contention. Today’s ubiquitous “history wars,” sometimes termed “culture wars,” that unfold in the context of the ongoing crisis of global capitalism are a case in point.[1] Social media increasingly provide the stage for contests between progressive and conservative interpretations of the past and, particularly, its relationship to the present.

The website womensuffrage.org has joined these debates. In the face of pervasive right-wing assaults on an inclusive history and society and evidence-based public policy, it eschews all pretense of impartiality and employs scholarship to raise public consciousness about democracy and social justice. Its short essays and accessible language are designed to serve readers who may have little academic expertise but do possess an interest in how the world came to be what it is and how prospects for the majority may be improved.

Since at least the 1960s and 1970s, progressive scholarship has informed much protest against inequality and helped justify proactive public policies. Discoveries about the past have frequently been central to reconsidering national stories. In Canada, research has provided powerful documentation of, inter alia, the oppression of First Nations, the gulf between rich and poor, the scapegoating of racialized immigrants and foreign workers, the criminalization of the disadvantaged, the hollowing out of the middle class, and the “patriarchal dividend” in employment, politics, education, and social security. Anti-racist, feminist, and otherwise critical scholars have generated unprecedented awareness of the needs of Indigenous people, immigrants, workers, and women and children.[2] In the late twentieth century, the neologism “femocrats” recognized feminists working within state programs to implement new insights.[3] Progressive scholars also found partners in leading left-wing think tanks that explicitly linked policy reform with emerging data about how history unfolded in Canada.[4]

The radical potential of contemporary scholarship alarmed Canada’s “New Right”[5] and provoked a determined defense of economic, social, and political privilege. Reaction has many faces. Highly public figures like businessman Conrad Black, journalist Margaret Wente, and politicians Preston Manning and Prime Minister Stephen Harper disavow growing evidence of special interest and advantage while citing versions of natural superiority. Conservative think tanks such as the Fraser Institute (1974),[6] Civitas (1997),[7] and the Manning Centre for Building Democracy (2005) take up the same task as they join an international battalion opposed to greater equality.[8]

History’s particular centrality to such campaigns is regularly invoked. The Manning Centre typically dedicates itself to the “historical lessons of the past and valuing tradition,” while a 2009 panel entitled “Reclaiming Canada’s conservative tradition” argued that

[m]embers of Civitas generally believe Canada ought to be more conservative or classical liberal on grounds of prudence, morality or both. Bringing about such a change is obviously a huge challenge under present circumstances, and even harder if it means rejecting our dominant national traditions …. But many members of Civitas feel that our actual heritage contains far more of what we find congenial than is generally now believed … lost intellectual tradition.

Such conservative warriors in Canada, like those elsewhere, see feminist and other challenges to the status quo as peripheral to the appropriate business of history and culture, and ultimately as disloyal to and destructive of traditional nationhood. Instead, they conjure up interpretations of human relations that shore up retrogressive attacks on social services and women’s rights, and embrace economic and cultural privilege.

After the election of the Stephen Harper Conservatives to federal power in Canada, first as a minority in 2006 and then as a majority government in 2011 (albeit with less than 40% of the popular vote), right-wing ideologues were increasingly positioned to act on their social prejudices, not to mention their suspicion of evidence-based science.[9] Early on, their strategy embraced censorship and repudiated research. Evidence, whether of climate change or injustice, drew the ready response of deny, deny, deny.[10] Official custodians of national memory and contemporary records such Statistics Canada,[11] archives, libraries, and parks and historic sites were curbed and cut, even as colleges and universities, the source of so much disturbing proof of inequality and injustice, were regarded with suspicion.[12]

While it is only one target of today’s cleansing exercises, history remains central to a New Right political agenda determined to resist any questioning of authority. The federal government’s 2011 “Discover Canada” guide to the citizenship test and 2012 guide for immigrants, “Welcome to Canada,” with its highlighting of the monarchy and the military, foster a deliberately reductionist patriotism. The decision, announced in 2012, to change the name of the Canadian Museum of Civilization to the Canadian Museum of History, and its mandate to more readily boast about “national achievements and accomplishments,” seems in the same spirit, as do recent naming and commemorative practices.[13] The “rebranding” of Canada has gone sufficiently far that some critics see the militarization of national mythology as the construction of a genealogy of a “warrior nation.”[14]  Such distortions pay little or no attention to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the injustices and protests that led to its inclusion within the Constitutional Act (1982), not to mention earlier and later social justice movements, from unions to suffrage and redress campaigns, without which prospects for a more complete democracy would be much poorer.

Conservative governments are not alone in turning to history. In the context of widespread economic distress, many citizens struggle with fears about demands for restitution by Canada’s First Nations, increasingly non-European immigrant flows, and feminist claims to equality. As an assessment of recent controversy over the commemoration of the role of Bomber Command during World War II underscored, Canadians are searching history for sources of cohesion and common identity “because other sources of authority, from religion to political institutions, no longer command widespread respect.” When present and future seem so uncertain, a past devoid of complexity seems to promise reassuring “validation and justification.”[15]

Pervasive anxiety has encouraged various non-governmental efforts, such as those of the Historica-Dominion Institute (HDI), to discover a “usable” past. HDI’s declared “mission [is] to help all Canadians come to know the fascinating stories that make our country unique.”[16] Preferred programs come close to reducing history to the handmaiden of a fanciful conservative tradition. On offer as a collective heritage is the celebration (but not the protection) of parks and historic sites, the birthday of Canada’s first prime minister (the Conservative Sir John A. Macdonald), and involvement in World War II and the Korean conflict. While the Institute’s “educational guide” to Lawrence Hill’s Book of Negroes (2007), which reclaims African-Nova Scotians for Canada’s Loyalist genealogy, is somewhat braver, it effectively aligns a racially disadvantaged group with old-fashioned patriotism. Despite contemporary conservative terrors about “too much” multiculturalism, such recognition fosters naïve assumptions of Canadian exceptionalism — at least in comparison with the United States — when it comes to black-white relations.[17] Revealingly, HDI appears to ignore the reactionary turn of much public policy and its attempted justification in history.

Sepia-toned visions of past, present, or future involve the jettisoning of much of the complexity and debate demanded by competent scholarship. Stephen Harper’s recent public denigration of sociology highlights the New Right’s preference for precluding investigation and evidence. Instead, Canadians are mostly offered platitudes, namely unthreatening, seemingly incontrovertible truths, and, not so incidentally, deserving and benevolent rulers who are overwhelmingly male, middle-class, of European ancestry, and seemingly heterosexual. Recent massive government advertising of the War of 1812 fits exactly that picture. Protagonists are reduced to caricatures and issues to slogans as the British, French Canadians, Natives, women and men, collectively repel Canada’s ever-popular enemy, the Americans.[18] Ironically enough, such official distancing of the mythic nation from the US disregards the Canadian New Right’s adulation of extremist southern ideologues such as Ron Paul.

Feminist scholars have particular cause to resist the reduction of the past to patriotic icons and the retreat from evidence-based public policy that so often goes along with it.[19] The stakes are high. Current tendencies to shortchange the historical and social record are one part of a broader reactionary process of public “de-gendering” that seeks, as political scientists Janine Brodie and Isabella Bakker have pointed out, the systematic elimination of gender justice from public policy.[20] Once the record of the past is purged, the justification for progressive government begins to disappear as well.

A counterattack on the New Right, however, is well under way. Even as they spent $30,000,000 to commemorate the War of 1812 while cutting heritage protection elsewhere, government propagandists misjudged public opinion. Most Canadians remain unconvinced of the conservative vision they were being sold. Polls documented the yearning for a more complicated story that included women suffrage and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Today’s reactionary campaigns have also provoked significant scholarly outrage. Like their counterparts elsewhere,[21] Canadian researchers have become increasingly outspoken about threats to evidence-based public policy involving history and much else.

New social media present important platforms for both popular and professional unrest, much as they do for the New Right. In face of the crises of the environment, the financial system, and poverty, older media sometimes seem part of the problem. Blogging, tweeting, and websites[22] have become important sources of information and debate. Long-time champions of history, such as the Canadian Historical Association/Société historique du Canada (CHA/SHA), increasingly move back and forth between traditional and new forms of communication.[23] Following in the spirit of its earlier support for the Data Liberation Initiative (beginning 1996), the CHA/SHA’s on-line VOX HISTORICA supplies a public forum for tackling official threats to Library and Archives Canada in particular.[24] Historians committed fully to the new media have also found an outlet in Activehistory.ca/HistoireEngagée.ca, “a website that connects the work of historians with the wider public and the importance of the past to current events.” Wedding research and activism, it draws particularly on a progressive generation of junior scholars, many associated with Toronto’s York University. Alarm at the New Right’s attack on knowledge goes well beyond any single professional group. The Canadian Association of University Teachers’/Association canadienne des professeurs d’université has assembled a broad coalition of dissenters. Its website and Facebook page (entitled “Canada’s Past Matters/Veillons sur la mémoire du Canada”) forthrightly champion “Canada’s Public Libraries,” “Library & Archives Canada,” “Canada’s Local Archives,” “Canada’s Historical Sites,” and “Canada’s Museum of Civilization.”[25] Such determined professional advocacy on behalf of the nation’s history and cultural institutions and broad and inclusive scholarship in general is unprecedented.

Feminist scholars have joined the popular and professional resistance to Canada’s New Right. Created at the University of British Columbia in 2012, the website “Women Suffrage and Beyond: Confronting the Democratic Deficit” is one expression of this opposition. It deliberately encourages scholars’ critical engagement with contemporary politics.[26] By bringing the evidence of women’s history and feminist scholarship to the broader community, it aims to contribute to a more active and informed citizenship. In particular, it uses women’s suffrage as a critical starting point for raising key questions about democracy. Rather than compartmentalizing franchise campaigns in a separate, too-often dead-end track of analysis, the website recognizes that big issues about human equality and fair dealing stand at their very heart. The suffrage crusade that emerged in the mid-nineteenth century and did not end until well after the Second World War linked successive generations of feminists and frequently encouraged the questioning of a wide range of power and privilege. Womensuffrage.org invokes that critical spirit.

While much can and has been said in Canada and elsewhere about the shortcomings of suffragists, democracy cannot be said to exist before women (and other disadvantaged groups) are enfranchised and empowered.[27] In other words, until all citizens are fully included, public life and government remain fundamentally flawed. Today’s citizens and policymakers confronting reactionary messages that declare themselves based in the past and that effectively deny women and the less powerful meaningful opportunity and acknowledgement need to learn much more about the origins and evolution of democracy and the shifting prospects of social justice.

Womensuffrage.org directs audiences to three related sets of issues regularly illuminated by feminist scholarship in the humanities and social sciences:

  1. the particular genealogies of past and present social justice movements and their adversaries;
  2. connections among diverse liberation or pro-democracy struggles and, indeed, their antitheses;
  3. the multiple identities and concerns that characterize champions and opponents of democracy and suffrage.

Gender, race, class, sexuality, (dis)ability, and other markers of difference figure centrally, reflecting a major tenet of contemporary feminist scholarship, namely that recognition of intersectionality and positionality is essential to all considerations of human behaviour.

Womensuffrage.org also spotlights Canada even as it simultaneously recognizes the significance of global forces. We employ the term “glocal” to stress pervasive international connections with the local or the national. The course of social justice, like much else, has never been an isolated phenomenon. Canada’s suffragists learned much from New Zealand’s pioneering franchise victories, and later activists were inspired by the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979). In the past, Canadians took instruction from anti-slavery campaigns in the United States; today they learn from LGBT struggles for equality beyond their borders. From the nineteenth century to the present, First Nations’ activists have taken counsel from the struggles of the world’s other Indigenous peoples, while trade unionists have followed the efforts of sisters and brothers elsewhere. Campaigns for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and initiatives, such as Canada’s pioneering recognition of “gender-based persecution” as a justification for refugee claims (1993) and the legalization of same-sex unions (2005), were similarly never isolated occurrences.

As with the New Right, global linkages have also served domestic repression and censorship. Canadian policies restricting the freedom of the First Nations have been linked to pass laws in Apartheid South Africa, while American, Canadian, European, and British security services collaborated in the containment of domestic radicals and supposed international terrorists.[28] Would-be union busters in Canada have regularly looked south for assistance.[29] The fact that Canada has long been a mosaic of diverse peoples with ties well beyond its borders has kept glocal influences of every sort multiple and enduring.

Similarly central to the educational mandate of womensuffrage.org is recognition of the value of a multidisciplinary lens. Both the humanities and the social sciences are crucial to the recovery of what has gone before and what might yet be done. This is hardly surprising as consideration of the past and its connection to the present is central to many disciplines beyond history itself. Literary critics and philosophers, like anthropologists, geographers, and political scientists, among others, have much to offer when we contemplate the evolution of social democracy and social policy. As the British Academy insisted in 2008, “the humanities” need to “‘punch their weight’ in policy circles.”[30] Diverse methodological and philosophical vantage points offer essential tools with which to make sense of democracy and social justice. For that reason, the research team draws on those trained in a variety of realms and invites similar contributors.

In its foray into today’s cultural contests, womensuffrage.org is thus deliberately eclectic and wide-ranging. The site moves, for example, from consideration of the perspectives of Indigenous writer, performer, and champion E. Pauline Johnson (1861-1912) and Eurasian anti-racist writer Edith Maude Eaton/Sui Sin Far (1865–1914) to Canada’s 1885 franchise legislation, rape as a political act, the Idle No More movement, the blindspots of contemporary liberalism, the politics of transsexual women, Malala Yousufzai, and women’s global political representation. Such posts, like others, are designed to appeal to a broad public and to demonstrate the on-going significance of history to current political debates and policies.

As part of its connection of activism and scholarship, our site also features commentary on contemporary political contests and issues. The sections “On the Frontline” and “At the Ballot Box”,  offer both scholarly reflections on the fortunes of democracy today and a forum for activists. Once again, Canada is of special interest. In April 2013, the female contenders for the leadership of the federal Liberal Party provided an opportunity to scrutinize the meaning of women’s involvement in high politics. We anticipate that future contributors will address causes and campaigns in other jurisdictions.

While the angst and uncertainty of our age has no simple answers, reactionary nostrums coming from neo-liberal governments and New Right ideologues compromise equality and well-being. The full tidings of modern scholarship offer, in contrast, footholds on a braver world. To that end, womensuffrage.org does not stand on the sidelines. It invites contributors and readers to make connections between past and present, between power and privilege, between Canada and the world, all the while viewing the position of women and girls as a key indicator of the health of social democracy. Canadian feminist writer Margaret Atwood once reminded Amnesty International that “[a] voice is a gift and that “[s]ilence” is ultimately a sign of “powerlessness,” a position that feminists and scholars have good reason to repudiate.[31] At womensuffrage.org we honour historical and contemporary struggles for women’s rights by creating a podium for continuing engagement.

womensuff - May 2013

This paper was originally presented at the conference of the Western Association of Women Historians, 17 May 2013, Portland, Oregon. Our thanks go out to Gillian Creese, Lyle Dick, Jason Ellis, Franca Iacovetta, Gregory Kealey, Linda Kealey, Joan Sangster, Mary Lynn Stewart, and Kelsey Wrightson for reading earlier versions of this paper. We also thank Huai Bao, Kelly Christensen, Genevieve LeBaron, Grace Lore, and Kelsey Wrightson for their steady commitment to the site.

[1] See, inter alia, Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark, The History Wars (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2004); Margaret MacMillan, Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History (New York: Random House, 2008); Robert Bothwell, Randall Hansen, and Margaret MacMillan, “Controversy, Commemoration & Capitulation: the Canadian War Museum & Bomber Command,” Queen’s Quarterly 115, no. 3 (2008): 367–387; Tom Peace, “The Return of the History Wars,” ActiveHistory.ca, 11 October 2011;. See also “Revising History,” Parts 1 and 2, Ideas. CBC, 3 April 2013 and 2 May 2013.

[2] Two recent examples of policy influence are the March 2013 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the case of the Manitoba Metis (see “Riel’s Revenge,” Ideas. CBC, 9 April 2013,) and the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment (1984), established by the federal government at the height of the acceptance of feminist arguments and chaired by Rosalie Abella, a feminist lawyer who went on to join the Supreme Court of Canada. Her report was critical to Canada’s first Employment Equity Act (1986). Reports of other royal commissions, such as those on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) and the Status of Women (1970), have similarly linked policy reform to anti-racist and feminist scholarship. For a useful reminder of sometimes unintended outcomes of radical scholarship, see Jason Ellis, “The History of Education as “Active History”: A Cautionary Tale?Active History.ca, September 2012. The situation he describes seems analogous to feminist historians’ strong critique of first-generation feminism. See, for example, Carol Lee Bacchi, Liberation Deferred? The Ideas of the English-Canadian Suffragists (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983) and Marianna Valverde, The Age of Light, Soap, and Water: Moral Reform in English Canada, 1885–1925 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), which sometimes produced the effect of denying early activists’ any value or integrity.

[3] For a discussion of their limited success in Canada, see Francesca Scala, “Feminists Ideals versus Bureaucratic Norms: The Case of Feminist Researchers and the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies,” in Gendering the Nation-State: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives, ed. Yasmeen Abu-Laban (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008), 99.

[5] See Bruce W. Foster, “New Right, Old Canada: An Analysis of the Political Thought and Activities of Selected Contemporary Right-Wing Organizations” (PhD diss., University of British Columbia, 2000); David Laycok, The New Right and Democracy in Canada: Understanding Reform and the Canadian Alliance (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2001). See also Elisabeth Gidengil, Matt Hennigar, André Blais, and Neil Nevitte, “The Gender Gap in Support for the New Right: The Case of Canada,” Comparative Political Studies 38, no. 10 (December 2005): 1171–95.

[6] See its website, http://www.fraserinstitute.org. Calgary political scientist and Fraser Institute enthusiast Thomas Flanagan is a leading denier of interpretations that position marginalized peoples as bearers of rights. His particular targets have been aboriginal peoples. See Darren O’Toole, “Thomas Flanagan on the Stand: Revisiting Métis Land Claims and the Lists of Rights in Manitoba,” International Journal of Canadian Studies 41, no. 1 (2010): 137–66. On 8 March 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada revised an earlier ruling to announce that the Crown had failed to deliver land grants promised to the Métis as part of the Red River settlement in 1870, effectively dismissing Flanagan’s previous arguments as an “expert witness.”

[7] Civitas describes itself as the “premier venue in Canada” for “people interested in conservative, classical liberal and libertarian ideas.” “Civitas National Conference programme,” 3 May 2009. See also The Trouble with Canada … Still! (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2010) by William D. Gairdner, one of the founders of Civitas and a long-time public opponent of multiculturalism and feminism. See also his website, http://www.williamgairdner.com, and Veronica Strong-Boag, “Independent Women, Problematic Men: First and Second Wave Anti-Feminism in Canada from Goldwin Smith to Betty Steele, ” Histoire sociale/Social History 57 (May 1996): 1–22. Another conservative Canadian think tank of note is the C.D. Howe Institute (1973).

[8] These include the Heritage Foundation (from 1973) and the Cato Institute (from 1977) in the United States, the Centre for Policy Studies (from 1974) and the Policy Exchange (from 2002) in the United Kingdom, and the Centre for Independent Studies (from 1976), and the Sydney Institute (from 1989) in Australia.

[9] On this see, for example, Crawford Kilian, “Information Commissioner to Investigate Muzzling of Federal Scientists,” The Tyee, 1 April 2013. More generally, see Democracy Watch. The official assault is especially evident within government departments. See Karen Birchard and Jennifer Lewington, “Researchers protest Canada’s New Restrictions on Sharing Data,” Chronicle of Higher Education 59, no. 29 (29 March 2013) and “Cuts to Federal Science and Research Programs-Backgrounder,” Public Service Alliance of Canada, 22 April 2012. To date, the impact on Canada’s various research councils has been uneven, with significant cuts, for example, in 2012, and then limited increases in the 2013 budget. Notably, however, restored funding often requires partnerships with industry. See the CAUT [Canadian Association of University Teachers] Bulletin for coverage.

[10] Artists are also confronting intensification of official censorship. See, for example, the case of Franke James, who is drawing attention to climate change and the tar sands development in Alberta. Suzanne Goldenberg, “Artist finds inspiration in Canadian government’s attempt to silence her,” Guardian.co.uk, 17 May 2013.

[11] Among the most disturbing acts of vandalism is the elimination of the “long census.” In 2010, the Harper government, motivated in significant measure by the familiar conservative bugbear of a threat to individual rights, determined to replace the longstanding mandatory long census, conducted every five years, with a voluntary survey. The loss undermines the collection of key demographic and socio-economic data and thus the basis of sound public policy. See Krista McCracken, “Canadian Census Data: A Lost Resource,” ActiveHistory.Ca, 19 July 2010; and Gordon Darroch, “Commentary Losing Our Census,” Canadian Journal of Communication 35 (2010): 609–617. The latter notes that the loss will make “Canada appear to be a country of greater moderation—less variant, less unequal, more middling,” a place, in other words, where social justice seemingly already thrives (612).

[12] For a discussion of a worse situation elsewhere, see Robin Wilson, “Grad Programs in Humanities are Shrinking,” Chronicle of Higher Education 58, no. 28 (16 March 2012): 1–8 and James Vernon, “The State They Are In: History and Public Education in England,” Perspectives on History, March 2011.

[13] Kaitlin Wainwright, “A Building by Any Other Name: the Politics of Renaming and Commemoration,” ActiveHistory.ca, 2 April 2013. On the recurring problem, see also Veronica Strong-Boag, “Experts on Our Own Lives: Commemorating Canada at the Beginning of the 21st Century,The Public Historian 31, no. 1 (February 2009): 46–68.

[14] See Ian McKay and Jamie Swift, Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2012). See also the inauguration of a supposedly scholarly program of research support on “terrorism and counter-terrorism” managed by the federal Department of Public Safety Canada/Securité publique Canada.

[15] Bothwell, Hansen, and MacMillan, “Controversy, Commemoration, and Capitulation,” 371.

[16] HDI is a 2009 amalgamation of the Historical Foundation of Canada and the Dominion Institute . Quotes are from the site.   See also the somewhat broader preoccupations of Canada’s National History Society, which revealingly does not have a French title.   Once again, however, its website demonstrates no explicit public engagement in today’s conflicts over freedom, information, and history.

[17] On Canadian and other fears, see Keith Banting and Will Kymlick, “Canadian Multiculturalism: Global Anxieties and Local Debates,” British Journal of Canadian Studies 23, no. 1 (2010): 43–72.

[18] See “The War of 1812: The Fight for Canada.” See also Prime Minister Harper’s claim, as reported on the CBC, that this conflict “united ‘English, French, and Aboriginal’ and … ‘people of all backgrounds’.” Quoted in Nathan Smith, “The Warrior Nation on Canada Day: A View from East York,” ActiveHistory.ca, 10 July 2012.

[19] See the bleak reflections of the Québéçoise pioneer, Micheline Dumont, Pas d’histoire, les femmes! Réflexions d’une historienne indigene (Montréal: les Éditions du remue-ménage, 2013), and the reminders of the importance of women’s studies specifically in the US, but more generally, as well, by Claire Potter, “What a World Without Women’s Studies Looked Like,” Tenured Radical, 8 April 2013. See also the Canadian Committee on Women’s History/Comité de l’histoire des femmes, which is the professional society (founded in 1975) devoted to women’s history.

[20] See J. Brodie and I. Bakker, Where are the Women? Gender Equity, Budgets and Canadian Public Policy (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2008).

[21] See Pamela Cox’s discussion of the British case, including the History & Policy group at the University of London, in “The Future Uses of History,” History Workshop Journal, 2013. See also Mary Stevens, “Public Policy and the Public Historian: The Changing Place of Historians in Public Life in France and the UK,” The Public Historian 32, no. 3 (August 2010): 120–38; and John Tosh, Why History Matters (Bastingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). See also the recent initiative by faculty in history and public policy in North Carolina in Georgia Parke, “Professors from Triangle universities slam state Republican policies,” The Chronicle, 29 March 2013.

[23] One example of traditional strategy is the CHA’s organization of a special session of historians, archivists, archaeologists, and anthropologists at the April 2013 conference of the National Council on Public History to discuss the threat to research and scholarship. This involved the presidents of the CHA/SHC, Canadian Anthropological Association/la Société canadienne d’anthropologie, the Association of Canadian Archivists, and the Canadian Archaeological Association/Association canadienne d’archéologie.

[24] See, for example, Stephane Baillargeon, “Ottawa impose le bâillon aux archivists/Ottawa imposes a gag order on archivists,” 3 April 2013. Other professional societies have also been outspoken. See the Bibliographical Society of Canada/La Société bibliographique du Canada. Unfortunately, the website of the Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française offers no clue of the official position of history’s leading representative group in French Canada on conservative assaults. Our efforts to discover its position have so far proved fruitless.

[26] This website continues the spirit of the monthly Report Cards of Friends of Women and Children in BC, which appeared from April 2002 to April 2005. Located at UBC’s Centre for Research in Women’s and Gender Studies, they offered a scholarly challenge (frequently associated with community-action research) to the neo-liberal assault on the rights of women and children in British Columbia.

[27] See the argument in Pamela Paxton, “Women Suffrage in the Measurement of Democracy: Problems of Operationalization,” Studies in Comparative International Development 35, no. 3 (Fall 2000), 92-111.

[28] See Michèle Ducharme, “The Canadian Origins of South African Apartheid?” Currents—Readings in Race Relations 3, no. 4 (1986): 1–32; Bryan Palmer, Canada’s 1960s: The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009); and Reg Whitaker, Greg Kealey, and Andew Parnaby, Secret Service: Political Policing in Canada from the Fenians to Fortress America (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012).

[29] See, for example, John Logan, “The Union Avoidance Industry in the United States,” British Journal of Industrial Relations 44, no. 4 (December 2006): 657.

[30] Quoted in Cox, “Future Uses of History,” 2. See also the similar argument in the Canadian context in “Humanities still matter, say experts at U of R summit,” Regina Leader-Post, 18 April 2013.

[31] Margaret Atwood, Second Words: Selected Critical Prose (Toronto: Anansi, 1982), 396. The entire relevant passage reads “We in this country should use our privileged position not as a shelter from the world’s realities but as a platform from which to speak. Many are denied their voices, we are not. A voice is a gift; it should be cherished and used, to fully utter human speech if possible. Powerlessness and silence go together, one of the first efforts made in any totalitarian takeover is to suppress the writers, the singers, the journalists, those who are the collective voice. Get rid of the union leaders and pervert the legal system and what you are left with is a reign of terror.”

2 thoughts on “Taking History to the People: Women Suffrage and Beyond

  1. […] Active History as transformational history: Approaching history from this perspective involves using the past to bring about change in the present and for the future. Another way to frame this perspective would be to see it as “activist history.” The approach is perhaps best embodied in Esyllt Jones and Adele Perry’s People’s Citizenship Guide  and Veronica Strong-Boag and Tiffany Johnstone’s paper on Women’s Suffrage and Beyond. […]

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