History Wars: Terms of debate

This post originally appeared on ActiveHistory.ca

Last month, Terry Glavin wrote a syndicated op-ed piece that appeared in The Ottawa Citizen and Vancouver’s The Province, delivering a strongly worded dismissal of the historical profession in Canada. Historians and others have responded elsewhere to his indictment of the profession (see herehere and here). Today, I want to respond to the broader ideas that inform his argument.

Glavin’s essay mostly parrots a series of arguments that have been lobbed at historians since the profession began to change its focus in the 1970s and 1980s. These ideas are quite resilient. Despite their regular application (mostly in the media), his accusations are neither fair nor reflective of current historical practice and broader professional interpretations of Canada’s past. More importantly, their use is a distraction from the key issues at stake. Continue reading “History Wars: Terms of debate”

2013: It’s time to commemorate the 1763 Royal Proclamation

This post originally appeared on ActiveHistory.ca.


Royal ProcNDP Leader Thomas Mulcair made a good suggestion last week.  After the Prime Minister publicly outlined the marching orders for his ministers – which did not address recent tensions with First Nations but did emphasize the allocation of funds and resources towards a handful of historical celebrations – Mulcair took him to task. Picking up perhaps on the contradiction of funding historical celebrations while systematically gutting Library and Archives Canada and Parks Canada (two key institutions that preserve Canada’s documentary and material heritage), Mulcair gilled the Prime Minister on his political use of the past. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, however, Mulcair suggests that perhaps the Prime Minister expand his commemorative agenda. Why not celebrate the 250th anniversary of the 1763 Royal Proclamation this year?

I agree with Mulcair. The Harper government should embrace the Royal Proclamation. Not only is it a foundational – one might even say constitutional – document in Canada’s legal history, it also provides the Prime Minister with an opportunity to demonstrate his apparent concern for First Nations’ priorities.  The Royal Proclamation has all the trappings of a Harperesque vision of the past. It draws together the military, monarchy and a firm spirit of law and order.

I don’t think Mulcair went far enough in his indictment, however. It’s not just Stephen Harper (and his cabinet) ignoring the Proclamation. It’s all of us. Continue reading “2013: It’s time to commemorate the 1763 Royal Proclamation”