Monday, January 19, 2009

Can you re-enact the Plains of Abraham?

Can you re-enact the Battle of the Plains of Abraham without, you know, giving offence?

Visiting Gettysburg Battlefield's impressive new visitor centre last summer, I was impressed by the historiographic section in its display, in which it was argued that after the American Civil War, the theme of "reconciliation" became very powerful, so that fifty years after the battle, old confederates and old unionists could meet on the understanding that they were all Americans who had been fighting over some important constitutional principle -- as if it had had nothing to do with still-painful subjects like slavery and racism and Jim Crow. It took some white-painting of history, that is, but relatively soon after the Civil War, it would have been possible to re-enact its battles without giving great offences. These days they do it all the time.

That has not quite happened regarding the battles of The Conquest. There remains a strong "Nous sommes opprimés, nous sommes humiliés" constituency in Quebec public life, for whom poking the wound of 1759 remains a vital stock-in-trade. I suspect for most Quebeckers as for most Canadians what happened back then is a very long time ago, and that lots of people could be quite entertained watching a battle re-creation without drawing political lessons. But I see the problem.
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