Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Brian Young Conference in Montreal

Brian Young, the about-to-retire history professor at McGill, has been a productive and stimulating writer on Quebec history for a long time. His core works have been rather specialized and technical, I suppose, not bestseller material. Even his biography of George-Etienne Cartier is anything but a conventional admiring biography; it's mostly a close, tough analysis of the business and class interests of the "Montreal bourgeois."

One book that shows off Professor Young's methods and skills is his 1994 study The Politics of Codification. It sounds, ah, unpromising, I know: a book-length analysis of the mid-19th century revision and codification of Quebec's French-derived civil law into the Quebec Civil Code. Okay, it's not easy going, but there is a profound analysis here of a great political, legal, social, intellectual achievement -- one that says much about an evolution taking place in Quebec and particularly in Montreal at that time.

Most of Young's work has like that: sceptical interrogations of the socio-economic structures of 19th century Quebec society and politics from a marxist point of view. When I've needed to write something about Quebec, even on topics far afield from Young's specific interests, his seemingly-specialized works are ones I find myself going back to.

He's had wider interests too. He's the author of Respectable Burial, a study of Montreal's Mount Royal Cemetary. The Making and Unmaking of a University Museum was a powerful critique of changes -- regrettable changes, in Young's view -- at Montreal's McCord Museum. And he co-authored the widely used survey Short History of Quebec with John Dickinson.

Young has also been active for many years in a network called the Montreal History Group (long called the Montreal Business History Group). On April 30, the Group is hosting a day-long conference in Brian Young's honour. It's at Thomson House on the McGill campus -- more information, if you are interested, by email to mhgmayday2009[at]gmail.com
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