Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Endangered Canadianists

James Muir of the University of Alberta ponders my recent comment about the possible decline of the Canadianist at the University of Toronto.
As for U of T (St. George campus): while the department's commitment to Canadian history is declining, there are still several profs there who would identify themselves as Canadian historians/canadianists:
Robert Bothwell, Steve Penfold, Ian Radforth for sure and I am pretty sure also Heidi Bohaker, Franca Iacovetta, Laurel MacDowell, Mark McGowan and Jan Noel (Allen Greer, still on their page, has left UofT for McGill). Nevertheless, this is not, despite how good these people are, the equivalent of what UofT was in the 1960s when Creighton, Careless, McNaught and others were all teaching there.

In part this stems from two things: First, there has been a change in Canadian hiring law that limits preference for hiring Canadians. Even when Universities had to interview and reject Canadian applicants before looking at foreign applicants, the number of faculty from away was high; now its much higher, fed by assumptions about where good students study (e.g. a good US historian obviously went to school in the US). This affects universities across Canada. Many of the people from away are good people, but some, without a Canadian identity for better or worse, question the global relevance of Canadian history and so urge curricular changes and hiring patterns that limit Canadian history. This is made worse at UofT by the second thing: UofT's self conscious attempt to compare itself to US universities. In this climate, there is less institutional support for Canadian studies of any sort because Canadian studies is not an important subject at Harvard/Princeton/University of Chicago/etc.

Despite the first of the two problems I identified above, however, Canadian history is predominant at most, if not all other English language Canadian universities. A simple comparison to York would suffice. There are 77 Grad faculty at UofT, with the above 3-8 Canadian historians. At York there are 72 Grad Faculty, and 28 identified under the Canadian field (this overstates it, I think, but 21 or 22 are exclusively or predominantly Canadianists in their research and teaching). At my own institution, Canadian history has taken a hit in terms of full time History faculty, but it is still the single largest field (and a recent external review urged more hirings in the field).

All this to say, I don't think Canadian history is going the way of "Diplomatic history". I don't think you were intending to imply their equivalence, however, but to raise a parallel question for discussion.
The two are not really comparable: the former is a geographic area/country/society/insert your chosen term; the latter a field of study for one or more geographic areas. At my institution, the Canadianists divide as something like (topic / time & region):
Aboriginal History / 19C West: 2
Immigration history / 20C West: 1
Sport History / 20c national: 1
Rural History / 19C Ontario: 1
Environmental history / 20C North: 1
<20C North: 1
Political History / 19c national: 1
Legal History / 18C Atlantic: 1
Social history / 20C West: 1
If I recall, my informant's point was partly about the power of Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities analysis to make national history unfashionable in the academy: okay to do labour, or women, or post-colonial or legal or social, but even if one's sources or subjects are Canadian, it's unfashionable to take on the national label.
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