Thursday, November 26, 2009

The History Crop of 2009: not one of the great vintages?

About this time of year, I've often launched into a year's best roundup in Canadian historical work, even soliciting suggestions and contributions directly from historians and writers around the country. (Follow the tag "Year's Best" for examples.]

I'm not doing it this year, not so far at least. Partly because dragging suggestions out of my friends and colleagues doesn't seem to be much welcomed by them. But more because 2009 seems to have been a rather quiet and undistinguished year in Canadian historical production -- not a huge crop to celebrate.

It's my impression that there have been relatively few really important big new syntheses or interpretations out this year. Few stormy public controversies about history (okay, there was that dumb one about re-enacting on the Plains of Abraham). Few hot-selling popular histories. Few notable historical films and documentaries. A relative scarcity of histories on the short lists for the major prizes this fall. And so on.

I'm willing to say that's okay, there are tides in all this. Quite possibly a bumper crop is looming for next year. But right now I am looking a little wistfully at Books of the Year lists beginning to appear in the US and in Britain that seem to be filled with big, interesting, challenging, important works on historical themes of all kinds.

So, readers, I'm looking to you. I'm willing to be disproved!

If there is a book/film/exhibition/controversy from the past year, related in some fashion to Canadian history, whose appearance readers of this blog ought to celebrate, I appeal to you to let me know of it (with a word or two about why they impressed you, if you can). I'll be happy to share out suggestions. Local and specialist works absolutely welcome, since those are the easiest to overlook. My definitions of "Canadian" and "history" are capacious. Be warned: no suggestions, and I'll take it as more evidence for my general impression.

Email thoughts and suggestions to cmed[at]sympatico[dot]ca.

Update, November 27: A best history books list from Britain, and Atlantic Magazine's history-heavy 25 Best Books

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