Sunday, November 20, 2011

Article in fugitive slave collection a helpful synthesis of scholarship

One of my pet peeves (and believe me, it's quite a menagerie) is the inadequacy of cataloguing of articles in edited collections. When oh when will bibliographic data entry catch up to the powerful engines at our disposal?

illustration from
To take one example, anyone doing a search for background information on the institutions and governance of Upper Canada/Canada West would probably not be directed to a recent article by Lyndsay Campbell "Governance in the Borderlands: Upper Canadian Legal Institutions" which appears in the collection edited by her with American historian Tony Freyer, Freedom's Conditions in the U.S.-Canadian Borderlands in the Age of Emancipation (Carolina Academic Press, Durham NC, 2011).

The student or scholar who is fortunate enough to find it, whether through an interest in fugitive slaves (the focus of the volume), serendipity or this post will find a terrific synthesis of up-to-date scholarship, together with a wonderful bibliography (what ever happened to those in Canadian Academic Presses?) Campbell does a terrific job of providing fundamentals along with lesser known details, framed as context for the fascinating and significant story of the Solomon Moseby riots. Since the book is aimed at an American as well as a Canadian readership, she takes care not to assume much fore-knowledge (with the exception of the occasional legal term) but does not neglect lacunae and subjects of historiographic dissensus, making the article also a great jumping off point for Canadianists who are not well-versed in this period, and a great refresher and reference for those of us who are.

The rest of the collection is well worth reading by generalists as well, a reminder that British North America then (as Canada now) can be understood as a borderland, defined to a considerable extent by the travails of its southern neighbour.
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