Thursday, November 13, 2014

We may not know much but we know what we don't know

At Active History, Raphael Gani speculates that the one thing every Canadian claims to know about Canadian history is that no Canadian knows anything about Canadian history. He calls this claim about universal ignorance one of the "sites of memory" we cherish and routinely reaffirm. Even it is is mostly mistaken.

He then brings his discussion around to the analysis of Canadian engagement with Canadian history undertaken by the group that produced the book and website Canadians and their PastsHe highlights a well-worth-reading review of the book by Daniel Francis. The Canadian confidence that Canadians are uniquely ignorant about history just does not stand up to serious analysis -- something I also commented on once.
Inevitably we compare ourselves unfavourably to the Americans. But Americans think themselves uniquely ignorant of their own past, looking to the British – where the new Cameron government recently appointed celebrity historians Niall Ferguson and Simon Schama to revive the dying subject of British history. The British look to France for models, but in France ignorance of the national epic is perpetually une crise nationale.
What's also clear from Gani, however, is the vested interest most people professionally engaged with Canadian history have in encouraging the sense of crisis over historical ignorance.  Complicated!
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