Thursday, April 30, 2015

Abraham Rotstein 1929-2015 RIP and Michael B. Katz 1939-2014 RIP

Abraham Rotstein, who died recently in Toronto, is mostly recalled as an economist and for the political campaigns for the Canadian economic independence movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s that made him prominent.

But his economics were strongly historical, very much linked with a defence and leftish refashioning of the staples theory previously associated with Harold Innis and Donald Creighton. So for a time there was a lot of history in his writing and a lot of historians reading him.

I also recently learned of the death last fall of Michael B. Katz, whom I recalled as the author of The People of Hamilton, Canada West (1975). In its day, that was a pioneering project in quantitative census-based social history, with an abundance of charts and graphs and a heavily statistical analysis of nineteenth century Ontario. But it also offered some vivid illustrative vignettes. One of Katz’s statistical proofs was that settlers in Canada West moved around a great deal (also the argument of a similar work in rural history, David Gagan’s 1981 study of Peel County called Hopeful Travellers). Katz’s favourite case example for the mobility data was Wilson Benson, a hitherto unknown guy, who had a large number of careers and domiciles over a short period. For a time Wilson Benson was a famous nobody among a small coterie of Ontario social historians.

Katz spent only a few years teaching in Toronto and working on Ontario history. He returned to the U.S, and became one of the leading American urbanists, particularly on issues of race and inequality in American cities, so that many of his obituaries never mentioned his Canadian interlude or his Hamilton book.  But there is a tribute here by Alison Prentice about his Canadian influence.

Images: Rotstein from Toronto Star, People of Hamilton from

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