Friday, October 26, 2018

Confederation at the CHR

Canadian Delegates in London, 1867: yeah, still these guys
As someone who takes an interest in 19th century political history despite its unfashionable standing, I was happy to see a major article on that most traditional topic, the making of the British North America Act, 1867, in the recent issue of the Canadian Historical Review: "The Silent Framers of British North American Union: The Colonial Office and Canadian Confederation, 1851–67" by Ben Gilding.

It's Gilding's thesis here that historians -- Christopher Moore listed prominently among them -- have downplayed the role of the British Colonial Office and "generally favoured a distinctly 'made-in-Canada' perspective on the Confederation story." I cheerfully assent to that characterization. It still seems to me incontrovertible that the British government nicely summed up who was in the driver's seat in 1864 when it accepted the Quebec Resolutions, made without its participation or foreknowledge, as "the deliberate judgment of those best qualified to decide on the subject," and again in 1867 when it declared that changes to the draft of the British North America Act could be made "only with the acquiescence of the [British North American]delegates" then in London.

But hey, give Gilding a read, and consider the case he constructs for shifting much of the credit for confederation to politicians and civil servants in Britain. I ain't persuaded by a made-in-Britain-by-Brits Canadian constitution, but then I've made my case elsewhere.

Update, October 29:  I have been meaning to note that while Boralia, the hip Toronto restaurant that features all-Canadian ingredients and recipes, is going out of business, Borealia the history blog, is going from strength to strength. As if to prove it, Denis McKim of Borealia takes me to task for declaring 19th Century Canadian political history "unfashionable"
While that statement may well have been true in the later twentieth century, I'd say that that sub-field (expansively defined) has been one of the more vibrant within Canadian historiography going back (arguably) to the 90s and the publication of Colonial Leviathan and Tina Loo's Making Law, Order, and Authority, and (inarguably, I'd say) since the turn of the millennium, with talented scholars working in an array of germane areas, including the history of the state (Heaman, Curtis); intellectual history (Ducharme, McNairn); and legal history (Bannister, Miller).

Admittedly, top-notch scholarship and "fashionable" are not necessarily synonymous; but, if prizes are any indication of the latter status having been achieved, I'd say historians working on nineteenth-century politics -- including Heaman, Ducharme, and Bannister, who've all won the CHA's best book award, and McNairn, who won the Bullen prize for best thesis -- are punching above their weight, as it were, in the fashionability department.

I'm verging on using-a-sledgehammer-to-kill-a-gnat territory at this point, but figured I'd weigh in on these matters since (like yourself) I'm fond of this particular area, and think it would be a shame if the excellent work being done within it ended up being dismissed as passé (not that you're angling for such an outcome!).
Mea culpa!
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