Monday, April 15, 2019

HIstory of not enough history

Who's that guy up front again?
I've been updating comments on the ongoing protest against J.R.Stewart's recent claims about the "neglect" of prime ministerial history in Canada. To the extent that the plea for more high-politics history is an argument against the doing of other kinds of history, I'm with the protesters.

On the other hand, I do get drawn into "political" forms of Canadian history from time to time. And it is true: lots of seemingly basic questions either lack coverage at all or badly need reassessment. The origins of the mass-party vote method of choosing Canadian party leaders, for instance, is greatly relevant to our present political culture, but recently I was able to find almost nothing of substance written about it.  When I was writing Three Weeks In Quebec City, I was aware it was the first book length study of the process by which most of our constitution was drafted.  (And in retrospect I wish that book were twice as long and twice as detailed, not that I could have got it published if it were.)

So I was intrigued to note a debate between historian Sean Wilentz and constitutional lawyer Akhil Reed Amar on the American History News Network online about the origins of the electoral college and its relevance to both slavery and the election of Donald Trump. To my surprise, the essays mostly show that even in American history, even in American constitutional history (a hardly neglected field!), there are large and important questions on which even the most basic questions of the chronology of events still need work. Someone has to go and read the documents again.

Which leads me to reflect that once you get interested in a question, there is never enough history done on it, there are always questions to be answers and books you wish someone had written. The pool of unattended, urgent historical questions will never been drained.  There are a million questions urgently needed attention in social history, indigenous history, labour history, feminist history, LGBTQ history, local history, economic history.... yes, and prime ministerial history too.

And always will be.
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