Saturday, November 09, 2019

Social history in odd corners

The legal history publishing Osgoode Society (109 books in forty years) launched its 2019 books this fall.  I'd noted Connecting the Dots by Harry Arthurs previously, but since I had not read it then, I could not say anything much about its provocative themes.  Notable in it is Arthurs's reflection that he made his career in the labour law studies in the belief that a new world of labour organization and new codes of law sympathetic to the rights of labour would actually help usher in a new world.  Then, well, the world changed, and the defeat of labour movements worldwide left him wondering about the point and relevance of labour law studies in an inhospitable world more driven by power than by justice.

The other book the Osgoode Society launched this week, Wounded Feelings by Eric Reiter of Concordia, is a history of emotions, or at least a history of emotions that were litigated over in Quebec between 1870 and 1950.  It's a social history hidden within a legal history, and it's amazing what Quebeckers were ready to litigate over -- from a father and daughter offended by a breached promise of marriage, to a family grieving over a child's death, to a woman subjected to intimate sexual examination just for walking through a neighbourhood where the morality police were active, to young black men denied access to a movie theatre, to.... It's a longish book, and has a lot of stories.

Meanwhile, in the current Literary Review of Canada, there's a review of UBC historian Peter Ward's The Clean Body, a social history of, well, of being clean. Social history is based on the understanding that everything has a history, and judging by the review Ward has added cleanliness to the list of proven examples  (Update, November 18Peter Ward interviewed about this book at History News Network online.)

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