Monday, November 21, 2022

History of history doctoral programs

Active History
's recent nine-part series on the history PhD in Canada, which began with data suggesting that about one graduate in ten of such programs can hope to secure a tenure-stream academic job, ends with the conclusion that that's not really such a problem:

While many might rush to conclude that we should simply stop training History PhDs in order to better match the number of graduates and the number of academic jobs, doing so does not address the diverse reasons students pursue a PhD or the many structural problems that exist within programs. To improve student experiences and enhance the value of the PhD, departments need to acknowledge the flaws in current programs and recognize the effects of these flaws. We can re-think the design and purpose of our programs. The Task Force heard throughout our consultation process that there is value in completing a History degree, and History PhD training is important for those who work outside of tenure-track faculty positions.

Ya think? 

Of course there is "value in completing a History degree." And no doubt many of those who complete a PhD emerge as well-informed, hardworking, diligent people equipped with critical and other skills. But can it be reasonable to argue that the enormous demands and massive investments (public and private) that go into a doctoral degree are justified if what they provide becomes roughly equivalent, for most of their graduates, to what the community colleges call GE - general education? 

I presume there are history PhDs in many non-academic pursuits who do appreciate the doctoral studies they did, but I greatly doubt that making the PhD an entry qualification for every kind of history-adjacent career is "important," at least when subjected to any kind of cost-benefit analysis.

Ultimately, preparing future academics is what the PhD is for and what it should be good at -- and probably the only career for which it is better suited than some other kind of apprenticeship. Can it really be wise to "rethink the design and purpose" of academic doctorates for some other purpose than preparing future faculty?

Evidently the academy is unready "to better match the number of graduates and the number of academic jobs." I can't help thinking an educational planner who reads this series might think there are some good reasons for doing so.

Update, November 22: I meant to recall my late friend Silver Donald Cameron, who was an English prof before he left to become a freelance journalist, novelist, environmental activist, and examiner of the Maritime soul. I remember him once saying, "It took me ten years to get a PhD. And ten years to get rid of it." To which I said, "Then I'm twenty years ahead of the curve."  And we laughed and laughed.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

This month at Canada's History

This month at Canada's History, Carolyn Harris and I have the lead articles. In "Queen of Canada," she surveys Elizabeth II's visits to and relationship with Canada. In "Royal Dissent," I explore the complications that will be required in establishing a Canadian head of state, even though we all want one.

There's also an essay by André Pelchat on the history of religion in Quebec as a backdrop to Québec's controversial Bill 21, which bans hijabs, turbans, and other items of religious faith from being worn by public employees in the province.  He reflects on:

the ambiguous attitude of many French-speaking Quebeckers toward their Catholic past: they no longer practise the Catholic religion and would not want to go back to the old times, but they still see their Catholic heritage as part of their national identity.  This makes it hard for people who practise different religions to be considered truly Québécois.

David Wesley of Fort Albany Cree First Nation

Don't miss "We Were the Lucky Ones" -- online here. Former players for the Sioux Lookout Black Hawks, a residential school hockey team, reflect on their much-publicized 1951 tour of Toronto and Ottawa, and how it was used by Canadian officials to justify and sanitize the residential school program. It's a story with much to say on that point, but it also brings home real personal experiences of some kids from across northern Ontario who asserted themselves despite the assimilative pressures (and other hardships!) they lived under. 

Today the co-authors, former players now in their eighties, include a leader of Indigenous health programs, a founder of the North American Indigenous Games, and a coordinator of Indigenous employment programs, in association with sports historian Professor Janice Forsyth of UBC (and the Fisher River First Nation) and a team of other researchers.    

History of Law, Life and Blaine Baker

I was noting the other day one specific essay in the collection Law, Life, and the Teaching of Legal History, recently published by McGill Queen's Press. Today a more general note about the book.

It's a festschrift,* a collection published in honour of an admired professor, in this case Blaine Baker (1952-2018), legal historian and longtime professor of law at McGill. Commemorative volumes like these generally include one or two biographical essays setting out the sterling personal qualities, depth of research, and enduring example of the person being honoured.

The editors of this collection, however, reflected on how legal history, like history in general, has turned away from worshipful biography. One of Blaine Baker's final projects, they note, was a study of Supreme Court of Canada justice Gerald Le Dain, one which Baker himself insisted had to be frank about Le Dain's struggles with depression and how they had affected his work and his relations with colleagues at the Supreme Court.

Following that lead, the compilers of this volume present not one bland tribute but six or seven attempts to understand and explain Blaine Baker.  They present someone who was a generous and engaging colleague, a polymathic connoisseur of legal and historical knowledge, a much appreciated teacher and mentor ... but also one who also never wrote a complete book of his own, taught at McGill for decades  without ever establishing a home in Quebec, had no family and almost no social ties even with his closest colleagues, and was pushed into emeritus status at McGill at the age of 57, "an enigma to everyone who thought they knew him."

I knew Blaine Baker too -- and all this was new and rather astonishing to me too. "He was my friend and mentor but I hardly knew him," is the refrain of this troubling book. If its model is followed, commemorative volumes may never be the same.


*One of the contributors, paying tribute to Baker's punctiliousness and maybe traditionalism, points out that it's not really a festscrift. Festschrifts honour living subjects, apparently. If they have died, it's a gedenkschrift. Right.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Prize Watch: historical books at the GGs

Not a ton of glory for historians at the 2022 Governor General's Literary Awards, announced today, except for Pierre Anctil, since Judith Weitz Woodsworth won the translation prize for her translation into English of his history of the Jews in Quebec.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Prize Watch: The Pierre Berton to Thomas King

Canada's History Society and the Governor General of Canada announce the 2022 winners of the Governor General's History Awards.

The Pierre Berton Award for History in Popular Media for 2022 is awarded to Thomas King -- a well deserved award:

A trailblazer, King moves seamlessly through genres, educating and entertaining audiences through literary fiction, non-fiction and poetry, as well as through radio, film, and television. His distinguished writing and teaching careers have inspired new generations of Indigenous authors, storytellers, and educators.

Through his writing, teaching, and advocacy, King has broken down stereotypes and centred Indigenous voices and experiences. His work is an invaluable contribution towards a deeper conversation about reconciliation and a more just and equitable future for Indigenous people in Canada.

King is the author of The Inconvenient Indian among many other works.  He is also the author of A Short History of Indians in Canada, but that is a volume of short stories. 

The other History Awards recognizes teachers and educators and also the winner of the Canadian Historical Society Award for Scholarly History, previously awarded to Benjamin Hoy.

History of who divided the powers (wonkish, maybe?)

McGill-Queen's UP kindly sent me a review copy of a thick volume called Law, Life, and the Teaching of Legal History.  It's a festschrift -- Essays in Honour of G. Blaine Baker -- one of those volumes where it is usual to have a mix of contributions on various topics. In Quebec they call this sort of volume Mélanges. I want to come back to the book as a whole another day. 

But today: one of its essays in particular. This one makes a significant contribution to confederation and constitutional history and, as the only essay here on those topics, might be missed.  It's "The Colonial Origins of The Division of Powers in the British North America Act," by Jim Phillips and Tom Collins, at pp. 212-49.

Phillips and Collins, law professor and law student, were looking into what are called Consolidations.  Every so often, commissions of lawyers review all the laws recently passed in a given jurisdiction and "consolidate" them into one thick volume, in which all the repealed laws and sections of laws are jettisoned, and all the new ones are organized by topic and field of law  It's a sort of jurisprudential housekeeping, enabling courts and lawyers to keep up conveniently on current law, and the whole thing is given legislative sanction and published in a thick tome. 

There have been various refinements to the art of consolidation over time, and Phillips and Collins were reviewing how that history had worked out in the Province of Canada, 1841-67. The first thing they noticed was that the consolidators of the day had produced not one but three consolidations. There is one for the Province of Canada in general, and one each specifically for Canada West/Upper Canada/Ontario and for Canada East/Lower Canada/Quebec. The province of Canada was not a federation; it had one legislature and one legislature only. But during its quarter-century of existence, differing legal codes, family laws, property-holding systems, and such meant the two "sides" of the province still operated rather differently. So the ostensibly united province made some laws for the province as a whole, some for Upper Canada exclusively, and some for Lower Canada exclusively.

Turn away from these minutiae for a moment, and consider the division of powers, those long lists in Section 91 and 92 of the Canadian Constitution that put every power the constitution makers could think of into either the federal realm or the provincial realm.  Read confederation history, and it seems that between June and September 1864, the cabinet of the Province of Canada somehow sorted out that whole list and all its detailed distinctions of what would be federal and what provincial, in time to present the whole thing at the confederation conferences of Charlottetown and Quebec, pretty much as a fait accompli.

This has always been one of the magic boxes of confederation history. If you read the major histories (mine included) or the textbook surveys, the elaborate and highly political listings of powers may seem almost to have been pulled out of a hat, as if it just ... happened. 

What Phillips and Collins noticed in those old Consolidated Statutes is that the matters regarding which the unified Province of Canada was legislating separately for Upper and Lower Canada are close to identical to the list of provincial powers in the BNA Act. The matters for which it was legislating for the whole province are, you guessed it, very similar to the list of federal powers. In other words, the constitutional division of powers we still live with was not produced in some whirlwind of inspiration in mid-1864. Phillips and Collins want to tell us it had been developed by trial and error over twenty-five years of lived experience in the united, but really "quasi-federal," Province of Canada, ready to be adopted with some tweaks when the new federal Canadian state needed to allocate powers and responsibilities.

Apart from the thought that the Phillips and Collins conclusion is pretty much irrefutable, what really strikes me from all this is how fairly basic documentary research can still be done, and needs to be done, on a subject as fundamental as the shaping of the confederation settlement. Practically every history professor in Canada has to give a confederation lecture from time to time. Too often they seem content with some 'fifties historiography they picked up in high school, with some current ideological or political preferences stirred in. Who goes back to sources and comes back with new insights as Phillips and Collins have done? 

Friday, November 11, 2022

Remembrance Day


That new German remake of "All Quiet on the Western Front" - it's worth seeing.

And CBC News has a couple of intriguing stories to mark the day:  Jim Parks and Eva May Roy

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

The one Santa needs: Canada's History annual book and gift guide

This year's Book and Gift Guide from Canada's History has a few titles we've taken notice of here, but vastly more I had never even heard of -- some of which I'll now be planning to get to. It's got astonishing range -- worth a look just to know what Canadian historians are putting out there even if you are not in the gift-buying mood. 

And if you subscribed like you oughta, you would have it in hardcopy with your new copy of Canada's History.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

That constitutional crisis versus the lifespan of a head of lettuce

Say this about the Ford government in Ontario: It's good they don't have the courage of their convictions. One overnight poll, and suddenly people have rights again notwithstanding Notwithstanding.

Image:  from Canadaland

Saturday, November 05, 2022

History of Ugandan refugees, history of Canada

I read recently that there were just 50,000 people of Indian (i.e., Asian Indian) descent in Canada fifty years ago, in 1972, when Ugandan dictator Idi Amin expelled the South Asian Ugandan population of some 80,000 people in just ninety days.

Canada did not take in all 80,000 -- more like 6,000 or 8,000. But the Canadian response to the Ugandan Asian refugee crisis "marked the first time Canada accepted a large group of predominantly Muslim, non-European, non-white refugees." It's as good a marker as any of Canada's transformation into the society we have become in just fifty years.

Happily, there's a new history of all that. Not just the experience of the migrants but what it meant for Canadian policy about immigration, "multiculturalism," and diversity.

Shezan Muhammedi’s Gifts from Amin documents how these women, children, and men—including doctors, engineers, business leaders, and members of Muhammedi’s own family—responded to the threat in Uganda and rebuilt their lives in Canada. Building on extensive archival research and oral histories, Muhammedi provides a nuanced case study on the relationship between public policy, refugee resettlement, and assimilation tactics in the twentieth century.
Shezan Muhammedi is a policy analyst with the Canadian federal government and an adjunct research professor in the Department of History at Carleton University.  There's another "gift" -- from immigrants and children of immigrants Canada is acquiring a community of historians to match the diversity of the country. 

Omar Sachedina, CTV's chief new anchor, and the son of 1972 Ugandan migrants, reflects on their experience in today's Globe and Mail 

Update, November 7: A less optimistic look at Canadian immigration policy is Containing Diversity: Canada and the Politics of Immigration in the 21st Century by Yasmeen Abu-Laban, Ethel Tungohan and Christina Gabriel, recently published by University of Toronto Press:
This book reflects on how diversity is being "contained" through practices designed to insulate the Canadian settler-colonial state. In assessing the Canadian government’s policies towards refugees and asylum seekers, economic migrants, family-class migrants, temporary foreign workers, and multiculturalism, the authors show the various contradictory practices in effect. Containing Diversity reflects on policy changes, analysed alongside the resurgence of right-wing political ideology and the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, Containing Diversity highlights the need for a re-imagining of new forms of solidarity that centre migrant and Indigenous justice.

History of Jackie Shane and the Minutes

Historica, the foundation launched by the Bronfman estate and Red Wilson's Nortel fortune, gets public funding for some of its endeavours, and this hasn't always been of the no-strings arts council sort.  During the Harper years, it seemed every single new Heritage Minute Historica launched was about either war or hockey or the Fathers of Confederation. 

That's changed. I don't know who's making the choices now, but recent Minutes are a lot more diverse. But a Heritage Minute on pioneering transgender soul singer Jackie Shane -- amazing. And it comes in at 59 seconds, too.  "Got a new way of lovin' [history], baby"  

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Blogs as history


Jeez, if there is gonna be academic credit for blog posts (this tweet is quoting the embattled president of the American Historical Association), DM me and I'll tell you where to send my PhD and my tenure-stream appointment. No, actually, emeritus status might suit me.

Prize Watch: the Writers' Trust awards

 I'm always grateful for my invitation to the Writers' Trust Awards presentation every November.  It's a great gathering of writers (Toronto-area writers anyway), and also it gives a ton of money out every year  ($270,000 last night. I had real regrets that I could not attend last night. I hope it doesn't mean I get dropped from the invitation list. 

The Hilary Weston prize in nonfiction went to Dan Werb, a journalist not a historian, but the author of what may become part of the historic record on the pandemic: The Invisible Siege: The Rise of Coronaviruses and the Search for a Cure The short list was a healthy mix of memoir/personal writing and researched nonfiction like Werb's.

Also Candace Savage, nonfiction chronicler of life and history on the prairies for many years, received the Matt Cohen Award in honour of a writing life


Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Prize Watch: more legal history

 Recently we were asking if legal historians were all the best historians these days, judging by the prizes they are bringing home.

There's another one:

Congratulations to C. Elizabeth Koester, winner of the Chalmers Prize, awarded to the best book in Ontario History by the Champlain Society. Note that Liz, a retired lawyer, is usually billed as a historian of medical and scientific history but is really a legal historian! In the Public Good: Eugenics and the Law in Ontario is published by Queens McGill UP.

History of constitutional amendments UPDATED

The political scientist Emmett Macfarlane has thoughts worth reading on Premier Ford's reckless use of the notwithstanding clause and how we think about the constitution in Canada.

Macfarlane declares at the outset that Ontario's looming declaration that human rights don't apply to people Doug Ford wants to demonize is "the death knell for any coherent defence of the infamous [notwithstanding] clause.

If you never thought there was any coherent defence for it, you should read what he has to say about that.

As initially conceived, it is an entirely defensible constitutional innovation. Canada was the first Westminster-style parliamentary system to constitutionally entrench a bill of rights. A shift from parliamentary sovereignty to constitutional - some would say judicial - supremacy was a momentous shift in power to courts, especially the Supreme Court. Some of the Charter’s framers were rightly concerned about the judiciary having the final say on policies implicated by rights, including progressive premiers worried that a conservative court might wield the Charter to constrain the growth of the welfare state.

With the problematic loyalty oath, the need to replace the monarchy, and now this all needing constitutional fixes, a window may be opening through which to escape from the thirty-year moratorium on discussing revisions to the Constitution Act, 1982.

Macfarlane's essay is one of the first piece on his new Substack, which looks to be worth following.

Updated, same day:  I see Andrew Coyne has a simpler workaround:  provinces abuse notwithstanding; feds apply disallowance.

At first, I think this is crazy. Provinces are sovereign in their fields of responsibility; disallowance is incompatible with federalism.  

But.... disallowance really became problematic because Ottawa abused it. As prime minister, John A. Macdonald declared it should generally be used only when a province brought in legislation that went beyond its powers.  But in the classic test case, Rivers and Streams, Macdonald disallowed Ontario legislation because he judged it "bad policy." What right has Ottawa got to determine whether Ontario policy is good or bad?, Oliver Mowat demanded to know. He took it to court and won. Overturning ultra vires or "bad" legislation was confirmed to be the job of courts, not of other levels of government.  Good thing, too -- (and how the constitution-makers at Quebec in 1864 expected).

But if notwithstanding negates judicial review, maybe the justification for disallowance returns. Say a province "notwithstandings," and Ottawa disallows, judging the provincial use unjustifiable.  Reference to the courts follows, to determine which side is abusing its powers. There's the nut of an interesting constitutional amendment. 

Though: ten of ten provinces would decline to support the amendment.)  Also, a nasty little fed/prov alliance could still suffice to overthrow any constitutional right.

Note that for Coyne, notwithstanding is "the product of some particularly grubby last-minute bargaining" and a blatant invitation to uses like Ford's and Legault's. He has no patience with Macfarlane's "entirely defensible constitutional innovation" if-used-properly explanation.

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