Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Canadian History in trade market publishing: still not dead yet but...

I've been thinking it has been another pretty slow year for trade-market Canadian history. Then I started making a list, and it's longer than I thought, even though I mostly limited myself to books that seemed to get some kind of national attention and/or distribution.

Robert Amos, E.J. Hughes: Canadian War Artist.  West-coast artist Hughes is a longtime favourite of mine. This is the third of a remarkable three-part tribute to and study of his work.

Ted Barris, The Battle of The Atlantic: Gauntlet to Victory. One of Barris's ongoing series of military histories often based on his oral history interviewing.

Mark Bourrie, Big Men Fear Me.  Bourrie shows again that you (or at least he) can still produce buzzy books on obscure Canadians. Had you heard of George McCullagh before?

Tim Cook, Lifesavers and Bodysnatchers: Medical Care and the Struggle for Survival in the Great War.  Medicine and war.

Jon Dellandrea, The Great Canadian Art Fraud Case. I just seemed to keep hearing about this book, so it must be clicking.

Ken Dryden, The Series. Maybe the best, at least the most noticeable, of the 1972 hockey Summit Series retrospectives.  But Gary Smith's Ice War Diplomat, by the foreign service guy who managed the international-relations part of it, seemed to get a lot of buzz too.

Michael Gates, Hollywood in the Klondike: Dawson City's Great Film Find.  

Ted Glenn, A Very Canadian Coup.  I'm not sure why Mackenzie Bowell is having a moment, but this may be the most substantial of the recent examinations of his brief tenure as prime minister.

Doug Hunter, Jackson's Wars: A.Y. Jackson, the Birth of the Group of Seven, and the Great War.  I didn't realize this was an academic press book until I looked for the publisher link, but since book and author both seem mostly "trade," I'm keeping it in.

Dean Jobb, Acadian Saga: a People's Saga of Exile and TriumphI see this is a revision of a 2005 book, but no matter.

Russell Potter et al, May We Be Spared to Meet Again.  Letters from the Franklin Expedition, from its most vigorous student. (Okay, another academic press title.)

Alasdair Sweeny, Thomas Mackay, Laird of Rideau HallAlso an academic press, but Alasdair has been grinding it out in the public history trenches long enough to qualify on any score.

Mark Zuehlke, Ortona: Canada's Epic World War II Battle.  Zeuhke continues to build out his substantial World War II series.

Nathan M. Greenfield, Hanged in Medicine Hat. A prisoner-of-war murder. And a miscarriage of justice?

So: not too hard to find a substantial list of worthy titles. And my selection criteria (above) mean I left out a great many local or more specialized topics, titles, and authors. Local and regional history thrives perennially, whatever the state of the more (seeking-to-be) commercial market.

Two PenguinRandom House titles, one from HarperCollins is the extent of the big foreign publisher contribution.  Remember when Canadian-owned publishers were a cultural-policy priority? It's obvious the policies remain essential, but government long since dropped that ball. It leaves small still-Canadian-owned houses to carry at least some of the slack. Let's mention Harbour/Douglas&McIntyre, Dundurn, Nimbus, Goose Lane, Biblioasis, Touchstone, and Sutherland House, as well as McGill-Queen's and University of Ottawa Press. 

But I'm a bit appalled to find my list is all white-male authors (quite a few of pensionable age, too, I guess). In any other recent year, I think I would have seen at least some female and indigenous authors delivering notable books. And it's notable that about half the titles are military or military-adjacent (though art history has outpaced hockey history). These are not signs of a healthy field.  



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