Friday, December 08, 2023

Histoire des historians

For about thirty years I wrote a column for The Beaver magazine and its successor Canada's History. Lately I've shifted to feature articles, but it seemed to me that in the column I managed to more-or-less invent a new genre in Canada: historical journalism.  By that I mean not "popular" journalistic-style historical writing, but journalism about historians and historical practice.  

That column consistently profiled historians, covered historical controversies, surveyed trends and currents in the field, promoted adjacent practitioners, and saluted local and regional stars. I did not interview every historian of Canada, but I interviewed quite a few. Often enough it seemed they had never been interviewed about their work before, not by someone who actually knew their work. It seemed like a worthwhile endeavour, though as far as I know I'm the only one who ever noticed the field-building going on.

So I was happy to find something kindred in the December 2023 Literary Review of Canada that recently arrived. Graham Fraser, who has made something of a specialty of noting interesting books published in French in Quebec and mostly invisible beyond, reviews L'école d'histoire de Québec: une histoire intellectuelle by François-Olivier Dorais, who teaches at UQ at Chicoutimi.

It's an account of the long debate of the Montreal school (mostly Marcel Séguin and Michel Brunet) and the Quebec school (mostly Marcel Trudel, Fernand Ouellet, and Jean Hamelin). Broadly from the 1950s until they all died or retired, the Montrealers took a rather traditional view of Quebec society with an emphasis on all that was lost in the English conquest, while the Quebeckers rather minimized the glories of New France and noticed the enormous progress Lower Canada/Quebec made after the conquest. Fernand Ouellet liked to define nub of the historical difference here as "the national" versus "the social" history of Quebec.  

It was a familiar story to history students a generation ago and mapped easily onto the nationalist/federalist struggle within Quebec. Both Marcel Trudel and Fernand Ouellet of the Quebec school eventually felt compelled to move to Ontario universities. (I studied with them both -- though I also got to know Denis Vaugeois, who Fraser identifies with the Montrealers.) Nice to see Dorais reviving attention to these big intellectual currents in the history of Canadian history, and Fraser making us anglos aware of his book's existence -- and of treating historical work as part of Canadian culture.  

Follow @CmedMoore