A brief history of the writing (and re-writing) of Canadian national history
Hamel, Jennifer Leigh
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Canadian historians periodically reassess the state of their craft, including their role as conveyors of the past to the Canadian public. With each review since the late 1960s, some Canadian historians have attempted to distance the profession from the work of those scholars labelled “national historians.” Three of the most prominent of these national historians were Arthur Lower, Donald Creighton, and W.L. Morton, whose work was once popular among both professional historians and the general population. Drawing primarily upon reviews of their monographs, this thesis tracks the changing status of national history within English-Canadian historiography since 1945 by examining how Canadian historians have received the work and assessed the careers of Arthur Lower, Donald Creighton, and W.L. Morton. National history can be broadly defined as the history of a specific nation, more typically, a nation-state. While the specific characteristics of national history have, like other types of history, changed over time, Canadian national history in the decades following the end of the Second World War used strong scholarship and clear, readable prose to communicate a specific vision of Canada to the general public. While Lower, Creighton, and Morton applied differing interpretations to their historical research, they all employed these components of national history within their work. After the Canadian Centennial, a new cohort of baby boomer historians brought a different set of values to their understanding of history, and the interpretations so widely acclaimed during the 1950s and early 1960s failed to persuade this new generation of Canadian historians. The lasting reputation of each of these three national historians has been highly dependent on whether each scholar’s preferred interpretation aligns with the new values held by the new generation of Canadian historians. While W.L. Morton’s western perspective fit in well with the regional concerns of the 1980s, and Arthur Lower retained a reputation as an early innovator of social history, Donald Creighton’s career has been remembered for the strident opinions of his later life, especially regarding the growth of Quebec nationalism and the increasing influence of the United States within Canadian national affairs. It is Creighton’s diminished reputation among English Canadian historians that is most commonly linked to the moniker of “national history.” As the gap between the postwar understanding of Canada and the post-Beatles vision for Canada continued to widen throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Canadian historical community, on the whole, continued to equate all national history with the reactionary reputation of an aging Donald Creighton. While this simplistic view provides convenient shorthand for the genre of national history, it fails to appreciate both the substantial contributions of national historians to Canadian historiography and the widespread influence of their work on the reading Canadian public.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
SupervisorMiller, J. R. (James Roger)
CommitteeHandy, Jim; Korinek, Valerie
Copyright DateJuly 2009