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Canadian Controversies

Bryan Palmer looks at how language, geography, regionalism, class and gender are interacting to make for interesting times in Canada's historiography.

Canada is a large country geographically, a. diverse collage of political economies, peoples, cultures, regions and histories. Difference is the bedrock of being Canadian, linguistically ordered in the founding 'nations' – aboriginal, French, and English – and reproduced in regional dialects and the material environment, where topography and climate mark east from west, north from south, and prairie from Laurentian shield.

For much of Canada's past, however, this fundamental fact of differentiation has not been central to the act of historiography. Founded in 1922, the Canadian Historical Association, and its major publication, the Canadian Historical Review (CHR), were for decades forums for a particular kind of scholarship, in which a rather gentlemanly discourse on the national character unfolded within discreet parameters. Even at the point at which argument and disagreement intruded, or some strain of radicalism threatened to disrupt mainstream thought, Canadian historiography was polite and, even at its most contentious, somewhat subdued in form by its puritanical presbyterianism and in content by a fixation on the evolutionary course of the country, what A.R.M. Lower dubbed the journey from 'colony to nation' (Colony to Nation: A History of Canada, Longman, 1946).

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