The CHA Best Scholarly Book in Canadian History Prize
Béatrice Craig. Backwoods Consumers and Homespun Capitalists. The Rise of a Market Culture in Eastern Canada.
Backwoods Consumers and Homespun Capitalists represents a major and original contribution to the social and economic history of Canada. This work, which looks at the emergence of a capitalistic economy in the upper St. John River Valley, asks questions fundamental to our understanding of the economic transformations underway in the 19th century. Much more than a micro-history of the practices and thought processes at work among the various players in this isolated region, it invites us to re-examine the theory of staples and the typologies that have opposed subsistence agriculture to commercial agriculture, local trade to international trade, and production to consumption as factors explaining the entry of a rural environment into a market culture. In so doing, Backwoods Consumers and Homespun Capitalists brilliantly demonstrates that a meticulously conducted local study can stimulate reflection on crucial issues with implications far beyond the subject and region under the microscope. This analysis of the economic development of the Madawaska highlights all the complexity of the dynamics at work in the linkage of this local market to regional and international markets, especially as regards the part played by individuals or groups of individuals, their adaptation to changing economic conditions, and the motivations that drove them.
It shows that this regional economy was certainly influenced by the forest industry but also influenced, and at a much earlier stage, by the production, consumption and trading activities of farmers, merchants, entrepreneurs and families. While exposing the multiplicity of factors—economic as well as political and cultural—that combined to explain the development of the Madawaska, this book suggests that the very idea of a capitalistic transition must be called into question, since capitalistic and non-capitalistic elements have always coexisted within North America’s emerging economies. Similarly, this work reminds us that the social players who participated in the development of markets were not necessarily motivated by a capitalistic mentality, since social constraints and cultural preferences also played a role in their actions and decision making. Based on a data bank patiently compiled from a wide variety of sources and then adroitly analysed, Backwoods Consumers and Homespun Capitalists engages in a most stimulating dialogue with Canadian and international historiography and adopts an original perspective on colonized regions that will make its mark. This very learned work represents a model in its genre.
Lara Campbell. Respectable Citizens: Gender, Family, and Unemployment in Ontario’s Great Depression.
As a carefully constructed and solidly documented work, Respectable Citizens focuses not only on the economic difficulties experienced by Ontario families during the Great Depression and the survival strategies and social protests engendered by these difficulties but also on how the redefinition of citizenship and the development of the liberal State were affected. This book, located at the crossroads of several historiographies, proposes an original interpretation of this dark period of Canadian history by stressing the interrelations between the public and private domains. It shows that domestic arrangements and the demands placed on the State on an individual or more organized basis grew out of a broadly accepted conception of gender relations founded on the breadwinner/housewife ideal and on a vision of individual rights related to membership in the Anglo-Celtic culture.
With diverse sources eloquently supporting its argumentation, Respectable Citizens posits, first, that in the name of their family duties defined in terms of gender, of their respectability as citizens of British descent, and of their belief in the work ethic, Ontarians demanded increased services and economic support measures from the State, and, second, that these considerations were incorporated into the implementation of social policies, starting with the Second World War. Based on the rich and nuanced analysis proposed by Laura Campbell, the 1930s appear to represent a transitional period leading to the establishment of the Canadian welfare state, with the Canadian public itself contributing to this process. These conclusions appear all the more relevant because the study is not limited to urban realities but also examines the conditions present in rural and remote areas. This work, which builds on a wide variety of sources and a series of concepts developed through feminist research and the new political history, constitutes a major addition to our knowledge of the 1930s and will certainly become a standard reference in understanding this decade and the one that followed.
Bryan D. Palmer. The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era.Canada’s 1960s.
Palmer seeks to understand this particularly tumultuous period of our history that profoundly marked our collective memory. The originality of this essay resides in the fact that, rather than concentrating on the counter-culture that came to symbolize the period, it explores this decade’s impact on Canadian national identity by concentrating instead on the various protest movements that influenced this identity. Based on a series of case studies selected for their representativeness, Canada’s 1960s argues that during this decade, Canada’s former national identity based on membership in the British Empire crumbled forever under repeated assaults by events of various sorts, especially battles of a social, economic and political nature, with this turbulence generating uncertainty and ambivalence that prevented a new, unified national identity from taking shape.
Written in an incisive and often caustic style, Canada’s 1960s demonstrates that it is possible to arrive at a coherent interpretation of a decade often associated with “chaos.” This major intellectual undertaking, which combines research from original sources and many writings of historians and other intellectuals, adopts an enlightening perspective and devises a renewed framework for interpreting this most eventful period. Although several of the episodes discussed are well known and have been the subject of separate studies, this work’s great strength is its presentation of these episodes in an integrated manner, thereby creating a broader understanding. In the final analysis, Canada’s 1960s does in fact deliver, as its author purports, a still partial but nevertheless impressive synthesis of a not-so-distant period, and shows great learnedness in doing so.