The Wallace K. Ferguson Prize
Bryan D. Palmer. James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 2007.
Bryan D. Palmer revisits the origins of the American revolutionary left from the experience of James P. Cannon, a Kansas native who militated alongside his socialist and wobbly comrades before the start of his life as a communist in the early 1920s. For this founding member of the Labor Party (1921), whom Palmer presents with complexity and nuance, unionism and communism took form through interethnic solidarities, struggles against employers and the State. Palmer puts the 1920s at the center of his work, when politics divided militants and their organizations. He enables us to understand that the experience of American radicals cannot be reduced to a faith in an alien cause, even during the Popular Front years. Under Palmer=s pen, biography offers a scale of analysis that allows him to focus on rich contexts and large horizons where historical realities are finely connected, thanks in particular to an impressive array of sources, a judicial use of archival material and an exemplary mastery of a historiography animated by interpretative shifts. It matters that the Canadian Historical Association rewards one of its outstanding scholars for such a strong and original work of history at a time when intelligent dialogue on the meaning of revolutionary experience has fallen prey to political opportunism and blind party allegiances. We look forward to the second volume of this biography.
Donald Harman Akenson, Some Family: the Mormons and How Humanity Keeps Track of Itself, Montreal-Kingston, McGill-Queen=s University Press, 2007.
Some Family purports to be a history of the use of geneaology within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“the Mormons”). The book is certainly that: a history of how the Mormons came to regard genealogy as a necessary tool for the work of redemption and how they adopted certain genealogical principles to produce their vision of human history. Akenson=s reconstruction of this history is fortified by an impressively keen reading of Mormon sources, which scholars have heretofore utterly ignored. But Some Family is really about much more than Mormon genealogizing. It is in fact an informed and often witty exploration into the motives and methods by which societies all over the world have attempted to trace their kinship ties back into the past. Akenson=s most striking conclusion is that no attempt to reconstruct a genealogy can avoid producing historical errors. Once regarded as one of the simpler tasks of historical work, genealogy has now been recast, thanks to this remarkable study, as the technique least likely to produce historical fact. The book is additionally a pleasure to read, drawing the reader effortlessly through complex methodological tangles that, in the hands of almost any other scholar, would daunt the hardiest history enthusiast.
Laurent Turcot. Le promeneur à Paris au XVIIIe siècle. Paris, Gallimard, 2007.
Taking a walk is a simple human activity. However, this action has also a history that Laurent Turcot examines carefully in this fascinating book centered on Paris. The stroller and the rituals of walking have developed during the 18th century in such a way as to produce both individual and collective relationships with the city and its residents. The stroller is a product of the space that surrounds him and also one of the parts that compose it. Turcot analyzes the elaboration of these relationships as social, hygienic or political practices from various and rich sources, both manuscript and printed. This well illustrated book highlights many aspects of 18th century Parisian life : the princess is kept close to the prostitute, criminals close to the police, in a story that illuminates the diversity of strolling in this period. Strolling can be civil, healthy, entertaining, diurnal or nocturnal. An original work of urban history, Le promeneur à Paris au XVIIIe siècle invites us to explore the Parisian space as it was being constructed in the second half of the 18th century. It also encourages us to think about our own strolling practices that help us define our living environment.