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John C. Weaver


The Wallace K. Ferguson Prize


John C. WeaverThe Great Land Rush and the Making of the Modern World, 1650-1900. McGill-Queens University Press, 2003.
For vastness of scale and breadth of significance, it would be difficult to match this book by John C. Weaver. It is a study of the history of the appropriation and distribution of land by European settlers in the five great British settlement colonies–the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The land was seized from its aboriginal occupants, most of whom lacked the concept of private property that had been, Weaver argues, articulated earliest and most extensively in the British isles. The transfer of land ownership, the establishment of titles of private property, and the aggregation of excessively large landholdings that were turned to export agriculture, were the primary and most determinative characteristics of these settler societies and of the rich, food-exporting nations that derived from them.
The heart of the story is the effort by claimants to obtain legal title, which often required enormous effort, and which in turn brought about both settler, or white, democracy and a greatly intensified sense of property rights. This was accompanied by the decline of an aristocratic ruling class, so that private ownership became paramount in the social order. Often accompanied by violence against natives and other settlers, this great land rush formed both the law and the identity of the modern nations that ensued. In addition, there was a complete abandonment of previous notions of restraint on dreams of unlimited material possession. Based on wide research, Weaver argues that the legacy of the great land rush can be seen today in the western powers’ insatiable thirst for economic growth, including newer forms of economic colonization in less developed countries, and in the further evolution of concepts of private property, including the growth in notions of intellectual property rights. It is the unique mixing of settlement patterns, land seizure, law, and cultural identity that most distinguishes this monumental work.

Honourable Mentions:
Talbot C. ImlayFacing the Second World War. Strategy, Politics and Economics in Britain and France, 1938-1940. Oxford University Press, 2003.
Talbot C. Imlays Facing the Second World War (Oxford, 2003) is a cogent, systematic comparison of how Britain and France prepared themselves to fight World War II. Imlays contribution to the study of military preparedness is to combine a solidly archival study with the first systematic, comparative analysis of the two nations decisions, activities, and experience along three dimensions: strategic, domestic-political, and political-economic. This broad, rigorous study allows Imlay to conclude that Britain surpassed France in meeting the test of total war for two reasons. First, unlike France, where political divisions persisted from the late 1930s through 1940, the political parties in Britain ultimately came together to oppose Neville Chamberlains limited goals and to support Winston Churchills broader aims. Second, the British government actively worked with industry in meeting the war effort, whereas the French government favored a more laissez-faire approach. In addition to elucidating how the rising German threat influenced events in each nation, Imlays results, together with his careful, logical, well-documented analysis, also contribute to international relations theory in helping to qualify the criteria that favor or hinder democracies at war.

Henry HellerAnti-Italianism in Sixteenth-century France. University of Toronto Press, 2003.
Italians enjoyed political, cultural, economic, and commercial ascendancy in sixteenth-century France. An anti-Italian reaction, which originated among humanists, was taken up by merchants, Huguenots, nobles and, in the end, by some urban Catholic populations. Hatred of resident Italians contributed to the Saint Bartholomews Day Massacre, the decisions of both Estates-General of Blois, the revolt of the Catholic League, and, finally, the success of Henri IV. That Italians were subjected to mob violence before and after the St Bartholomews Day Massacre had not previously been established. Nor was it known that Italians were numbered among the Huguenots of Lyons and that Protestant beliefs took hold in the Italian community there. A further aspect of French resentment of powerful Italians, with wide implications, was the connection in peoples minds between Italians and Jews. By providing a well-documented analysis of the Italian presence and of French anti-Italianism in the late sixteenth century, and by examining possible connections with anti-Semitism of the time, Heller has elucidated a neglected chapter of French history. He has also explained the social roots of modern French anti-Semitism and perhaps of other, recent forms of xenophobia, as well.