The Clio Prizes
Gregory M.W. Kennedy, Something of a Peasant Paradise? Comparing Rural Societies in Acadie and the Loudunais, 1604-1755 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014).
Gregory Kennedy’s Something of a Peasant Paradise? is a significant achievement that will shift the historiography of Acadie and New France. The Acadians, descendants of a few hundred seventeenth-century French settlers, inhabited a borderlands colony that changed hands ten times between the British and French empires. Between 1755 and 1763, the British forcibly expelled about 10 000 Acadians from the Maritimes; most of the scattered Acadian communities maintained a distinct identity, and a nineteenth-century ‘renaissance’ entrenched a transnational, collective identity rooted in the colonial experience of their ancestors.
Previous historical assessments of the Acadians before the Deportation often speculated on the relative autonomy/oppression or wealth/poverty of the Acadians. Kennedy offers a perceptive comparison grounded in extensive research in French archives. He selects the canton of Loudun in the Poitou-Charentes region of France as his comparator for Acadie; this is an eminently reasonable selection, since a significant number of 17th-century Acadian colonists came from this region and it was a borderland in France’s 16th-century wars of religion. Though the Acadian archival inventory is rather skeletal, Kennedy has reconstructed quantitative and qualitative descriptions of the colony’s environment, economy, culture, familial patterns and community political structures as they relate to a contemporary French peasant community. He concludes that life in Acadie was probably less idyllic and more familiar to French peasants and seigneurs than many scholars have assumed.
This is not to say that Kennedy sees no difference between the Acadians and the Loudunais. Some recent scholarship on the formation of an Acadian identity has emphasized the Deportation as the formative experience, but Kennedy argues that the colonists forged a distinct, kin-based society in the unique environmental and political circumstances. In this, they were similar to the Canadiens, the Loudunais and other communities who were ‘subjects’ of France, but not yet ‘French’ in a nationalist sense. This will enable us to teach Acadian history as a holistic rather than a segmented reality. By reconnecting Acadie to the French Atlantic World and emphasizing tangible comparisons, Kennedy has opened the door to more comprehensive inquiries into the themes of change and continuity as formative forces. His conclusions will be widely discussed and inevitably challenged, but Gregory Kennedy has produced a valuable new perspective that will guide the conversation to follow.
Steven High, Oral History at the Crossroads. Sharing Life Stories of Survival and Displacement, Vancouver et Toronto, UBC Press, 2014.
Steven High and his team collected the life stories of Montrealers who have left their home countries because of war, genocide and other human rights violations. Shying away from the beaten path, they have chosen to share their researcher’s authority with the participants, blurring the traditional boundaries between them. Beyond gathering and rescuing memories, they build bridges between generations, cultural communities and between the latter and academics. They thus explore various uses of oral history and multiply its impact by multimedia broadcasts that rely on the performing arts and the posting of interviews online for example. Overall, Steven High gives an account of an impressive and amazing experimentation in oral history where all of the steps are scrutinized in a reflective process that redefines the potential and limitations of such investigations.
Jennifer Bonnell, Reclaiming the Don: An Environmental History of Toronto’s Don River Valley. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014.
Residents of southern Ontario likely know the Don River Valley as the site of the Don Valley Parkway, also known as the Don Valley Parking Lot. Residents closer to the area itself know the Don as a polluted, un-navigable waterway which opens into Lake Ontario at a degraded post-industrial brownspace. Followers of GTA politics know it as the topic of much debate over urban and waterfront renewal. In Reclaiming the Don, Jennifer Bonnell unpacks the various meanings of the Don River Valley and different ways that it has been viewed and used across over two centuries of European settlement. This clearly written, exhaustively researched contribution to the region’s history tells a compelling story of the relationship between the river and the region through which it passes.
Like the Don River itself, Bonnell’s study ebbs and flows through several centuries of Ontario’s history. After discussing Indigenous communities’ uses of the river as an important resource before European contact, Bonnell traces the way “the Don” was reconceived by early Europeans such as John Graves and Catharine Simcoe, who framed it by the pastoral English ideal as a source of transportation and vitality, through its use as an outlet for sewage and industrial waste as the city around it expanded, and then to the many attempts to revitalize, reconstruct, and revision — in essence reclaim — the Don River, its valley, and estuary. It is a work of complexity and nuance, combining social, political, economic, and environmental history, using the Don River as a lens through which to tell the history of the region and its people.
PearlAnn Reichwein, Climber’s Paradise: Making Canada’s Mountain Parks, 1906-1974. University of Alberta Press, 2014.
PearlAnn Reichwein’s Climber’s Paradise: Making Canada’s Mountain Parks, 1906-1974 is a fantastic blend of leisure, environmental, and cultural history. Focusing on the Alpine Club of Canada, Professor Reichwein explores the ways the history of the club parallels and affected the development of the Rocky Mountain parks over the twentieth century. Covering topics ranging from the marketing of climbing equipment to organising opposition to hydro development in the park, she has written a book of broad appeal to twentieth century historians. In her conclusion she makes very powerful arguments about environmental history, climate change, and our relationship to nature and the mountains. The book is an exciting read and beautifully produced, integrating many images and side bars on a variety of topics, making it appealing to a broader audience than the academic market.
Dominique Clément, Equality Deferred: Sex Discrimination and British Columbia’s Human Rights State, 1953-84. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014.
With Equality Deferred, Dominique Clément has set a benchmark for human rights history in the province of British Columbia and a standard for the rest of the nation to match. This well-written and lively book will influence readers’ perceptions of human rights legislation. Clément effectively demonstrates how women (avowed feminist scholars and self-defined human rights workers as well as flight attendants, waitresses, mill workers and others) understood and applied developing human rights legislation to address sex discrimination.
Equality Deferred places individual women’s experiences and legal battles within the context of the human rights state. Clément demonstrates when and how human rights legislation was used to tackle gender inequality during a very active period of policy change and legal “innovations.”(15) However, the failure of the human rights state to address “systemic discrimination” is also acknowledged (13). That this era of dynamic policy innovation did not lead to an evenly applied progression to equal rights for all women is a key conclusion.
Clément also details how British Columbia’s application of human rights law differed from other provinces: specific contexts are significant. A case study approach illuminates local interpretations and applications of human rights legislation. The importance of Kathleen Ruff’s appointment as the first Director of the Human Rights Branch, and the contributions of the team of investigators she hired, exemplifies the importance of local and individual stories. Clément also indicates that BC’s labour force, provincial immigration rates, and the precedents set in sexual harassment and gay rights illustrate important regional differences in application of human rights law. He argues that British Columbia provides an ideal case study for the nation, because it was “the epicentre of a conflict on the nature and legitimacy of the human rights state.” (21)
Clément has written a historical monograph with sound research and an engaged sense of enquiry. Through excellent stories of individual women’s challenges to the law and by providing the context of the human rights state in a key period, he presents an image of some good intentions and some less than charitable notions, well mixed with politics and policy formation. Here we see, too, historical knowledge offered up as a call for action in the present. This is a compelling demonstration of what engaged historical scholarship can be.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
The committee wishes to award this prize in recognition of Elsie Paul’s lifelong dedication to the stories and teachings of the Sliammon and to gratefully acknowledge her willingness to share her narrative with all of us. Ifhistorical knowledge is most valuable when it informs an active life in the present, Paul’s recollections are priceless for current and future generations of the Sliammon people and, indeed, all British Columbians. The committee feels that this recommendation is also a way for historians to respectfully acknowledge other First Nations elders and those authors who have contributed richly to the field (Harry Robinson’s collaboration with Wendy Wickwire, Julie Cruikshank’s work with Tlingit elders Angela Sidney, Kitty Smith, and Annie Ned, Robin and Jillian Ridington’swork with the Dunne-zaa, and Bridget Moran and Mary John’s collaboration on life at Lejac spring to mind, among other rich partnerships). Historians and anthropologists have helped bring oral histories to print but the dedication of the storytellers and their understanding of the value of their own histories make the endeavour possible.
In Written as I Remember It: Teachings (??ms ta?aw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder, Paige Raibmon and Harmony Johnson have deftly captured Paul’s knowledge and stories in written form, but she unreservedly remains the author. It is her voice that speaks on every page. Her determination to present her teachings and history within her own narrative framework makes her contributions extremely valuable and, in that regard, this book is much more than a biography. She wanted her teachings to be available to a wider audience. She was insistent about how her story would be told and preserved; she spent years speaking with scholars, journalists and relatives, hours in front of microphones, and many more hours reading and re-reading edited versions of her words. She consented to the process in order to preserve more than a memoir. As Raibmon noted, “Elsie is a serious storyteller….She takes the power of words seriously, and so tells stories in order to impart helpful, potentially healing, knowledge”. (4) The recent publication of Written as I Remember It: Teachings (??ms ta?aw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder is a culmination of a lifetime in service to the Sliammon history, language and culture and her valuable contributions to BC’s living history.
Ted Binnema, Enlightened Zeal: The Hudson’s Bay Company and Scientific Networks, 1670-1870. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014.
Enlightened Zeal examines the Hudson Bay Company’s involvement in scientific work in arctic and subarctic Canada throughout the period of its commercial monopoly between 1670 and 1870. Science was an essential element of the HBC’s work: it satisfied the ambitions and interests of its officers, contributed to the company’s reputation, and influenced debate regarding the region’s future. Drawing on extensive research in the archives and the published literature, Binnema’s book enlarges our understanding of the practice and meaning of science during this period: its social contexts, its relation to exploration, its political consequences (not least for American and Canadian territorial expansion), and its role in cooperative relations between aboriginal people and the HBC. He also places his account in a wider scholarly context. Enlightened Zeal is a groundbreaking study of the history of science in a chartered monopoly. Further, by exploring the networks that linked HBC officers in North America with company directors and scientists in Britain and elsewhere, Binnema contributes to our understanding of how knowledge moved across the continent and the Atlantic, advancing a reconsideration of traditional narratives of centre and periphery in the history of science. His ambitious work will be essential to our understanding of both the history of northern Canada and the history of Canadian and imperial science.