Saturday, October 02, 2004

Old School History in Decline

I'm shocked. Shocked I say.

On Wednesday the New York Times discovered the old guard of conservative Canadian historians and came to the conclusion that Canada is in decline.

David Bercuson, Jack Granatstien, and Michael Bliss were the primary interveiwees for the article. According to The Times they are part of a, "growing number of historians, foreign policy thinkers and columnists [who] see themselves as part of an informal school that has no name or single mentor, but all are writing the same assessment: Canada is in decline, or at the very least, has fallen short of their aspirations."

Prof. Bliss is, "in almost total despair."

Dr. Granatstien is of the opinion that, "We're not soft so much as softheaded."

Here's my opinion:

These academics are not a growing number of anything. Their "informal" "un-named" "school" is simply old school Canadian history and nothing more.

These men have written excellent history in their day, but more recently they have written such incendiary polemics as, "Privatizing the Mind: The Sundering of Canadian History, the Sundering of Canada" (Bliss) and "Who Killed Canadian History?" (Granatstien).

They are not part of a new school but part of a long intellectual tradition in Canada. It is a tradition that is always looking backward to some imagined time when Canada was 'great.' They percieve that the country has fallen from some mythical golden age that we must struggle back to. They wish the country had a greater sense of nationalism and national purpose. They wish the country was more homogeneous in thought and culture. They wish we were more respectful and understanding of authority and power abroad, namely of the United States. They wish our country could rally around unifying, mythical meta-narratives, and their history has attempted to construct these narratives.

This tradition dates all the way back to Bishop Strachan and the rest of the Family Compact. But nothing has really gone their way since Mackenzie and his band of rebells were dispersed on Yonge Street. Canada is not now the country they imagine it once was because it never really was at all.

What is more, is that the heyday of these historians is coming to an end. Bliss is professor emiritus at Toronto and near retirement. Granatstien is already retired, and although still publishing, no longer teaching any graduate students. The influence of these academics is waning and the new cohort of Canadian historians interpret Canada entirely differently. They see Canada as a diverse, sometimes fragmented, paradoxical nation but one that is fundamentally strong and unique in the world because of the very things that Bliss et. al. lament.

There will always be those who think as this old school does; as I said, its a long tradition of the country and the country wouldn't be the same without it. But there is no new direction here. Its nothing more than an increasingly maginalized minority observing that their time has come.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:22 AM

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