Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Where Wars Happen

Reading through C P Champion's latest essay in The Dorchester Review on '1812 & theFathers of Confederation' I could have been thinking several things:

-   that Champion loves to wield historical evidence with a burning poker, thrusting it into the eyes of left historians - reminding folks that the war of 1812 used to be part of a left history narrative of defiance of American dominance, à la James Laxer; simply repeating the inane line by Ian McKay in a letter to Canada's History Magazine that contemporary 'Ottawa, its streets bedecked with War of 1812 banners, has the martial air of ... 1930s Berlin'; or castigating a host of Canadian history bloggers on the way they have hysterically attacked the Harper government's war of 1812 commemoration schemes.

- that, for all of its vitriol, Champion’s essay nevertheless remains interesting and makes some solid and sober assessments of its topic. After quoting Heritage Minister James Moore making a rather abrupt and too strong assertion of the link between 1812 and Confederation Champion goes on to write that while not all would agree with Moore,:

‘Still, many of the delegates at Charlottetown and Quebec in 1864 did have family, friends, or neighbours who were participants in the War or victims of American pillage. Their family experiences comprise at least part of the Canadian and Maritime establishments’ collective memory of 1812 and its antecedents, the Revolutionary War and the flight of the Loyalists. Some of the delegates were descendants of officers deprived of their property and livelihood in the American War. But even those immigrant delegates such as Macdonald,  George Brown and others who settled in Canada after 1814 had also been exposed to memories of the War of 1812 in their youth, at school, in church, in the periodicals they read, and on the political hustings.

The rest of the essay then is a detailed, biographical level uncovering of these personal stories, the way chance and circumstance combined to connect anyone with anything.

But mostly what I was thinking was this:

- that the places where historians debate these issues is changing. We still write books and publish scholarly articles that take months and years to emerge. But when it comes to actually talking about our profession in an on-going fashion, in almost real-time (and sometimes in what seems like super-fast-time) it is on blogs, on twitter and the links one gets in these venues to newspaper op-ed pieces, literary review website and the like.

- I know this is a bit like a fish saying that water exists. But oddly it seems that this might still need to be said. Champion takes on a number of scholars who have staked out positions, but it’s notable how many are bloggers, and how many comments he quotes come online.

- For those scholars already blogging or on twitter or commenting on these kinds of sites, this is all too obvious. My sense, though, is that this is still a minority in the profession. Am I wrong?

Image Source: Dorchester Review

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