Britain's Past in Canada: The Teaching and Writing of British History

Britain's Past in Canada: The Teaching and Writing of British History

Britain's Past in Canada: The Teaching and Writing of British History

Britain's Past in Canada: The Teaching and Writing of British History

Synopsis

British history has traditionally been accorded a special place in the curricula of Canadian schools and universities. When universities were established in the last century, Canada was still regarded as part of the greater British nation, and knowledge of British history was a prerequisite for good citizenship. Even before the establishment of formal history departments, British historical studies existed as a separate subject. In this book, Paul Phillips traces the position of British history in the universities and shows how Canada's changing relationship with Britain has affected the history curriculum. In the early twentieth century, Canadian history began to develop as a distinct field, often linked, however, with British history since the two subjects were frequently taught by the same person. The British background and training of many academics also ensured the continuing importance of British history at most universities until the 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s the growth of nationalistic sentiment, ethnic changes in the population, and the loosening of Empire and Commonwealth ties contributed to the diminished interest in British history resulting in Canadian history becoming a separate area of study. Britain's Past in Canada provides a unique perspective on Canada's evolving cultural identity. Many of the historians discussed -- among them Sir Daniel Wilson, Goldwin Smith, Frank Underhill, Bertie Wilkinson, and A. R. M. Lower -- were public figures deeply committed to various causes of the day. In addition, many Canadian historians living abroad added to the intellectual life of Canada and the English-speaking world through their work. Phillips's examination of their neglected contributions brings new insights into Canadian studies outside Canada.

Excerpt

The old British Empire is dead and many Canadians today seem unconcerned about their heritage. Yet we are still affected by our roots whether we like it or not. If we want to know more about ourselves, we must consider that through most of its existence Canada has been involved with Britain. This relationship has been both reflected in and influenced by the writing and teaching of history in this country.

The original aim of this book was to acquaint the reader with the current activities of one fairly specialized sector of Canadian university life. In time, the scope of the book changed, becoming more of a history of historians of Britain and of historians in general, and stretching beyond the confines of academe. This seemed a justifiable enlargement given the historian's urge to tell a story. The resulting product therefore has become something of a hybrid, being intended as much for a general readership as for professors, teachers, and students of history. For the sake of readability, notes have been limited, as have some conventions of the academic writing style. One of my objects also has been to depict some of the people presented here in very human terms, by recounting an anecdote or two that may be revealing or by allowing some latitude in an interview. But as the reader will see, there never was as much of a barrier between the life of the academic and the "outside world" as some would suppose.

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