My Impressions of the Canadian Historical Association Conference, 2009

30 05 2009

1)    First, I was pleased to see that there were some military history papers on the programme, including one by Tim Cook of the Canadian War Museum. I’m far from being a military  historian, but for many years I’ve been disturbed by the growing distance between Canadian military historians and the rest of the historical profession. The military historians have their own conferences and journals and have become ghettoized. This is good for neither the military historians nor the historical profession at large.
2)    I was also pleased to see that the Political History Group attracted a great deal of interest. Matt Hayday will be the first chair of this group, which is for CHA members who work on political history.
3)    Blake Brown gave an excellent paper on the history of gun control.
4)    I attended the roundtable on the Liberal Order framework. I spoke up to express my frustration with the lack of clear working definition of the word “liberal”. I WILL HAVE MORE COMMENTS ON THIS ROUNDTABLE SOON.
5)    Several younger scholars recorded their presentations on video. They used a Flip video camera , which records in a YouTube compatible MP4 format. This augurs well for the future, for Canadian historians really need to embrace the Web 2.0. Ideally, the CHA should record all presentations and place them online.
6)    I was pleased by the number of graduate students working on 19th century topics. In the last few decades, the focus of historians of Canada (who publish in English, at least) has shifted to the 20th century, especially the post-1945 past, and the earlier periods of Canadian history have been the subject of gross neglect. The number of emerging scholars interested in the pre-1900 and pre-Confederation periods is very, very encouraging to me.


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2 responses

2 06 2009
Charles Levi

Hello Andrew,

The focus on the 19th century among recent graduate students is not surprising. I quietly predicted this years ago. New privacy legislation has made access to 20th century archival material increasingly difficult. If I was advising graduate students today I would suggest 19th century topics just so they can get access to their documents in a timely fashion to complete their doctorates. Are doctoral supervisors catching on to this or is this just coincidental?

– Charles

2 06 2009
andrewdsmith

Hi Charles Levi. You make a very good point. I have a friend whose PhD, which was on events in the 1970s, was delayed for 2 years because of ATIP issues.

Here is my cynical view of how the world works: I suspect that few doctoral supervisors are encouraging students to switch from 20th to 19th century topics: if you are a specialist in the history of 20th century Canada, you have no incentive to advise a student to change supervisors to the pre-Confederation specialist down the corridor. Very few scholars would be qualified to supervise both post-1945 and pre-1867 topics. A prof benefits from being a PhD supervisor (among other things you have to do less undergrad teaching). A good grad chair on the other hand, can offer more disinterested advice.

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