Some Thoughts on Confederation 150 and the Dialogue Between Historians and the Heritage Community

26 06 2013

Yesterday, I posted some thoughts about the Confederation 150 conference, which will be taking place today (26 June 2013) at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec. Participants will be discussing how the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017 should be celebrated. I objected to the fact that none of the historian who actually study Confederation (including yours truly) were invited to the conference.  The speakers are mostly heritage professionals (e.g., people who work in museums or for broadcasters).

I’m disturbed by the fact scholars who study Confederation won’t be part of this conference. People who organize heritage events should be in a continuous dialogue with working historians (i.e., with people who do primary source research and then publish their findings). It’s dangerous for all concerned if these groups don’t remain in contact. For one thing, you can end up with heritage organization disseminating an outdated or otherwise inaccurate version of history.  This is particularly the problem when historians abandon the task of communicating with the public to journalists, civil servants, and politicians.

In recent years, we’ve seen examples in a number of countries of politicians and journalists either communicating half-truths (e.g., Vimy Ridge was a great WWI battle and the birth of Canadian nationalism) or, in some cases, displaying an astonishing outright historical ignorance. Some readers will recall that in 2006, the British government prepared a guide for prospective citizens that was filled with factual errors about history. In 2012, a minister in the Canadian government declared that France was allied with Britain in the War of 1812, which clearly demonstrates that he knows little about the origins of this war.

Moreover, engaging with the heritage community can keep historians, especially academics, grounded. I’ve always believed that historians ought to write in such a way as to be accessible and interesting to both academics in allied fields (e.g., political science) and, more importantly, to the broader public.







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