I've written before about Canada's important new historical journal, the Dorchester Review. Now they have published a second issue -- and I am doing it again.
This opening paragraph from one of the current issues essays nicely conveys why the Dorchester Review matters so much.
The myth of a "Great Betrayal" by Britain during the second world war has taken root in Australia, not just in the minds of parochial scholars, but in a hazy anglophobia amongst the general population. Fortunately, Augustine Meaher, an American scholar at Melbourne University, has stripped away the naive excuses and selective use of sources characterizing what he calls Australia's "national myth." Meaher's grandfather served with U.S. forces in the South Pacific during the war. He came to Australia to escape the narrowness of U.S. institutions and discovered a prime example of Australian parochialism instead. Australians can be grateful for his scholarly demolition of our local mythology.
What follows is the most thorough debunking of Australia's blame-the-pommie-bastards myth you are likely to read, written in a style at once lively and learned, by a bold Australian historian, Nigel Davies -- and published in Canada, by Canadians.
Good history writing is always a good thing. But the Dorchester Review is a triply good thing.
First, it's written by people who are serious about Canadian history, but who also understand that Canadian history has always been a piece of a broader story. The same issue of the Dorchester Review that attacks Australian myth-making also addresses John A. MacDonald's vision of the British empire and political debates within Vichy France.
I don't want to make invidious comparisons, but take a look at the table of contents of the current issue of another important Canadian history journal. The major articles include: "Crazy for Bargains: Inventing the Irrational Female Shopper in Modernizing English Canada," "An Intimate Understanding of Place: Charles Sauriol and Toronto's Don River Valley, 1927-1989," "The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway: African Canadians in Hamilton," and "Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderlands."
Utterly absent: not only any articles about any place other than Canada, but any awareness that places outside Canada might possibly matter to Canada. Yet of course they do. Australia for example matters as a kind of cultural sibling, a place whose similarities and differences offer insights into Canada unavailable to those who know only Canada alone.
The Dorchester Review's insistence on internationalism is a welcome corrective to a Canadian historical profession that too often locks itself inside its national boundaries.
Second, the Dorchester Review is written by people who want to engage with a broad, intelligent, history-reading public. Much -- most -- professional writing in Canada is by members of a guild for members of a guild. The article is written as a necessary step toward qualifying the author of the article for a job. There is little expectation that it will be read by anyone other than the hiring committee, or indeed that the author should make any effort to talk to anyone other than the hiring committee.
Third, and maybe most remarkably, the Dorchester Review is written by people who believe that the study of the past yields insights useful to politics and leadership. The question whether Britain did or did not fail Australia in 1942 has implications for the whole present-day Western alliance structure in the South Pacific.
The urgency of the concerns addressed in the Dorchester Review make a sharp contrast to the following from the Canadian Historical Review:
Between the 1890s and 1930s, anglophone politicians, journalists, novelists, and other commentators living in western, central, and eastern Canada drew upon established connections among greed, luxury, hysteria, and femininity to describe women who went shopping as irrational...By calling upon stock stereotypes of femininity, and by repositioning them to fit the current capitalist moment, English-Canadian commentators constructed disempowering representations of women to alleviate their anxieties about what they perceived as the ills of modernization.
In a powerful book published in 1998, Professor Jack Granatstein fiercely demanded, "Who Killed Canadian History?" The question is all too easy to answer. The professional historians killed it. The good news is that the amateurs at the Dorchester Review may yet save it. You can read much of the second issue here .
This project deserves attention, readership, subscribers, and generous support.