Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Crux of Social History

Old news (response to Who Killed Canadian History?) and well understood ideas but as I've finally gotten around to reading a piece that I ignored in a second year history course (sorry Dr. McDowell, I owe you one.) but I was re-introduced to it last week. It's a passage from A.B. Mckillop's response to a Jack Granastein book, "Who Killed Canadian History? (1998). Mckillop's response was titled, "Who Killed Canadian History? A View from the Trenches" (Canadian Historical Review, 80.2, 1999). As a student in his first years of understanding social and post modernist history, and forming reasoning as to why he studies and writes history, this passage articulated what has been solidifying in my mind for the last couple years. Mckillop is responding to Granastein's lament that in the absence of Canadian history being written on the political and social progress of the nation (ie. accomplishments and positive progress that tell the story of Canada's growth as a nation) historical writing has focused on specific aspects of specific groups in Canadian history that oft times don't reflect a very positive view of our past as the oppression of these groups comes to light.

"It was Canada's social historians, as much as its political historians, who rose to the challenge to see Canada anew. In their work they attempted to respond to the needs of long-neglected social groups to recover their own history and to understand why they had been, and continued to be, disempowered. To give them voice, to let the dead once again speak, it was necessary for historians to understand the particularities of past social experience.(f.66) The price they paid -- and it has been a steep one -- was the end of any pretension that a single narrative voice, based on power exercised from above, could tell the one story of Canada's true past, and do so in a palliative manner. For there was no one story, and Canadian history has involved pain as well as progress. In this respect, Canadian social historians understand what Granatstein apparently does not: that in order for Canadians to take the full measure of what it means to be Canadian, they must be made conscious of all aspects of their shared past. In this sense, there are no subdisciplinary hierarchies of historical significance. Citizenship entails the understanding of what it means to be weak as well to be powerful; it involves healing as much as it does pride."

Jordan Kerr