A Short History of Quebec and Canada – DICKINSON (CSS)

DICKINSON, John A; YOUNG,  Brian. A Short History of Quebec and Canada, 2nd Ed. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000. 388p. Resenha de: BRADLEY, Jon G. Canadian Social Studies, v.35, n.3, 2001.

American historian Aileen Kraditor, in responding to student concerns about wanting to deal with ‘more modern and relevant’ events in her university classes, noted that history, by necessity, had to allow a number of decades to pass so that respectful contemplation could occur. More personally and cogently, she explained that if I can remember it then it is not history but current events! In light of such opinions and conscious of general mounting political and societal pressures to pass immediate judgement on unfolding events, one may well ask, Why is there a need for another book, a revision at that, on history?

Divided into nine chapters and structured in a mostly traditional chronological manner, A Short History of Quebec and Canada begins this historical adventure with the First Peoples prior to the European onslaught and brings the reader up to what the authors generously call Contemporary Quebec which is realistically the mid-1990’s. There are numerous black and white photographs, diagrams, maps and renditions. Additionally, each chapter is immediately followed with a concise, focused and annotated Further Readings section.

A more comprehensive and somewhat less user-friendly esoteric bibliography is printed at the back of the book. All in all, notwithstanding the odd irritating anomalies – such as small maps that are most difficult to read, the use of a space in place of a comma to separate large number segments, and the total absence of colour especially with various art work renditions – A Short History of Quebec and Canada is a nicely packaged volume which provides a comprehensive view of 400 or so years of history in the territory now known as Quebec.

While it is easy for any reviewer to comment upon tangible facets of a book – such as pages, drawings, map size and location, layout, – it is much more difficult to deal with those more ethereal aspects. Particularly, I feel that two of these less than concrete notions stand out in A Short History of Quebec and Canada.

By serious design and conscious effort, the authors have utilized a writing format that is easy to follow. They have consciously attempted to maintain what one might characterize as a direct style. In no way demeaning or condescending, the authors are able to deal with all manner of complex historical issues in a straight-forward manner. They have avoided long and tedious sidebars and patterned their tale in such a way as to bring the reader to the heart of various issues via a direct linguistic route. To a large extent, they have respected the ‘short’ designation in their title.

In sum, this book flows! Chapters melt away as the authors flirt with numerous topics, personalities, and notions. Additionally, the internal chapter sections focus the reader on selected events, issues and complexities within the overall framework of people interacting with people. In the most complex of historical issues and scenes, there is a feeling of immediacy and even a sense of modern relevance.

Additionally, while acknowledging that one cannot avoid the big political issues that mark any sweep of history, the authors have attempted to focus as much as possible on what one might broadly call a social or people orientation. Perhaps this orientation more clearly indicates their own historiography and biases as they forthrightly note: Without denying the importance of political events such as the Conquest or Confederation, we have subordinated them to a socio-economic framework that explains them in a broader perspective (p. ix).

By combining a light and unencumbered writing style with a more personal societal orientation, Dickinson and Young have been able to some extent to challenge Kraditor’s separation of history from current events. Via the overall structure of A Short History of Quebec and Canada, the reader is able to bring historical antecedents up to the present. The reader is provided with the tools to make concrete connections and to more realistically place past events onto their contemporary template.

In my view, A Short History of Quebec and Canada is a valuable volume. Cleverly designed for senior level secondary students as well as anyone interested in Quebec, its history, and possible futures within North America, Dickinson and Young are to be congratulated for a second edition that is a must for anyone with even a passing interest in the complexity and interconnectedness of Canadian history.

Jon G. Bradley – McGill University. Montreal, Quebec.

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