Books

  • Turkey, Tradition, and the National Fabric: An Excerpt on the Origins of Canadian Thanksgiving

    The air is cooling, scarves are knotting, and across the country Canadians will gather ‘round autumnal tables for their annual Thanksgiving dinner. And though some Canucks may be deciding on a side dish and how to skirt political debate, there’s another question on many minds:

    What exactly are we doing here? 

    While the American Thanksgiving is steeped in nationalism, ritual, and history, the origins of the Canadian version are a little less clear, with few of us actually knowing where the holiday comes from. If this makes you feel mildly guilty, focus that energy on your cranberry sauce instead. We’ve got you covered with the context you’ll need to impress your guests this Thanksgiving weekend.

    For answers, we turned to Celebrating Canada: Holidays, National Days, and the Crafting of Identities, from editors Matthew Hayday and Raymond B. Blake. From the pages of Peter Stevens’s essay on where it all began – think church, Brits, and our neighbours to the south – learn how Thanksgiving was always meant to be a day to celebrate being Canadian.


    Excerpt from "'Righteousness Exalteth the Nation': Religion, Nationalism, and Thanksgiving Day in Ontario, 1859–1914", by Peter A. Stevens 

    In the United states of America, few annual events stir the national imagination as thoroughly as Thanksgiving Day. The holiday’s rituals and symbols harken back to the nation’s founding fathers, evoking images of pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock and sharing a harvest feast with the surrounding Native peoples in 1621. The myth of this first Thanksgiving, which is a staple in the education of every American schoolchild, informs U.S. citizens that their country is a land of opportunity and new beginnings, a place of piety, abundance, and inclusivity. Other Thanksgiving customs uphold family, consumerism, and competition as core American values. The holiday is a favourite occasion for get-togethers with friends and relatives, with festivities revolving around turkey dinners, Santa Claus parades, and football games, all unfolding against the backdrop of autumn leaves and newly gathered crops. Scholars have parsed American Thanksgiving in considerable detail, and there is a lively debate over which Thanksgiving traditions are rooted in historical fact and which are based in fiction. What is beyond dispute, however, is the overtly nationalistic character of the day.

    In the Canadian context, by contrast, Thanksgiving Day is surrounded by ambiguity. Media reports regularly express doubts about the meaning and purpose of the holiday, while Canadians themselves often seem unsure about how their Thanksgiving differs from the American one, and why the two holidays do not share the same date. Thus far, scholars have offered few answers to these questions, as academic treatments of Canadian Thanksgiving are scarce, speculative, and limited in their analysis. Significantly, these works downplay the holiday’s importance as a patriotic celebration, making only passing reference to a “subtle influence of Canadian nationalism” that is evident on Thanksgiving Day. This chapter cannot relate the entire the history of Canadian Thanksgiving, but it does take up the beginning of the story by examining the origins of the holiday in late-nineteenth-century Ontario. In doing so, it reveals that Canadian Thanksgiving initially had a nationalistic focus that it since has largely lost. In the minds of the men who first developed the holiday, Thanksgiving was intended to be a day for celebrating Canada.

    The existing literature on national public holidays in North America raises several points that help to illuminate the specific history of Thanksgiving Day in Canada. First, while public holidays often appear to be age-old celebrations that emerged organically out of the national fabric, they are actually examples of invented traditions. According to Eric Hobsbawm, an invented tradition is “a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.” Holidays, as annual events that are steeped in ritual, constitute a powerful form of invented tradition, for while they seem to be neutral and apolitical, they are actually compelling advertisements for the world views of those who shape and promote them.

    Second, public holidays often serve as important tools of nation building. Holiday customs and iconography give members of a population a sense of a shared past and subtly inform them about who they are as a people. By reinforcing messages about common values and experiences, holidays thus encourage individual citizens to imagine themselves as being members of the same political community, or nation. This is not to suggest that the meanings of holidays are static, however. Because holidays are such potent expressions of national beliefs, ambitions, and identity, they become temporal battlegrounds in the cultural contests between different interest groups. Holidays are contested terrain, and their meanings can change over time as they are controlled and influenced by groups that have competing visions for the nation.

    Where Canadian Thanksgiving is concerned, the figures who were most responsible for establishing the celebration on an annual basis were Protestant clergymen in Ontario. Their interest in the holiday was primarily a response to two great challenges that faced them, as Canadian church leaders, beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century. Particularly after Confederation, ministers felt a moral and historical obligation to chart Canada’s course. At the very moment that preachers most sensed a call to lead their country, however, global intellectual developments issued challenges to Christianity so fundamental that they threatened to dissolve many Christians’ faith. The American Thanksgiving holiday revealed to church leaders a means by which they could restore Canadians’ confidence in Christianity and secure their own positions at the helm of the young country.

    Ontario clergymen did not simply duplicate the American Thanksgiving festival, which by the 1860s had evolved into a national public holiday. Rather, they recast Thanksgiving as a predominantly religious event and naturalized the holiday by steeping it in Canadian nationalism. Ontarians responded positively to this mix of Protestantism and patriotism, and ministers successfully instituted Thanksgiving as an annual holiday in Ontario. Once Thanksgiving became a yearly event, however, other cultural interest groups increasingly challenged Protestants’ holiday hegemony. As a result of these challenges, the Thanksgiving that Ontarians marked on the eve of the Great War was little like the holiday that clergymen had established several decades earlier. Yet, one aspect of the holiday remained unchanged: its nationalist content. Although Thanksgiving acquired many new meanings and customs, it remained throughout the Victorian period a day for Ontarians to celebrate their status as Canadians.

    The early history of Thanksgiving Day in Ontario contributes to discussions of religion in late-nineteenth-century Canada by highlighting the prominent but waning influence of Protestant church leaders within the public sphere. It also complicates our understanding of Canadian patriotism during this critical period in the country’s history. In particular, the origins of Canadian Thanksgiving demonstrate the complex and sometimes contradictory ways that citizens of the new dominion sought to define themselves in relation to both Great Britain and the United states. In this respect, Thanksgiving Day had much in common with Dominion Day, Empire Day, and other public celebrations of the era, which likewise sought to define Canadian identity in reference to both Britain and the United States.

    Read Stevens’s full article in Celebrating Canada: Holidays, National Days, and the Crafting of Identities.

  • Recommended Reading for Back to School

    With the start of the new school year, we thought this would be a great opportunity to highlight some of our new education titles. We’ve picked out five titles for you to have a look at.

    Staying Human during Residency Training: How to Survive and Thrive After Medical School

    By Allan D. Peterkin

    The ultimate survival guide for medical students, interns, residents, and fellows, Staying Human during Residency Training provides time-tested advice and the latest information on every aspect of a resident’s life – from choosing a residency program, to coping with stress, enhancing self-care, and protecting personal and professional relationships.

    Allan D. Peterkin, MD provides hundreds of tips on how to cope with sleep deprivation, time pressures, and ethical and legal issues. This sixth edition is not only updated to reflect the latest research and resources, but also features new material on the latest issues in residency training, including social media use, patient-centered care, the medical humanities, and the “hidden curriculum” of residency.

    Acknowledged by thousands of doctors across North America as an invaluable resource, Staying Human during Residency Training has helped to shape notions of trainee well-being for medical educators worldwide. Offering wise, compassionate, and professional counsel, this edition again shows why it is required reading for medical students and new physicians pursuing postgraduate training.

    "This guide should be required reading for each intern beginning residency and also for each and every residency program director in North America."

    Aliye Runyan, Medical Education Team Chair, American Medical Student Association, and Sonia Lazreg, AMSA/Committee of Interns and Residents Health Justice Fellow

    Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD

    By Loleen Berdahl and Jonathan Malloy

    Work Your Career offers practical advice to PhD students in Canada on how best to position themselves for a successful career. The book looks at both academic and non-academic career options for graduate students, and how to prepare concurrently for each.

    The authors carefully recognize that every student brings unique skills, values, and aspirations and that a career path in academia might not be the sole option for students. Drawing on their own personal careers and experience, Berdahl and Malloy provide motivations and strategies for students and provide answers to the questions that many PhD students have. Work Your Career is in essence a mentoring program for students and is full of practical advice on how to be best prepared for a successful career.

    A must read for any graduate student in Canada!

    The Craft of University Teaching

    By Peter Lindsay

    Intended for professors of all academic disciplines who either enjoy teaching or wish to enjoy it more, the soon to-be-released The Craft of University Teaching is a provocative and accessible book containing practical advice gleaned from the academic literature on pedagogy.

    In an era of increased bureaucratic oversight, rapidly diminishing budgets, and waves of technological distraction, The Craft of University Teaching provokes reflection on matters of pedagogy that are too often taken as settled. In so doing, it seeks to reclaim teaching as the intellectually vibrant and intrinsically rewarding endeavor that it is.

    "Peter Lindsay has produced an energetic study of the craft of teaching. His lively treatment will resonate with anyone who has stood in front of a classroom. He rescues the topic from both formula-seekers and those who think good teaching can’t be taught. The result is a stimulating practicum delivered by a bona fide maestro."

    Peter T. Struck, Professor and Chair of the Department of Classical Studies, University of Pennsylvania

    Kickstarting Your Academic Career: Skills to Succeed in the Social Sciences

    By Robert L. Ostergard, Jr. and Stacy B. Fisher

    Kickstarting Your Academic Career is a primer on the common scholastic demands that social sciences students face upon entering college or university. Based on the challenges that instructors most often find students need help with, the authors offer practical advice and tips on topics such as how to communicate with instructors, take notes, read a textbook, research and write papers, and write successful exams. The succinct writing and clear organization make this an essential reference for first-year students as they encounter post-secondary work for the first time, and a useful refresher for upper-year students looking to refine their skills.

    “I would recommend Kickstarting Your Academic Career to every college student because they can benefit from the advice given in the book. It establishes what mindset you need and what tools you can utilize in order to be as successful as you can throughout your schooling. It is also written in a clear, concise manner that any student can understand regardless of their reading comprehensive skills.”

    Lauren Bullock, Sophomore at Stephen F. Austin State University

    The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy

    By Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber

    If there is one sector of society that should be cultivating deep thought in itself and others, it is academia. Yet the corporatisation of the contemporary university has sped up the clock, demanding increased speed and efficiency from faculty regardless of the consequences for education and scholarship.

    In The Slow Professor, Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber discuss how adopting the principles of the slow movement in academic life can counter this erosion of humanistic education. Focusing on the individual faculty member and his or her own professional practice, Berg and Seeber present both an analysis of the culture of speed in the academy and ways of alleviating stress while improving teaching, research, and collegiality. The Slow Professor will be a must-read for anyone in academia concerned about the frantic pace of contemporary university life.

  • June and July Round-up

    Highlights from the months of June and July.

    Awards:

    • Johannes Remy’s Brothers or Enemies was awarded the Ivan Franko International Prize of 2018.
    • French Écocritique by Stephanie Posthumus is on the shortlist for the Alanna Bondar Memorial Book Prize.

    Conferences:

    • Daniel Quinlan represented UTP at the Law and Society Association’s annual conference in Toronto.
    • Anne Brackenbury and Jodi Lewchuk presented our sociology list at the World Congress of Sociology in Toronto.

    Media Highlights:

     

    New Releases:

  • Digging Down: The Deep Roots of Canada's Policy-Making Process

    Written by guest blogger, Taylor Hollander.

    It is no revelation that the union density rates in both Canada and the United States have experienced significant decreases since the 1960s. But why has the decline in the U.S. been so much sharper? The two countries share similar employers, unions, and decentralized industrial relations systems. For many years, they even had comparable union membership levels. Yet, in 2017, the percentage of unionized workers in Canada’s private sector was more than twice as high as the United States. No state in the U.S. had a greater union density rate than Alberta, the least unionized province in Canada. In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Janus v. AFSCME, which removed mandatory dues payments in public sector unions, it is not difficult to understand why some pundits argue that the historical moment for unionism in the United States has now passed.

    To better understand this cross-national divergence in union density rates, Power, Politics, and Principles looks to the making of labour law in Canada for answers. In particular, against the backdrop of the U.S. experience, it focuses on PC 1003 of 1944, which for the first time required Canadian employers to recognize and negotiate with the representatives of their employees’ choosing. Several earlier studies have highlighted differences in the legal frameworks for industrial relations in Canada and the United States like, for example, the use of permanent replacements or “scabs.” What Power, Politics, and Principles does differently is dive into the history of the policy-making process to uncover how the topic of compulsory collective bargaining became a part of the national discourse in Canada and then became a legal reality. The main argument of the book is that, unlike in the United States, a more moderate approach to labour policy formulation in Canada made the legal protections for workers less vulnerable to conservative backlash in the long run.

    There are several reasons why I believe that Power, Politics, and Principles will appeal to a wide audience:

    1. By comparing why and how collective bargaining regimes or the legal frameworks for industrial relations were created in Canada and the United States, it goes beyond vague discussions of cultural values to gain a more tangible and precise understanding of what distinguishes the two countries. As I mention in the book, the goal is not to consecrate the Canadian experience because industrial relations in the two countries are more alike than different. But a close study of what actually happened in the policy-making process does reveal important national variances.
    2. Power, Politics, and Principles underscores the messiness of the policy-making process. Throughout the book, the different perspectives and agendas of workers, labour leaders, business executives, civil servants, and politicians are examined to try and convince readers that the making of a collective bargaining regime in Canada involved many competing personalities. Rather than straightforward or certain, it was open-ended and contingent. For example, one of the arguments I make is that an ad hoc wartime agency of three people from outside the government - a conservative, a liberal, and a socialist - played a key role in convincing politicians that it was time for a compulsory collective bargaining policy.
    3. My book adds to the historiography on Mackenzie King. As Christopher Dummitt recently outlined in Unbuttoned, scholarly works on Canada’s longest serving prime minister have for a long time offered remarkably critical, if not bewildered, interpretations of his legacy. Most historians, political scientists, and journalists seem to agree that King took a Machiavellian approach to policy-making, never committing to anything unless it served his own purposes. In contrast, I encourage readers to consider the impact of his political principles. There is no doubt that King was a consummate politician who acted opportunistically, expediently, and obliquely. At least in the area of labour policy, however, it seems clear that his political principles also influenced his actions and inactions.
    4. Organized chronologically from 1935 to 1948, Power, Politics, and Principles conveys the complexities of the policy-making process in a compelling narrative, evoking a sense of time, place, and character without sacrificing analysis or argument. By emphasizing story line, avoiding jargon, and, in places, offering what one reviewer called “historical imaginings,” readers are transported back to two of the most turbulent decades in Canada’s history when real people battled both physically and verbally over the legal rights of workers.

     

    Taylor Hollander is a Middle School History Teacher at Orchard House School in Richmond Virginia and the author of Power, Politics, and Principles.

  • Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos

    Guest post by Mary Lorena Kenny

    Mary Lorena Kenny is Professor of Anthropology at Eastern Connecticut State University. She is the author of Hidden Heads of Households: Child Labor in Urban Northeast Brazil (2007) and Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos 

    Over the course of three hundred years, Brazil imported over five million slaves, more than any country in the Americas. One hundred years after abolition, the 1988 constitution included a clause guaranteeing quilombolas (federally recognized descendants of self-ascribed, traditional Black settlements) collective land titles as a type of reparation. Thanks to an international collective of scholars and activists, reparation policies and projects are gaining momentum.

    There are an estimated four thousand quilombo communities in Brazil. The quilombola heritage policy (ideally) offers a legal instrument for enhancing social and economic inclusion, as the daily life for quilombolas is marked by a troubling history shaped long ago by slavery and colonialism. It is manifested today by some of the worst indicators in terms of access to healthcare, schooling, and basic infrastructure. Three quarters of the families living in quilombos are categorized as living in extreme poverty and receive public assistance. Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos maps some of the ways these communities address the still unresolved legacies of slavery through empowering narratives of resistance, land rights, material practices (heritage), and activism. I felt it was important to highlight how past practices are linked to contemporary conditions of exploitative, slave-like labor practices, violent conflict over access to land, and police violence targeting people of color. Woven throughout the book are discussions of how quilombola heritage policies are tied to these social, economic, political, and racial realities of the country.

    The book is for general readers rather than specialists in anthropology or Brazilian studies.

    The chapters focus on the history of slavery in Brazil, the quilombola movement, and a case study to examine some of the issues and challenges for these “maroons” (communities formed by persons fleeing slavery). Since their inception, the quilombo heritage policies have been stalled by bureaucratic obstacles, violent conflict over land rights, and shifts in the definition of quilombola. One of the first chapters discusses some of the trials and tribulations of field work, which in my experience garners many questions from students. At the end of the book, there is a section of further readings for those who would like to explore more deeply some of the issues raised.

    Overall, the material can be useful for generating discussions on how people give meaning to where they have been, who they are now, and (ideally) where they can go in a shifting political, economic, and social context. Re-conceptualizing “who we are” has disrupted some core historical and cultural beliefs. How quilombolas see themselves does not always coincide with how others view them. Opponents claim that the land grant program is unconstitutional and illegal. They argue that slavery ended 130 years ago in Brazil, and that quilombolas are irrelevant in the twenty-first century. They assert that acknowledging a quilombola ethno-racial claim to land as a land reform strategy is corrupt because it provides free land to undeserving recipients, is exclusionary because it encourages groups to invent an identity that did not exist before, and excludes poor, non-quilombolas. This policy, they argue, encourages racial polarity, which is seen as un-Brazilian and imported from a US model that does not correspond to the Brazilian reality of race relations. They contend that it is misguided and does little to help the quality of life for residents in traditional Black settlements. Strong, vocal objection to the reparations program is made by powerful people: agro-industrial oligarchs, logging and mining companies, the military, real estate developers, and, most recently, those responsible for preparing roads and stadiums for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, during which time quilombolas were threatened with expulsion and activists have been murdered.

    Students will recognize the generational differences in how groups articulate their reality, with some younger members questioning the usefulness (politically, economically, and socially) of “taking on” this identity. The material is framed by key questions in anthropology about identity, heritage, and culture. It includes an appendix that lists ways students can explore their own heritage and identity, including virtual, online communities, and contemporary issues such as gun control, gender, and BlackLivesMatter. In-class or field projects can explore how heritage is expressed in material objects or physical and oral forms. Since so much of the history of enslaved and marginalized groups has been muted, invisible, outlawed, or excluded, students can explore places, monuments, or rituals that have significant religious, political, or social value for different groups, noting which ones have a louder voice or bigger “footprint.” They can tie their own family histories to changes in their community (e.g., the closing of car or textile factories, urban renewal, extreme weather conditions, forced relocation, or resettlement) and note how this larger context has shaped the lives of the members of the community. Students can identify cultural practices in their own community that have continued, disappeared, or reemerged in a new way (e.g., death and burial practices, dance, music, language, food). Which ones have led to a revalorization of social identity, or new source of income? Can they identify development projects that have led to impoverishment, social dislocation, and the erosion of heritage (e.g., oil pipelines and dams built on Indigenous sacred territory)? They can also investigate how development projects have led to clashes over cultural heritage, e.g., construction of a building that unearthed a graveyard, or a heritage building scheduled to be demolished for modern development.

    Overall, the book shows how social action can lead to change, how groups give meaning to who they are, and in the process, disrupt historical narratives, re-articulate social relations, and foment political agency.

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