Author Blog

  • “The view of the nation, Sire, is that the Constitution be respected:” Support for the French Constitution of 1791 on the Eve of the Republican Revolution

    Written by guest blogger, William S. Cormack.

    This article is part of a larger project on the French Legislative Assembly and the demise of the Constitution of 1791. I have always been interested in the French Revolution’s shift from its original moderate phase to its more radical phase. The period of the Legislative Assembly, from September 1791 to August 1792, has been relatively neglected by scholars. Yet these were months of great political significance, of high drama, of fear and uncertainty.

    One of the most dramatic episodes occurred on 20 June 1792 when crowds invaded the Tuileries palace in Paris. While Louis XVI made no concession to the popular militants, who demanded he sanction the Legislative Assembly’s decrees against émigrés and refractory priests, this journée is usually seen as step toward the insurrection of 10 August that overthrew the monarchy. The events of 20 June, however, provoked an outpouring of protest from across provincial France: departmental directories, district councils, municipalities, political clubs, and groups of ordinary citizens sent addresses and petitions to the Legislative Assembly denouncing the events in Paris. The address presented by a delegation from the Seine-et-Oise echoed the sentiments expressed in many other petitions: “We come in the name of the citizens of our department to foil the factious who dare to present to Your Majesty the shocking view of a few misled individuals as the view of the nation. The view of the nation, Sire, is that the Constitution be respected.”

    In examining this period, historians have emphasized the importance of the king’s attempted flight in June 1791 to undermining the early revolutionary consensus. Scholars have also explored the emergence of the popular movement in Paris, the rise of the Jacobin Club and its provincial network of popular societies, and the fateful consequences of France’s declaration of war against Austria in April 1792. All of these factors help to explain the fall of the constitutional monarchy on 10 August 1792, but their examination often reveals little about those who opposed the coming of a second revolution. My interest in that question was stimulated by Michael P. Fitzsimmons’ The remaking of France: The National Assembly and the Constitution of 1791, which argues that the importance of the constitution has too often been minimized or neglected. The same could be said for those who supported the Constitution of 1791 on the eve of its collapse. With regard to the provincial denunciations of the events of 20 June 1792 in Paris, historians have tended to characterize such protests as “royalist.”

    Yet reading these documents in the Archives Nationales, I found it striking that their statements of loyalty to Louis XVI are overshadowed by expressions of commitment to the principles of 1789. The petitions’ authors feared that the crowd’s intimidation of the king, incited or encouraged by the Jacobin Club, threatened the rule of law, individual liberty, the independence of the national legislature, and, above all, the survival of constitutional government. Thus provincial reactions to the journée of 20 June 1792 suggest evidence of a more subtle political division in France between radicals and defenders of the liberal revolution. The failed efforts to defend the Constitution of 1791 perhaps have relevance to our contemporary world where political moderation is out of fashion and rising populism threatens the ideal of written constitutions upholding individual rights and the rule of law.

    Photo of William S. Cormack

    William S. Cormack received his Ph.D. from Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario, in 1992. In 1995 Cambridge University Press published his first book, Revolution and Political Conflict in the French Navy 1789-1794. Since 1998 he has been a member of the Department of History at the University of Guelph in Ontario, where he teaches modern European history. His new book, Patriots, Royalists, and Terrorists in the West Indies: The French Revolution in Martinique and Guadeloupe, 1789-1802, comes out with the University of Toronto Press in November 2018. His current research concerns the French Legislative Assembly and the demise of the Constitution of 1791. His article in the CJH/ACH is entitled “Defending the Liberal Revolution in France: Provincial Reactions to the Parisian journée of 20 June 1792,” and is available for FREE for a limited time at UTP Journals Online.

  • Presumed Heterosexuality in the Archives

    Written by guest blogger, Erin Gallagher-Cohoon.

    Between 1946 and 1948, US Public Health Service (USPHS) researchers deliberately exposed Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers, asylum patients, and sex workers to syphilis, gonorrhea, and chancroid. Leading up to this study, it was discovered that penicillin could cure syphilis and gonorrhea, and researchers were eager to learn whether penicillin had potential as a preventative and not just a cure. The original study design called for a sexual transmission method, although this was quickly supplanted by medical exposures. To put it more bluntly, the original study design called for hiring sex workers (who had either tested positive or were simply assumed to be infected with a venereal disease) to have sex with prisoners and soldiers and thus, it was hoped, to transmit venereal diseases from the women to the men. It was politically inadvisable in the United States for government researchers to be hiring sex workers. So they headed to a country with legalized prostitution, Guatemala.

    In 2015, in the midst of my research on the USPHS’ Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study, I came across a part of the history that made no sense to me.

    At this point in my studies, the records of the lead medical researcher, Dr. John C. Cutler, had been redacted and digitized (see https://www.archives.gov/research/health/cdc-cutler-records). So, I imagine I was squinting at my laptop in confusion.

    National Archives and Records Administration

    I was reading the patient index cards. Patient 147, a male asylum patient, “was a known, highly promiscuous and active homosexual.”[1] He was not the only male subject whose index card included a reference to same-sex sexual activities.

    These homosexual encounters were significant to me because they contradicted Dr. Cutler’s own words. In his “Final Syphilis Report,” he wrote: “homosexual contacts did not significantly alter experimental results.”[2]

    National Archives and Records Administration

    How, I wondered, could Dr. Cutler so readily dismiss the possibility that homosexual contacts might have been experimentally significant? On one hand, it seemed to me, he was dismissing the same-sex sexual activity of his male research subjects; while on the other, he was recording the existence of these “contacts,” and later archiving them for future researchers to find.

    The easy answer is that these encounters, based on his records, were statistically rare, and that “no clinical evidence of spread of syphilis by this route was observed.”[3] As I argue in my recent article in the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, however, this does not sufficiently explain the contradictions within the records. Rather, as the original study design shows, the study was based on a flawed understanding of disease transmission that assumed the presence of an infected female body, an assumption that was fundamentally heteronormative. Within this context, homosexual behaviour was implausible or, at best, irrelevant.

    [1] Patient 147, Index Cards, Insane Asylum Female Patients Con't, Hollinger Box 1a, CDC Record Group 442, Records of Dr. John C. Cutler, National Archives and Records Administration at Atlanta. Although grouped with the index cards of 'Insane Asylum Female Patients Con't,' this patient was in fact male. On 19 September 1947, it was noted that "Penis-papule at right of frenum, 3x5 mm. The frenum and foreskin surrounding papule are indurated."

    [2] Records of Dr. John C. Cutler, Final Syphilis Report, Folder 1, 29.

    [3] Records of Dr. John C. Cutler, Final Syphilis Report, Folder 1, 27.


    Erin Gallagher-Cohoon (Department of History, Queen's University) recently published “Despite Being ‘Known, Highly Promiscuous and Active’: Presumed Heterosexuality in the USPHS’s STD Inoculation Study, 1946–48” in the Fall 2018 issue of Canadian Bulletin of Medical History. The article is free to read for a limited time here.

  • Writing Transnational and Cross-Cultural Lives

    Written by guest blogger, Patrick Lacroix.

    Portrait of Louis-Prosper BenderLouis-Prosper Bender. Photograph by J.E. Livernois (c. 1880)

    Everything about Prosper Bender (1844-1917) seemed to suggest that he would be noticed and remembered—everything down to his name. He left a life of comfort to serve as a physician in the U.S. Army in the final year of the Civil War. He bucked the Canadian Medical Association by practicing homeopathy. He made his home the centre of Quebec’s literary life in the 1870s. He sought to bridge Canada’s two dominant cultures when few others could or would.

    Bender did all of this in the span of two decades—and then left. Indeed, the most interesting part of his life may be his abrupt move to Boston in the 1880s, a decision that undermined his burgeoning fame as a Canadian littérateur and helps to explain why he has vanished from our historical consciousness. At the same time, the move highlights a constancy of principles that might otherwise go unnoticed.

    Had he remained in Quebec City, Bender might have earned great fame as a writer; the works he penned and published presaged as much. But, in 1882, he began a transnational journey that would last some twenty-five years. Personal reasons for the move are easily found. He failed to make the first slate of members of the Royal Society of Canada, while Boston was home to a thriving literary and artistic scene and seemed to promise new professional opportunities.

    In retrospect, it is Bender’s politics that stand out most. Interethnic suspicions, graft, and a languishing economy had turned Canada into a sick nation, Bender argued through most of the 1880s. Confederation had not yielded its expected fruit. Awed by American industrial power and the spirit of republican values, the expatriate began to plead for Canada’s annexation by its mighty neighbour.

    Bender nevertheless remained true to his principles and to his own bicultural heritage. He continued to promote a better understanding of French-Canadian society and culture—on both sides of the border—among their English-speaking neighbours. He defied the nativism that afflicted budding Franco-American communities and the angry rhetoric that sprang in the era of the Riel controversy. Adroitly, he crossed cultures and borders without succumbing to the more profitable tide of prejudice.

    As our own times show, fear mongering and scapegoating easily drown out voices of moderation and understanding. When Bender died in early 1917, his home country was about to experience animosities not seen since 1885; little came of his efforts. That too may explain, despite the numerous columns he penned in Quebec newspapers after he returned to the province, the obscurity that awaited him.

    Bender’s life sheds light on the possibilities of Canadian and French-Canadian nationhood in the late nineteenth century. But we stand to gain more by remembering his work as an intercultural broker, who may yet inspire those who would counter the “[f]anatics [who] have always been numerous enough . . . to supply subjects for quarrels, as well as disputants at short notice, to the danger of the public peace.”

    Learn more about Bender, the literary scene of his time, and his work as a mediator of cultures in the latest issue of the Journal of Canadian Studies (52.2).

    Patrick Lacroix, Ph.D. is an instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy (Exeter, N.H.). His article "Seeking an ‘Entente Cordiale’: Prosper Bender, French Canada, and Intercultural Brokership in the Nineteenth Century" is free to read for a limited time in the latest issue of the Journal of Canadian Studies. Click here to read it online.

  • The Sound of History: A Chronicle of Captain Eddie McKay

    University of Toronto Press commemorates 100 years since the end of the First World War by curating a selection of new and recent books that remind us of our nation’s history, courage, and sacrifice. Notable amongst these titles is One in a Thousand: The Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying Corps by Graham Broad.

    Broad’s lively chronicle of Eddie McKay, a varsity athlete at Western University, who flew with the Royal Flying Corps, doubles as an engaging meditation upon the historical process. The biography ends with four unsolved events in McKay’s life. These mysterious tales remind us that even the most detailed account of a person’s life is never complete.

    We’re proud to present a recording of Broad reading perhaps the most dramatic of these tales, “The Woman.” The short mystery has been divided into several instalments. Like the radio serials that were all the rage in McKay’s time, we will post a new audio track every day leading up to Remembrance Day – so you can enjoy the sound of history.

    Introduction

    Part One: The Woman

    Part Two: Who Was Maud Palmer?

    Part Three: An Unexpected Possibility

    Part Four: A Case of Mistaken Identity

    Part Five: The Mystery Returns

    Part Six: It's Not Impossible

    Coda

  • Talking Back to the Indian Act

    Talking Back to the Indian Act: Critical Readings in Settler Colonial Histories is a comprehensive "how-to" guide for engaging with primary source documents. But more than that, the book explores the Indian Act itself, and gives readers a much better understanding of this vital piece of legislation. We asked authors Mary-Ellen Kelm and Keith D. Smith to discuss their book, and why learning this information and history is important.

    You can read an exclusive excerpt from the book here.

    “We find the Indian Act of 1876 are [sic] not calculated to promote our welfare if we accept it because it empowers the Superintendent General of Indian affairs to manage, govern, and control our lands, moneys, and properties without first obtaining the consent of the chiefs…”

    Talking Back to the Indian Act: Critical Readings in Settler Colonial Histories is being published at a key moment in our history. Not only do we live in an age of twenty-four-hour news outlets broadcasting sharply divergent and politically motivated narratives, and where the nature of evidence is questioned in overtly public ways – we are also poised to begin a process of reconciling with Indigenous people in this country. Talking Back addresses both these critical issues.

    The book provides a set of lessons in reading documents through a historical and critical lens that takes into account Indigenous and intersectional perspectives. In so doing, it demonstrates the historians’ craft as it can be reconceived so that alongside context, contingency, causation, change over time, and complexity (the five “Cs” of historical thinking), we also consider relationship, responsibility, respect, and reciprocity (the four “Rs” of Indigenous methodologies). It shows the value of thinking deeply about the role in historical experience played by gender, sexuality, ability, and other ways of being. As such, it introduces readers to an expansive approach to critically engaging with the written word that addresses key questions about the nature of evidence, how it is made, and how it can be used. Readers of Talking Back to the Indian Act will never again feel that they lack the tools to truly interrogate historical or other documents.

    At the same time, Talking Back to the Indian Act introduces the reader to one of the most important pieces of legislation in Canadian history and – sadly – one that many Canadians know very little about. For nearly a century and a half, the Indian Act has dominated the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples living within its borders. As it sought to erase individual and collective identities, the Indian Act operated to extinguish Indigenous political structures, regulate familial relationships and gender roles, degrade kinship networks, circumscribe economic undertakings, reduce the land base available to Indigenous communities, and prohibit practices central to the maintenance of Indigenous cultures. Even those Indigenous people who Canada did not choose to classify as “Indian” have been impacted by the Act as they struggled to assert their own distinct identities and legal rights.

    The provisions of the Indian Act, the surveillance required for its maintenance, and Indigenous responses to its intentions and effects have created a massive archive. It is from this prodigious body of material that Talking Back to the Indian Act draws the documents it uses to teach critical historical reading methods. Included here are: the original 1876 Act and the many amendments made to it, queries and clarifications from Canadian officials, law enforcement documents, legal opinions, court records, and reports from various commissions and inquiries. Importantly, here too are Indigenous people’s letters of protest, oral testimony, meeting transcripts of Indigenous organizations and inquiries, radio addresses, and creative works all talking back to the Indian Act from Indigenous perspectives. Readers who may have heard very little about the Indian Act will come away from this text with a better understanding of how the Act worked to constrain Indigenous lives and how Indigenous people persistently worked to overcome those constraints.

    Talking Back to the Indian Act provides a set of lessons that shine light on several critical aspects of the Act and Indigenous responses to them in historical context. It encourages students to move beyond simply reading historical documents and to engage with them in more refined and effective ways. To that end, readers of this text are given an introduction to the interpretative tools traditionally available to historians and how these might be utilized in concert with Indigenous methodologies and intersectional analyses. Students will come away from this book with a much better understanding of this pivotal piece of legislation as well as the dynamics involved in its creation, its maintenance, and the resistance it engendered.

    Talking Back to the Indian Act is not a definitive study of the Indian Act but includes a range of important topics that resonate across time and into the present. Each of these topics has stimulated an intriguing array of voices and document types available to researchers. This range of material has allowed the documents provided in this collection to be selected with variety of source type and perspective in mind. Readers will have the opportunity to not only interrogate individual letters, transcripts of oral accounts and testimony, official reports, reminiscences, legislation, creative writing, and other materials but also to consider the relative value of different kinds of sources to different sorts of projects that a researcher might undertake. In addition to the focus on issues that are significant in their own right, there are also a number of overarching themes represented here. For example, Canada’s goals of acquiring land and resources and assimilating Indigenous people are evident throughout this text, as is Indigenous resistance in its many forms.

    Exploring the contours and development of the Indian Act through the documents provided in this text will help students in all disciplines – as well as popular audiences – navigate the headlines of today. It is our hope that Talking Back to the Indian Act makes a contribution to historical understanding while at the same time enhancing the skills necessary to analyse our present situation and the most appropriate paths to the future.

    Mary-Ellen Kelm is Canada Research Chair and Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University, and Keith D. Smith teaches in the Departments of Indigenous Studies and History at Vancouver Island University.

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