University of Toronto Press Blog

  • January Round-Up

    Here's what we were up to in January.

    Conferences:

    • Acquisitions editor Mark Thompson and Suzanne Rancourt attended the annual Modern Language Association convention in New York from January 4-7, 2018.
    • Len Husband and Natalie Fingerhut was at the annual meeting of American Historical Association in Washington from January 4-7, 2018.
    • We were a part of the Ontario Book Publisher pavilion at the Ontario Library Association's super conference from January 31-February 2, 2018.

    Media Highlights:

    New Releases:

  • Grounding Ourselves: On Bill C-16 and Symbolic Legislation

    Written by guest blogger Florence Ashley.

    Stylized sculpture of woman's head, top seperated from mouth up to reveal text insideImage by Nelly Wat

    I was presenting at the Pride Canada National Conference held in Montreal less than a year ago. My presentation centered on my paper “Don’t be so hateful: The insufficiency of anti-discrimination and hate crime laws in improving trans well-being” which was recently published by the University of Toronto Law Journal in what I believe to be the first-ever special issue on trans law in Canadian history. Without going at lengths about the content of the article—I hope you will choose to read it in its entirety—it may be characterised as highly critical of Bill C-16. More particularly, I paint the bill as largely symbolic and as promising but meagre payoff for pan-Canadian trans well-being.

    In the questions period, Susan walked up to the microphone and asked me a question. I must admit that my recollection is rather fuzzy, but two bits of information stand out. Firstly, she called me the next Viviane Namaste which, in my book, is one of the highest praise to be received. And secondly, she questioned the binary labelling of laws as symbolic and substantial, highlighting how laws which are purely symbolic on the surface can be effective educational tools.

    Although I continue to believe that purely symbolic laws should be criticised, the underlying critique stays with me to this day. The symbolic is one of the most characteristic traits of human societies. We lead symbolic lives, and deal in symbols every day of our lives. What does it mean, as activists who aspire to a grounded approach, to demean symbolic change?

    Indeed, the very same activists who seek to radically alter the arrangement of society oftentimes spend significant amounts of time analysing the minutia of language on the grounds that linguistic changes are an integral part of social change. Nowhere is this truer than in trans activism, where critiques of language are omnipresent—I myself contributed a chapter on transantagonism in the French language to the acclaimed book Dictionnaire critique du sexisme linguistique.

    Can I with one hand critique legislative focus on symbols while writing chapters on symbols and linguistic sexism with the other hand?

    To quote from the great G.A. Cohen, “The present paper has no conclusion.” I do not have a satisfactory answer to this question. But as I think of how I stand vis-à-vis the issue, I also wonder if consistency and coherence is something we should ask of ourselves.

    Perhaps the best we can do is be incoherent. Perhaps the value of the critique of symbolic legislation is not so much to highlight the limitations of symbols, but to recall us to the very real lives of trans people who aren’t helped by our laws. People who, like Sisi Thibert, didn’t find survival in anti-discrimination and hate crime laws. People who need us to do something else, to do more.

    Florence Ashley is an LLM Candidate at McGill University in Montreal. Metaphorically, a cyborg witch with flowers in her hair. Read her article in the latest issue of the University of Toronto Law Journal here: https://doi.org/10.3138/utlj.2017-0057

  • The Order of the British Empire after the British Empire

    Written by guest blogger Toby Harper.

    2017 was the centenary of the Order of the British Empire. Lloyd George’s war government created it in 1917 to recognize the voluntary civilian war effort in Britain and throughout the British Empire. At the time it was without precedent in the British honours system. It was distributed on a far greater scale and to a wider social range than any previous honour, most of which had been reserved for a narrow band of social and political elites. Today the Order is still the most numerically-important of all the state honours given out twice a year by the British Crown to citizens who have been judged worthy of recognition.

    Since the 1950s politicians, journalists and potential recipients in both the former empire and Britain have argued that the name is offensive, inaccurate, and anachronistic. This debate flared up again last year at the Order’s centenary. One of the main objections to changing the name at the centenary was that it was difficult or impossible to formally change the name of an order. This was not true: the Order was an invented tradition which had changed multiple times, evolving with changing requirements of British and sometimes even colonial governments. Yet this has been a common defense of the name, along with numerous other objections: that the name was popular; that Australians liked it (a decade before they dropped it); that only the wrong sort of colonial subjects disliked it; that those who disliked it were in a minority; that those who disliked it did not understand it; that Prince Philip (who proposed a name change) was a meddler; and that the name had historic, traditional weight.

    My article in the Canadian Journal of History charts the sporadic debates about the name in parliament, the press, Whitehall, and the Palace. It shows how a small group of civil servants defended the name against objections from a range of people who worried that it compromised the Crown or the Government in their relationships with colonial, former colonial, and British citizens. At the core of this defense of the name, I argue, was a nostalgia for empire that sought to defuse its legacy. The name was not problematic or offensive, its defender’s argued, but quaint. The Order was transmuted almost overnight from an imperial to a national one, in the process forgetting its roots in imperial politics and ideology. By the beginning of the twenty-first century this meant that British citizens of imperial descent were effectively offered a deal: accept this nostalgic version of empire in order to be included, or reject it and be alienated from a widely publicized and generally popular national institution. In other words, the Order of the British Empire now offers official inclusion at the price of forgetting empire.

    Toby Harper
    Toby Harper is an assistant professor of history at Providence College, Rhode Island. His latest article, “The Order of the British Empire After the British Empire,” appears in issue 52.3 of the Canadian Journal of History/Annales Canadiennes d’Histoire and is available here for FREE for a limited time: https://doi.org/10.3138/cjh.ach.52.3.05

  • December Round-Up

    Here's a recap of what happened at the press in December.

    Awards:

     

    Conferences:

    • Len Husband was at the annual conference of Association for Jewish Studies in Washington from December 17-19, 2017.

     

    Media Highlights:

     

    New Releases:

  • One in a Thousand: One Hundred Years Later

    One hundred years ago, Eddie McKay, the WWI flying ace featured in One in a Thousand, was shot down and killed. To commemorate his life and death, and the publication this year of Eddie's story in an innovative new microhistory, author Graham Broad discusses how he was compelled to research, write, and publish Eddie's story. To learn more about Eddie McKay, you can of course get your hands on a copy of One in a Thousand, but we also urge you to check out Eddie's account on Twitter: @AEMcKayRFC

    I don’t believe in such things, but if I did, I’d say that Eddie McKay was pursuing me.

    About fifteen years ago, when I was a TA in the Canadian history survey at Western, I was asked to give a guest lecture about Canada in the First World War. It was my first lecture and I was quite unsure of myself, but I knew that the lecture would be more meaningful for the students if I told them about someone from their own university who had been killed in the war. The campus had no First World War cenotaph—it’s a long story—but I found Eddie's name in an old book about Western’s history. I looked into his story briefly. He was a rugby player who became a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. Perfect.

    I spent a few hours in the university archives looking for a picture of him to no avail. I left, stretching and yawning, rubbing my eyes, and paused to glance for a moment at a nearby display case. And there was an old and yellowed photo of Eddie McKay, wearing his rugby team uniform, looking straight back at me from the pages of a scrapbook about Western’s sports history. I alerted the archivist. “That’s weird,” she said. “I flipped to that page at random this morning.”

    Odd things like that happened again, over a decade later, when I decided to write a book about Eddie, like the time I took my laptop to the local market for a change of scenery. Sipping coffee and writing, I looked down for a moment at the top of the table. Somebody had etched “Eddie” in it. So that was weird, too.

    Again, I don’t believe in that stuff, but Eddie McKay does haunt me in a way. I can’t really claim to know him. Even if he had survived the war, it’s improbable that I ever could have: he would have turned seventy-eight the year I was born. Would I have liked him, or would he have liked me? He was athletic and a soldier. I am bookish, uninterested in sports, and unmilitary. And it would be incredible if he did not share many of the commonplace sentiments of his own age that rightly find no place in our own. Yet something about him compelled and still compels me inexorably. I’d mention him once a year when I guest lectured, and later in my classes when I started to teach. Then in 2007, I persuaded my senior seminar to do a little class project about him. Together, we gathered material about his life, at least the stuff we could get locally, and placed a commemorative marker for him on campus. I pass it often. My wife, who works at the university, can see it from her office window.

    In 2013, I hashed out an idea with Natalie Fingerhut, the Higher Education History Editor at University of Toronto Press. A biography, of sorts, of Eddie McKay. Could it be done? I dunno, I said. I’m not sure if there’s enough material. What the students and I had gathered in 2007 provided no more than a sketch. Even better, she proposed. It would really be two biographies: the story of Eddie McKay and the story of how I wrote that story—or failed to write it. A pedagogical microhistory.

    So, I committed biography, as they say. Sort of. I was able to locate only about six documents relating specifically to Eddie’s life prior to his twentieth year, for example, so the “biography” was pretty much confined to the last three years of his life when he was a student and soldier. Moreover, the experience of thinking my way through things I had taken for granted, such as how I went about doing history, why I believed the things I discovered about the past were probably true, laid me bare. Oh, back in the day I had taken the obligatory theory and methods courses, and I had wandered the thickets of “theory” over many hours of beer and argument with classmates who were convinced that there was nothing in this world that we could be convinced about. But I had always believed that, for all the interventions of the post-modernists, the core methodology of the historical profession hasn’t changed much over the years. We write about more things and often take a broader perspective, but fundamentally it seems to me that most historians do what historians have been doing for a very long time: they gather evidence to tell stories and make arguments about the past.

    My book, One in a Thousand: The Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying Corps, is the story of a promising young man who was killed in a terrible war. It is also the story about how I struggled to learn what I did about him, how I came to certain conclusions—however tentative—about him, and how I dealt with gaps in the record and the mysteries I couldn’t resolve. Where is he buried? Who was the mystery woman who inquired after him when he failed to return from his final patrol? What was in the envelope, addressed to him, that was never sent by the President of UWO in 1917? The book serves as an entry point, then, for students wanting to learn more about historical theory and method. It’s possible to skip the methodological discussions and read the book as biography alone, but it’s my hope that readers who come for the history will stay for the historiography.

    Eddie McKay was killed in action the day after his 25th birthday, 28 December 1917. For the past two years, I have been tweeting significant events in his life from @AEMcKayRFC. You can follow him there. In a future blog post, I’ll ruminate some about how I learned to stop worrying and love the tweet.

    Graham Broad is Associate Professor of History at King's University College at Western University and the author of A Small Price to Pay: Consumer Culture on the Canadian Home Front, 1939-1945 (2013).

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