Tag Archives: University of Toronto Press

  • March Round-Up

    Highlights from the month of March.

    Awards:

    Conferences:

    • Mark Thompson, acquisitions editor, represented the press at the annual meeting of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies.
    • Natalie Fingerhut (acquisitions editor) and Suzanne Rancourt (executive editor) attended the annual conference of the Renaissance Society of America in New Orleans, LA.

    Media Highlights:

    New Releases:

  • On 'Undoing Babel', a Guest Post by Tristan Major

    Tristan Major is the author of Undoing Babel: The Tower of Babel in Anglo-Saxon Literature and an assistant professor in the Department of English Literature and Linguistics at Qatar University.

    The origins of my book began with bewilderment over a single sentence. While reading a sketch of biblical history written by the Old English author Ælfric of Eynsham, I was struck by his brief statement that idolatry had come into the world immediately after the fall of the Tower of Babel. In this account, the lack of any further explanation or elaboration gives the impression that such a claim was relatively commonplace and that it would not be attested or cause any confusion. But for me, an account of the origins of idolatry located so specifically after a definitive moment in biblical history raised questions. Why would Ælfric think that idolatry occurred only and immediately after the Tower of Babel? Was this unique to Ælfric or was it a more widely held belief that he is simply repeating? What does idolatry have to do, if anything, with the multiplicity of languages that the Tower of Babel is better known for?

    After spending more than a decade chasing these questions, I now have a better understanding of the issue. While conducting the research for my book, Undoing Babel, I soon became aware of a need to trace the multifaceted strands of interpretations of the Babel narrative across time. They first appear with early Jewish adaptations of the narrative, which then form the basis for the interpretations of the Latin-speaking Christians of Late Antiquity, who also read and commented on the story in new ways—more suitable to their own contexts and concerns. In turn, these interpretations formed the basis for how the authors of Anglo-Saxon England, and finally, Ælfric himself, read and understood the narrative.

    My initial query on the the origins of idolatry was answered, but it also gave way to the many other unique intellectual developments that slowly developed over time until becoming part of an accepted range of interpretations and implications of the story. By examining these developments closely, I began to see how literary communities are themselves not stable but rather full of potential that allows new interpretations of a text to emerge, form, and then eventually fade out of acceptance. But by applying the findings of this research more generally outside of literary communities of the past, it also became apparent to me how new interpretative traditions continue to develop and form. As I spoke to people curious about my research, I would hear how variously the Tower of Babel narrative continues to produce diverse understandings and new significance. Interestingly, while many people were well aware of the fundamental elements of the story, especially its connection to multilingualism, others exhibited fairly original interpretations, often dealing with religious or political resistance. On one occasion, I was told an elaborate (and totally idiosyncratic) account of the narrative which involved a renewed rebellion from Satan and his followers that attempted to use the tower to attack an indifferent God and free the people of the earth. On another occasion, I discovered that the Tower of Babel could signify a celebration of diversity that ultimately aims overcomes the monolithic tyranny of our contemporary, globalized, consumerist culture. In both instances, the original condemnation of the builders is turned into something positive, and the destructive results of the tower’s construction, as implied in the original text of the Bible, are eschewed and turned back into something altogether constructive.

    These “folk” interpretations will likely not gather any kind of traction among the general literary communities that will determine their viability. But they do indicate how creative interpretation can be and how far it can stray from the original understanding of the text. Despite a temptation to disregard communities of the past as less sophisticated that our own, the freedom for interpretation of a literary text to develop persists across all times and readers.

    As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my research began with confusion over a single sentence, which eventually led me to trace the development of interpretation over a millennium of literary sources. Now that I understand why Ælfric wrote what he did, I am certainly looking forward to the next time I find myself confused over some small, seemingly insignificant point.

  • 'Unbound': Winner of the 2018 Kobzar Literary Award

    Guest post by Dr. Lindy Ledohowski

    “Identities – ethnocultural, gendered, socio-economic, minoritized, regional – are interesting facets of who we are. Often we both are and are not multiple selves simultaneously, and as we asked authors to contribute to this collection, the key question we wanted them to think about was this: What does Ukrainian Canadian-ness mean to them in contemporary Canada? We were both surprised and pleased with their responses.

    This book demonstrates that on close scrutiny, as with any vibrant and dynamic community, there may be more divisions than similarities among the views of individual Ukrainian Canadians. More than sixty years have passed since the first English-language Ukrainian Canadian novel was published, and the literature playing with notions of what it means to be Ukrainian Canadian suggests that it means many things to many people. This book explores the spaces where, in the words of Myrna Kostash, “our collective, though not necessarily common, interests coincide.” And while this exploration uses Ukrainian Canadian (in all its iterations) as its focusing lens, it speaks to other minoritized subject positions in Canada and abroad, and perhaps most loudly to contemporary mainstream Canada as well.”

    So begins the introduction to Unbound: Ukrainian Canadians Writing Home. In thinking about identity politics and contemporary Canada, as diasporic and postcolonial scholars who focus on contemporary Canadian literature both Lisa Grekul and I approached co-editing a collection focusing on English-language Ukrainian Canadian literature in a radical way.

    As scholars, both Grekul and I are committed to multiplicity to identities rather than a single, hegemonic way of looking at the world. When we asked our contributors to provide something for the book we envisioned creating, we wanted to give them the greatest degree of openness we could.

    We did not want to constrain their voices, which meant that we did not want to constrain their generic or stylistic choices. It also meant that we were committed to a consultative and collaborative process to bring this book to fruition.

    The book, as a result is an expression not only of some of the best thinking and writing about contemporary Canadian identity politics and literature, but also an articulation of being “unbound” by genre or expectation. This book is profoundly scholarly and profoundly creative simultaneously. And its creation is the culmination of the best feminist practice that we lived over years to pull it together.

    We are terribly and justifiably proud of this book.

    Then when we found out that it was a finalist for the 2018 Kobzar Literary Award, a nation-wide literary prize in Canada that is only offered every two years, we were over the moon.

    Then on March 1st when the winner was announced and Unbound: Ukrainian Canadians Writing Home became the 2018 Kobzar Literary Award winner, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves.

    Grekul was in the middle of a busy teaching term at UBC, Okanagan on the other side of Canada from the Toronto-based gala awards night, and I was glued to my iPhone in Kuala Lumpur 13 hours ahead of Toronto.

    Marusya Bociurkiw, one of the contributors who has also been a Kobzar finalist before, represented us, and when she texted me: “WE WON!” I thought she must be joking. As Twitter exploded with the announcement, and Bociurkiw pulled another contributor onto stage with her Erin Moure – who was also a finalist this year in her own right – we all felt the years of hard work being recognized.

    This book is important. This book is revolutionary. This book is interesting. This book is powerful. This book is political. This book is beautiful.

    And this book is a nation-wide literary prize winner.

    On behalf of my co-editor, Dr. Lisa Grekul, I must thank our amazing, talented, intelligent, and formidable contributors:
    Maruysia Bociurkiw
    Elizabeth Bachinsky
    Janice Kulyk Keefer
    Myrna Kostash
    Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
    Erin Moure
    Daria Salamon and Weronika Suchacka who wrote the preface and Natalka Husar who allowed her painting '500 people you didn’t know' to be used as the cover art.

    Lisa Grekul is a novelist and associate professor in the Department of Critical Studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.

    Lindy Ledohowski is an educational leader and literary scholar. She serves on the board of trustees for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

  • February Round-Up

    Highlights from the month of February.

    Awards:

    Media Highlights:

    New Releases:

  • Some Candid Thoughts by R. Peter Broughton, author of 'Northern Star: J.S. Plaskett'

    Guest post by R. Peter Broughton, author of Northern Star: J.S. Plaskett

    As a retired high-school math teacher, I fall into no particular camp. I’m not a scientist, an astronomer, or a historian. But perhaps, with no particular axe to grind and at my advanced age, I am oddly suited to bring some new viewpoints to bear on writing a historical biography of an astronomer.

    As far as astronomy goes, some of my professors, including the renowned Helen Hogg, actually knew Plaskett. The equipment he used as well as the techniques and methods that were familiar to him were still current. But it was only after a course in the history of mathematics that I took as part of a master’s degree a few years later that I began to see the unity of the humanities and the sciences. I began to feel that, by reading extensively, I could learn what interested me. Encouraged by Professor Kenneth O. May, I thought that eventually I might make my own contributions to knowledge.

    Fortunately for me there was a means to do so. I had joined the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada as an undergraduate and over subsequent years held virtually every office in the Society, giving me a broader understanding of the great variety of attitudes, backgrounds, and challenges faced by this subset of Canadians. Though I found that the RASC Journal and monthly lectures by experts provided a means of keeping in touch with some of the recent developments in astronomy, I realized that it would be through the history of the subject that I would try to make my mark. Boldly I thought there were few significant developments in Canadian astronomy before the twentieth century, so it would not be a preposterous goal to attain familiarity with the entire history of astronomy in Canada. Of course science really knows no boundaries, so I was inevitably drawn to explore some topics on a broader scale.

    Writing for the RASC Journal had its rewards. I was able to address topics that interested me and in the process found at least a few encouraging readers and sympathetic friends. This experience gave me the confidence to write for other journals as diverse as Annals of Science and Journal of Geophysical Research, and eventually to write two books, Looking Up: A History of the RASC and Northern Star: J.S. Plaskett.

    My hope is that this biography of John Stanley Plaskett will appeal to a very wide audience. The astronomical community is already familiar with Plaskett as one of a fairly small group of astronomers to make major contributions to the science in the first half of the twentieth century. For such readers, this book will flesh out Plaskett’s personality and provide pertinent illustrations of how he managed to become so highly-regarded at home and abroad. Amateur astronomers, who often like to read (on cloudy nights) about the accomplishments of a former generation, will appreciate Plaskett’s rise from humble roots to international acclaim. He achieved fame for himself and his country by learning on the job, and without ever taking a formal course in astronomy. But I really hope this book will reach beyond those aficionados of astronomy to a broader audience.

    I do think the Canadian public thirsts for stories of national heroes. For decades, professional historians have largely derided such figures as elitist, preferring to focus on down-trodden minorities or those whose experience or impact has been localized. So says one of the few notable exceptions, Jack Granatstein in Who Killed Canadian History? Moreover, he writes, these historians in academe often write in a turgid style admired only by their colleagues. Fortunately, there have been counter examples. One shining example is Michael Bliss’s biography of Sir Frederick Banting, published by the University of Toronto Press in 1984 with a second edition in 1992.

    Though Plaskett cannot be credited with saving countless lives as did his contemporary, Banting, he did, along with Banting and a handful of others, put Canada on the international radar as a country making serious advances in scientific knowledge. Before the First World War, Canada was a backwater in the arts as well. It took pioneers like Lucy Maud Montgomery and the Group of Seven to bring awareness to the world that important advances were occurring in the vast land north of the 49th parallel.

    Finally, and in my opinion, most importantly, I hope that this book will break down some barriers. I would be delighted if humanists realized that they can learn the ways of science from the biography of an astronomer. Scientists may appreciate the value of history when they see how personal, political, and economic forces shape their working lives. Perhaps professional historians may see the value in writing for a broad audience, and writers of creative non-fiction may understand that there is no need to embroider the facts.

    I should not kid myself. Five years after Bliss’s second edition of Banting: a Biography came out, an Angus Reid poll found that only 11 percent of Canadians between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four knew that Banting had won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery of insulin. If that’s the best that an outstanding writer and historian could achieve, I will be amazed and delighted if 11 percent of Canadians of any age come to recognize the name of John Stanley Plaskett as Canada’s founding astronomer.

    R. Peter Broughton was president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada from 1992 to 1994. His service and extensive writing on the history of astronomy led the International Astronomical Union to name a minor planet in his honour.

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