The François-Xavier Garneau Medal, awarded every five years, is the most prestigious of the CHA prizes. It honours an outstanding Canadian contribution to historical research.
Bettina Bradbury, Wife to Widow: Lives, Laws, and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Montreal. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011.
Wife to Widow: Lives, Laws, and Politics in Nineteen-Century Montreal by Bettina Bradbury reveals patterns in several critical life-course events experienced by women of different social circumstances and cultural backgrounds during a tumultuous period in an endlessly fascinating colonial city. “To become a widow,” as Bradbury explains, “it was necessary to be recognized as female, marry a male, and outlive him.” These points frame a book that then exceeds these bounds, because as the chapters advance through the life course, they expose the constraints of class and patriarchy as well as the struggles and grief attending life’s vicissitudes. By careful analysis of biographical information collected from a structured sample of two generations (1823-1826; 1842-1845), Wife to Widow superbly integrates life-course stages with the unmistakable development of capitalism and with politics at a turning point in Canadian colonial history.
This captivating book unobtrusively presents the author’s versatility, for it combines a flowing narrative style, feminist insights, and an array of research skills. Contemporary records, a legacy from Montreal’s religious communities and Lower Canada’s legal arrangements, provided hard-won information that Bradbury linked to form collective genealogies. An exemplary social history that structured its core observations around these genealogies, Wife to Widow merges the quest for history from the bottom up with colonial politics, municipal chicanery, community identities, and Catholic social assistance. Divergent legal practices are a central concern. An exploration of conflicting civil and common law practices draws together women’s history, family history, urban history, economic history, and political history. Wife to Widow isa consummate exposition of authority, gender, and property.
For these reasons and more, Wife to Widow is richly deserving of the François-Xavier Garneau Medal, the most prestigious prize awarded by the Canadian Historical Association.
John C. Weaver. The Great Land Rush and the Making of the Modern World.
His work was chosen by the prize jury the most remarquable canadian contribution to historical research published between 2003 and 2008.
A triumph of comparative and inter-disciplinary history, The Great Land Rush and the Making of the Modern World addresses the complex regional and national histories of settlement in Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Effortlessly moving through legal, cultural, ecological, intellectual, and economic history, John Weaver situates the emergence of private conceptions of land tenure at the intersection of legal history and cultural geography. In doing so, he sheds light on the British colonial enterprise and the transition to modern capitalism. Under what is broadly termed the culture of improvement, we see the rise of private land tenure and the concomitant history of the alienation of indigenous land claims to what became agricultural land in five food-exporting areas of the New World. But it is more than just the story of the state wielding immense legal, political, and military might; it also explores the squatters and adventurers who took land in defiance of the state, and in their own way shaped these Neo-Europes. What emerges is a compelling synthesis of the common features of English-language settlement patterns and their global legal and cultural implications. Its sweep is broad, taking in three continents and five countries, and Weaver shows a remarkable mastery of an enormous archival base – everything from the account books of private land companies to the long forgotten memoirs of settlers. Yet despite the book’s ambitious scope, it never loses sight of the fine detail that gives the story its nuance. Writing with skill and verve, Weaver brings the characters and cultures of the various land rushes to life – from Alexander Berry, a naval surgeon-turned-land baron who cobbled together a feudal-style estate in Australia, to teacher and surveyor John Symmes, whose dreams of a land empire in southern Ohio collapsed under the weight of falling prices and vicious rumours spread by adversaries. As readable as it is profound, The Great Land Rush is a path-breaking work of global history, offering exceptional insights into the formation of modern nations and attitudes.
Natalie Zemon Davis. Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslim Between Worlds.
A window onto the sixteenth-century Mediterranean world, Trickster Travels is, at once, simple and complex. On the one hand, it is a meticulously researched intellectual biography of the enigmatic al-Hasan al-Wazzan (Jean Léon l’Africain), the North African Muslim diplomat who became one of the leading writers and interpreters of Africa for European audiences. At the same time, it is a broad and far-reaching exploration of the encounter between Africa and Europe, Islam and Christianity, along one of the great cross-cultural highways of the Renaissance world. Natalie Zemon Davis marshals a wide array of materials from a variety of cultures to narrate the extraordinary passages of this man’s life, and the exceptional settings through which he travelled. But using al-Hasan al-Wazzan as the central figure in this tale was no easy task, for he did not leave behind a rich archive of written material. Instead, Davis fills in the silences in her documentation with well-informed and fascinating speculations as to what her protagonist may have felt, experienced, or read. The deftness with which she interrogates small bits of marginalia or slight alterations between editions of his best-selling work Description of Africa demonstrates her skill as an historian, while her ruminations on the cities, lands, and cultures that al-Wassan experienced are enlivened by flashes of wit and great humanity. Through it all, she deftly weaves the image of the trickster bird – a clever amphibious bird able to blend in with either the birds or the fishes, depending on the circumstances. In the hands of a distinguished historian such as Zemon Davis, it becomes the metaphor for al-Hasan al-Wazzan’s double life. A model of inter-disciplinary history with observations on cultural interchange that still resonate in the modern world, Trickster Travels embodies the best of historical practice and writing.
Timothy Brook. The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998)
Timothy Brooks book offers a wonderfully vivid and complex picture of the economic and social life of Ming China, both as seen by contemporaries and as understood by historians today. Brook takes as his organizing principle a narrative of Ming society given by a provincial magistrate, Zhang Tao, in 1609, some thirty-five years before the dynasty fell to the Manchu. The movement is from a good winter of origin, with an agricultural, hierarchical society, guided by moral principles and containing policies instituted by the emperor in the spirit of order and Confucian teaching to an excessively fertile spring of movement, in which silver, merchants, and commerce disrupt the rightful order and undermine agriculture, to an overheated summer of a society disturbed by greed, money and commerce, the old values destroyed, agriculture weakened, the roads full of vagrants, and the world turned upside down. Brook takes this Chinese perception of time and change, and works within it to explore the character of agriculture, trade, communication systems, and government policy. His sources are myriad: memoirs, letter, moral treatises, treatises on taste and connoisseurship, government reports, and especially the gazetteers produced in numerous Chinese provinces under the editorship of provincial magistrates. He shows the varied ways in which commerce was carried on and expanded, the relations between rice-growing and cotton-growing as textile production increased, the shift from bonded or forced labour service to wage service, and much more - and always through interesting case studies, anecdotes, or contemporary observation. Especially interesting is his treatment of communication systems, which he would add to Zhang Taos silver and commerce as agents of change; Brook describes the movement of person and troops and other forms of transport, the movement of government documents and of the letters of subjects, and the growth and increased dissemination of block-printed books, all of this with much impact on the social, economic, and cultural life of the Chinese. Finally, Brook adds his own autumn to Zhang Taos seasons, where along with the social fluidity between merchants and gentry and with the upward mobility and quest for elite cultural markers, which allows fake art-objects to flourish, Chinese society is still marked by distinction, master/servant relations (now held together primarily by salary), and by fine intellectual and cultural discrimination. There is continuity as well as change. The transition from Ming to Qing is a beginning as well as an end. Brook has provided a splendid synthesis of the major entwined economic, social, and cultural developments of the Ming period; his way of documenting the story - through fresh sources like the gazetteers - and his imaginative choice of example - adds new depth to our understanding; the style is clear, direct, and easy; the book is a model of the historians craft.
Gérard Bouchard, Quelques arpents d'Amérique : population, économie, famille au Saguenay, 1838-1971, Montréal, Les Éditions du Boréal, 1996.
This book is a unique and major contribution to the history of Quebec, Canada and North America. It represents the summation of over twenty years of research on the Saguenay region and is one of the most important demographic studies ever undertaken in this country. Firmly rooting his analysis in a highly sophisticated theoretical base, Bouchard challenges and discredits a long-standing stereotype of Quebec rural society as homogeneously distinct from its North American neighbours due to culture and nationality. In an exploration of the diverse strategies used by large families in the Saguenay over several generations to pass on their assets, Bouchard succeeds in identifying similarities between this region and its North American counterparts. Of particular significance is Bouchard's conclusion that Saguenay society was one of greater equality than previously appreciated, and that this rough equality was not disrupted by twentieth-century pressures or values. The painstaking family reconstruction, the emphasis on family as a major paradigmatic model, and the analysis of the experience of the Saguenay peasantry within the larger North American framework place Bouchard's book at the centre of interpretive debates, and will demand the close attention of historians not only of Quebec and Canada, but also of North America. Elegantly written, Quelques arpents d'Amrique is richly deserving of the Franois-Xavier Garneau Medal.
Jonathan Vance, Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997.
This excellent piece of scholarship makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the Canadian psyche in the aftermath of an horrendous war. It is the first book to move the study of the memory of war away from the anti-war critics to an analysis of photographs, trench journals, patriotic jingles, the vast outpouring of popular fiction, mass circulation magazines, war memorials and popular art.
This extraordinary array of materials enables Vance to explore how the war experience was preserved and memory constructed. He concludes that the memory of the war was sustained by the "myth" of gallant service, duty and honour. This process of rationalization was necessary during the war to sustain commitment and belief, and afterwards to allow for a reassurance that the sacrifices had not been made in vain. Vance argues that this effort to create a truly "national" past was not entirely successful either during or after the war as tensions between French and English Canadians lingered. Lucid, engaging, easy to read and firmly anchored in international studies of myth and memory, this is a superb addition to Canadian historiography.
Bettina Bradbury, Working Families: Age, Gender, and Daily Survival in Industrializing Montreal. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993.
This is an original and influential analysis of working-class family survival strategies during the years when Montreal first became an industrial city. After establishing the economic, social and legal contexts, Bradbury provides a detailed study of the family economy, considering the work and role of all family members. She demonstrates effectively that survival depended as much on the informal labour of women and children as it did on wages. Bradbury succeeds in conveying a keen sense of daily life in Montreal in the late nineteenth century. She vividly illustrates how women, men and children ingeniously confronted, then responded and contributed to industrializing Montreal. Thoroughly researched and written in clear, cogent prose, this is a fundamentally important book.
Joy Parr, The Gender of Breadwinners: Women, Men, and Change in Two Industrial Towns, 1880-1950, University of Toronto Press, 1990
Modris Eksteins, The Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, Lester and Orpen Dennys Ltd, 1989
James A. Leith, Space and Revolution: Projects for Monuments, Squares and Public Buildings in France, 1789-1799, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1991
John M. Beattie, Crime and the Courts in England 1660-1800, Princeton University Press, 1986
David Eltis, Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transltlantic Trade, Oxford University Press, 1987
Allan Greer, Peasants, Lord and Merchant: Rural Society in Three Quebec Parishes 1740-1840, University of Toronto Press, 1985
Michael Bliss, A Canadian Millionaire: The Life and Business Times of Sir Joseph Flavelle, Macmillan of Canada, 1978.
Louise Dechêne, Habitants et marchands de Montréal au XVIIe siècle. Paris : Plon, 1974.