Patrick James and Mark Kasoff, eds. - Canadian Studies in the New Millennium

Patrick James and Mark Kasoff, eds.

Canadian Studies in the New Millennium

Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008

pp. viii +310, paper, ISBN 978-0-8020-9468-1

This is a useful ten-essay textbook intended for use by American college students taking introductory courses in Canadian Studies. Undergraduates will read it (or pretend so to do) on the advice of their professors, while Round Table readers seeking advice on matters Canadian will probably head for more advanced sources. So a review may be best used to explain the title phrase, 'Canadian Studies'. The concept arose as a by-product of the rapid expansion of higher education in the 1960s, which brought an influx of American academics and United States-centred textbooks to Canadian universities. With characteristic ambiguity, the demand for 'Canadian Studies' was driven both by the new-found confidence of the Trudeau dawn, and by insecurity stimulated by the rise of separatism in Quebec. A key document, the 1974 Symons Report, noted that there was also interest in Canada overseas, and the concept quickly spawned an international dimension. This was generously backed by Ottawa, on the unspoken but reasonable assumption that to learn about Canada would be to like Canada. Funding was made available to help Canadian Studies associations organise conferences and publish journals. There were competitive awards to bring academics to Canada for research or to plan teaching. Within Canada, a few overblown egos played the villain role in the fable of the Wolf and the Lamb, vocally resenting any diversion of funding that they saw as rightfully theirs (one made an eloquent comparison between lawful spouses and kept women), but the Canadian government was never the soft touch they alleged. 'External' (later the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) expected proposals to be realistic and projects to be delivered. But by the church-mouse standards of British academics, Canada's support was both welcome and generous (although Ottawa calculations plausibly showed that local universities put in nine dollars' worth of infrastructure expenditure for every Canadian dollar priming the pump.) More to the point, it was arm's-length funding. The government gained international profile for Canada's challenges and achievements, while many citizens seemed modestly amazed that they should attract any attention at all. (I recall the wife of one prominent politician expressing surprise that anyone was interested in her 'little country'.) Perhaps most valuable of all was the assembling of a virtual community of 'Canadianists', several thousand academics around the world who could act as interpreters on those rare occasions when a Canadian issue irrupted into the media scene, as during the 1995 Quebec independence referendum.
Over thirty years, Ottawa's international Canadian Studies commitment acquired bipartisan status. The Mulroney Conservative government, elected in 1984 with a debt-busting mandate, continued, even extended, the work of their Liberal predecessors. However, in 2006 the incoming government of Stephen Harper threw the programmes into doubt, as part of large-scale cuts in public expenditure. Eventually, they were reprieved, reduced and re-branded, under a new title. For the first time, 'Understanding Canada' involved, not indeed intervention, for Ottawa still stresses the independence of its academic partners, but at least a 'steer' in favour of declared preferences. Priority will be given in conference funding to events dedicated to peace and security, Canada-US bilateral issues, economic competitiveness, democracy and human rights, management of diversity and issues relating to environment and energy. Of course, it is entirely for Canadians to determine how to spend Canadian money. Overseas 'Canadianists' like myself can comment not as stakeholders but only as well-wishers. I am grateful for the longtime support we have received and rejoice that the programmes have been saved, at least for the time being. The concerns, sympathetically heard in Ottawa, are twofold. The first is that any touch on the funding tiller may disrupt the happy relationship between donor and recipients. Academics have been proud to work with the Government of Canada. The identification of an agenda of priorities, any agenda at all, risks the implication that participants are working for the Government of Canada. The second is that the agenda, worthy as it is, does not make obvious provision for, say, Margaret Attwood or, indeed, Antonine Maillet. 'Canlit' is popular overseas, and helps the federal government to project Canada as a bilingual and bicultural nation. My fear is that the international scholarly community recruited over three decades may erode under the new dispensation, not because they are the good-time girls and rent-boys of academe, but rather because they may be discouraged by the new competitive funding procedures (there are enough of these consuming academic time already) and by unease that they are perceived to be working to somebody else's agenda. In years ahead, Canada might face some other crisis of national unity or continental hegemony. It would be sad if Ottawa went knocking on doors to find interpretive friends, only to find that they could no longer contribute.
This textbook illustrates some of these points. The ignorant insularity of American teenagers would be funny if it were not so terrifying. Most know little of the wider world, and assume that we crave to emulate every detail of their culture. This narrowness requires blinkered amnesia towards the northern neighbour. By its very existence Canada demonstrates not only that there are other countries on the planet but, more unsettlingly, proves that it is possible to pursue different strategies for being North American. Hence this textbook aims to show how Canadian culture differs from that of the United States, to highlight its healthcare and social policies, to demonstrate the strengths of its system of parliamentary government and, above all, to stress the importance of its francophone element. These themes might not all qualify for the support of 'Understanding Canada'. None of them will make much impact in American classrooms if they become labelled as the official line of the Canadian government. Canadian Studies in the New Millennium has emerged from the activities of the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States, whose members are certainly best qualified to judge how to get their students to understand Canada. Contributors pack in a commendable amount of information and analysis into what is conceived as an introductory text. I liked the map of Canada, smudgy though it is, especially for its copyrighting to 'Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada.'

Patrick James and Mark Kasoff, eds.

Canadian Studies in the New Millennium

Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008, pp. viii +310, paper, ISBN 978-0-8020-9468-1

 

This is a useful ten-essay textbook intended for use by American college students taking introductory courses in Canadian Studies. Undergraduates will read it (or pretend so to do) on the advice of their professors, while Round Table readers seeking advice on matters Canadian will probably head for more advanced sources. So a review may be best used to explain the title phrase, 'Canadian Studies'. The concept arose as a by-product of the rapid expansion of higher education in the 1960s, which brought an influx of American academics and United States-centred textbooks to Canadian universities. With characteristic ambiguity, the demand for 'Canadian Studies' was driven both by the new-found confidence of the Trudeau dawn, and by insecurity stimulated by the rise of separatism in Quebec. A key document, the 1974 Symons Report, noted that there was also interest in Canada overseas, and the concept quickly spawned an international dimension. This was generously backed by Ottawa, on the unspoken but reasonable assumption that to learn about Canada would be to like Canada. Funding was made available to help Canadian Studies associations organise conferences and publish journals. There were competitive awards to bring academics to Canada for research or to plan teaching. Within Canada, a few overblown egos played the villain role in the fable of the Wolf and the Lamb, vocally resenting any diversion of funding that they saw as rightfully theirs (one made an eloquent comparison between lawful spouses and kept women), but the Canadian government was never the soft touch they alleged. 'External' (later the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) expected proposals to be realistic and projects to be delivered. But by the church-mouse standards of British academics, Canada's support was both welcome and generous (although Ottawa calculations plausibly showed that local universities put in nine dollars' worth of infrastructure expenditure for every Canadian dollar priming the pump.) More to the point, it was arm's-length funding. The government gained international profile for Canada's challenges and achievements, while many citizens seemed modestly amazed that they should attract any attention at all. (I recall the wife of one prominent politician expressing surprise that anyone was interested in her 'little country'.) Perhaps most valuable of all was the assembling of a virtual community of 'Canadianists', several thousand academics around the world who could act as interpreters on those rare occasions when a Canadian issue irrupted into the media scene, as during the 1995 Quebec independence referendum.

            Over thirty years, Ottawa's international Canadian Studies commitment acquired bipartisan status. The Mulroney Conservative government, elected in 1984 with a debt-busting mandate, continued, even extended, the work of their Liberal predecessors. However, in 2006 the incoming government of Stephen Harper threw the programmes into doubt, as part of large-scale cuts in public expenditure. Eventually, they were reprieved, reduced and re-branded, under a new title. For the first time, 'Understanding Canada' involved, not indeed intervention, for Ottawa still stresses the independence of its academic partners, but at least a 'steer' in favour of declared preferences.  Priority will be given in conference funding to events dedicated to peace and security, Canada-US bilateral issues, economic competitiveness, democracy and human rights, management of diversity and issues relating to environment and energy. Of course, it is entirely for Canadians to determine how to spend Canadian money. Overseas 'Canadianists' like myself can comment not as stakeholders but only as well-wishers. I am grateful for the longtime support we have received and rejoice that the programmes have been saved, at least for the time being. The concerns, sympathetically heard in Ottawa, are twofold. The first is that any touch on the funding tiller may disrupt the happy relationship between donor and recipients. Academics have been proud to work with the Government of Canada. The identification of an agenda of priorities, any agenda at all, risks the implication that participants are working for the Government of Canada. The second is that the agenda, worthy as it is, does not make obvious provision for, say, Margaret Attwood or, indeed, Antonine Maillet. 'Canlit' is popular overseas, and helps the federal government to project Canada as a bilingual and bicultural nation. My fear is that the international scholarly community recruited over three decades may erode under the new dispensation, not because they are the good-time girls and rent-boys of academe, but rather because they may be discouraged by the new competitive funding procedures (there are enough of these consuming academic time already) and by unease that they are perceived to be working to somebody else's agenda. In years ahead, Canada might face some other crisis of national unity or continental hegemony. It would be sad if Ottawa went knocking on doors to find interpretive friends, only to find that they could no longer contribute.

            This textbook illustrates some of these points. The ignorant insularity of American teenagers would be funny if it were not so terrifying. Most know little of the wider world, and assume that we crave to emulate every detail of their culture. This narrowness requires blinkered amnesia towards the northern neighbour. By its very existence Canada demonstrates not only that there are other countries on the planet but, more unsettlingly, proves that it is possible to pursue different strategies for being North American. Hence this textbook aims to show how Canadian culture differs from that of the United States, to highlight its healthcare and social policies, to demonstrate the strengths of its system of parliamentary government and, above all, to stress the importance of its francophone element. These themes might not all qualify for the support of 'Understanding Canada'. None of them will make much impact in American classrooms if they become labelled as the official line of the Canadian government. Canadian Studies in the New Millennium has emerged from the activities of the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States, whose members are certainly best qualified to judge how to get their students to understand Canada. Contributors pack in a commendable amount of information and analysis into what is conceived as an introductory text. I liked the map of Canada, smudgy though it is, especially for its copyrighting to 'Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada.'

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