Political vs. Social: A Brief Overview of the ‘History Wars’

Traditional narrative histories of Canada were highly political and economic in focus. Historians writing in the first-half of the twentieth century were generally preoccupied with exploring the role of white, Anglo-Saxon male elites in a grand nation-building context. Men appeared in national histories as universal and almost genderless subjects, whereas women, children, non-white Europeans, and Indigenous peoples were often marginalized or completely overlooked. In the 1960s, many historians in Canada turned away from political and economic narratives to investigate the past using methods of inquiry that were first developed in Europe. The rise of ‘new social history’ provided scholars the tools to revisit the past in an attempt to return a measure of agency and voice to peoples and groups that had gone ignored, but there were those who preferred to maintain the status quo. In today’s post we examine the emergence of social inquiry to the professional historical scene in Canada, and the so-called ‘History Wars’ that broke out as a result.

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