I am a historian of Canadian culture and politics. When I’m not reading books to three young children (and fruitlessly trying to get them to sleep), I work as an Associate Professor of history at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.
This Everyday History blog is, in theory at least, fairly representative of the kind of history I write and teach. I do actually teach a course called Everyday History at Trent University where I subject students to weekly lectures on such mixed topics as the history of men and barbecuing, the complex historical reasons behind why folks in Ontario can’t buy beer at the corner store (much ado about temperance past and present), how the song ‘YMCA’ by the Village People makes a great way to start talking about the history of homosexuality in Canada, and the rather straightforward reasons – rooted in the history of Canada’s parliamentary democracy – that explain why Stephen Harper was wrong (and was probably lying to Canadians) back in 2008, and again in the 2011 election, about the so called coalition ‘crisis’.
It’s a mixed bag of material, but what binds it together is the sense that we don’t have to stumble around our culture too long before we find ourselves kicking up a lot of historical dust (even if we don’t always recognize it as such).
My own work as a historian has been similarly mixed in what I’ve found to be interesting and worthwhile writing about (keeping in mind the bizarre fact that as someone soon to turn forty I’m still considered ‘junior’ in the profession).
Currently I’m writing a book on the bizarre afterlife of Canada’s most successful Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. After King died it soon became clear that he was a much stranger (and to some much more interesting) man than he had seemed. Stories emerged about his belief in spiritualism, that he believed he could – and did – speak to his dead mother, to the dead Franklin Delano Roosevelt and to many others by spirits of the departed. Later it came out that he had visited prostitutes under the guise of saving them but that he had, according to some, succumbed to temptation.
The book tells two stories. One part unravels the ways in which these secrets came to be revealed – the attempted cover-ups and sometimes farcical shenanigans which went on between those trying to protect King’s reputation and those trying to expose him. The second part of the book is the more serious tale of the cultural transformation that Canada went through in the decades after King’s death, and which is revealed in the commentary upon him. This is the story of the growing interest in the private lives of politicians and the emerging distrust of official narratives and the notion of the great ‘statesman’ itself.
I published an early article based on some of this research in Labour/Le Travail (Autumn 2010). You can read it here.