Quebec and Its Historians: The Twentieth Century
Terry A. Crowley is a professor of history at the University of Guelph,
and the author of Agnes Macphail and the Politics of Equality.
Priest-ridden and church dominated — that is what most Canadians thought about Quebec social and intellectual life until recently. For a century, historical scholarship did not escape clerical influence, nor that nationalism which emanated from a people conscious that their nation had been defeated and colonized by the British. Bring on the Jesuits and their devotion to the Church, French civilization, and the conversion of the Amerindians!
That era has now passed, as Université du Québec historian Serge Gagnon reveals in this searching study of Quebec historiography during the past quarter century. In the persons of Louise Dechêne and Fernand Ouellet, Quebec has produced two of the most innovative and imaginative practitioners of the new social history. Not only are the questions asked of the past much more intriguing, but these two historians have assiduously mined new primary sources in order to provide fresh approaches that clarify our understanding of Quebec’s evolution.
Gagnon is best at providing a penetrating evaluation and critique of the work of these two major historians. His book is a series of particular studies rather than a comprehensive synthesis. The author is relatively unconvincing in his attempt to draw associations between the “Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s and the historical craft. His chapter on changing views of the Canadian sixteenth century fails to pull together the earlier historians that he discusses with more recent ones. Sometimes he falls into the common vice of the historiographer by lapsing into bibliography.
Gagnon’s fine analyses of the work of Dechêne and Ouellet make this a valuable study for anyone interested in the interpretation of history. What the book so clearly shows is that what each generation considers as history is deeply rooted within intellectual traditions and contemporary concerns. The translation is commendable, but does anyone know what “economism” is?