Honour and the Search for Influence: A History of The Royal Society of Canada


167 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-0794-5
DDC 061'.1





Reviewed by Hannah Gay

Hannah Gay is a professor of history at Simon Fraser University in
British Columbia.


This is a good short history of the Royal Society of Canada, which was
founded in 1882. Membership in this learned society signified merit in
the sciences or humanities. Early membership drew heavily on clerics and
government employees; today’s membership is largely academic. Like its
counterpart in London, the society soon began publishing its own
Proceedings and Transactions. Local history, as well as work having to
do with Native peoples, figured largely in the early publications.
Reports on laboratory work began to appear in the 1890s, joining the
more traditional field science reports. Like other learned societies,
the Royal Society of Canada built up a library (which included journals
from other societies) and elected corresponding members from other

Berger provides a good description of the society’s attempts to build
a corporate identity. In the early 20th century, the membership
supported various schemes for the preservation of historical sites and
documents and later helped in the foundation of many national
institutions (e.g., the National Gallery, the Public Archives, the
Dominion Observatory, and the Canada Council). As a body, it both
distanced itself from both religious and political authority in an
attempt to carve out its own area of authority. It promoted the idea
that its members should be consulted by government on matters having to
do with the sciences, the social sciences, and the arts.

After World War I, applied research and the growth of universities saw
members drawn to other professional attachments and learned societies.
This migration, along with increasing opportunities for publication
elsewhere, made the Royal Society of Canada increasingly redundant.
While the Society has to a degree remade itself as a national academy,
Berger concludes by saying that “[it] has always been considerably
less than the sum of its parts,” thus implying that the building of a
corporate identity was less than successful.


Berger, Carl., “Honour and the Search for Influence: A History of The Royal Society of Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/5604.