History That Matters

Written by David Frum on Saturday December 31, 2011

In my column for the National Post, I discuss the importance of the latest issue of the Dorchester Review:

I've written before about Canada's important new historical journal, the Dorchester Review. Now they have published a second issue - and I am doing it again.

This opening paragraph from one of the current issue essays nicely conveys why the Dorchester Review matters so much:

"The myth of a 'Great Betrayal' by Britain during the second world war has taken root in Australia, not just in the minds of parochial scholars, but in a hazy anglophobia amongst the general population. Fortunately, Augustine Meaher, an American scholar at Melbourne University, has stripped away the naive excuses and selective use of sources characterizing what he calls Australia's 'national myth.' Meaher's grandfather served with U.S. forces in the South Pacific during the war. He came to Australia to escape the narrowness of U.S. institutions and discovered a prime example of Australian parochialism instead. Australians can be grateful for his scholarly demolition of our local mythology."

What follows is the most thorough debunking of Australia's blame-the-pommiebastards myth you are likely to read, written in a style at once lively and learned, by a bold Australian historian, Nigel Davies - and published in Canada, by Canadians.

Good history writing is always a good thing. But the Dorchester Review is a triply good thing in three other ways.

First, it's written by people who are serious about Canadian history, but who also understand that Canadian history has always been a piece of a broader story. The same issue of the Dorchester Review that attacks Australian mythmaking also addresses John A. Macdonald's vision of the British Empire and political debates within Vichy France.

I don't want to make invidious comparisons, but take a look at the table of contents of the current issue of another important Canadian history journal. The major articles include:

- Crazy for Bargains: Inventing the Irrational Female Shopper in Modernizing English Canada

- An Intimate Understanding of Place: Charles Sauriol and Toronto's Don River Valley, 1927-1989

- The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway: African Canadians in Hamilton

- Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderlands

Utterly absent: not only any articles about any place other than Canada, but any awareness that places outside Canada might possibly matter to Canada. Yet of course they do. Australia, for example, matters as a kind of cultural sibling, a place whose similarities and differences offer insights into Canada unavailable to those who know only Canada alone.

Click here to read the full column.