Tag Archives: Author Footnotes

Behind the Book with Matthew Evenden

Allied Power: Mobilizing Hydro-electricity during Canada's Second World War

What inspired you to write this book?

I was intrigued by discussions about war and environment which began to command important discussion and research at meetings of the American Society for Environmental History in the early 2000s.  The field of environmental history had not much considered the impact of war or the preparations for war on the environment, but recent events in the Middle East impressed on us all that this was a major shortcoming that needed to be addressed.  Some good books were starting to appear, like Ed Russell’s War and Nature, and the collection he co-edited with Richard Tucker, Natural Enemy, Natural Ally.

I wondered how I might contribute to these ideas in a Canadian and international context.  Around the same time, I was completing work on earlier studies of rivers in which the politics of river development in wartime seemed anomalous.  Things happened during the war which could not happen otherwise.  Compromises were made, understandings changed, and policies overridden.  How did war frame the use of rivers, I asked, and in what ways did war transform the politics of development?  Once I started to poke around in the federal archives in search of answers, I realized that a fairly broad field of investigation lay ahead of me, beyond the provincial scale projects I had tackled to date.  And so I launched into a national study, not yet entirely aware of the number of archival visits across the country that lay ahead of me!

What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?

There were a lot of exciting archival finds, but maybe my favourite was a diary entry by Prime Minister Mackenzie King, made on 28 November, 1944.  In reflecting on his day, Mackenzie King recounted a major episode in the conscription crisis and then spoke in lyrical, nostalgic terms about the brightly lit streets of Ottawa.  He was noticing, without quite realizing it, the end of wartime lighting restrictions, which had occurred a month before.  After years of darkened and dreary streets, Ottawa was lit up like a Christmas tree and Mackenzie King felt elated and read the experience as an almost divine statement about his wartime contributions.  I quote the diary entry at length to make the point that wartime electricity restrictions had both the intended effects on distribution but also a range of unanticipated effects on the perception of cities and nighttime as well as memory and modern experience.

Do you have to travel much concerning the research/writing of your book?

If you want to know about historical events across Canada, you need to be prepared to spend a good deal of time in Ottawa working your way through the national archives.  But water is one of those subjects that produces jurisdictional complications—it’s partly under provincial control, partly under federal control.  For a historian that means that a lot of your evidence will be dispersed in different provincial archives.  In addition, interested as I was by how electricity was used and conserved during the war, I had to investigate a range of corporate and city archives to find relevant evidence.  I think my most unusual archival visit took me to a transformer station in east Toronto where I read old papers with the buzz and hum of equipment next door.  Since this book was also about the Second World War and how hydro-electricity figured in Canada’s wartime alliances, and since water both defines and flows across the Canada-US border, I needed to attend to research sources abroad, such as the vast wartime records held by the US National Archives in Washington, DC.

Apart from the paper traces that historians track and read, an environmental historian also benefits from field work.  I’ve visited many of the places I write about.  During site visits, I’ve tried to understand the traces of historical landscapes and the relations of places to their surrounding contexts.  I doubt I could have understood the complex hydro development in Banff National Park, for example, without hiking the canal routes and the trails around Lake Minnewanka.  I also would not have understood the close connections between the Brilliant dam and Doukhobor communities in southern British Columbia without spending time travelling around Castlegar, Nelson and vicinity.  And I never would have appreciated the scope and scale of the Shipshaw project in Quebec without spending time in the upper Saguenay.

What did you learn from writing your book?

 I learned that Canada depended critically on hydro-electricity to power its war economy.  I learned that Canada’s hydro-electricity powered a range of specialized goods and commodities, such as aluminum, that were hugely important to the allied war effort.  And I learned how the war overrode pre-existing plans for river development and governance and framed the projects that would provide the foundation for the post-war big dam era.

What are your current/future projects?

I’m currently writing about the history of drinking water in Vancouver, a city that has famously bragged about its pure water supply since the late nineteenth century.  But what is pure water, and what actions must be taken to preserve that purity?  How do people react when evidence emerges that undermines the claims of purity or when authorities propose adding things to drinking water, like chlorine or fluoride? What people think about water reveals a great deal about notions of purity, place, and environment, as well as pollution, risk, and the body.

What do you like to read for pleasure?  What are you currently reading?

 I read fiction for pleasure and over the past several years I’ve been deeply drawn to Nordic noir. Henning Mankell’s Wallander series was my gateway into that world.  At this very moment, however, I’m indulging in my love for memoirs with John Carey’s The Unexpected Professor, a book that weaves together autobiography, a portrait of Oxford over the years and a lifetime with books. Its opinionated, sometimes funny and deeply evocative of time and place.

If you weren’t working in academia, what would you be doing instead? 

Who knows!  I’d like to say a back-country skiing guide, but let’s be realistic.  Given my interest in the environment and history, perhaps I might have followed my interests into the heritage sector, or environmental law, or government work in public policy and the environment.





Who is Methuselah?: Author Footnotes with Thomas F. McIlwraith

When it comes to prolific authors in the University of Toronto Press repertoire, Thomas F. McIlwraith stands high on the list. Back in 1948 The Bella Coola Indians came out, two fat volumes offering a comprehensive ethnographic account of the Nuxalk people of the central coast of British Columbia. McIlwraith lived with the community for many months in 1923 and 1924, and word is that he was ready with the completed manuscript within a few years. The Depression, political correctness and the Second World War all intervened, however, and publication was delayed for decades.

Undeterred, McIlwraith approached the Press again during the 1980s, and after a relatively short gestation – say 15 years – Looking for Old Ontario appeared in 1997. This volume was a natural outgrowth of McIlwraith’s involvement with the Archeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario in the 1950s, leading into heritage conservation activity further stimulated by the centennial of Confederation in 1967. McIlwraith took advantage of his year-in and year-out proximity to the local countryside research base, where he now lived, to demonstrate how the rural Ontario landscape – its houses, barns, field patterns, road jogs, and more – is a reflection of its cultural evolution through two centuries.

It was an easy jump from interpreting the cultural landscape to accounts of the cultural vitality of a northern Indigenous community. Now, early in the 21st century, McIlwraith has returned to British Columbia to offer thoughts on the subject of resource management and cultural history in We are Still Didene, newly published in 2012. The subtitle – ‘stories of hunting and history from northern British Columbia’ – sums up McIlwraith’s experience among the Tahltan people of Iskut. Derived from more than a year of fieldwork, the book uses the narrative of Tahltan hunters to describe the continuing importance of hunting to Iskut personal and community identities.

Well, who is this Methuselah, now closing in on a century of scholarly publication? Thomas F McIlwrath is actually three people of that identical name: father, son, and grandson (or in family genealogy, Thomas 5th, 6th and 7th). Thomas 5th (1899-1964) grew up in Hamilton, studied anthropology at Cambridge, and was founding Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, in 1925. His work in heritage conservation was unconsciously revived by Thomas 6th (b. 1941), who was raised in Toronto, did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), and has had a career in historical geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga (aka “Erindale College”). Thomas 7th (b. 1969) grew up in Mississauga, did graduate study in anthropology at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and is an instructor in anthropology at Douglas College in New Westminster.

Three consecutive generations in academia is not particularly unusual; three academics with the same name is rarer (except, perhaps, among those of Scottish lineage); three consecutive generations of namesake academics publishing books in the social sciences with the same press is nothing short of extraordinary. We McIlwraiths are grateful for having had the opportunity to pursue scholarly careers and to have had our research published by a distinguished press.

-Thomas F McIlwraith and Thomas F McIlwraith

Author Footnotes with Angelica Fenner

Angelica Fenner is the author of Race Under Reconstruction in German Cinema.

Rather than comment further on the content of my book, what I’d like to share here are personal ruminations about the motivating forces behind its research and writing. As scholars and researchers, many of us become accustomed to encountering the perennial query, “So how did you get interested in this topic?” It is a question that sometimes irritates me as much as the question, “So how did you and your husband meet?” Both questions I sometimes (and perhaps inaccurately) perceive as insinuating that the match at hand is incongruous and demands justification. Such inquiries into the origins of another person’s motivation or desire have often struck me as alternately impudent or symptomatic of a stenotopic mind, one for which only that which has been rationalized can also be legitimated.

Admittedly – and this is probably true for many scholars – we don’t often pause to consciously contemplate why we’re interested in a topic – it would be like asking why any of us inhale and exhale on a regular basis to sustain the local body we inhabit. We become researchers out of an innate curiosity about the world and a desire to understand how things work, and perhaps also, to offer insights gleaned along the way on how they might work even better. But as we systematically, and often intuitively, forge onward with our inquiries, there is no denying that our endeavors are, at least unconsciously shaped by vectors of identity, by formative life experiences, an evolving understanding of society and our place within it, and also of course, pragmatic limitations placed on time and resources available to pursue our inquiries.

Setting myself on the analytical couch, I promise not to retrace as clinical an etiology as might have been proffered by a certain bearded and bespectacled psychoanalyst in fin-de-siécle Vienna, although his theories may bear some relevance nonetheless. According to Sigmund Freud, children frequently use their imagination to escape uncomfortable situations in life. When discontent with their immediate family of origin, for example, they may fantasize themselves to be secretly an orphan whose true mother or father corresponds with a certain ideal or norm. What Freud thsly coined a ‘family romance’ constitutes for most children a normal phase of development and individuation compensating for occasionally unsatisfying episodes of childhood. As a child, I was surely no exception in this regard, harboring a strong fascination for stories about orphans – Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Lucy Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist, the Madeline books, and, of course, many Shirley Temple films. However, the figure of the orphan can be compelling for adults as much as for children, perhaps touching upon some deep-rooted universal anxiety about abandonment or about being outcast. Orphans can also represent the resilience of the human spirit, a capacity to survive the loss of primal relations, drawing on inner resources to forge new relations, find one’s way in the world, and thrive against multiple odds. As well, they represent the possibility for rebirth, having shed their origins and transformed into something entirely different.

The very first time I encountered the German film Toxi (Robert Stemmle 1952) was in a retrospective curated by Madeleine Bernstorff at the Arsenal Kino in Berlin in the late 1990s. It wasn’t exclusively the orphan motif that captured my attention, but it was certainly an element in the equation. I was also struck by the film’s self-conscious thematization of the phenomenon of racism in the early postwar era, when many (West) Germans outside the few metropolitan centers of an essentially agricultural nation would have had little, if any, practical encounters with Black Europeans. Historically speaking, German society was already heterogeneous, but traditionally, it had been Romani and Sinti, Eastern Europeans, and Jews that had served as the repository of difference. Toxi‘s exploration of difference may be problematic by contemporary standards, but as an historical artifact, the film possesses tremendous value for the way it refracts historical concerns surrounding race, gender normativization, class, and national identity. The story revolves around a bourgeois family (auf Deutsch, “eine gut bürgerlich Familie”) that takes into their home a 5-year old Afro-German child mysteriously deposited on their doorsteps. Toxi, the name with which the little girl introduces herself, becomes a didactic vehicle for exploring diverse responses – both empathetic and anxious – to her presence in the family. As such the family becomes metonymic for the nation, grappling with questions of group belonging that hold salience for social historians of early West German society but also offer insights into mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion still prevalent throughout the modern world.

The film self-consciously acknowledges Germany’s immediate historical past and what is referred to as ‘das Rassenproblem’ by the film character, Theodor Jenrich, who is explicitly situated as negative object choice, but also as a model of moral transformation. Simultaneously, the storyline introduces as politically progressive mouthpiece the young soon-to-be married couple, Hertha Rose and Robert Peters, who aspire to adopt Toxi and start a new family with her. They model a positive alternative to the segregationist politics reaching a boiling point in the United States during the same era. Indeed, West Germany arguably looked with some anxiety across the Atlantic to the violent outbursts that scarred especially the Deep South, and sought within its own ‘divided nation’ a more peaceful civil solution. No other feature film in the postwar era addressed with quite such forthrightness as did the popular and left-leaning (although hardly radical) former Ufa-director Robert Stemmle the issues at stake. The film was also unique in critically identifying early patterns of socialization that may shape children into racist citizens; for example, childhood tales such as Heinrich Hoffman’s nineteenth century compendium of children’s tales, “The Inky Boys.”

Equally fascinating for me was the way the film’s intergenerational cast of characters captured the habitus of that early postwar era, the same era in which my own parents had come of age before immigrating to the United States in the late 1950s. In every scene, I was struck by how a turn of phrase, a facial expression, a gesture of the hands, a shrug of the shoulders seemed to reflect the world of my parents — a world that also became my inheritance. I could both relate to the familiarity of these figures on the screen, while also discerning the historical gap of critical, if empathetic distance facilitating my own interpretation and research, which eventually coaxed forth from me an entire book manuscript. When I was young, my parents had hosted African-American children from New York City through what was then and today still called “The Fresh Air fund.” This organization brings children from disadvantaged inner city communities into the homes of families in the U.S. and Canada for a few weeks in the summer months when all children incline towards exploring the outdoors. I don’t doubt that my parents were impelled at some level by a desire to make good on Germany’s past, their legacy by default, even as they both came from families politically persecuted during the war. Doubtless they also sought to inculcate in us, their own children, a different sensibility for social integration. For as immigrants, they, too, struggled with questions of integration in a new language and a new culture. Being White in the United States certainly was and is not a unilateral leveler or uncontested site of privilege; speaking with an accent, or eating different foods, wearing different clothes, or having a different understanding of codes and cues of social interaction can all become markers of difference, and also, pretexts for exclusion.

Doubtless, whatever insights I have generated in this book are the result of my dual heritage and a certain ‘bifocal vision’ associated with that. Ironically, on a more personal note, my eye doctors since childhood have always enjoyed remarking upon the hidden disability of a profound astigmatism in my right eye, with which I currently cannot even read, although I’m holding the intention for a late life miracle: “You’d never guess these two eyes belonged to the same person,” more than one jolly optometrist has been known to chortle. And so it is that I have spent a lifetime grappling with a worldview that emerges from reconciling radically opposing data, both that sent from my left and right eyes, but also as mediated through the experiences and perspectives of different generations, cultures, and identities in a world both remarkable and devastating for the contradictions that cohabit there. This is the duality of the human condition, which we are tasked to simultaneously embrace and overcome.

Does Publishing History Repeat Itself?: From Macmillan to M&S

Ruth Panofsky, author of The Literary Legacy of the Macmillan Company of Canada: Making Books and Mapping Culture, discusses the news of Random House of Canada’s acquisition of McClelland and Stewart.

The news that Random House of Canada has acquired sole ownership of McClelland & Stewart has broken just as I prepare for the launch of my forthcoming book, The Literary Legacy of the Macmillan Company of Canada: Making Books and Mapping Culture. A formidable publishing house, Macmillan once shared centre stage with M&S as one of Canada’s premier publishers.

The closing chapter in M&S’s history as a Canadian-owned company that enjoyed legendary status as The Canadian Publishers under the redoubtable Jack McClelland recalls the final, tenuous years of Macmillan, when the firm was a wholly owned Canadian company, first under Maclean Hunter, and latterly under Gage.

Throughout the twentieth century, publishing in Canada was a “perilous” undertaking, as Roy MacSkimming aptly describes in his book, The Perilous Trade: Publishing Canada’s Writers, issued – rather ironically – in 2003 by McClelland & Stewart. Canadian publishing has never been more perilous, however, than in recent years when the nature of book publishing has been transformed by the digital rise and the publishing industry worldwide has come under siege. It is remarkable, in fact, that M&S retained its position as a primarily Canadian-owned company until the second decade of the twenty-first century. Despite financial vagaries, the company remained fiercely Canadian in ownership and culture – hence, the absorption of the company by Random House is felt deeply by all those who care about Canadian literary culture and the Canadian book business.

Unlike M&S, which was always Canadian owned, Macmillan was established in 1905 as a branch plant of Macmillan and Company in London. Like M&S, however, it developed an intensely Canadian culture and became an indisputable leader in Canadian publishing. Early in its history, Macmillan’s active role in Canada’s cultural development was sanctioned by its foreign owners who recognized the importance and value of establishing a strong connection with local authors and readers. Under visionary publishers Hugh Eayrs and John Gray, the Macmillan Company of Canada imprint rose to prominence and Macmillan books touched countless readers in homes, classrooms, and libraries across the country. In large part, the triumvirate of Ryerson Press, McClelland & Stewart, and the Macmillan Company of Canada was responsible for fostering a modern Canadian literary culture.

The last of the great Canadian publishing companies, M&S was tied to visionary individuals like its founder John McClelland and his dynamic successor, son Jack, whose name remains synonymous with the rise of Canadian literature. Random House’s gain is this country’s cultural loss, which will reverberate for years to come among the book-minded of this country. My forthcoming book records the rise and fall of another cultural institution – the Macmillan Company of Canada – whose painful loss is still felt keenly among those who are now reeling at the news that McClelland & Stewart is no longer our own.

Author Footnotes with Edward Goldberg

Edward Goldberg is the author of Jews and Magic in Medici Florence: The Secret World of Benedetto Blanis, and the recently released A Jew at the Medici Court: The Letters of Benedetto Blanis.

Ciao, tutti!

A Jew at the Medici Court: The Letters of Benedetto Blanis Hebreo (1615-1621) is now coming off the press—only a few months after Jews and Magic in Medici Florence: The Secret World of Benedetto Blanis. (A major thumbs-up to the UTP for their quick follow-through on this companion volume!)

In Jews and Magic, I tell the astonishing story of the rise and fall of Benedetto Blanis, a Jewish businessman and aspiring magus in the Florentine Ghetto in the early seventeenth century. In A Jew at the Medici Court, I share the essential “documents in the case”- two hundred letters from Benedetto Blanis to his great patron, Don Giovanni dei Medici.

For me, the Blanis Letters were the discovery of a lifetime-the largest body of surviving correspondence from any Jew in Early Modern Europe. This writer takes us inside his fraudulent business deals, his desperate schemes for a grand career at the Medici Court, his violent conflicts with other Jews and his perilous trafficking in banned books (including alchemy, astrology and Kabbalah). We can follow his reckless course to its inevitable conclusion-a clash with the Inquisition, then many years in the Bargello prison.

“How on earth did you make this amazing discovery?” is the first question that I am usually asked. Basically, I found the Blanis letters buried under three million others—in Florence, in the archive of the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany.  Day by day, over the course of several centuries, masses of letters arrived at the Medici Court. They were read, processed and then filed away. Seldom to be seen again…

Two hundred letters amidst three million? “Needles” and “haystacks” probably come to mind! But in archival terms, most of these letters are exactly where they ought to be—once we master the intricacies of daily life at the Medici Court and know where to look.

I have been working my way through the Medici Granducal Archive for nearly forty years and I thought that I had seen it all, when it comes to bizarre flukes of history and the extravagances of human behavior. But then I met Benedetto Blanis—and my view of the past will never be the same!

I hope that you will read Benedetto’s letters—now in print for the very first time—and tell me what you think. We have only begun to penetrate the dark recesses of this man’s life, in a strange and often terrifying world.

A presto,

Ed G.

For more on Benedetto Blanis, be sure to visit the author’s website: EdwardGoldberg.net.