A Note on Background Reading in Canadian history

Since the 1970s, Canadian historians have been increasingly interested in topical (thematic) research and writing, rather than in the narrative (chronological, epic) approaches that characterized an earlier era.  If you have not done any university-level history, or if you are not confident about the general contours of modern Canadian history, it is strongly recommended that you undertake some background reading.  This need not be onerous; half an hour with a solid "survey"-styled text is sometimes all that is necessary to acquaint yourself with the broad outlines of a period in which certain themes have been recently foregrounded.  I recommend the following three books:

Kenneth McNaught, The Pelican History of Canada revised edition (Toronto: Penguin, 1985).  McNaught - still considered by some to be the definitive biographer of social gospeller and CCF founder J.S. Woodsworth - was one of Canada's leading "progressive" historians in the 1960s and 1970s.

Donald Creighton, Canada's First Century (Toronto: Macmillan, 1970).  Creighton - still considered by some to be the definitive biographer of Sir John A. Macdonald - was the last of Canada's openly "Tory" historians (at least for now).  His writing, though heavily biased against the United States, the Liberal party of Canada and especially Prime Minister Mackenzie King, is still informative and entertaining.

Alvin Finkel & Margaret Conrad, History of the Canadian Peoples second edition (Toronto: Copp Clark, 1998).  This massive, two-volume survey of Canada was written with a marked Nineties progressive approach, centring on issues of class, gender and ethnicity.  Though it has been criticized by traditional Canadian historians for reproducing the thematic bias of much recent scholarship, it stands as one of the finest surveys of Canadian social history and makes a solid, up to date reference source for any student of modern Canada.

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