Review of Canadian Studies in Labour/LeTravail

Canadian Studies
Past, Present, Praxis

Edited by Jane Koustas and Christl Verduyn  

Canadian Studies: Past, Present, Praxis follows the development of Canadian Studies from the 1970s to the present. Written in three distinct sections, this study begins with an exploration of the evolution of Canadian Studies as a discipline. The first portion of the study encompasses significant works that both maintain and question the need for Canadian Studies as a discipline of academic research. T.H.B. Symons’ seminal work To Know Ourselves is reconsidered by several historians, including Symons himself. In a discuss of both the state of Canadian Studies in the late 1990s as well as the evolution of the practice of interdisciplinarity which has become the foundation of the discipline, David Cameron concludes that various interdisciplinary Canadian Studies programs in Canadian universities have created a diaspora of programs that are flourishing in international contexts. Finally, Jill Vickers specifically discusses the development of evolution of an interdisciplinary approach to Canadian Studies at Carleton University since it began in the late 1960s. This evolutionary review is followed by a selection of essays from the Millennium issue of the Journal of Canadian Studies which establishes the challenges facing Canadian Studies. In his opening paper, Robert M. Campbell indicates that the burden of funding cuts has led to the “neglect, devaluation or limiting of ‘domestic’ studies and activities – that is, of Canadian-centred Canadian Studies.” (92) Symons revisits his report of the Commission on Canadian studies after several decades in his paper “The State of Canadian Studies at the Year 2000,” to re-evaluate the state of Canadian Studies as it passed into the new millennium. Although reservedly hopeful for the continuation of interest in Canadian Studies research and programs, Symons is clearly dissatisfied with the fact that the maturation and development of the field has decelerated and has become somewhat static. He points out that “the current state of Canadian Studies in Canadian universities is far from satisfactory and far from secure… At best, Canadian Studies as an organized field of study is in a holding mode, and if it is only in a holding mode in this period of fast and great change, then it is in decline.” (114) John H. Wadland maintains that Canadian Studies, along with many of the humanities and social science disciplines, must be aware of having their significance constantly questioned. In the second part of the collection, Verduyn and Koustas have selected a group of essays that acknowledge the legacy and significance of Canadian Studies research and scholarship. To begin, Ian Angus discusses the emergence of Canadian Studies in the late 1960s and calls for a “new rationale” for the discipline that could adopt the old “heroic” rationale that has become the foundation for many Canadian Studies programs across Canada and internationally. (174) Raymond Blake concurs with Angus. He finds, however, that Canadian Studies has “made great strides” in education but needs to become more occupied in gaining support from others outside of academia and facilitate a common discourse that will allow Canadian Studies to achieve the promise that was initiated in the “heroic age.” (187) Andrew Nurse argues that a return to a historical materialist perspective would defend the often politically silent Canadian Studies programs that have often suffered from funding cuts. Mihaela Vieru emphasizes that, for Canadian Studies to remain interdisciplinary, it must refrain from conforming to “disciplinary rationales and structures” and foster interest through engaging with public demand. (223) In “Indigenous Studies in the Canadian Studies Context,” Donna Patrick, Timothy Di Leo Brown, and Mallory Whiteduck discuss the importance of incorporating Indigenous perspectives in Canadian Studies programs. Colin Coates and Geoffrey Ewen also point out that Canadian Studies as a discipline should address the fact that there has been a definite bias in favour of studies concerning English Canada rather than French-Canadian interests. In the third part of the collection, Verduyn and Koustas have chosen a selection of papers that speculate on the future of Canadian Studies both at home and internationally. Cornelius Remie and Guy Leclair in “International Canadian Studies: The Community Beyond” make valuable recommendations for the revitalization and internationalization of the field. They state that although Canadian Studies has developed separately in an international context, programs in Canada and in international settings both share similar challenges. Remie and Leclair propose a compendium of strategies that will allow domestic and international communities to work together including a network of study topics and research and an exchange of students and faculty between various institutions. Maeve Conrick created a report on the state of Canadian Studies in Ireland as a case study of an effective international research community. However, funding cuts in universities and programs in Canada created a need to amalgamate Irish Canadian Studies programs with other disciplines such as French or History. Conrick finds that this has not affected the legitimacy of the success of many Irish scholars who have continued to generate “ground-breaking primary research.” (275) Munroe Eagles and Jane Koustas comment on the turn in funding that has served to weaken many Canadian Studies programs including joint program with American universities. Despite funding difficulties, they argue that it is important to sustain relationship as they present a unique combination of insights regarding Canadian and American similarities and differences. Mark Paul Richard furthers the American/Canadian connection and feels that the study of transnational migration has the potential to create a bridge which will allow for important discourse that will aid in drawing students to the discipline of Canadian Studies. In the last, and perhaps most significant papers of this collection, Jeffrey Ruhl and L. Pauline Rankin discuss the success of the Trent-Carleton Joint PhD program in Canadian Studies. While acknowledging the real fear of funding cuts in many Canadian Studies programs, they celebrate the staying power of the Trent-Carleton program. They attribute this to the use of interdisciplinary themes which have served to strengthen the program and, also, to the students who continue to reach graduation, reinforcing Canadian Studies as a legitimate field and creating space for comparable projects in other institutions. To conclude, Verduyn and Koustas have created a collection of works that speak to the continuing challenges facing Canadian Studies programs across Canada and in international settings. This work serves as a warning to all “Canadianists” both inside and outside of Canada, it is a call to arms, opening a new discourse of survival within indifferent institutions that often use Canadian studies programs as fodder during times of funding stress. These issues must be addressed outside of the realm of academia in both political and public domains to attempt to make Canadian Studies curriculum cardinal in more institutions both domestically and internationally. Amber D.V.A. Johnson Carleton University

— Amber D.V.A Johnson (Carleton University), Labour/LeTravail

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