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Authorized Heritage

Authorized Heritage

Place, Memory, and Historic Sites in Prairie Canada
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Reading Canadian Women's and Gender History

Introduction: Feminist Conversations


Nancy Janovicek and Carmen Nielson


This collection began as a conversation between the co-editors about middle age. In reflecting on our own experiences, we made connections between our lives and the life course of women’s and gender history in Canada. We, like the field, were born in the late 1960s and early 1970s and could be perceived as both young and old, depending on one’s perspective. As our conversation drifted from the personal to the professional, we agreed that while Canadian women’s and gender history as a field was not as long-lived or well-established as national political history, for example, it is often talked about as if it were much more immature and fragmentary than it really is. Although several excellent essays that assessed the contours of women’s and gender history in northern North America have been written for international audiences, these unintentionally amplify the impression of a small field that can be apprehended in 10,000 words or less. We knew that Canadian women’s and gender history could sustain, and merited, a broadly historiographical volume of its own. And, as middle age inspires self-reflection, stock-taking, and contemplation of “what next?,” a collection of essays that coped with the field’s past and future seemed like an idea that’s time had come. We envisioned a book that captured the field’s continuities and identified discontinuities; offered a platform for established, mid-career, and emerging scholars to reflect on reading and writing Canadian women’s and gender history; and brought together the themes, issues, and questions that had animated the field over the long term. We also wanted to show the field’s maturity, extensiveness, variety, sophistication, and connectedness to international literature and theoretical perspectives.


Our call for chapters prompted contributors to critically examine Canadian women’s and gender history from its first texts to its most recent contributions with the aim of generating new connections, vantage points, and knowledge about the field. The proposals we received exceeded our expectations, and we were inspired by the diverse ways the authors approached our questions. Most were co-authored, demonstrating that feminist history continues to be a collaborative scholarly endeavour. Since we wanted to preserve the contributors’ unique interpretations of their projects, we encouraged them to chart their own paths through the literature according to their particular interests and experience. Our objective as editors was to create an open platform for contributors to offer their critiques, judgments, and evaluations according to their own perspectives. What follows are not conventional historiographies.


At the 2015 annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) in Ottawa, we hosted a one-day workshop for the contributors to share drafts, give each other feedback, and discuss the volume’s key themes. In this way, the book became a continuation of our initial conversation that extended to include the contributors. Those who could not be present video conferenced into the discussion. We talked about how various streams of women’s and gender history have informed each other, how to deepen the field by privileging diverse and marginalized voices, the ongoing disconnection between English and French historiography, and the potential for new directions. Our introduction to this collection is organized according to some of the themes arising out of our conversations that day: representation and meaningful inclusion in academe and in historical consciousness; the interconnections between feminist politics and the development of the field; and “recovery” history as an ongoing political project. A touchstone question guided our discussions: How can putting past and present historiography into dialogue with each other help us address the field’s ongoing silences and absences?


Although the following chapters cover many of the major themes in Canadian women’s and gender history, there are some important areas of scholarship that have been left out. Politics, the law, family and domesticity, medicine, and education, for instance, have been topics of interest to women’s and gender historians since the field’s beginnings, but due to considerations of space or in the absence of viable proposals, these have not received sustained analysis here.


There are also new topics and themes that have emerged relatively recently as distinct subfields – such as healthism and disability, body history, and the histories of affect and emotion – which are not represented but are acknowledged by several contributors as offering important theoretical and methodological insights that will shape future research. The impossibility of achieving anything approaching complete coverage in one volume offers only more evidence of the field’s breadth and extent.

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