Canadian history is world history

Last year I realized that, despite thinking myself a reasonably educated and engaged Canadian, I knew almost nothing about Canadian history. I could name some major milestones and important figures, but I couldn’t answer simple, fundamental questions about what kind of country Canada is and how it came to be.

So I began a personal project to learn what I could. I started studying the time around the American Revolutionary War (those who know me will not be shocked to hear that my interest in history was kindled by the Hamilton musical). I heard amazing Canadian connections to revolutionary America I’d never known before, like the time future traitor Benedict Arnold and Philip Schuyler (the man is loaded) aimed to conquer Quebec for the revolution, eventually to be chased back into New York by Guy Carlton.

And I quickly realized that I’d been erroneously thinking of Canadian history as something isolated and compartmentalized, when in fact it is just one part of North American history, which is one part of transatlantic history, which is one part of world history.

For example, I vaguely remember learning about the Plains of Abraham in high school. But I didn’t appreciate, and don’t think I was taught, that that battle was the climax to a global war for empire that reverberated across the Americas and around the world. We try to divorce Canadian history from its context in order to focus only on the Canadian parts, but that often removes the germ containing not only much of the meaning, but much of the drama too.

That’s why I started researching not just Canadian history itself, but preceding and contemporary periods in Europe and the rest of the Americas as well.

That’s a really foolish thing to do, because here is one thing I can tell you about history: there is a lot of it. Too much, really. And now that I’ve read a few books and listened to a handful of recorded lectures I feel like I understand an even smaller percentage of Canadian history than when I started, because my perception of what there is to learn has grown much more quickly than what I’ve actually learned.

Still, I am learning a lot. (I benefit from my profoundly ignorant starting point in that way.) And often enough I come across a fact or a story or a perspective that is interesting enough that I want to remember and share it, which is what this blog is for.

I am not a historian, so you will not find original research here, and I will try to be cautious with how I interpret sources with which I have no expertise. I will instead share the stuff that is the most interesting to me in a way that might also be interesting to you too. You can think of this as “I read a bunch of books about Canadian history so that you don’t have to.” Or, if you’re someone who actually does know a lot about Canadian history already, you can think of this as “I read a few books so that you can be entertained by my naive excitement upon discovering stuff you’ve long known.”

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