by Lauren Naus on June 20, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Joel Fishbane

Joel Fishbane_Blog


In 2006, some prognosticating theatre critic from the Montreal Gazette named the six “lions of indie theatre”. I was one of them; playwright Annabel Soutar was another. Nearly all those artists have moved on from producing theatre (myself included), but Annabel has persevered and so it is that, ten years after our literal lionization, I am called upon to examine her new play, The Watershed.

It’s fortunate that The Watershed  is a show I admire, but what if I didn’t? It’s easy to write a clever barb and in the past I’ll admit to writing remarks designed to be more entertaining than shrewd. These days, however, I have the philosophy that, no matter how amusing, a written critique should strive to do more than merely declare whether something is worth the price of admission.

With any show, even one I haven’t enjoyed, I try to focus on the context surrounding the work’s creation. Why was it written now? What was the creator’s intent? A farce may want only to entertain, but if a show has higher ideals, then we owe it to both the artist and ourselves to look beneath the surface.

The Watershed is a product of a very specific moment in time. Based on a 2012 environmental controversy involving the Canadian government, it premiered at a time when the Harper government had lost its popularity. Annabel is both the playwright and a character in the show. In putting her personal life in the spotlight, she takes a page from the voyeuristic experience that defines the digital age: what she puts on stage, others put in their blog. Yet Annabel also borrows from theatrical styles that are decades old. It is this unique method of presentation that I have tried to focus on in my essay; rather than simply critique my colleague, I have searched for tools that will help audiences understand her.

Artists are always criticizing each other, but we tend to avoid public platforms. Success in our world depends on good relations and it’s never good to bruise the wrong ego. Yet astute assessments are crucial, especially in an age when critiques are reduced to Top Ten List and 140 character declarations of something’s worth

Joel Fishbane ‘s article, “Mother Playwright and Her Children: Annabel Soutar’s The Watershed,” has been published in  CTR 166, Spring 2016, “Performing Politicians”. Read it today at CTR Online – or on Project MUSE –

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Written by guest blogger, Frederick M. Shepherd

My article, “State Strength, Non-State Actors, and the Guatemalan Genocide: Comparative Lessons,” emerged from my scholarly and political interests going back several decades.  As a student and political activist, my interest came out of concerns for social justice, prompted by the Reagan administration’s obsession with Central America in the early 1980s, subsequent travels to the region, and then work with several Washington-based organizations working to oppose U.S. policy.  As a graduate student at Georgetown University and new faculty member at Samford University, much of my early research confronted the issue of how to understand Central American politics in the context of the profound and enduring external penetration experienced by the nations of the region.  The two themes I emphasized in this work were weak governments and powerful transnational actors.  My more recent immersion in the field of genocide studies at seminars sponsored by the Lilly Foundation, the Holocaust Education Foundation and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum, partly led me to other continents and historical eras.  But it also led me to try to understand massive injustice in Central America in the context not only of genocide, but also of the courageous human rights activists who opposed genocide and injustice. It is these themes that, I believe, provide the basis for useful comparison between Guatemala and other cases of genocide.

As the article explains, then, what ended up emerging as I scrutinized the Guatemalan case were two different narratives.  The first one was of a brutal, genocidal regime using the pretext of anti-communism to destroy the lives and culture of Guatemala’s indigenous majority.  By almost any measure, the levels of brutality and oppression were shocking, eclipsing just about any other case of violence in the long and bloody history of Latin America—and making Guatemala an obvious case for inclusion in all but the most restrictive lists of genocide. All of this occurred as the U.S. either supported or tolerated the Guatemalan regime. The second narrative adopted a different lens, emphasizing the historical weakness of the Guatemalan state in basic areas such as taxation and popular mobilization, and the effectiveness of human rights activists—often with assistance from transnational organizations.  These contrasting narratives are at the heart of this article, and, I believe, provide an interesting basis for comparing Guatemala with other cases of genocide. At the end of the article, I make extended comparisons with the Holocaust and Rwanda, with explicit references to issues of state strength and the efficacy of transnational actors in opposing or abetting genocide.

I’d like to thank two of the top scholars in the field of comparative genocide studies, Jim Waller and Jens Meierhenrich, for helping me to put all of these tragic and fascinating issues into a meaningful context, and for making what might seem beyond comprehension—an attempt to destroy the lives and culture of a distinct group—a bit more understandable.

Frederick M. Shepherd’s article, “State Strength, Non-State Actors, and the Guatemalan Genocide: Comparative Lessons,” has been published in Genocide Studies International Volume 10, Issue 1 2016. Read it today at GSI Online – or on Project MUSE –

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Written by guest blogger, Myreille Pawliez, Victoria University of Wellington.

An old Catholic school in Montreal, © Myreille Pawliez

In Quebec, every village is dominated by a disproportionately large church and presbytery, and every town is peppered with imposing stony seminaries, colleges and schools. These tangible mementoes of an ultra-conservative Catholic Church which had a tight grip on the Belle province from the 1840s to the 1960s remind us of its long omnipresence. Considering its influence over moral, social, educational, health and recreational matters, it comes as no surprise that literature, bridled by Catholic censure, depicted for a long time a society where the Catholic parish priest, or the teaching brother, is an everpresent benevolent figure, and the nun a secondary character, associated with health and educational care. Viewed from the outside, these religious figures were part of a microcosm that represented the rural traditional parish idealised by the Church.

Michèle Mailhot, a Quebec writer whose literary writing spans three decades (1964 to 1990), was the very first to conceive a novel solely focussing on a nun. A first-person account of the story of a twenty-year old postulant, her second novel, Le Portique (1967), depicts Josée’s daily life when she enters a Montreal religious teaching community. Full of life and searching for the Absolute, she finds that, despite her strong faith, she is unable to endure cloistered life and the rigid rules of a Catholic convent. Confronting her doubts and questioning very lucidly the traditional values and rituals imposed on her community, she leaves just before becoming a novice. Throughout her journey, the author not only imparts the experience and inner thoughts of a young postulant, but also describes with great realism and details a typical Quebec Catholic women’s religious community of the 1950s. Via the viewpoint of a critical protagonist, the novel denounces the dogmas held by conservative Catholics that still prevailed in religious communities, and in the society at large, and reveals a Quebec Catholic Church in crisis.

Almost a decade later, Marcelle Brisson recalls in Par delà la clôture (1975) her own life as a Benedictine postulant, novice, then nun at Sainte-Marie-Madeleine Abbay, where she lived between 1949 and 1962. She reports on the very strict way of life in her cloistered congregation, comments very insightfully on her doubts and on the problems affecting her community undermined by modern views. Even though her portrayal is that of a real enclosed contemplative congregation of French origin, it is very similar to Michèle Mailhot’s fictitious encapsulation of Josée’s semi-enclosed Quebec religious teaching community.

I have been researching Michèle Mailhot’s writings since the late 1980s, and it seemed interesting to compare her novel with Marcelle Brisson’s nonfictional account of her real-life convent experience. Examining how each community functions and the impact this has on the two women, as well as their family and social background, I reveal a Quebec society controlled by an ultra-conservative clergy which was on the verge of collapsing. In a sense, I resurrect, through the lens of history, a world now nearly forgotten, a Quebec full of social limitations, where intelligent girls were driven throughout their education to enter religion but grew up aware of new literary trends and the more open Catholic vision of the Modernists. With both women finding themselves at a crossroads and eventually choosing modernity over tradition, their stories herald the rapid secularisation that would prevail in the 1960s in Quebec.

Myreille Pawliez’s article, “La religieuse dans Le Portique de Michèle Mailhot et dans Par delà la clôture de Marcelle Brisson has been published in the International Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 52, 2015. Read it today at IJCS Online – or on Project MUSE –

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Finding Louis Riel’s Voice

by Lauren Naus on May 9, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Max Hamon.

Image of Riel c. 1866. Library and Archives Canada

Honestly, it is thrilling to see one’s work appear in the Canadian Historical Review. In truth the process is never really finished, but at least there is now a flag marking something of a path through my travels in archives over the past few years. To find a new archival document that originated in Riel’s college experience and demonstrated his early engagement with the ideas of civilization was rewarding in itself. But, as I look at the essay now, I recognize how much this process has changed my own perspective on history and our relationship to our sources.

As I show in the article “Contesting Civilization” Riel had a preliminary experience of public life in Montreal when he presented his views at a college debate Sur l’Influences des Arts et Sciences. Such debates lie at the heart of “western civilization” (think Jean-Jacques Rousseau) and to see him deliberate and respond eloquently to these questions is a rare opportunity to watch an indigenous person speak back to imperialism. Mediated though he is by his peers, we hear Riel speaking publicly at the heart of the “civilized” British North America, Montreal. Riel’s is a rare voice that examined how imperialism, with its assumptions of superior civilization and culture, could be negotiated, even as he attempted to re-forge it.

The document also offers a chance to reflect on the relationship between historians and their sources, particularly those created by colonial institutions. Perhaps “deconstructing the colonial archive” seems a bit of old hat, but the discovery of this document reinforced for me some of the forces at play in the practice of history itself. We establish relationships with these sources—they become “ours”. These relationships define our work and what we “know”—we become them. Archives enable us even as they constrain us. Archives provide us with answers even as they deny them. So the puzzle emerges: What do we do with them? What do they do to us? (Or, to borrow from Jill Lepore, do we love them too much?)[1] As I argue, this document, for so long undisturbed and unnoticed in the Sulpician archives, affords a chance to scrutinize this relationship. I realized that, as is so often said about theory, sources are also “tools to think with”. This source allows us to think about other perspectives on “civilization” that have been marginalized by the overbearing power of a particular colonial system.

[1] Jill Lepore, “Historians Who Love Too Much: Reflections on Microhistory and Biography,” Journal of American History 88, no. 1 (2001): 129–44.

Max Hamon’s research note, “Contesting Civilization: Louis Riel’s Defence of Culture at the Collège de Montréal” appears in the latest edition of the Canadian Historical Review. Read it today at CHR Online – or on Project MUSE –

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National Gallery of Canada and University of Toronto Press launch an online open access Journal

Toronto, Canada, May 3, 2016 —Together with the National Gallery of Canada (NGC), University of Toronto Press Journals announced today the launch of the Web version of the National Gallery of Canada Review.

The National Gallery of Canada Review ( marks a new era in the National Gallery of Canada’s strong tradition of scholarly activity. Following in the footsteps of the Bulletin, produced from 1963 to 1985, and the original National Gallery of Canada Review, published from 2000 to 2008, the NGCR is a vibrant online, open access resource that features the investigations and scholarly engagements of prominent curators and art historians with the Gallery’s world class collections. The content featured in the NGCR is rich and varied, and is designed to include the work of a wide breadth of contributors with many areas of expertise.NGCR

The NGCR will be published annually in both French and English.

“In its content, the National Gallery of Canada Review reflects the identity of our institution and its six curatorial departments.  We are very proud to re-launch this important publication and to expand its reach through the web, making it available for free. With content devoted to the study of the national collection, it will be useful both to art history researchers and to anyone wishing to discover the Gallery’s treasures through the writing of our expert curators,” said NGC Chief Curator and Editor-in-Chief of the NGCR, Paul Lang. “And we are very pleased to make this possible thanks to the expertise and online platform of the University of Toronto Press Journals.”

“We are excited to partner with the National Gallery of Canada on the launch of the new National Gallery of Canada Review. The Review will be a fresh new addition to the University of Toronto Press’s long-standing tradition of scholarly publishing excellence. Readers of the NGCR will be delighted with the rich online experience and extensive functionality this new Web will resource offer.” – Antonia Pop, Senior Manager, University of Toronto Press Journals

The online issue (volume 7) of the National Gallery of Canada Review dated May 2016 is now available and features the following articles:

Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens: Paintings in the Collection of the National Gallery of Canada
Christopher Etheridge, Stephen Gritt

 Laurent Amiot’s Regency Teapot: A Moment of Perfection
René Villeneuve

 Michael Snow’s Authorization: Materials and Preservation
John P. McElhone

 Portrait of the Artist as a Reader: The Fritz Brandtner Library in the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives
Jonathan Franklin

 To find out more about the National Gallery of Canada Review, read the article In the Spotlight: Rebirth of the National Gallery of Canada Review, on

 About the National Gallery of Canada

The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art. The Gallery also maintains Canada’s premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. In 2015, the National Gallery of Canada established the Canadian Photography Institute, a global multidisciplinary research centre dedicated to the history, evolution and future of photography. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @gallerydotca.

For more information on the National Gallery of Canada Review please contact

Tamara Hawkins
University of Toronto Press, Journals

Josée-Britanie Mallet
Senior Media and Public Relations Officer
National Gallery of Canada
613.990.6835 /
613.990.6835 /

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Racialized and Sporting Spaces on Canada’s West Coast

April 12, 2016

Written by guest bloggers, Allan Downey and Susan Neylan. Photo taken by Stuart Thomson, May 1917: “Cowichan Ball Club – Indian Sports – Brockton Point”. Courtesy of the Vancouver City Archives This past February the All-Native Tournament, an annual basketball competition held in Prince Rupert, BC, received national press coverage (click here to view story […]

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The Brutality of the Sexual Assault Trial

March 30, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Elaine Craig, Dalhousie University The media coverage and countless stories that have been told by survivors of sexualized violence in the lead up to, throughout, and following the Jian Ghomeshi trial have shone a spotlight on the brutality of the courtroom process for sexual assault survivors. The harm experienced by sexual […]

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Reading John Cage with my Mother

March 23, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Dani Spinosa, York University   To be quite honest, I started writing on John Cage because it was easy. It was the first year of my doctoral studies and I was drowning in a sea of Foucault and my interest at the time in critical animal studies and I found much […]

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What does a Philippine university publisher look like?

March 22, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Karryl Kim Sagun Books and I go way back. Being born to a family of publishers’ representatives, I was fed and raised thanks to (sales of) books; choosing librarianship as a profession, I lived and breathed books; and doing my PhD thesis on book trade, I guess I could say I will […]

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Political Talk about Food Insecurity in Canada

February 24, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Laura Anderson How can it be that in a rich country like Canada,  food insecurity, and its most extreme form—hunger—are not rare? In fact,  1 in 8 households in Canada is food insecure.  Would an answer be apparent if we knew how the problem was talked about by our legislators? In […]

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