I received this announcement in my email recently, and it started me thinking about how in Canada we valorize – or don’t – our history and our historians. In the UK it appears that history is valued. Its television channels, commercial and public, produce historical documentaries. It has a number of historical publications for the general public, and its historians are given a large role in disseminating their history. I think this announcement shows this.
In Canada we are rarely treated to our history on television. There have been “Big Projects” like “Canada – A People’s History” and “Canada – A Story of Us” which have been produced, but the smaller stories are missing. These large national narratives are interesting, but I think that Canadian history documentaries miss the more regional, more compact stories. Canada has a large and varied history, there is much that can be found and produced. They don’t have to be these mega projects, trying to encapsulate the entire history of the country, costing large amounts of money to get an audience. You would think that the smaller story (and likely the smaller budget) would be considered a good way to fill the market?
And our historians – we have some brilliant historians in Canada. I know that not many of them are known to the general public, but they should be. Why aren’t they being asked to present our history on television? Why aren’t we having weekends celebrating our histories?
I look at the “History Channel” and see it as a lost opportunity. Right now it doesn’t show a hell of a lot of history, (no Ancient Aliens is not history – nor is Big Rig Warriors, etc). When it began many a year ago, it did try to show some Canadian history in between the re-runs of JAG, but that has stopped. CBC only does the ‘big’ shows.
We have “Canada’s History” a really good magazine, but I don’t see it on the news stands very often. It tends to be found in larger book sellers or specialized magazine stores. Try and find it at the local drugstore or grocery store – no. In Britain their history magazines enjoy a larger circulation.
Many will argue that there is no market for Canadian history, and I beg to disagree. Canadians and their Pasts demonstrated that Canadians are interested in their history, personal and regional. Canadians are open to hearing about their pasts, and we have a pool of talent who can provide the information, we just don’t have the intermediaries in the media who want to bring the two together.
I have no answers, sadly, just these questions. As a historian myself, and a consumer of a lot of “public history” I am constantly amazed at what other countries produce on their histories. From the small story to the larger narrative, they seem to be able to get their history on the air, on the internet, and in the public space. Why not here?