Introduction: The Institut d’études acadiennes at the Université de Moncton, the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick, and the Department of History at the University of New Brunswick including the Network for the Study of Civilians, Soldiers and Society are creating a new bilingual research network with the support of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Development Grant (2019-2022). This research network centres on historical study of Atlantic Canadian militias. By asking new questions about militias over decades of peace, as well as periods of war, we are seeking to complement — and at times challenge — the more common analysis of the impact of war and military culture on civilian culture. It is our contention that militia service and the legislative and local debates around it are a neglected aspect of our collective history that was fundamental to the emergence of Canada and civil governance. The tradition of militia service is particularly strong in Atlantic Canada, where a specific institutional and political culture dating back to before Confederation fostered close ties with Great Britain, but also sparked intense local debates about loyalty, obligation, and order. With its collection of cultural communities including Acadians and Indigenous peoples, as well as its patchwork of rural and urban landscapes, this region is home to a variety of local identities.
Call: We are searching for researchers interested in contributing a paper to our forthcoming collection of essays to be submitted to the Atlantic Canada Studies series of the University of Toronto Press. An initial workshop will feature discussion of preliminary, pre-circulated texts submitted by contributors. Works might include early research results, historiographical analysis, and proposed methodological approaches. A second workshop will consider updated papers to further refine the analysis and advance larger discussions about the project’s central themes. The essays will then be submitted for peer review and go through a final round of revisions before publication. Selected contributors can expect some support with travel expenses.
- First Workshop: 17-19 June 2020 at the Université de Moncton, Moncton
- Second Workshop: June 2021 at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton
- Submission of essays followed by peer review: September 2021
- Final submission of revised essays: April 2022
- Publication: Anticipated for late 2022 or early 2023
Discussion: The centenary of the First World War generated considerable discussion amongst historians about commemoration, memory, and nationalism. While some warned of militaristic “traps” (McKay and Swift, 2016), others advanced nuanced, but still celebratory, accounts of Canada’s wartime accomplishments (Cook, 2017). Traditional military history, with its penchant for battlefield descriptions and biographical accounts of generals, has been somewhat eclipsed by a “war and society” approach that has sought to undertake bottom-up accounts of the war and its consequences for ordinary people. Publications on Canadian women and girls (Glassford and Shaw, 2012), minority communities like the Acadians (Kennedy, 2018), as well as rejected volunteers (Clarke, 2015) and unwilling conscripts (Dennis, 2017), have greatly expanded knowledge of the diverse experiences of the war. We are starting to develop a greater understanding of how military culture influenced and informed political culture and this has set the stage for wider inquiry. Such an analysis is particularly relevant regarding the militia, an institution of part-time citizen soldiers (sometimes obligatory, sometimes voluntary) dating back to the colonial era.
Militias played a prominent role throughout early Canadian history and left powerful impressions on popular memory. Colonial frontier conflicts, the defence of Canada (or British North America) during the War of 1812, the Fenian Invasion, amongst other events, fostered what James Wood has called “a militia myth that held that citizens fighting in defence of their homes made the best soldiers” (2010). Canadian feats of arms during the First World War seemed to confirm this view. Indeed, only the perpetual threat and military requirements of the Cold War seemed to turn the Canadian military establishment definitively towards an emphasis on the permanent, professional force (Whitaker and Hewitt, 2003). Today, the Canadian Armed Forces has a renewed emphasis on the Primary Reserve as part of its latest Defence Policy (2017). A research approach focusing on the ways in which military and political culture intersected resonates particularly strongly in Atlantic Canada. This new research network brings together a unique cluster of academic institutions, archives, community partners, heritage organizations, and the largest army training center in Canada, to develop these ideas.
Project Themes: Any proposals related to the broad subject of the history of militias and communities in Atlantic Canada will be considered. Comparative or interdisciplinary approaches are welcome. The following themes are not exhaustive but may help potential contributors understand the starting point of the project organizers. First, we aim to recapture the choices and experiences of ordinary people called to serve under a variety of terms and conditions. We are particularly interested in Acadian participation in the militia, a neglected aspect of both colonial and contemporary Atlantic history. Second, we will examine how the creation and reform of militias engendered a complex debate about identity, loyalty, and obligation in British North America and the early Dominion (Mancke, et al., 2017). This analysis will push beyond military history to intersect with the new political history (Heaman, 2017), offering new insights into the functioning of the state and society in modern Canada. Third, we will study the ways in which the militia in Atlantic Canada evolved from the military build-up preceding the First World War through the Cold War to contemporary attempts to revitalize and strengthen the Primary Reserve. Moving beyond wartime mobilization towards a focus on questions surrounding peacetime training, equipment, patronage, social networking, and volunteerism will greatly deepen our understanding of these institutions that are at once local and national and the complex interactions they had with civil society.
Proposals: Interested researchers should submit a title, a 350-500 word proposal and a 300-word biographical note no later than 31 August 2019 to firstname.lastname@example.org. The project organizers will communicate the results no later than 30 September 2019.
Institut d’études acadiennes