Professor Elsbeth Heaman examines the complicated academic and political uses of “civilization” in Canada during the 1860s and their afterlife. Modern history emerged as a scholarly discipline around the history of civilization but Canadian legislators, even as they boasted of their racialized civilizing mission, constitutionally divested the nation state of anything but “commercial and political interests.” History as a discipline and as a cognitive activity suffered from that devolution of social and cultural identities: it narrowed, depoliticized, and fragmented across different academic fields.
Elsbeth Heaman, a historian at McGill University, received her PhD from the University of Toronto. She works broadly on topics of social, political, and cultural history. Recent and forthcoming books are A Short History of the State in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2015) and Tax, Order, and Good Government: A New Political History, 1867-1917 (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2017).