Jan. 27th, 2011

beboots: (Canada "discovery" history)
 (Oh hey, look, new icons! :D )

As I mentioned on Twitter, today was a good day on the "free stuff" front. One of my professors gets sent a LOT of American history textbooks by publishing companies, all in the hope, of course, that she will pick THEIR textbook to assign for all of her classes... She brought in a huge stack of them (it took several trips from her office) to class today and told us all to take one each. For free. Some of these are so new they're still in the wrapping! The one I ended up picking didn't even have a barcode. I think that it's print run is still on the way and that this one is just a preview copy or something. But hey, I'm not going to say no to a free textbook! :D 

I also got free food - pizza! pop! - at the public lecture by Christopher Moore. A bit of background: remember how last summer while working as a research assistant I used to talk about some of the interesting things I ran across while doing research for that course I was helping Professor Muir design, on the legal history of Canadian Confederation? Moore wrote the book I ended up recommending as a basic textbook: 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal. Maybe I should have put it on yesterday's book recommendation list. It's very clear, informative, and downright entertaining in how it approaches what I always thought of as rather boring legal histories. Instead of having a revolution or something, we just waited until we were ready and then asked nicely. More or less. (Hey, did you know that Nova Scotia of all places was fiercely independent and was kind of conned into joining all of the rest of the British North American colonies into joining? Also, argued against Confederation with puns and other arguments.) Anyway, read that book if you're interested in Canadian history. I really want to read his children's books, too. >_> 

ANYWAY Professor Muir invited Moore to do a series of talks at the U of A on selected topics. I'm going to one on the 1864 Quebec Conference on Monday. Today's was on "Doing History in Public": AKA what someone passionate about history can do without going becoming a professor and getting mired in academia. (SO RELEVANT TO MY LIFE RIGHT NOW WHAT AM I GOING TO GROW UP TO BE??)

It was a really interesting talk! First he rambled a little bit about his own life story - which was immediately relevant because it was interesting how he fell into becoming an author. He actually had no clue what he was going to do after graduating with a BA in Honour's history in the mid-1970s, so he ended up working... at a costumed historical interpretation park! Well, as one of the historians working at the Fortress of Louisbourg back when it was just getting started. (Some of the stuff he was telling us about his work there was fascinating. For instance, they were really working on trying to furnish the buildings and glean clues about the architecture and interiors of the place, so he'd be searching through fascinating court records about someone being dragged before a judge for bashing someone over the head with a candlestick, killing them, and he'd be making notes like "had metal candlesticks at hand in house." XD )So I'm currently right where he was like forty years ago. 

But yeah, so he spoke about his different book projects for a while, spoke about "public history" projects... For instance, he's been commissioned by various (legal) societies to write their histories. He said that the advantage with working with societies of lawyers is that they can afford to pay for a history to be made. ;) He then gave us a few life tips, then opened the floor to questions. I remember one of the funny things he was explaining was that when he first started writing books of Canadian history in the 1970s, he was one of like five different historian-authors working in Canada at the time, it seemed. "I used to say that the others all starved to death", he joked to us. One of the messages he had was that, well, history wasn't necessarily very profitable, but it was interesting. ;) Also, that historical training can be immensely valuable in a huge variety of jobs... especially research-based careers.

I also asked him about his writing style, because he's written both legal histories as well as children's histories: what differentiates the two? He said that he's learned not to patronize children in his writing - so he doesn't gloss stuff over, I gather - but he does think twice about using certain "big words" and he never takes a reference for granted. For instance, if he makes an allusion to Pierre Trudeau, he will have a short aside explaining who the man was. Things like that. Super interesting!

Professor Muir introduced me to him afterwards. It was all very informal... but still, it's nice to make contacts! :) I'm looking forward to his talk next week as well! :D

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