Monday, November 06, 2017

History in the obits

He then prepared a history of Labatt's Breweries, but internal corporate politics blocked its publication.
That's a line buried in the recent death notice for Albert V. Tucker (1923-2017), longtime historian and administrator at York University's Glendon College. Some minor contretemps, long papered over, now made public by the courage (or bitterness) of the heirs and friends?

I was noting recently the great scholarly and historical value in commissioned histories. But scholars, particularly academic scholars, need to be tougher, need to be more ethically alert, really, in taking such commissions. When you take on a piece of scholarship, you have an obligation to publish (subject to independent quality review) and the commissioning agency must understand and respect that. Allowing a commissioning agent arbitrarily to bury historical work, seems... well, let's just say a failure of scholarship. And that principle should apply whether the commission comes from a corporation or even an academic body. (Years ago, a commissioned history of Osgoode Hall Law School at York was spiked because it did not polish the faculty apples brightly enough; no doubt other cases could be found).  I trust the next, forthcoming, history of Labatts will have a better fate.

In the same batch of death notices: Mary Beacock Fryer (1929-2017), a prolific historian particularly on loyalist history and Ontario local history. I knew her slightly in the 1980s when I was publishing some loyalist studies myself, and understood she was a self-taught enthusiast. I admired her work without knowing anything of her actual credentials, but perhaps the death notice offers a little footnote to a history of women's experience in academia in the not-so-distant past. Because it reports  she went to Britain in the 1950s to earn a masters in historical geography, after which she was "a librarian and teaching assistant in the University of Toronto Geography department."

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