The concept of “freedom,” and most importantly, how Canadians viewed, and exercised, that freedom. That’s the issue that lies at the heart of the best academic history book of 2011, as chosen by the Canadian Historical Association. This year’s winner of the Sir John A. Macdonald prize for academic writing is Michel Ducharme of the University of British Columbia. He won the top writing prize at this year’s CHA awards gala for his 2010 book, Le concept de liberté au Canada a l’époque des Révolutions atlantiques (1776-1838) (available through Chapters.Indigo.ca).
Calling the book both “original and provocative,” the CHA praised Ducharme’s text for its thoughtful and nuanced examination of concepts of liberty in the 18th- and 19th-century Lower Canada and the Atlantic regions. Set amid a period of revolution in the United States, as well as in Europe, Ducharme argues that residents of this area of Canada also believed strongly in “freedom,” but a different kind of freedom than, say, their American revolutionary cousins.
“The book is a reaction to a cliché in Canadian studies that the United States is based on freedom and Canada is based on order,” he said in an exclusive interview with Canada’s History magazine. “People in Canada were talking about freedom all the time — they just weren’t discussing the same kind of freedom.” Ducharme explains that Canadian concepts of freedom were based more along lines of “individual rights, not political rights.”
The Sir John A. Macdonald Prize is the top history-writing prize for Canadian academics. It was just one of several prizes awarded at the CHA annual meetings in Fredericton, awards that were sponsored by Canada’s History Society. The winner of the Sir John A. Prize will also take part in a special ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa in the fall of 2011, as part of the newly expanded Governor General’s History Awards.
Ducharme said he was both “overwhelmed and very happy” to win the prize, adding, “it was very surprising — I never thought I would be shortlisted, so it was a big surprise.”