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Essays in Honour of Michael Bliss

Essays in Honour of Michael Bliss: Figuring the Social

E.A. Heaman
Alison Li
Shelley McKellar
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 464
  • Book Info
    Essays in Honour of Michael Bliss
    Book Description:

    A leading public intellectual, Michael Bliss has written prolifically for academic and popular audiences and taught at the University of Toronto from 1968 to 2006. Among his publications are a comprehensive history of the discovery of insulin, and major biographies of Frederick Banting, William Osler, and Harvey Cushing. The essays in this volume, each written by former doctoral students of Bliss, with a foreword by John Fraser and Elizabeth McCallum, do honour to his influence, and, at the same time, reflect upon the writing of history in Canada at the end of the twentieth century.

    The opening essays discuss Bliss's career, his impact on the study of history, and his academic record. Bliss himself contributes an autobiographical essay that strengthens our understanding of the business of scholarship, teaching, and writing. In the second section, the contributors interrogate public mythmaking in the relationship between politics and business in eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century Canada. Further sections investigate the relationship between fatherhood, religion, and historiography, as well as topics in health and public policy. A final section on 'Medical Science and Practice' deals with subjects ranging from early endocrinology, lobotomy, the mechanical heart, and medical biography as a genre. Going beyond a collection of dedicatory essays, this volume explores the wider subject of writing social and medical history in Canada in the late twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8802-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    Massey College is not in any way an ordinary place, not at the University of Toronto, not in Canada, not ordinary anywhere in fact. It is both strange and wonderful – by design. The original concept, then as now, was to show, academically, the interconnectedness between all things. Vincent Massey, the first Canadian-born governor general, conceived the College in 1960; and the first Master, Robertson Davies, made it a reality two years later. Though nestled in the bosom of the U of T, it is not of it. Massey is, as it were, connected (all its young scholars must, by statute,...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-2)
  6. Introduction: Michael Bliss and the Delicate Balance of Individual and Society
    (pp. 3-36)
    E. A. HEAMAN

    Michael Bliss was in on the early development of social history in Canada, and it was something that drew students to him. His was not the social history of large bodies of statistics, impersonality, and the Annales school, but the social history of ideas, events, activities, people’s lives. Social history initially was a promise of opening up areas neglected by constitutional and national historians – it would explore the history of all of society, all members of society, and where it touched on politics, or diplomacy, or constitutionalism, it would be a social history of these political activities. While purists might...

    (pp. 37-38)

    • 1 Growth, Progress, and the Quest for Salvation: Confessions of a Medical Historian
      (pp. 41-49)

      Not so long ago it was still fashionable to expect little boys to be able to say what they wanted to be when they grew up. In my case, from the time I could talk I would automatically say I wanted to grow up to be a doctor like my dad, a general practitioner in our little town of Kingsville, Ontario.

      When I was twelve or thirteen my father started showing me a bit about the medical life. For years I had often gone along for the ride when he was making house calls in the country. Of course I...

    • 2 Inspiration as Instruction: Michael Bliss as a Graduate Adviser, 1989–1994
      (pp. 50-66)

      I do not remember exactly when or where I first heard the name Michael Bliss. I know it was in Edmonton in the mid-1980s, while I was an undergraduate student at the University of Alberta – evidently he had something of a national reputation by that time – and I recall my impressions being favourable, but that is as much as I can say with complete certainty.

      What I particularly wish I could recall more precisely is whether it was at the university that I first heard the name. I suspect it was not – a recollection that might surprise those who think...

    • 3 Michael Bliss in the Media
      (pp. 67-90)

      Michael Bliss sells newspapers. Editors court him because readers buy the broadsheets that publish him. This is a rare accomplishment, for Bliss successfully bridged the gap between Canadian historians and the media. In so doing he enhanced the national profile of the University of Toronto, to the delight of university administrators, and simultaneously provoked ridicule from colleagues wary of newsprint and television journalism, which they dismissed as unsatisfactory mediums that dumb down complicated ideas, quash nuance, and ultimately distort by means of simplification. Such reservations about journalism are neither uncommon nor unjustified. The Organization of American Historians observed that ‘...


    • 4 Constructing Ignorance: Epistemic and Military Failures in Britain and Canada during the Seven Years War
      (pp. 93-118)
      E.A. HEAMAN

      The press is generally touted as a good thing for public opinion and public life. But it can skew public debate in certain directions. Particularly in the heady early days of the development of the press, the more it was seen to play an important public role in the metropolis, the more its absence might be deprecated in provincial or colonial states. This essay investigates an early episode in the development of a public sphere. It provides an intellectual history of ignorance, so to speak, specifically the purported ignorance of the French Canadian population after the Conquest of 1760. That...

    • 5 Common Knowledge: Theory, Concept, and the Prosaic in Making the Tariff of 1859
      (pp. 119-145)

      The idea of a tripartite national policy exercises a continuing fascination; it is well ensconced as part of the intellectual feedstock of the Canadian educational system. Certainly, it seems to have broad explanatory power, as it appears to expose the internal logic of transcontinental expansion and industrialization within the nation state. After all, the trinity of immigration and western settlement, railway construction, and tariff protection appeared to intermesh to aid in the creation of a staple-producing, export-oriented western hinterland that at the same time provided a market for the manufactures of Ontario and Quebec. Here was the recipe for a...

    • 6 Business, Culture, and the History of News, 1870–1930: A Case Study of the ‘Political/Commercial’ Dichotomy
      (pp. 146-174)

      The past fifteen years have seen a proliferation of thought-provoking work on the history of journalism. With the cultural turn in historical studies, the newspaper and other news media have appeared as subjects meriting closer and more imaginative exploration; and the importation of concepts and methods from cultural studies, the history of the book, and other disciplines has provided an array of new and revealing approaches to what was once a narrowly institutional and biographical field.¹ Though his work predates the recent crop of material by more than twenty years, Jürgen Habermas’s influential notion of the newspaper as central to...


    • 7 ‘I thank God … that I am proud of my boy’: Fatherhood and Religion in the Gordon Family
      (pp. 177-210)

      In the early 1920s, when King Gordon was attending Oxford University, his father, Charles Gordon, wrote a letter to him reminiscing about their relationship.

      The thing that bored its way into my heart was this that the days of your boyhood were over and that henceforth your days at home would only be your holidays. I confess the thing quite appalls me. But I must meet this as part of life and find for it such help as I do for other things that constitute life’s burden. We have had a great time together boy a great & good time...

    • 8 Casual Fornicators, Delinquent Dads, Young Lovers, and Family Champions: Men in Canadian Adoption Circles
      (pp. 211-237)

      Fathers of every sort, in contrast to birth and adoptive mothers, are often shadowy figures in accounts of adoption. While women’s role as parents has been regularly taken for granted as an important measure of their capacity as adults and citizens, men too have been judged by their contribution to the welfare of daughters and sons. Canadian scholars such as Cynthia Comacchio and Robert Rutherdale are now charting the critical outlines of the history of fathers, which, as with so much else, is marked by the frequent fault lines of difference.¹ Evidence surviving in popular, child-welfare, and legal records, although...

    • 9 Writing Religion: Some Influences on Twentieth-Century Developments in Canadian Religious History
      (pp. 238-270)

      During the twentieth century Canadian religious history slipped its apologetic and hagiographic moorings to sail into the challenging seas of modern scholarly inquiry and critical discourse. This essay reviews some of the influences that stimulated a more research-oriented approach to such writing.¹ It is based on extended exposure to the field over the last forty years.² And it is inspired by developments in the cultural history of reading and writing, as epitomized in theHistory of the Book in Canadaproject.³ At century’s end the public, formal role of organized religion was less prominent than at the beginning. Still, religious...


    • 10 Personality, Politics, and Canadian Public Health: The Origins of Connaught Medical Research Laboratories, University of Toronto, 1888–1917
      (pp. 273-303)

      On the eve of the official opening of the Connaught Antitoxin Laboratories and University Farm, some twelve miles north of the University of Toronto campus, the October 1917 issue of theCanadian Journal of Medicine and Surgerybegan a news item as follows:

      Down in an obscure corner of the basement of the Medical Building of Toronto University a great and important public work is carried on. It is great because there is no limit to its expansion. It is important because it is the most outstanding effort of Government organization on this continent to stop, with a scientific barrier,...

    • 11 Defining Disability, Limiting Liability: The Care of Thalidomide Victims in Canada
      (pp. 304-314)

      In the early 1960s, thousands of children around the world were born with serious physical deformities after their mothers had ingested thalidomide. Horrified by the ravaged bodies of newborns, the public, the medical profession, and the state sought an explanation for the tragedy as well as an appropriate response to the suffering of the babies and their families. Diverse programs of investigation, remediation, and compensation gradually took shape in many countries. But officials struggling to assess the impact of thalidomide faced formidable obstacles because exposure to the drug was exceedingly difficult to document. Consequently, they tackled the problem from both...

    • 12 ‘Comfort, Security, Dignity’: Home Care for Canada’s Aging Veterans, 1977–2004
      (pp. 315-348)

      In recent years the cost of caring for an aging society has risen to the top of Canada’s social-policy agenda. Ballooning health budgets, overcrowded emergency rooms, lengthy waiting lists for institutional care, and the patchwork nature of home care are regular staples of media coverage of Canada’s health-care landscape. These same issues also loom large in Roy Romanow’s 2002 royal commission report on the future of Canada’s health-care system.¹ Although the causes of a perceived crisis in health care are complex, the relationship between an aging population and rising health-care expenditure is an ongoing and often ‘alarmist’ feature of current...


    • 13 Wondrous Transformations: Endocrinology after Insulin
      (pp. 351-377)

      In 1922 the medical world greeted the discovery of insulin. The impact on diabetics and those caring for them was life-changing, but the discovery was also to have a huge impact on the field of endocrinology. Endocrinologist Hans Lisser, in a lively account of the first forty years of the Endocrine Society, called the discovery of insulin ‘epoch-making’ in ‘stimulating vast productive research’ on the endocrine organs.² He continued: ‘This conquest, accordingly, receiving as it did world-wide recognition and acclaim, spurred intensive researches into other endocrine maladies, so that today innumerable patients are benefited by the newer, potent adrenal, ovarian...

    • 14 A History of Lobotomy in Ontario
      (pp. 378-399)

      The history of lobotomy in Ontario reflects the wider international context in which the practice developed and gradually declined after its first two decades. The enthusiastic reception that some leading Canadian medical figures, such as Kenneth G. McKenzie, gave this treatment matched that of their American counterparts. Doctors and some patients’ families welcomed the promise of more active treatments for mental anguish here as elsewhere. However, the lack of either critical judgment on the part of many doctors or a standardized basis upon which the operation could be judged led to serious abuses of patients from which the reputation of...

    • 15 Limitations Exposed: Willem J. Kolff and His Contentious Pursuit of a Mechanical Heart
      (pp. 400-434)

      From the 1950s to the 1990s, Dutch physician Willem J. Kolff (b. 1911), inventor of the artificial kidney,¹ led an ambitious artificial-organ research program in the United States. Kolff advocated organ replacement by mechanical means – or the replacement of diseased human organs with artificial devices – at a time when most medical researchers dismissed such ideas as impractical. Yet Kolff believed that it was both feasible and desirable to pursue the development of artificial organs.² His success with the artificial kidney machine motivated Kolff to begin work on an artificial heart, which dominated his research program for forty years. A driven,...

    • 16 History, Memory, and Twentieth-Century Medical Life Writing: Unpacking a Cape Breton Country Doctor’s Black Bag
      (pp. 435-470)

      The white lab coat and the stethoscope are the most widely recognized symbols of contemporary medicine, but there is an equally powerful iconography built around the country doctor carrying a simple black bag. Embodying populist ideals of rugged self-reliance, community service, and personal sacrifice, the country doctor’s folksy, homespun exterior belies an acute medical acumen and a calm, professional competence. Though this figure is easily recognizable in popular culture, historians still know relatively little about the rural medical practices with which this icon is associated.

      The history of rural medicine is nonetheless a field of growing interest. Since the mid-1990s...

  13. Bibliography of Michael Bliss
    (pp. 471-478)
  14. Contributors
    (pp. 479-481)