The Hero and the Historians
248 pages, 6 x 9
8 b&w illustrations
Release Date:01 Jul 2010
Release Date:15 Feb 2010
Release Date:01 Jul 2010

The Hero and the Historians

Historiography and the Uses of Jacques Cartier

UBC Press

Historians have long engaged in passionate debate about collective memory and the building of national identities. Alan Gordon focuses on one national hero – Jacques Cartier – to explore how notions about the past have been created and passed on from generation to generation in English- and French-speaking Canada and used to present particular ideas about the world.

The Hero and the Historians traces the evolution of Cartier’s image – from his exploration of the St. Lawrence in 1534 to the mid-twentieth century, when hero worship fell from favour among professional historians – and ties it to changing notions of the past. Gordon reveals that nineteenth-century celebrations of Cartier reflected a particular understanding of history that accompanied the arrival of modernity in North America. This new sensibility, in turn, shaped the political and cultural currents of identity formation and nation building in Canada. Cartier may have been a point of contact between English- and French-Canadian nationalisms, but, as Gordon shows, the nature of that contact had profound limitations.

This important work shows how changing notions of the past have shaped identity formation in English-speaking Canada and Quebec.

Anyone interested in the underlying culture of national identity – and national unity – in Canada should read this book.


  • 2010, Short-listed - Canada Prize in the Social Sciences, Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
Gordon has succeeded in offering a very astute and nuanced empirical study that situates history writing in its larger social and political contexts. Daryl Leroux, University of Ottawa, H-Canada
L’analyse des sources visuelles concernant les sports et la culture associative de Montréal que présente Poulter ouvre une nouvelle perspective sur le rôle identitaire des élites anglo-montréalaises dans la seconde moitié du XIXe siècle ... Son analyse détaillée et équilibrée intègre avec succès des sources visuelles et textuelles. Le sujet est développé de manière logique et claire, et l’auteur fait montre de rigueur. Il s’agit là d’une importante contribution à l’historiographie concernant le discours identitaire au Canada, qui élargit ce champ d’étude au-delà de la division souvent trop rigide posée entre le Québec et le reste du pays. Gillian I. Leitch, CDCI Research Inc., Mens
This book will greatly interest those who wish to better understand the historiographic traditions of nineteenth and twentieth century Canada, particularly Quebec. Peter E. Pope, Memorial University, Journal of Historical Biography, Autumn 2010
Cartier is one of those rare heroes who have figured in both French- and English-speaking representations of the past. By showing the different ways this came about and the different purposes for which Cartier has been made to serve, this important and engaging book connects two historiographies within Canada as it speaks to issues of relevance to an international audience. H.V. Nelles, L.R. Wilson Professor of Canadian History, McMaster University, and author of The Art of Nation-Building: Pageantry and Spectacle at Quebec's Tercentenary
Alan Gordon is an associate professor in the Department of History, University of Guelph.



1 The Sixteenth-Century World and Jacques Cartier

2 Forgetting and Remembering

3 The Invention of a Hero

4 Cartiermania

5 Common Sense

6 The Many Meanings of Jacques Cartier

7 Decline and Dispersal

8 Failure and Forgetting




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