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Energy and Modern Canada: Explanations, Approaches, Directions

Fri, March 27, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Delta Ottawa City Centre, Floor: Conference, Joliet

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


The history of modern Canada unfolded through the transformation of abundant energy resources into social power. Colonialism and state formation, national and regional identity, resource extraction and economic growth, industrialization and urbanization, consumer culture and mass communication. Historians have attempted to explain all of these as hallmarks of modernity in Canada. These histories have overlooked, however, the fundamental role that energy played in shaping the social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental dimensions of modern Canada. In particular, historians of Canada have not spent enough time asking how coal, hydroelectricity, oil, and natural gas have structured the development of Canada since Confederation in 1867. They also have not considered the environmental consequences of Canada’s modernization, including the ongoing crisis of global warming. What’s more, questions related to energy and disenfranchisement in modern Canadian history have been severely underexamined, as have questions of energy and hegemony. This round table will bring together a diverse group of Canadian historians of energy, representing perspectives on different energy sources and regions in the country, to propose new approaches and directions for the history of modern Canada. Panelists will also consider how Canada’s distinct energy histories can help explain differences between the ways modernity took hold in Canada compared to the United States and Western Europe. Canada’s transition to a predominantly fossil-fueled society took place later than other industrialized countries, while its per capita energy use has always been very high. How does analyzing Canadian modernity through an energy lens help us enrich approaches to Canadian history and understand the country’s history in the context of dramatic changes taking place elsewhere?

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