Q&A with Jamie Swift and Ian McKay

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Happening Now Tuesday, May 09, 2017 View Count = 1430

Q&A with Jamie Swift and Ian McKay


Smara is excited to once again catch up with the authors shortlisted for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. The annual literary award is presented by the Writers' Trust of Canada to the best nonfiction book on Canadian political and social issues. The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize winner will be announced at the Politics & the Pen gala in Ottawa on May 10.

Every week, we'll feature a Q&A with one of the featured authors. Make sure you don't miss a week by following our blog

Q&A with Jamie Swift and Ian McKay, authors of The Vimy Trap: Or, How We LEarned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War 


Tell us about the genesis of your book. How did you arrive at the subject?

The Vimy Trap builds upon the analysis of militarism we presented in Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety (BTL, 2012). The Vimy Trap looks closely at one of the founding myths of martial nationalism in Canada—the notion that Canada was born, or came of age, in the First World War and at Vimy Ridge. It thus forms part of our general quest to uncover the logic underlying discussions and polices with regard to peace and war in Canada.

How was the writing process? Did you face any challenges while writing your book?

The great challenge presented by the book was to present academic, in-depth and well-referenced research in a format accessible to the general reader. The writing process was strenuous and much depended upon the skill of our masterful editor, Robert Clarke. He has been able to weave together two different writing styles to provide a book that combines scholarship with journalistic storytelling. Our collaboration has been a boon to both of us, sharpening our approaches to writing. One never stops learning.

Did any books or events influence your approach to the subject?

We were greatly influenced by the wider international literature on the Great War, specifically by the works of Paul Fussell and Jay Winter, both of whom have raised profound questions about its impact upon culture and the various ways it has been debated and remembered. Canadian literary theorist Sherrill Grace offered us a fine cultural tour through what she calls our “landscapes of war and memory.”

Who would you like to read this book?

We would like this book to be read by anyone interested in Canada’s involvement in war in the 20th century and also by scholars interested in questions of public memory. It has been very encouraging to us to find positive responses both from members of the general public and from academic specialists. It has also been shortlisted for the Sir John A. Macdonald Prize for the best work of Canadian history, awarded by the Canadian Historical Association.

Why is your book important for Canadians and our political culture?

Our book comes at a time when the state is intervening aggressively to shape public history, often in ways that conform not to the recoverable realities of the past but to political agendas in the present. This effort did not start with the Harper regime, nor will it end with the current government. For us, it is important for Canadians to develop a critical awareness of their often conflicted past, so that when they are addressed by official sources purporting to put forward interpretations of history, they are able to respond critically to them.

Ian McKay is the L.R. Wilson Chair in Canadian History at McMaster University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 2009 he won the Sir John A. Macdonald Prize awarded by the Canadian Historical Association for Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People’s Enlightenment in Canada, 1890–1920. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

Jamie Swift is a lecturer at Queen’s University and the author of 11 books, including Persistent Poverty: Voices from the Margins and Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety, which was also co-authored with Ian McKay. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail, the Montreal Gazette, The Kingston Whig-Standard, and Briarpatch Magazine. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.


Additional information about author and book, including the jury’s citation, can be found here

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