Tackling the final essay of your Master’s degree is more than just a random research project. Now, of course, when considering the importance of what is at stake, the task appears beset with hardships and expectations. But its interest may lie in an unexpected — if not overlooked — dimension. Whatever the subject may be — whether in literature, history or linguistics — the student should not limit his investigations to the world of his chosen academic topic, but extend it to himself. Regarding the essay’s general direction, personal interests are evidently important. No one wants to struggle with the burden of an undesired subject. If the choice of the supervisor is important, the student is the main individual concerned. It is his private background that will shape the original route of his research course. If this essay can be considered as the first distinctive achievement of a future career, it will always be the mirror of a given identity, and the reflection of an intellectual evolution.
Considering historical research, historians are acutely aware of the influence of their own cultural background. Whether expressed at an individual level or at a more collective one, the concepts of memory and identity appear to be fused1. But the following question often remains: why and what do we choose to remember?
When the city of Québec celebrated the 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Plaines of Abraham in 2009, what exactly did it chose to commemorate? The French defeat entailed the destruction of New France and the end of its imperial ambitions in North America. Moreover, it meant the permanent submission of a wide Catholic and French-speaking population to a reviled foreign power. Yet presently, the event is regarded as one of Canada’s founding moments, with the bonding of divided populations by law and pain to share a common future. New monuments now celebrate this cultural marriage2.
While growing up in Michigan, I rarely missed an opportunity to assert my distinct nationality. In spite of the elaborate rituals around the American flag, anthem and Pledge of Allegiance — dutifully repeated in class every other morning — I willingly remained conscious of my linguistic and cultural uniqueness. Perhaps I was being snobbish and unnecessarily chauvinistic, but I was certain that unlike the many European families who had preceded us in ages past, we had not crossed the Atlantic for good. Visiting the landscapes of America and nearby Canada, I remember being struck by the legacy of my past countrymen. Forts, churches, cities… countless areas linked to the history of my country remained in this foreign land. It was a story few of my fellow classmates were aware of, as we were so young. Yet I remained determined to explore it.
Je me souviens
is the city of Québec’s motto. I have simply chosen to do the same.
1 Philippe Joutard : Histoire et mémoires, conflits et alliances ; Paris, La Découverte, collection « Ecritures de l’Histoire », 2013, 275 pages.
2 Mémorial de la Guerre de Sept Ans and Monument François-Gaston-de-Lévis : http://www.capitale.gouv.qc.ca/realisations/grille/commemoration-et-art-public