Robert C.H. Sweeny

Recipient of the 2016 Governor General's History Award for Scholarly Research: The Sir John A. Macdonald Prize

November 28, 2016

Robert C. H. Sweeny receiving his award at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, 2016.

St. John’s, Newfoundland

In Why Did We Choose to Industrialize? Montreal, 1819-1849 Robert Sweeny offers an erudite yet passionate argument for the re-thinking of Canadian history. Sweeny answers the title question, engaging with historians of Montreal, but also tracing the evolution of his own thought over the last decades. Historians, Sweeny argues, do not live outside history but are part of it, and so must contextualize and understand how their own views of the past reflect on the sources they use and the questions they ask. His work reveals the changing creative process of an historian who has revisited, questioned and revised his own findings as a result of new ways of thinking that have emerged among intellectuals over the past forty years. Drawing on approaches in economic history, historical geography, and historiography, Sweeny proposes that the answer to his book’s question lies in the exploitation of unfree labour for the production of commodities, together with the emergence of liberalism and its valuation of property.

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