New Wilson Chair in Canadian History says it’s time for historians to join public dialogue

By Wade Hemsworth, September 15, 2015
    'Dr. McKay [pictured] is the perfect scholar to lead the L. R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History as we approach the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017,' says McMaster’s Dean of Humanities Ken Cruikshank. 'He has all of the qualities that the Institute has come to stand for.' McKay specializes in political and social history of the 19th and 20th centuries and is the author of numerous highly cited books and articles.

Influential Canadian historian Ian McKay has been appointed as McMaster University’s L.R. Wilson Chair in Canadian History, where he will make a priority of connecting historians to one another — and to all Canadians.

“I think it’s time to change the channel on how the public sees the historian,” McKay says. “I think historians have a great deal to contribute to the public discussion.”

McKay, who takes on the role after the retirement of Viv Nelles, comes to McMaster from Queen’s University, where he has been teaching since 1988. McKay specializes in political and social history of the 19th and 20th centuries and is the author of numerous highly cited books and articles.

The chair oversees the L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian history, made possible by support from Canadian history advocate and former McMaster chancellor Lynton (Red) Wilson. The Institute promotes the study of Canadian history and is home to post-doctoral fellows who represent the best emerging Canadian historians.

"Dr. McKay is the perfect scholar to lead the L. R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History as we approach the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017,” says McMaster’s Dean of Humanities Ken Cruikshank.

“He has all of the qualities that the Institute has come to stand for.  He is passionately committed to understanding Canadian history in all of its diversity, and to ensuring that our understanding of the past helps us think critically and responsibly about the challenges our nation and world face today."

McKay says the Wilson Chair creates an opportunity and a responsibility to foster a national awareness of Canadian history, and to make history a more prominent part of the public dialogue.

“I think the Wilson Chair is in a brilliant position to revitalize Canadian history. I think now is the time to get more people excited about and interested in Canadian history,” McKay says. “We’re all making history together.”

He says Canada’s history has for too long resembled a landscape of small towns — specific areas and approaches to history with little connection to one another. Instead, he believes, historians and everyday Canadians alike would benefit from creating a wider conversation that values Canada’s stories and the way we understand them.

The institute is a “remarkably important resource” for young historians, McKay says. He hopes to create new ways for all Canadian historians to connect and collaborate with one another – in person and online.