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Manitoba History: Review: Alan F. J. Artibise, Western Canada Since 1870, A Select Bibliography and Guide

by David R. Richeson
National Museum of Man

Manitoba History, Number 1, 1981

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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This book is offered as “a ready and reliable guide to significant literature dealing with Western Canada.” Distinctive features of this 1978 bibliography are coverage of the four western Canadian provinces as a single unit and inclusion of MA and PhD theses. The majority of entries consist of books, pamphlets and periodical articles. Government publications are largely excluded. The emphasis of the bibliography is on historical studies although other fields such as political science, geography, economics, anthropology, sociology, and native, ethnic, urban and environmental studies, are included. A few significant fictional works are included, but these are not noted in any special way in the bibliography.

Since the 3700 plus entries are only a selection of the total number of works available this bibliography represents value judgements by the author and is in effect a personal statement regarding writing on western Canada. The work is organized and best approached on a provincial basis. Eight topics are included within each of the four provincial sections: general, the people, government and politics, agriculture and rural development, economic development and labour, education and cultural development, urban development, and bibliography. In addition there is a general section similarly divided for western Canada as a whole and special sections on two topics: the Riel Rebellions and the Northwest Territories to 1905. The author has provided subject indexes to ethnic groups, political parties and politicians, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and its antecedents, and somewhat curiously, the two World Wars. A final section in the book consists of a brief guide to western Canadian studies, including newsletters and journals, archives and libraries, organizations and societies, and specialized series. An author index and an organization, institution and serial index conclude the work.

The result is a remarkably useful guide. Any specialist will eventually note that certain works or theses in a particular subject or area are missing. but the author refers the specialist to the more complete bibliographies. In fact Professor Artibise invites comments regarding works omitted. The entries in the bibliography are concise and accurate with the exception of a few entries which would be difficult to locate on the basis of inconsistent citation or which contain technical errors. The primary weakness in the work is the limitation placed on cross references due to the very selective index. Expansion of the index to include such basic topics as transportation, natural resources, and towns or regions other than a few major cities, would greatly improve the usefulness of the bibliography. Another problem is the lack of any comment regarding the individual entries even to the extent that no distinction is made among fiction. research works or photographic essays. Each entry must be judged solely on the title, which can often be misleading, or on the basis of the section within which it is included. The use of 1870 as a beginning date for topics corresponds with the way western Canadian history is frequently divided for purposes of university courses on the prairies but the date is of little significance in British Columbia. The result is the exclusion of a selection of works which could usefully have been included. Northern topics which are included in some areas could usefully be expanded. Here again expansion of the index would be a definite improvement.

The criticisms of the bibliography and guide however are minor in relation to the quality of the work as a whole. The guide fills a need for a convenient source of reference and information on selected topics. The author states that the work is to be updated frequently an objective essential if the usefulness of the work is to be maintained. Few works available today provide as much value for a relatively modest price. Alan Artibise is to be congratulated for adding yet another contribution to his impressive record of work on the history of western Canada.

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