The best that historical inquiry can do, historian John C. Weaver of McMaster University notes, is to promote questioning
The purpose of the current post is to introduce you to the work of John C. Weaver, in the event you are not already familiar with his work.
For the past several months, I’ve been doing interviews and research for a book about the life and legacy of an Alberta speech therapist. I’ve largely taken a break from blogging, as blogging takes up time that is better spent in working on the book.
I’ve recently bought used copies of Weaver’s “The Great Land Rush and the Making of the Modern World, 1650-1900” (2003); “Hamilton: An Illustrated History” (1982); “Housing the North American City” (co-authored with Michael Doucet, 1991); and “Crimes, Constables, and Courts: Order and Transgression in a Canadian City, 1816-1970” (1995).
At the conclusion of the latter study, which I have recently finished reading, Weaver notes that “The best that historical inquiry can do is to promote questioning.” He adds that it’s his hope that his historical study of crime specifically in Hamilton, Ontario “will alert interested citizens to the folly of uninformed opinion and to the persistent tensions existing between civil liberties and law and order in an open society.”
Twenty-five years have passed since the publication of “Crimes, Constables, and Courts,” which is also the amount of time that has passed since the death of Einer Boberg, the Alberta speech therapist who is the subject of the book, that I have been asked to write and that I am now writing.
Given the passage of time, we require the study of more recent sources, in order to arrive at a better understanding of policing from the perspective of the present moment, which, as it happens, serves as the sole gateway or portal that is available to us, when we consider whatever has happened in the past.
We also need to consider other sources, such as “The Great Land Rush” among other studies, in order to gain a better understanding of the larger context – including world military history and the “settler colonial present” – inside of which the world history of policing is located.
I was intrigued with Weaver’s reference to “interested citizens,” in his concluding comments at the end of the book. I would say that some interested citizens are indeed capable of being alerted to the folly of uninformed opinion, whereas others would care less about whether their or anybody else’s opinions are founded or not. As well, it occurs to me that when we speak of an “open society,” it’s useful to define clearly what we mean.
Anyway, I am super impressed with the quality of John C. Weaver’s work as a historian and that is the purpose of this post. I seek to interest others to read his works. I have learned a great deal, of value for my current book project, through reading Weaver’s texts.
A key point in “Crimes, Constables, and Courts” is that past links, established by social scientists, which seek to relate trends – of a political, economic, and social nature, extending over periods of time in history – to crime rates is a waste of time, and a huge folly, unless a researcher takes the time, and has the inclination, to clearly specify what is meant, when we speak of crime rates. Regarding these and other matters, Weaver presents his reasoning, and overviews the research, in a manner that is clear, reasoned, and lucid. We need people like that; they help us tremendously to think clearly about what is happening, worldwide, at the present moment.