What do Carleton University readers think of The Unfinished Canadian?

Journalism professor Andrew Cohen’s latest book, The Unfinished Canadian: The People We Are, has been provoking debate and dialogue since it was published on May 8, 2007.

Carleton Now wanted to know how his view of Canadian identity resonates with the Carleton University community. Here is what three readers have to say.

Patty Allen, BA/75

I read Andrew Cohen’s new book while sitting on the dock at the cottage a day after celebrating Canada’s 140th birthday. The timing was great and the setting appropriate to pause and appreciate what it means to be Canadian.

The book challenges our apathy around national identity while inspiring (in some of us) the need to defend ourselves and our knowledge of Canadian history and culture. A book that evokes a strong emotion is always a good read. Cohen identifies the lack of mandatory Canadian history courses in our schools, an absence of funds dedicated to history museums and a poor sense of citizenship as some of the barriers to establishing a clearer identity of who we are. As a nation we definitely need to address those barriers; however, as individuals most Canadians are very proud of their country, brag about it to visitors and outsiders, and would defend it without hesitation. Given the complexities of a fast-paced life we don’t often have the opportunity to pause and reflect on that—thanks Andrew for reminding us.

Richard Nimijean

Andrew Cohen provides an engaging but challenging portrait of Canadians. He writes with care and conviction, offering a unique synthesis of the nature of the Canadian identity. Instead of indulging in a facile celebration of Canada, he asks that we reflect critically on how we can construct a better country.

Social historians beware! Contemporary challenges are partly due to our lack of historical knowledge and how history is taught. Ironically, he shows that diverse perspectives and a clash of ideas propel Canada forward, just as diverse voices have enriched our understanding of Canada’s history.

Readers will not agree with all of his analysis. Nevertheless, the great strength of Cohen’s book is that he forces us to think about how we identify with the country and ask ourselves what we are prepared to do to make it
even better.

Katie Culhane, BA/07

The Unfinished Canadian exposes a commonality within a nation of diversity: the epidemic of historical ignorance. Well researched and articulated, Cohen writes a polemic that exposes hypocrisy and laziness within the common perceptions of Canadian identity. Though highly critical, Cohen offers a hopeful last chapter. He provides ways for Canadians to begin a process of true self discovery, while tearing down a national reputation founded on cliché. Cohen’s undercurrent ridicule of the importance of social history, however, presents as one of the only weaknesses of the book.

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