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Home, Work, and Play: Situating Canadian Social History, Third Edition

By James Opp and John C. Walsh, Editors

Review By John-Henry Harter

March 15, 2016

BC Studies no. 192 Winter 2016-2017  | p. 165-166

Home, Work, and Play is a reader designed for university or college students studying Canadian social history. The editors have put together a diverse collection that can be used at any level from a second year introduction to social history to a focussed fourth year seminar class. The versatility of the text is a testament to the editors’ choices and the strength of the articles chosen. The division of social history into the categories of “home, work, and play” creates a versatile text that works well thematically. As editors James Opp and John Walsh point out, “we wanted to develop something more than a strictly chronological structure or an endless list of themes with little in common” (xiv). This thematically rich collection is also suited to a traditionally organized history class because it contains chronological readings that match each week’s timeframe. The editors have even included an alternate table of contents listed chronologically to aid in such an endeavour. Finally, this book incudes a section entitled “visualizing history” that features visual primary sources including maps, cartoons, advertisements, and photographs, all of which complement the themes of home, work, and play. I have successfully used Home, Work, and Play for a fourth year seminar course for several years. The fifteen new readings in this third edition increase both the breadth and depth of the text.

With such a large collection, it is impossible to mention all the articles by name, but the editors have retained some of the strongest readings from the second edition while complementing them with well-chosen additions to this third edition. For example, the “At Home” section features “A Model Suburb for Model Suburbanites: Order, Control, and Expertise in Thorncrest Village,” by Patrick Vitale, which serves as an excellent complement and contrast to the existing article by Sean Purdy, “Framing Regent Park: The National Film Board of Canada and the Construction of ‘Outcast Spaces’ in the Inner City, 1953 and 1994.” Similarly, the section “At Work” retains Kate Boyer’s excellent essay, “Miss Remington Goes to Work: Gender, Space, and Technology at the Dawn of the Information Age,” an exploration of how “the branch banking system created a network in which men flowed and women functioned as fixed points,” while also benefiting from important additions, for example Donica Belisle’s essay on the effort to unionize Eaton’s workers, “Exploring Post-War Consumption: The Campaign to Unionize Eaton’s in Toronto, 1948-1952.”

The third section, “At Play,” is the broadest of the three in content because the idea of play is more abstract than home and work. As the editors reflect, “Historians of home and work had certainly mentioned leisure activities, such as sport and tavern life, but these were often considered in their own context. Cultural acts, such as parades, were usually framed as expressions of class consciousness, ethnic identity, or religious affiliation” (325). By contrast, Opp and Walsh allow for a wide and fluid definition of play that runs the gamut from sports to the consumption of donuts. They bring together some of the best and most recent scholarship on play and make it clear that leisure is a part of history that stands on its own.

The histories collected by Opp and Walsh constitute a valuable collection of Canadian social history. The three categories are not restrictive and allow for courses based on this textbook to be organized chronologically or thematically. The book also lends itself to courses with more discrete themes: creative instructors can simply ignore the themes of home, work, and play and let this collection provide the raw material for their course outlines. Indeed, I used the second edition of this book to supplement my own Canadian social history course themes of gender, sexuality, Aboriginal history, labour, culture, and food. I found that the readings provided sufficient raw material for each topic.

Home, Work, and Play is a useful book for anyone interested in Canadian social history and especially instructors teaching any level of undergraduate social history. The text also works as valuable supplemental reading for graduate students. It is refreshing that each edition has built on the previous one and grows stronger with each iteration. In a world of increasingly expensive textbooks that often seem to create new editions for no discernible reason, James Opp and John Walsh have produced a third edition of Home, Work, and Play that keeps up with the scholarship and provides a flexible and accessible repository of excellent and diverse readings.

Home, Work, and Play: Situating Canadian Social History, Third Edition
James Opp and John C. Walsh, editors
Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2015. 231 pp. $88.95