The Montreal History Group has its origins in the Montreal Business History Project, a research group established at McGill in 1976 by Richard Rice, Robert Sweeny, and Brian Young. The first research project of the MBHP, was inventorying business archives in Montreal. This research resulted in Robert Sweeny’s, A Guide to the History and Records of Selected Montreal Businesses before 1947 (1978) The MBHP then undertook a multi-faceted analysis of notarial records in early nineteenth-century Montreal: this research resulted in several theses, peer-reviewed articles, and monographs. Publications included Young’s In Its Corporate Capacity, a study of the Seminary of Montreal, and Sweeny’s Les relations ville\campagne. Le cas du bois de chauffage(1988). Several research projects built around legal records and judicial archives in particular were undertaken including collaboration in publication of Sources in the Law Library of McGill University for a Reconstruction of the Legal Culture of Quebec, 1760-1890 (1987). Over its first decade, the MBHP evolved into a research collective in which increasing attention was devoted to methodological, historiographical, and pedagogical questions.
At the core of the Project’s problématique was nineteenth-century Montreal’s transition to capitalism while its activities as a collective were inspired by the History Workshop model. The jeudis d’histoire were established in this period: for a generation of young and less-young historians, these winter-evening meetings, followed by dinner, continue to serve as informal forums for exchanging ideas and for presenting work in progress. Mayday conferences, colloquiums and speakers were initiated, part of an effort to link history in the academy to community issues. The History of Montreal seminar, part of McGill’s graduate program and built around an annual theme, collective work, and primary research, became an important venue for graduate training. Mary Anne Poutanen and Donald Fyson were among the historians attracted to the group through these seminars. With debate in these years centered on the national question and Bill 101, the MBHP, based in an English-speaking university, supported French as the national language of Quebec working to integrate its student members, research, and publications into a changing intellectual reality.
In 1989, much of the membership of the MBHP re-organized itself into the Montreal History Group. While principles of socialism and the collective remained strong, feminist issues in both teaching and research were given new importance. The group continued to make links between the history it researched and wrote and societal issues of gender, class, nation, and race exemplified in this period by the massacre of fourteen women at the École Polytechnique of the Université de Montréal (1989), the Quebec referendum of 1995, and the Quebec summit of 2001. The group’s strength continued to be its interest in theoretical issues and in systematic primary research in Montreal’s rich and diverse archival collections. Across its history, the Group’s longstanding interest in the study of institutions, the state, and politics has remained strong. Bettina Bradbury’s Working Families: Age, Gender, and Daily Survival in Industrializing Montreal (1993) Donald Fyson’s The Court Structure of Quebec and Lower Canada 1764-1860 (1994) and Young’s The Politics of Codification: the Lower Canadian Civil Code of 1866 (1994) emphasized the group’s increasing focus on gender, class, and the law.
New categories of research, as Suzanne Morton, Denyse Baillargeon, Andrée Lévesque, and Tamara Myers joined the group, included the family, youth, sexuality, and the regulation of women’s bodies (for a complete list of group publications see bibliography). From an original strength in notarial records, group research widened to a broad range of legal records including case reports, judgments and other court records and to broader culturally-based sources that reflected the Group’s growing interest in cultural and material history, historical space, and the specificity of Montreal. Among publications resulting from research in the 1990s was Tamara Myers, Kate Boyer, Mary Anne Poutanen, and Steve Watt (ed.) Power, Place and Identity. Historical Studies of Social and Legal Regulation in Quebec (1998). A younger generation of historians, including Jarrett Rudy, Sylvie Taschereau, Karine Hébert, Lorraine O’Donnell, and Magda Fahrni, have brought new research interests to the group, particularly in directions of culture, consumption, and identity. In 2005, under the editorship of Bettina Bradbury and Tamara Myers, the Montreal History Group published a collection of articles, Negotiating Identities in 19th and 20th Century Montreal. From a group of eight to ten members in the 1980s, the group has doubled in size with membership now including faculty, graduate students, and independent researchers from universities across Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia: in 2005, student and faculty members come from McGill, the Université de Montréal, UQAM, Concordia, Laval, UQTR, UQAR, Queen’s, York, and the University of British Columbia. Originally, concentrated in the nineteenth century, group research is now equally divided between nineteenth and twentieth century projects. Members of the Group form themselves into particular research teams on projects normally of three to four years duration. The Montreal Business History Project was first funded by the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation and Phyllis Lambert and then by the Max Bell Foundation and the Quebec Ministry of Education. Much of the Montreal History Group’s funding has come from SSHRC and FQRSC; support from these two funding agencies has been essential to individual and group projects and to student support. The Group welcomes student and public participation in its activities and in use of its data bases and research collections.