- 1843-1993 (predominant 1937-1993) (Creation)
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James Blennerhasset Conacher was one of Canada’s most distinguished historians who specialized in the study of British history. He was born in Kingston on Oct. 31 1916, the son of Madeleine (nee Cashal) and William Morrisson Conacher, professor of English at Queen’s University. He earned his B.A (1937). and M.A.(1939) from Queen’s University and began his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1939. World War II however interrupted his studies as Conacher enlisted in the Canadian Army Signal Corps. In 1944, he moved to the Historical Section, and worked under the direction of Col. C.P. Stacey. In 1946, he left the Army and came to the University of Toronto as a lecturer in history while still pursuing his Ph.D. which he obtained from Harvard in 1949.
Through the following decade and a half, Prof. Conacher rose through the ranks, becoming a full professor in 1963. From 1972-1977, he was Chairman of the Department of History and at the time of his normal retirement in 1983 was appointed Professor Emeritus. After 1983, he continued his academic pursuits and teaching. He was visiting professor at the University of Sydney, Australia and at Queen’s University and gave many special lectures at various universities in Great Britain and the United States.
Early in his career at the University of Toronto, Prof Conacher honed his administrative skills on various University committees. A few significant ones include the Plateau Committee, 1955-1956, the Presidential Advisory Committee 1957-1959, two stints on the Haist Committee on appointments, promotions and tenure in 1964-1965 and 1968-69 and the Presidential Search Committee in 1970-1971. Within the Department of History, he was Departmental Secretary 1948-1949 and held two terms as Graduate Secretary 1955-56 and 1958-62. He was an active member of the Committee on Teaching Staff, serving as its V.P. in 1965-66 and was the first president of its successor, the University of Toronto Faculty Association, in 1971-72. He was also a founding member of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. As Chairman of the Department of History (1972-1977) he served on several committees including the Faculty of Arts and Science Committee on Academic Standard (1973-1977), School of Graduate Studies Council, Division I (1972-1977) and the University Research Board (1972-1975). In the late 1970s and early 1980s his expertise was exercised on the President’s Budgetary Advisory Committee 1978-1980, as chairman of the Committee on Academic Affairs 1979-1980 and on the Executive Committee of Governing Council 1980-1981.
Prof. Conacher was a prolific researcher, writer and editor. His first book, The Aberdeen Coalition 1852-1855, published in 1968, established Conacher as a leading 19th century British historian. He published three other major books, edited two other books including a translation of Francois De Creux’s History of Canada, by P.J. Robinson. He also published numerous articles. He was joint editor of the Canadian Historical Review from 1949-1956, general editor for the Champlain Society 1950-1962 and an associate editor in the Disraeli Project 1982-1993.
Throughout his life Conacher was active in the Roman Catholic community. At various times, he was a board member of the St. Vincent de Paul’s Society and was on the parish council of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church (1967-68). Other catholic organizations include the Committee on Higher Education for Catholics which he initiated and the Canadian Catholic Historical Association.
James B. Conacher died at the age of 77 on October 3 1994. He was survived by his wife Muriel, whom he married in 1943, their two children Desmond and Patricia, along with their families. Mrs. Conacher died in 2005 soon after these papers were donated to the University of Toronto Archives.
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These are a fairly complete set of records documenting most aspects of Prof. Conacher’s career as a Canadian academic, a scholar of British history, a university administrator, and a teacher. There is a voluminous amount of professional correspondence found not only in Series 1 Professional Correspondence but in most other series. Much of it documents his professional and personal relationships with colleagues and friends. Records in Series 8 Professional Activities also give evidence to these relationships as it pertains to activities on associations. Researchers wishing insight into the network of Canadian historians active in Canada from the 1950s to the 1980s will want to consult these records and in particular Series 1 and Series 8. Conacher’s non-academic life is best documented in Series 2 Family Correspondence and Series 12 Non-Professional Activities but again personal correspondence with family and friends is interfiled in Series 1 and discusses life in general for himself and his family.
While manuscripts of his major published works have not survived, (except for his final work Britain and the Crimea), other documents such as correspondence with publishers, contracts, reviews and corrections to drafts give a good sense of his work on these publications. As a whole, his research, writing and editorial works are well documented in Series 4 Books as well as records in Series 5 Talks, addresses and articles, Series 6 Reviews, and Series 7 Disraeli Project. His editorial role with the Canadian Historical Review is documented in Series 8 Professional Activities, while his editorial files for the Champlain Society have been transferred to the Champlain Society Papers (Ms 50) held by the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.
A quick look at Conacher’s c.v. reveals the numerous administrative posts he held in his more than forty years at the University of Toronto. His career covers a period in the University of Toronto that saw unprecedented expansion, changes in University governance, movements by both faculty and students to have a greater say in decision making and the beginning of budgetary constraints on University and external research funding. Within the Department of History, curriculum was rewritten several times, new disciplines were being established and the graduate department further defined. Records found in Series 9 University of Toronto, Series 10 Department of History, and Series 11 University of Toronto Faculty Association document to varying degrees all of these developments. A copy of Conacher’s unpublished memoirs found in Series 5: Talks, addresses and articles lends a very personal voice to these developments.
Conacher’s role as a teacher to his students, as well as a mentor to his graduate students and younger colleagues are reflected in the records found in Series 3 Letters of Recommendation, Series 13 Teaching and Series 14 Ph.D. Student Files. The fact that so many sought his help and advice is evidence of his influence with a whole generation of historical scholars. Much of the correspondence in Series 3 and 14 shows his personal relationships with those he mentored.