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Researcher Irene Gammel named winner of the 2020-2021 CP Stacey Prize for the best book on Canadian military history

WATERLOO – The CP Stacey Prize Committee and the Laurier Center for Canadian Studies (LCSC) awarded the Literary Historian, Biographer and Curator Prize Irene Gammel from Metropolitan University of Toronto with the 2020-2021 CP Stacey Award for his scholarly work in Canadian military history.

I Can Only Paint: The Story of Battlefield Artist Mary Riter Hamilton (McGill-Queen’s University Press) makes an outstanding contribution to the field, innovating as a model for histories of war artists and the art of war. A superb biography of the tragic Mary Riter Hamilton, this detailed study of her life’s work and her commitment to her art is also an excellent cultural and military, gender, and commemorative history.

“In this beautifully illustrated and innovative volume, Gammel takes the story to another level,” noted the committee when presenting the award. “She not only tells the incredible personal story of Mary Riter Hamilton, but she is also the curator of the remarkable body of artwork that Riter Hamilton produced on site during his tour of the battlefields in the aftermath of the Great War. The artist rushed to Europe to paint the war-torn landscape before the graphic aftermath of the battle could be erased.His art, much eclipsed in its day by the work of official artists, is itself preserved by Gammel, with generous illustration and vivid description.

Gammel is a professor in the Department of English at Metropolitan University of Toronto and director of the Center for Research on Modern Literature and Culture. She holds the Canada Research Chair in Modern Literature and Culture, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and has written or edited 14 books.

“In this definitive study by Mary Riter Hamilton, Gammel combed through global and local archives to reconstruct her subject’s difficult and complex life experiences,” the committee noted. “After tracing Riter Hamilton’s travels and the landscapes visited by the artist, Gammel writes so expressively and with such gifted prose that his readers can easily imagine the difficult circumstances Riter Hamilton faced in a Europe devastated by the war. Determined to complete her collection as both an artistic and a humanitarian endeavor, Riter Hamilton was driven to nervous collapse by the experience and pace of painting in the field. Through a careful and detailed reconstruction of the physical, financial and gender circumstances that Riter Hamilton faced, I can only paint says a lot about the military, social and cultural dimensions of artistic production. It is an extremely important contribution to our understanding of Canadian warfare, memory and the representation of violent armed conflict.

The Awards Committee also announced an Honorable Mention for the CP Stacey Award 2020-2021, Alexandre Souchenit is War Waste: Munitions Disposal and Post-War Reconstruction in Canada (UBC Press). In an exceptionally strong pool of applicants for the award, Souchen’s work was recognized as innovative, compelling, and a major contribution to the field. A comprehensive study of Canada’s elimination regime in the aftermath of World War II, Souchen demonstrates the complexity of defeating war through reverse logistics, displaying an impressive understanding of institutional, industrial, economic, environmental, material and military culture.

The CP Stacey Award is named in honor of Charles Perry Stacey, a historical officer in the Canadian Army during the Second World War and later a longtime professor of history at the University of Toronto.

The CP Stacey Prize is awarded annually to the best book in the field of Canadian military history, broadly defined, including the study of war and society. The winner receives a $1,000 prize, made possible through the generous support of John and Pattie Cleghorn and the Department of History at Wilfrid Laurier University. The LCSC took over the administration of the award in 2018 from the Canadian Committee for the History of the Second World War.

The award committee was made up of Kevin Spooner (Wilfrid Laurier University; Director, LCSC), Isabel Campbell (Directorate of History and Heritage, National Defense Headquarters, Ottawa) and Serge Durflinger (University of Ottawa). Prizes are normally awarded after the end of the year in which the eligible books were published. Due to COVID-19, the committee reviewed books published in 2020 and 2021 for this year’s award announcement. Learn more here.

Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.