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The Disconnect between Government Action and National Identity

November 24, 2014

Asa McKercher

SSHRC post-doctoral fellow Asa McKercher

Understanding disparities is the main focus of Dr. Asa McKercher's research: "One of the questions that drives my scholarly work is the disconnect between the image of Canada in public opinion as opposed to the one reflected in historical records, which often show a fundamentally different picture."

Dr. McKercher, a Cambridge PhD who holds a SSHRC post-doctoral fellowship at Queen's Department of History and works under the supervision of Prof. Jeffery Brison, studies at the intersection of history and political science. His focus is on contemporary history (1945-today) and on the international role of Canada, the United States, and Britain and the ways in which foreign policy in these countries is driven, in part, by ideological and cultural factors.

"The image of Canada's role in the world as the 'Peacemaker' emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. The global image of the US in the mid-20th century until now has been on the other end of this spectrum. Traditionally, the US is seen as superpower on a mission to spread democracy", explains Dr. McKercher. "I am interested in understanding government actions that arise as products of these seemingly opposed ideologies, and how the formation of public opinion is governed by different forms of national identity."

In his doctoral dissertation 'Canada, Britain, the United States and the Cuban Revolution, 1959-1968', Dr. McKercher examined comparative reactions to the Cuban Revolution. His current research built on this, by using Cuba as a lens to examine Canadians' views of the world in the 1960s and their competing visions of Canada's international role.

During his post-doctoral fellowship, Dr. McKercher has also expanded this research on issues of race and decolonization. His concern is to understand the contradicting national identity of Canada as a former colony of Britain, and therefore predominantly "white country", versus the understanding of Canada from a First Nation's perspective.

In a recent publication in the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Dr. McKercher has taken a closer look at Canadian reactions to decolonization through the lens of the United Nations. Other articles in Diplomatic History and Diplomacy & Statecraft have examined, respectively, the role of the Congress and partisan politics in the making of US foreign policy toward Cuba, and Canadian policy with regard to inter-American relations in the 1960s.

For Asa McKercher, Queen's University has been a productive environment to pursue his research. "My faculty advisor, Prof. Brison, specializes in North American cultural and intellectual history and studies the building of the liberal democratic society in Canada and the United States. My own focus on national identity narratives and their influence on the formation of relations between different countries fits well into this research framework."

Dr. McKercher has completed the first of two years of his SSHRC fellowship and will continue his studies for one more year at Queen's Department of History.