The Arthur Questionnaire – David Tough

The Arthur Questionnaire banner featuring Faryon Bridge from the east bank of the Otonabee. Photo by Kortney Dunsby.

The Arthur questionnaire is a web-exclusive series. Vaguely inspired by Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire, the Arthur questionnaire asks Trent faculty and community members to offer pieces of “reading material” (loosely speaking) that have recently engaged them.

This week’s offerings come from Professor David Tough, who completed the questionnaire on October 15. Tough works in Trent’s School for the Study of Canada (CAST) and the Trent Community Research Centre, as well as running Electric City Magazine. Here’s what he had to offer:

Adam Coombs, “In Defence of (Canadian Academic) History” (via

“I’m a historian by training, as they say, but also by inclination. This essay by Adam Coombes is a great reflection on the importance of historical research. It’s written in response to a common conservative complaint that academic history was “killed” in the 1970s by becoming analytical and examining the history of society and culture broadly rather than simply collecting the biographies of powerful people, thereby surrendering bookstore history shelves to non-academics. But it’s interesting outside that controversy, as a general introduction to why historians do what we do.”

Adele Perry, “This history is not over” (via Winnipeg Free Press)

“A lot of my fellow historians are engaged in the political struggles over commemoration and colonization – essentially how and why we remember, or tell the story of, the establishment of a settler colony in Canada and the attempted cultural genocide of the Indigenous peoples it entailed. This is kind of an old piece, written in the aftermath of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on the residential schools. Adele Perry, a prof at University of Manitoba and one of the more prominent users of the #readtheTRCreport hashtag, is responding to some of the backlash against the report’s recommendations. It’s a great reflection the importance of engaging in honest commemoration, and in seeing current politics through an accurate and informed record of the past.”

David Tough, “When Income Tax Was Like a Fire” (via

“My own area of research is on the history of taxes, inequality, and the welfare state in Canada, mostly focused on the 20th century. I wrote this piece last month as part of a series marking the 100th anniversary of income taxation. In it I argue that income taxation was, at its origins in 1917, a destructive device that the farmer and labour groups who pushed for it hoped would destroy the two-party system. Income taxation became other things – the basis of a more equitable society and a thing so dull no one wanted to talk about it – later, but during the First World War it was a popular and controversial instrument of radical transformation.”

[Note: Tough was hesitant to include this piece, but we assured him – and future participants in the survey! – that including personal work is a-okay. What a humble man!]

Maximillian Alvarez, “Contingent No More” (via The Baffler)

“I’m a contract instructor, meaning I teach courses as a freelancer, contracted for 4 month periods on a course-by-course basis, and I strongly identify politically as a union member and part of the wider campus left. I’m also one of a growing number of people who, owing to public sector austerity that has destroyed the academic job market, identify as alt-ac, or alternative career academics, because I’m a scholar whose intellectual work is primarily not in a faculty capacity: I own a small business, Electric City Magazine, and I work at the Trent Community Research Centre. There is a lot of great writing about the future of university and of scholarship under the strain of austerity. This article, which charts a way forward rather than simply describing the problem, is one of many favourites.”

♦ Additional reading on this topic: Michelle Chen, The Higher-Education Crisis is a Labor Crisis (via The Nation)

Amber A’Lee Frost, “All Worked Up and Nowhere to Go” (via The Baffler)

“I first encountered Amber A’Lee Frost’s writing in the aftermath of Trump’s presidential victory, when the left and centre of the Democratic Party were fighting over the causes of Hilary Clinton’s defeat, and Frost was a high profile spokesperson of the “dirtbag left,” a term she coined. Her essays are witty and learned and a little bit grumpy, and this piece in particular, which is about the political efficacy of certain kinds of political actions that the intellectual left likes, is clear-eyed and blunt. She writes: “marches are for morale, protests are for pathos, but strikes? Strikes are for getting the goods, and that requires organizing workers.” Even if you disagree with her assessment, it’s funny and smart and worth a click.”


Want to participate in the Questionnaire? Email us at with the subject line “Arthur Web Questionnaire” for details.

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