Almost half a century ago, I was spending three years in England, studying the politics of the British scientific elite in the interwar and World War II years. The great events of those years still haunted the country as a whole, but the interest of historians had also newly spiked from 1970, as the government had just decided, rather than continuing the past procedure of opening official archives year by year, thirty years after the files had been created, to release almost all those of the Second World War at once. This also led to new availability of previously restricted private papers of important figures, and to a flood of new memoirs and scholarly monographs..
Coming from McGill, I found myself in a very different intellectual atmosphere. Montreal university campuses were overwhelmingly preoccupied locally with the rise of Quebec political nationalism, internationally with the long Vietnam War. These concerns, combined with the huge expansion of student numbers as successive waves of baby boomers arrived, had been having great impact on the McGill history department; Concordia’s moreso. The youthful mood was frequently ahistorical, or anti-historical, diverting attention even from the two World Wars. Campus turmoil was also common in Britain, and the lively London newspapers were also soon giving lavish coverage to the Watergate uproar in Washington. But for the British in general, the two big wars retained a profound social meaning little seen in Canada outside Remembrance Day. Throughout the time I was there, not just in interviewing elderly Nobel Prize winners or taking notes from documents, but in conversations in pubs, I was repeatedly reminded of the 1930s, not as the time of the Great Depression, but as the years dominated by the rise of Hitler. by the failure of the League of Nations, by Chamberlain’s failed Munich agreement, and by the conclusion of the decade with the Hitler/Stalin pact, and the start of another World War.