By Sean Graham
Embedded in the seemingly endless hand-wringing about why people are no longer interested in history or, at least, how historians can better disseminate the past in an increasingly digital world, is how history is taught to students in the 21st century. I once had a professor tell me that the most effective ways for university historians to create an interest in history is through their teaching because, in a world where articles in peer-reviewed journals get marginal readership, their classes represent the biggest audience for their work. When you talk to students, however, many lament that their history classes are boring or that they do not see the relevance of studying the past.
For as much as those of us who are tasked with teaching these courses like to complain about the lack of attention spans and poor writing skills of today’s undergraduate students, ultimately the responsibility does fall on instructors to create an engaging classroom environment. As Chad Gaffield has pointed out, the days of the traditional lecture format are likely coming to an end as digital and multimedia tools make it easier to experiment with various pedagogical techniques.
One of those tools is the Canadian Mysteries website. The site features a variety of events from Canadian history and provides students with the tools and materials required to investigate the matter. Ahead of its time when it was first conceived in the 1990s, one of the keys to the site is that it doesn’t simply give students answers, but rather invites them to engage with primary material in order to experience the historian’s role in examining past events. The site includes a great diversity of material, ranging anywhere from Klondike Gold Rush to Herbert Norman to the most recent mystery focusing on the Franklin Exhibition.
In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with co-directors of the project, John Lutz and Ruth Sandwell, about Canadian Mysteries. We talk about how they put together the mysteries, the site’s audience, and the Franklin Exhibition. We recorded the episode right before the launch of the Franklin Exhibition mystery at Library and Archives Canada.
Sean Graham is a William Lyon Mackenzie King post-doctoral fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University where he studies the history of Canadian broadcasting and the CBC. He is an editor at Activehistory.ca and host/producer of the History Slam Podcast. Like any red-blooded Canadian his ultimate dream is to be a curling champion while living on a diet of beer and poutine.