By Tom Peace
I first encountered the History Education Network (THEN/HiER) in late 2009, when Jennifer Bonnell, the graduate student coordinator at the time, approached Active History about the potential for coordinating a workshop series in Toronto focused on teaching history. Over the intervening months we worked together towards the first in a series of events that brought together teachers, curators, professors and civil servants known as Approaching the Past. This was the beginning of a six-year partnership between Active History and THEN/HiER. At the end of the month, THEN/HiER’s mandate will draw to a close. I want to use this post to draw attention to our collaboration, some of its key moments, and the influence that Anne Marie Goodfellow, Jennifer Bonnell, Penney Clark and many others have had on ActiveHistory.ca and the Active History project more generally.
Before looking at our own relationship though, it is important to mark some of the achievements THEN/HiER has made over the past decade. With a mandate to bring together diverse practitioners whose work relates to history education, THEN/HiER has built a robust network connecting historical, pedagogical and curricular research with the teachers and civil servants shaping student learning and public policy. This is perhaps most evident in THEN/HiER’s monthly newsletters and diverse partnerships, but equally in the six books developed through the project (New Possibilities for the Past: Shaping History Education in Canada, Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology, Becoming a History Teacher: Sustaining Practices in Historical Thinking and Knowing, New Directions in Assessing Historical Thinking, Museums and the Past: Constructing Historical Consciousness, Historical F(r)ictions (forthcoming)).
Equally important, though, is the overlap with other important Canadian history projects. Ruth Sandwell, John Lutz and Peter Gossage, co-founders of THEN/HiER, are the creators of the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History website. Likewise, THEN/HiER board members Marg Conrad, Jocelyn Létourneau and Peter Seixas were key researchers on the influential Canadians and their Pasts project. As the director of the Centre for the Study of Historical Consciousness, Peter Seixas also oversaw the Historical Thinking Project, which wound up two years ago. The legacy of THEN/HiER is felt throughout the fields of history and history education.
Approaching the Past is perhaps where our interests coalesced and where Active History and THEN/HiER have had the most sustained interaction. Identifying a need in Toronto to bring together archivists, curriculum developers, curators, graduate students, professors and teachers, we sought to use this workshop, and the blog that developed from it (Teaching the Past), as a forum to build bridges between history-related professionals (click here for a summary of some workshops). During the two years that I was part of the team, we ran workshops at places like Black Creek Pioneer Village, Montgomery’s Inn, High Park, and Fort York, focusing on themes such as teaching history with artifacts, through place, with experiential education, and during moments of commemoration. Over time, Active History’s contribution to both projects declined as our editorial team moved away from Toronto, THEN/HiER expanded Approaching the Past to have national reach, and Teaching the Past formalized into THEN/HiER’s official blogging platform.
Where our involvement with Approaching and Teaching the Past seemingly declined, new projects emerged. THEN/HiER members have been active and frequent contributors to ActiveHistory.ca, sharing many posts between our two blogs (see here, here and here). In 2010, we partnered together with the Association for Canadian Studies and the Ontario History and Social Sciences Teachers’ Association to host a one-day workshop on teaching history in diverse venues (see Jennifer Bonnell’s summary here). In 2012, we collaborated with THEN/HiER and the Canadian Historical Association in hosting a public mini-conference at the CHA’s annual meeting focused on the commemoration of the War of 1812. Entitled “The War of 1812: Whose War Was it Anyway,” the event brought together teachers, heritage professionals, archivists, curators and activists to reflect on the bicentennial of the war and strategies for teaching about it. Two years ago, ActiveHistory.ca published a series of essays marking the end of The Historical Thinking Project, an allied project, tightly linked with THEN/HiER through HTP’s director Peter Seixas. Most recently, THEN/HiER generously supported New Directions in Active History.
This sustained engagement with THEN/HiER has kept our attention and focus on history education. One of our common goals has been to make the work of historians more accessible to the public (especially teachers and students). As ActiveHistory.ca has grown in size, and through the networks facilitated by THEN/HiER, it has become increasingly apparent that the short-essay format is one way to make our work more accessible. Over the past couple of years, we’ve heard stories about how our resources are being used in the classroom. There appears to be a pedagogical and curricular need in many university and high school classrooms for short, well-written and researched reflections on both the past and our practices as historians.
Understanding exactly how ActiveHistory.ca is being used in the classroom is something that we’re beginning to explore more formally. Our new features section, for example, currently includes a short list of teaching resources. We’d like to expand this list over the coming months and welcome any advice about resources you’ve found on our site that have proven effective in the classroom. Please send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the work of THEN/HiER wraps up, I’d like to conclude this post by publicly thanking THEN/HiER’s board for supporting our fruitful partnership. As a project run without an operating budget and managed by volunteers, ActiveHistory.ca has benefited greatly from THEN/HiER’s institutional backing. More specifically, I want to acknowledge THEN/HiER’s director Penney Clark and network manager Anne Marie Goodfellow. Personally, as someone whose research shifted towards the history of education over the course of our partnership, THEN/HiER’s network of scholars, Penney and Anne Marie have been important to my own scholarly formation. On behalf of the editorial board at ActiveHistory.ca, their counsel has also been important in shaping our joint-projects as well as Active History more generally. Thank you.
Tom Peace is an assistant professor of Canadian history at Huron University College and an editor at ActiveHistory.ca.