From Learning to Cite To Learning To Write: Using Zotero in the Classroom

This post by Andrea Davis originally appeared on The American Historical Association’s Perspectives On History.  

Learning Management Systems (LMSs) have become ubiquitous in higher education. In online and traditional courses, instructors regularly use LMSs to post syllabi, house readings, facilitate student engagement, and provide feedback and grades. As these practices have become routine, digital pedagogues Sean Michael Morris and George Veletsianos remind us to interrogate the values and objectives of the university LMS. Rather than have us adopt its logic without question, they urge us to make critical decisions about our course platforms. I did exactly that in my undergraduate methods course, Practice of History, by repurposing Zotero as a course platform to help students achieve specific learning outcomes.

Practice of History is a required course for history majors at Arkansas State University, designed to prepare students for upper-level courses. As it stands in the curriculum, the course’s main objectives are to teach students how to find, evaluate, and cite sources, and how to use primary and secondary source evidence to construct interpretations that engage with historiographical conversations. These learning goals—combined with my commitment to preparing students for our predominantlypost-print world—led me to Zotero, a free and open-source research and bibliographic management system developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

Although marketed as “easy-to-use,” Zotero can be challenging for students. Without an understanding of how the different system applications and plugins work together, it can be difficult to figure out how and where to complete discrete tasks. Navigating Zotero is not the only challenge. Conceptually, it can be difficult to get students to buy in to the program if they have not yet developed a thorough understanding of the research process.

I alleviated these challenges by repurposing Zotero as a course platform. The course was divided into three modules: “Approaches to Historical Writing,” where students had low-stakes opportunities to familiarize themselves with Zotero’s online application while reviewing foundational historical skills; “Developing a Research Paper,” where students learned additional facets of the program while completing individual research papers; and “Communicating Research to a Public Audience,” where students built upon the digital skills that they had developed throughout the course to create interactive Medium postsbased on their research.

A screenshot of the “Course Resources” folder for the course Practice of History, fall 2018.

Image 1: A screenshot of the “Course Resources” folder for the course Practice of History, fall 2018.

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“Seeing Refugees”: Using Old Photographs to Gain New Perspectives on Refugees, Past and Present

Serbia, 1919 (image described in detail below),

Sonya de Laat

In the summer of 2018 an unprecedented number of people claiming to be refugees crossed into Canada at unofficial border points. Many Canadians learned of these events through photographs and other visual media circulating through the popular commercial press. Responding to such images, public reaction in Canada has been mixed. While some people support actions aimed at helping these families and individuals, others have sensationalized the situation by labelling it a “crisis” and calling border crossers as “illegals” or “cue jumpers.”

It is not the photographs on their own that have contributed to this ambivalence, since “photographs are mute”.[1] Photographs take their meaning from the words around them: captions, news anchor statements, accompanying articles, or even the “narrative templates in our own minds.”[2] Responses such as those that surfaced this summer are not new. Indeed, they are reflective of a historical pattern of response towards refugees over the past century. Looking at one set of photographs from that era can give us another perspective on current debates and remind us of the powerful role photography plays in mediating social relations.

There’s a little-known collection of photographs made by Lewis Hine for the American Red Cross (ARC) at the tail end and immediately following the Great War, 1918-1919. Continue reading

Provincializing Europe in Canadian History; Or, How to Talk about Relations between Indigenous Peoples and Europeans

Theodor de Bry from America, 1634 (image discussed later in this post).

Paige Raibmon

(Editor’s note : This piece was updated with footnotes, including one making explicit its reference to the work of postcolonial theorist Dipesh Chakrabarty. A shortened version of this piece first appeared in

When I received the manuscript, I was excited to dive in. The subject was close to my heart. This was to be a new grade four text book focused on early relations between Indigenous peoples and Europeans, a topic I have taught at the university for close to 20 years. I had been asked to join the editorial team to help with the work in progress.

I am a settler, the mother of two daughters. We live, go to school, and work on land. That is to say: the have never ceded or surrendered their rightful title to these lands that they have inhabited for millennia. Put another way, the settler state has never acquired rightful title to these lands that it has occupied for the past century and a half.

In 2015, the Province of British Columbia began to overhaul—in its words “modernize”—what and how, children are taught in kindergarten through grade twelve. The new curriculum is reoriented around critical thinking and key competencies (skills) that are integrated across the subjects. It uses this approach to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to educate students about the histories and cultures of Indigenous peoples.

These changes are big improvements. But, I wondered, what would they actually look like? And so, as I say, when a publisher invited my assistance, I eagerly accepted. The timing was right. My older daughter had just begun grade four. Perhaps my younger daughter would use this book in a couple of years.

The manuscript proved instructive in unanticipated ways. It provided a guide to the ways that harmful, outdated assumptions lurk within common words and phrases that we take for granted. This means that we can perpetuate these assumptions unwittingly. And, it means we can begin to challenge them by bringing attention to the language we use.

There was plenty to admire about the manuscript. Its content was rich. It tackled topics many texts and teachers have long avoided, including the intentional spread of smallpox-infected blankets by the British. It went beyond token insertion of a few Indigenous names. It drew from illuminating oral and written accounts to highlight the active role of Indigenous actors.

I realized that although there was a lot about the past in it, the draft was not yet adequately historical. I mean by this that the book presented as universal concepts and ideas that are specific to particular times and places. Another way to put this is that the draft text did not yet adequately provincialize the actors and concepts at play. To “provincialize” is to strip away the mask of universality that covers the true nature of the European-derived concepts, ideas, and practices.¹

This matters because hierarchies of value are embedded within the terms and categories we use. Continue reading

Chanie Wenjack and the Histories of Residential Schooling We Remember

Today, 23 October, is the 52nd anniversary of Chanie Wenjack’s death. Chanie (misnamed Charlie by his teachers) was a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy who, along with two other classmates, ran away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ontario in October 1966. Fleeing the school’s abusive environment, Wenjack tried to make it home to Ogoki Post in northern Ontario, a 600-kilometer journey on foot. He did not make it. Instead, he died of exposure. A CN engineer discovered Wenjack’s body on the side of the railway track.

Chanie Wenjack

The anniversary of Wenjack’s death offers an opportunity to reflect on what historian Adele Perry calls the “histories we remember” about colonialism generally and residential schooling and Wenjack in particular.[1] As the new CBC documentary, Finding the Secret Path, demonstrates, for many Canadians Wenjack’s story will forever be linked to Gord Downie, the lead singer of the Tragically Hip. After being diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer that would eventually claim his life, Downie committed his final years to producing Secret Path, a multimedia project (album, graphic novel, and animated film) to popularize Wenjack’s story. Finding the Secret Path advances the narrative that it was a dying Downie who used his star power to blow the lid off Wenjack’s story to force Canadians to grapple with reconciliation.

Though Secret Path has increased popular knowledge of Wenjack’s story and residential schools, it is important to remember that it is neither the first nor the only project to attempt to do so. Fifty years before, journalists and musicians tried to bring attention to Wenjack’s story and the horrors of residential schooling. Yet these projects have more or less been forgotten; they are not part of the history we remember. A closer look at earlier attempts to shine a spotlight on Wenjack complicates the ways we remember residential school history and poses an unsettling question: why, when some people in the 1960s and 1970s knew about Wenjack and the devastating effects of residential schooling, did the system remain in operation for another thirty years?

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Pragmatic Precarity: Some Qualitative Reflections

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By Andrea Terry

Strikes at post-secondary institutions across Canada have drawn considerable attention to issues affecting Contract Academic Staff (CAS).[1] Seemingly, in line with these developments, scholarly associations have commissioned research studies to explore the effects of institutions’ ever-growing reliance on this particular demographic.

Kasia Piech, Untitled, ceramics, 2013. Reproduced with permission.

On September 4, 2018, the Canadian Association of University Teachers/Association Canadienne des professeures et professeurs d’université (CAUT) released the results and the final research report – written by Dr. Karen Foster of Dalhousie University and Dr. Louise Birdsell Bauer, CAUT’s Research Officer – of its national survey of over 2,600 CAS workers at universities across Canada. In an interview with the CAUT Bulletin issued the same month as the report, Foster states,

[W]hen you start seeing contract jobs that are packages of courses – more courses than a tenure-track or permanent faculty member would want to teach – and they go on for longer than a year, they are not stepping-stone jobs, they are not temporary gap fillers, but are ways to extract more labour out of one person for less money, usually under conditions that are unsustainable for the person doing the work….The effects of job insecurity are far greater than most people appreciate until they’re in that situation….Not being able to plan into the future has a debilitating effect [on Contract Academic Staff]: they feel isolated, that it’s their fault, and that they’re failing loved ones by not being able to provide for them.

In this post, at the beginning of CAUT’s Fair Employment Week, I’d like to share my own CAS narrative, to personalize the facts, a practical strategy recommended by Erin Wunker so that CAS workers might support their peers. Continue reading

Juno to Victory: A Call for Blog Posts

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June 6th, 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Canada’s role on Juno Beach, and the beginning of the victory campaign in northwest Europe. The Canadian Army lost 359 men on D-Day alone. What followed was a deadly, attritional struggle known as the Battle of Normandy. Even after over 100,000 casualties and with their armies in full retreat to the French border, Nazi Germany remained a stubborn foe. It was not until 11 months after D-Day, in May 1945, that Adolf Hitler lay dead in his bunker and the Germans agreed to an unconditional surrender.

In partnership with, the Juno Beach Centre Association is seeking blog posts on the history, memory, and legacy of Juno Beach and the victory campaign in Europe. Posts on the social and cultural impacts of the war; on battlefield tourism now and in the past; on the role of women, francophones, non-British or Indigenous peoples; on the war and popular culture in Canada; on teaching or applying historical thinking concepts; or on active public history initiatives will be of particular interest to the editorial team.

Perhaps you will want to discuss the relationship of the Canadian Army or its soldiers with the civilian populations in France, Belgium, Holland, and/or Germany. Maybe authors will reflect on a recent pilgrimage to a site of memory that has personal meaning. Others may choose to examine how Canadian soldiers, sailors, and airmen reacted to the news of the end of the war in Europe. Operational or diplomatic histories will also be considered.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us about a blog post idea! Contributions should be submitted as Word documents or in any other easily convertible format. They should be between 800 and 1200 words in length and include citations where necessary. For examples, see Canada’s First World War: A Centennial Series on Submissions are welcome through to May 8th, 2020, the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. Accepted contributions will be posted on a regular basis. Those accepted may also be invited to be guests on Juno Beach and Beyond: Canada’s Second World War Podcast. Submit your posts to The editorial team will review all submissions for clarity and appropriateness of subject matter.

Teaching Environmental History through Field Trips

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Heather Green

One of my greatest pleasures in studying environmental history is the ability to get outside of the office and connect with the landscapes that I study. This connection with place is essential in researching environmental history, and at the University of Alberta, myself, Dr. Liza Piper, and PhD Candidate Hereward Longley wanted to provide this opportunity for students to engage with what they were studying in the classroom on a more practical level. Last April, we co-organized a weekend-long field trip to Jasper National Park for students in Dr. Piper’s HIST 460 / 660 “Histories of the Rocky Mountains” course, which examined histories of the Rocky Mountains drawing on primary source materials and secondary literature from environmental history, studies of parks and protected areas, Indigenous history, and recreation and tourism studies. Dr. Daniel Sims with the University of Alberta Augustana campus and two of his students also joined us for the weekend.

The Rocky Mountains

The Rocky Mountains in Jasper National Park. Photo by H. Green.

Our goals were to critically engage students with history outside the classroom and to actively engage in learning. We broke down our pedagogical purposes for the trip into three categories:

  • The field trip allowed students opportunities to witness some of the changes they had studied in the classroom first-hand. For example, they had studied the impacts of strip mining in class and the field trip included a tour of Teck coal mines. In seeing these changes on the ground, students could think about the value of field research (as opposed to archival research) in the study of history.
  • The trip introduced students to skills and methods specific to seeing historical change in present day “wilderness” landscapes. One excellent example of this was a repeat photography workshop organized by Dr. Mary Sanseverino with the Mountain Legacy Project.
  • Finally, the trip allowed students to meet with different groups and individuals with significant interests in, and impacts on, Jasper National Park and the adjacent foothills and to understand more directly the multiple competing perspectives that shape the past and present of these places.

The field trip took place over a three-day weekend and included a mix of presentations and experiential learning. For the full itinerary, you can check out the trip schedule on Liza Piper’s website here. The evening before departure we began with a fantastic talk from Dr. Mary Sanseverino with the University of Victoria and the Mountain Legacy Project; the talk discussed the history of photographing mountain landscapes and the uses of photography to capture environmental change over time. Dr. Sanseverino pushed students to ask themselves to what extent can images speak for themselves? Her talk included examples of her work with the Mountain Legacy Project team and highlighted the ways in which images (and maps) are products of the photographer’s thoughts and views, and, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were often produced with a colonial mind-set. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 123: Reconsidering Confederation

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By Sean Graham

In the lead up to Canada 150 last July, there was no shortage of projects looking at Canada’s political history. One of my favourites was the Confederation Debates project. With a massive team, the project organized, scanned, and digitized thousands of documents related to each province and territory’s entry into Confederation. From there, they created a wide variety of content, including interactive maps that allow you to see what the Confederation concerns were where you live, a Confederation quote of the day, and lesson plans for teachers.

A further extension of that project is the new book Reconsidering Confederation: Canada’s Founding Debates, 1864-1999. Edited by Daniel Heidt, it features an impressive lineup of historians exploring the debates and discussions that surrounded each province’s entry to Confederation. While each chapter focuses on a different province/territory, certain universal issues in Canadian history continue to appear, thus challenging concepts of identity while highlighting some of the core issues that have always existed in this country.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Daniel about the book. We talk about the Confederation Debates project, the team he assembled, and approaches to understanding Confederation. We also chat about Canada as a political entity, concepts of Canadian identity, and what an examination of Confederation tells us about contemporary Canada.

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Caucasian Complexities: White Ethnicity and the Politics of Ultimate Fighting

Vladimir Putin with Conor McGregor, 2018. Instagram.

Travis Hay & Angie Wong

On the 6th of October, the trash-talking Irish superstar and mixed martial artist Conor McGregor was handed a very one-sided loss in his fight with Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov – a white Muslim man raised in the Dagestani mountains of the Caucus region. When the match was stopped in the fourth round to save McGregor from Nurmagomedov’s relentless combination of grappling and striking (known colloquially as ‘ground and pound’), a melee broke out, which has since become the talk of the sports world. In short, the reason for the melee had to do with McGregor’s antagonizing in the lead up to the fight: Conor called Nurmagomedov a “backwards c— and a “smelly Dagestani rat”; McGregor also accused Khabib’s father of being a “quivering coward” for associating with Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov.[1] Somewhat alarmingly, heads of state were very present within and around the fight: for example, Conor McGregor was reported and photographed as the personal guest of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 2018 World Cup, which added to the tensions surrounding the coming match given that Nurmagomedov fights under a Russian flag.[2] Further, in the aftermath of the fight  – that is, following Khabib’s victory and the subsequent melee in which members of Nurmagomedov’s team jumped into the octagon to attack McGregor – Putin defended Khabib and his team’s aggressive post-fight behavior. Just this week, video emerged of Putin telling both Khabib and his father: “If we are attacked from the outside…we could all jump in such a way … there could be hell to pay.”[3]

It is perhaps unsurprising that the McGregor-Nurmagomedov fiasco emerges as a major cultural moment in the wake of conspiracy theories and political controversies surrounding Russian interference in western political affairs. Adding to this complex configuration of white ethnicity, Russian-Dagestani-Chechen relations, and symbolic masculinities is the fact that UFC President Dana White is a well-known friend and supporter of Donald Trump. White sponsored the American president in his electoral bid for office – declaring loudly in a speech at the Republican National Convention of 2016 that “Donald Trump is a fighter! And I know he will fight for this country!”[4] Similarly, the construction and popular image of Vladimir Putin as a ‘fighter’ has been bolstered by his widely reported capabilities in the Russian combat sport of Sambo.[5] Continue reading

Plains Injustice: Tipi Camps and Settler Responses to Indigenous Presence on the Prairies (Part 3)

This is the third and final article in a series that places the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp in Regina into historical contexts of tipi camps and settler responses to Indigenous presence on the prairies. The previous two articles can be found (here) and (here). 

In direct contrast to the opposition to the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp, a tipi sits on display on the Saskatchewan Legislature grounds one year earlier, as part of Canada 150 celebrations.
(Photo by computer_saskboy on Flickr. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Part Three: The Legacy of White Hegemony and the Future of Reconciliation

By Stephanie Danyluk and Katya MacDonald

As the previous essays in this series have established, Indigenous people in tipis on public lands is nothing new. Nor is it a new phenomenon when settlers seek to have Indigenous presence or absence conform to our own short-term goals. The Justice for Our Stolen Children camp was set up as a way for participants to claim agency and representation in important contemporary issues, but these issues hold deep historical roots.

The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called on settlers to help foster reconciliation and address these past and present wrongs. But as we are reminded by requests to display tipis at celebratory events, these well-intentioned efforts at inclusion do not automatically fulfill goals of reconciliation. As political scientist Rita Dhamoon has argued, multiculturalism, as a Canadian value, has in fact served to regulate non-white society, because it ignores questions of power and racism.[1] Without the historical contexts for tipi camps, the tipis remain the same ahistorical symbol of nationhood they were expected to be during invited events like Pion-Era, or more recent Canada Day celebrations. A deeper understanding of Indigenous experiences of tipi camps reveals that settler and Indigenous goals for these spaces have often been different, yet the public narrative has been driven largely by settler interests and understandings.

Indigenous comedian Ryan McMahon has emphasized that decolonization is ultimately about land.[2] The tipi encampments at the Saskatchewan legislature reinforce that idea on both micro and macro levels. Continue reading