Quebec History Curriculum: Un programme tout en incohérences

This month’s post on Quebec’s history curriculum was written by Catherine Déry, a PhD candidate at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. Click here for an English translation: Quebec History Curriculum: A Program with Inconsistencies


Au Québec, en septembre 2016, un nouveau programme d’Histoire du Québec et du Canada entre en vigueur en troisième secondaire. Le programme, applicable sur deux ans, couvre chronologiquement la période de 1500 à aujourd’hui. Quinze ans après l’application du renouveau pédagogique, introduisant une perspective socioconstructiviste et l’évaluation par compétences, et neuf ans après l’entrée en vigueur du programme d’Histoire et éducation à la citoyenneté au deuxième cycle du secondaire, qu’est-ce qui justifie une nouvelle réforme du programme de deuxième cycle? Pourquoi ce programme fait-il l’objet de débats animés dans la sphère publique alors que celui du premier cycle n’a jamais soulevé les passions?

Dans un collectif paru récemment, Éthier, Boutonnet, Demers et Lefrançois (2017) analysent et critiquent le nouveau programme d’Histoire du Québec et du Canada. Ce changement de programme en histoire au Québec a été à la fois le résultat et le déclencheur de débats concernant le sens de l’histoire et les finalités de son enseignement (Éthier et Lefrançois, 2017). Seul le programme d’histoire nationale a été ciblé parce qu’il est à l’intersection des demandes sociales concernant la mémoire collective, l’identité et la citoyenneté ainsi que la pensée critique. Continue reading

A Provoking Sort of Puzzle:  The Narrative of a Soviet Tour

By Kirk Niergarth

This post is part of a series, a virtual tour of the Depression-era Soviet Union, in part through the eyes of Canadians who traveled there and, in part, through Kirk Niergarth’s eyes as he attempted to retrace some of their steps during a trip to Russia in 2014. The previous installments are available here and here

In retrospect, my linguistic preparation for my Russian journey was woefully inadequate.  My online “learn to speak Russian” lessons were not especially effective in real-world application.  Even when I could formulate an appropriate question I very rarely understand the answer without elaborate miming.

My limited ability to communicate with ordinary Russians was not unlike that of many Canadians who traveled to the Soviet Union during the Depression.  Some, such as Toronto social worker Margaret Gould, spoke Russian fluently; others, such as the agricultural expert Andrew Cairns, had enough knowledge of the language to engage in conversation.

For most visitors, however, conversations with Soviet citizens were mediated by an interpreter or guide.  These guides in most cases, were provided by one of the Soviet tourist agencies, Intourist or VOKS. The scholar/journalist Ella Smith hired her own interpreter in England to travel with her for her second research expedition to the Soviet Union in 1932, but she was an exceptional case.

I had more conversations with other tourists with whom I took English-language guided walking tours than with ordinary Muscovites, comparing notes with a meat-packing executive from Italy, a crew from a Korean airline, and a honeymooning couple from England (odd as it might seem in retrospect, Eric and Josepha Adams of Montreal spent their honeymoon in the Soviet Union in the summer of 1934).

Certainly Canadian travelers in the 1930s were likewise sharing their experience with other tourists, whose expectations and impressions might influence their own. Continue reading

Podcast: Recolonizing Confederation: Indigenous Policy and the Making of Canada

On April 22, 2017, Brian Gettler delivered his talk “Recolonizing Confederation: Indigenous Policy and the Making of Canada.” The talk was part of “The Other 60s: A Decade that Shaped Canada and the World,” a symposium hosted by the Department of History at the University of Toronto as part of its Canada 150 events.

This talk is part of our History Chats podcast series. You can subscribe to the History Chats feed wherever you get your podcasts.

Teaching the Work Process and “Deskilling” with the Paper Airplane Game

Classic Paper Airplane

Classic Paper Airplane

Mark Leier

Understanding that the division of labour as a function of class and power rather than technology and efficiency is crucial to understanding historical and contemporary capitalism.  Because the division of labour is fundamental to capitalism, practically everyone who works has some familiarity with it. We can use the ‘Paper Airplane Game’ as a way to draw on that individual experience and have some fun while teaching about labour and capitalism.

The division of labour is so important to capitalism that Adam Smith begins The Wealth of Nations with it, observing “The greatest improvements in the productive powers of labour… seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.” His well-known example of the pin factory then demonstrates how artisans were replaced by workers, each confined to one small task, the work “divided into about eighteen distinct operations.” Smith, however, was also keenly aware of the terrible effects of such work, noting

In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of… the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations; frequently to one or two….The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations….generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.[i]

Karl Marx too observed this dual nature of the division of labour. While the gains in productivity were undeniable, he pointed out that

The division of labour, introduced by capital and continually increased, compels the workers to compete among themselves….As the division of labour increases, labour is simplified. The special skill of the labourer becomes worthless. He becomes transformed into a simple, monotonous productive force that does not have to use intense bodily or intellectual faculties. His labour becomes a labour that anyone can perform…. Therefore, as labour becomes more unsatisfying, more repulsive, competition increases and wages decrease.[ii]

In Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, Harry Braverman shows how the labour of people as diverse as machinists, clerical workers, and retail servers has been divided and deskilled. This process has only intensified since Braverman’s book was published in 1974, and readers of will be keenly aware of how university administrators make full use of it.[iii]

One way to demonstrate the nature of power and class in the division of labour is with a revised version of the “Paper Airplane Simulation” by William Bigelow and Norman Diamond in The Power in Our Hands: A Curriculum on the History of Work and Workers in the United States. The game can be completed in 50 minutes or over a longer period. My version goes like this:
Continue reading

History Slam Episode 116: History’s Future

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By Sean Graham

For the past three days, historians from across the country have been gathered in Regina for the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association. In the past, we have done recap episodes following Congress to highlight some of the trends that are shaping the profession. In essence, Congress has served as a spring cleaning of sorts, where we can get a fresh sense of history and its future.

While the podcast was unable to travel to Regina this year, I wanted to highlight some new trends in historical scholarship. Fortunately, Professor John Bonnett of Brock University was recently the keynote speaker at the University of Ottawa’s public history open house. In discussing the ‘animal turn’ in history, Professor Bonnett highlighted some of the opportunities presented to historians not only by this new approach, but also by digitization, big data, and VR.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Professor Bonnett about history’s future. We talk about the animal turn, ascribing sentience to all living things, and the challenges this presents to the humanities. We also talk about how this challenges traditional historical methods, how historians can incorporate this into their work, and how students respond to these changing approaches. We finish the show by talking about big data and VR’s influence on history, how this will change the historical profession, and the difference between micro and macro histories. As an added bonus, we also answer the age-old question of why Harold Innis is so hard to read.

Continue reading

Lessons from High School: Assessing Differently in the University Classroom

Black and white classroom filled with wooden desks.

High school classroom, 1901. Public Domain Image.

Janis Thiessen

I taught high school students for a decade and a half before my current university career. I obtained my B.Ed. in the early 1990s, at the height of K-12 educators’ interest in constructivism and alternative assessment. The phrase “alternative assessment” was eventually replaced by “authentic assessment” and finally the term became simply “assessment” (at least at the K-12 level). The change in terminology reflected a change in understanding: alternatives to traditional paper-and-pencil testing should not be considered “alternatives” but as central methods of assessing students. Those methods should be “authentic” in that they reflect actual real-world (i.e., outside of school) tasks, and should require the demonstration or performance of skills. As these ideas increasingly became the norm among secondary school teachers, the adjectives “alternative” and “authentic” fell away.

And so when I taught high school chemistry, I replaced the final paper-and-pen examination that required calculations and recall of memorized facts with a final multi-day unstructured lab activity. In my grade eleven courses, students were given a list of 20-30 chemicals, and then provided an unlabeled sample of one of them. They were required to research the physical and chemical properties of the list of chemicals, perform appropriate tests of their own choosing on their unknown sample, and thereby determine its identity. In so doing, they demonstrated their ability to research, experiment, and draw conclusions. My grade twelve students were given a hydrated salt whose identity they had to determine by evaporating away its water content. They, too, were required to generate their own lab process.

Yet when I began teaching university history students, I reverted to tests and final exams. When I found myself in April grading not only an end-of-term research essay but also three essays from the exam each student had written, I realized something had to change. I did not need four essays at the end of the year to determine whether students had acquired the skills the course was designed to teach them. Nor was there much value in my writing comments and offering suggestions for improvement on exams that would not be returned, or on final essays that most students would choose not to pick up.

So I have stopped giving exams in my university History courses. Continue reading

“So, What Will That Get You?”

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This post is one of several discussing the 2018 annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association at the University of Regina, May 28-30, 2018.

Carly Ciufo

When I decided to pursue a PhD in history, I did not intend to remain in academia. Although now I sometimes daydream of being on the tenure-track, it’s hard to realistically envision a future where I will be able to make a stable living as an academic.

Before returning to university in 2016, I was happily working in museums, archives, and libraries across the country. I was collaborating with people, listening to their stories, and seeking out content for some incredibly interesting collections and exhibitions. It was everything I wanted my life as a historian to be.

But every now and then, I would be hit with the hard reality that contract-to-contract life was getting harder and harder to keep up. I could not move ahead in the work that I loved when competing applicants were equipped with the doctorate degree that I did not have. So, I started my PhD in the hopes that the degree would make me more competitive and better prepared for the secure senior research and curator positions that I desired.

Alas, becoming a historian is not so straightforward.

Now finishing up my second year of doctoral studies, it has become increasingly apparent that my post-graduate life will not be so seamless. Graduate students are regularly abandoning their degrees unfinished; some, with their PhD in hand, are leaving academia behind altogether for decidedly non-academic routes. Whether I choose to stay in or leave the university for research in the arts, culture, and heritage industry, these trends make me think that contract employment and precariousness may very well remain my only constant.

Can any professional historian position realistically offer me the job security and permanence that I desire? And, to that end, how can history department cultures change to promote professional roles beyond the tenure-track professorships that today’s universities can rarely support? Continue reading

Podcast: Why We Shouldn’t Talk About Confederation in 2017

On April 22, 2017, Steve Penfold delivered his talk “Why We Shouldn’t Talk About Confederation in 2017.” The talk was part of “The Other 60s: A Decade that Shaped Canada and the World,” a symposium hosted by the Department of History at the University of Toronto as part of its Canada 150 events.

This talk is part of our History Chats podcast series. You can subscribe to the History Chats feed wherever you get your podcasts.

Where Knowledge Resides: Strong Indigenous Women and Experiential Education/Zhiiweh temguck kinoomaadziiwnun: Zoongaabwewuk Anishinaabe Kwek miinwaa niinda kendaan’naa ah kinomaadziiwnun

Nunda ezhibiigaadegin d’goh biigaadehknown ezhi debaahdedek nungwa manda neebing Mnidoo Mnising Neebing gah Bizh’ezhiwaybuck zhaazhi  gonda behbaandih kenjih’gehjik.

This essay is part of an ongoing series reflecting on this summer’s Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute (MISHI).

By Violet King

I came to Manitoulin Island as a part of MISHI not knowing what to expect. As a person of Mi’kmaw ancestry living away from my territory, I often feel a strong sense of dislocation in my day-to-day life. University and academic settings are no different. MISHI, however, was a different kind of academic setting, drastically different than every other institutional educational experience I have experienced. My days on Manitoulin Island were spent getting to know different parts of the land, gratefully listening to Anishaabeg stories and teachings, experiencing their art, and hearing their histories.

Violet King untangling sweet grass in the ruins of the priest’s house in WIkwemikong.

I came to Manitoulin Island and joined MISHI at the very end of my degree from York University. Learning some of my own history and the histories of other nations in an institutional setting was difficult at times. However, I am grateful to have studied under a few incredible professors who were generous with their time and offered me inspiring examples of academic vigor and personal integrity.

So much of academic learning is a solo mission, and much of my learning has taken place between stacks of books and searching online archives and journals. Continue reading

From Wanting In to Opting Out: Home Sewing and Fashion Then and Now

My mom’s first project was cut from this pattern.

Cayley Bower

I’m a third generation home sewist.[i] My grandmother lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War—the height of the make do and mend movement—and made clothes for herself and her family with such skill that they were indistinguishable from store-bought items yet came at a fraction of the cost. My mother started sewing in 1970 at age 11 when it became clear that the family’s clothing budget couldn’t possibly keep up with her desire to dress like Goldie Hawn on Laugh In. My mom remembers her first project vividly: After choosing a pattern (a shift dress with short sleeves and a Peter Pan collar) she laid out the paper pattern pieces and cut the fabric—the dress was made from fabric salvaged from the skirt of one of my grandma’s old dresses—and then sewed the pieces together, though she had to pick out the side seam and re-sew it eleven times before it was straight. In the end, though, she got the Goldie Hawn dress of her dreams and the skills to have a wardrobe of fashion-forward clothes at a fraction of the cost of store-bought. My mother, like countless women, since the sewing machine first emerged for sale over a hundred years before, sewed her own clothes so that she could participate in and gain entry into a consumer fashion market that was beyond her financial means.

The desire for fashionable clothes that were otherwise prohibitively expensive was a significant motivation for home sewing from its inception in the 1860s and 70s until the early 1990s when foreign manufacturing made ready-to-wear fashion dramatically cheaper. When I started sewing in the early 2000s, the pastime was thoroughly passé, but this has changed in recent years as sewing has experienced a resurgence. This resurgence, however, comes with a major shift; home sewing appears to be characterized less by women wanting into the consumer fashion market and more about opting out.

A graded pattern has multiple sizes on the same pattern.

Using fashion as an expression of class and individual taste is nothing new.   Continue reading