Digital history is coming to York University in Fall 2016. That is to say, I finally got around to organizing and preparing to teach digital history. As I get ready to teach this course, I am surveying the landscape of digital history teaching in Canada, looking for ideas. Readers of this article, I hope, will help by posting suggestions and links to resources in the comments below.
For many years now, I have integrated digital history skills, assignments, and exercises into my history courses. Continue reading →
Active History is proud to present a video each week from New Directions in Active History. The conference took place at Huron University College on October 2-4, 2015 and brought together scholars, students, professionals and community members to discuss a wide range of topics pertaining to active history.
In this week’s video, Neil Orford, a history teacher in the Upper Grand District School Board, discusses a program he designed and implemented called the Digital Historian Project. The Digital Historian Project attempts to tie together history and math through a blended learning environment. In this video Neil outlines his motivations as well as the program’s core vision. He also discusses the challenges faced in running this program, and how integrating an “outside the box” historical and mathematical outlook creates a positive learning environment in which most of the participants will thrive. Using an online database, the program is taught at the local museum in Dufferin County, emphasizing the necessary relationship he has built with his municipality and local museum. This innovative approach to teaching history has garnered support from international organizations. His students were selected to be youth representatives at the 71st D-Day Memorial service in Normandy. Through this program, Neil has hoped to offer history and math in a richer and more involved environment in order to stimulate self-driven interest in history.
I am not, by any stretch, a specialist in the First World War, but I did have an experience in lecturing and writing about the war that really brought home to me the importance of how we treat history. Though as historians we often think, write, and teach about history at a distance – it is the past, after all – history can reach through the expanse of time to teach us an important lesson in takingcare of history. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
This April, historian and professor Kenneth C. Dewar arrived at Carleton University’s History Department to launch his new book, Frank Underhill and the Politics of Ideas. The room was bustling with students and professors all chatting as we waited for the talk to begin. The subject of Dewar’s book was of particular interest here. Not only did Frank H. Underhill (1889-1971) teach at Carleton, the historian’s donated collection of books and journals still line the walls of the reading room named in his honour, and the annual graduate and undergraduate colloquiums bear the Underhill name. But Dewar’s discussion ventured in directions beyond the biographical; he spoke of the intellectual and political climate of Underhill’s time. What was so truly remarkable about the afternoon’s discussion was that it also encouraged a conversation regarding present-day politics. Continue reading →
At the beginning of November I was asked to join a panel entitled “No One is International” as part of Huron College’s Centre for Global Studies‘s symposium “Critically Engaging: Global Awareness in the Academy.” As I considered the panel’s title, and the broader purpose for the conference (to critically engage with the meaning of “internationalization” for the college), I decided to frame my reflections around a central question related to my work as a historian of Canada: What does it mean to teach Canadian history (that is, the history of the nation-state) from a non-national perspective? Continue reading →
Canadians and their Pasts was a SSHRC-funded Community-University Research Alliance project, involving seven co-investigators from six different universities and a dozen community partners. At its core was a systematic survey of 3,419 Canadians on their engagement with and attitudes toward the past. Its key findings are discussed in a recently released book Canadians and their Pasts exploring the rise of a public historical consciousness in the years since the Centennial of Confederation in 1967 and analyzing how Canadians’ responded to the survey’s seventy questions based on age, culture, education, ethnicity, gender, and language, etc. This brief note restricts itself to a few observations on questions bearing directly on “Historical Thinking” among adult Canadians in their everyday practices of thinking about the past. Over the course of the project several conferences and symposia explored aspects of the project, many of them listed on its web site. Continue reading →
Collectively, historians’ work consists of constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing a vast edifice of knowledge about which generalizations and synthesis will vary according to the purposes of the historians and the audiences to whom they are directing any particular manifestation of their work. Historians tend to identify their work exclusively with their purposes and audiences as specialist scholars. But if history is a dialogue amongst people about the interpretation of meaningful evidence left over from the past, that dialogue occurs not only in our published articles and at scholarly conferences, but also in our undergraduate teaching. And it is through teaching, not writing, that historians reach what is certainly our largest, and what may be our most important, audience: undergraduate students. Continue reading →
Plaque on the Last Chance Saloon in Wayne, Alberta. Photo: C. Peck, 2013.
Curriculum reform is an enormous and expensive undertaking. Educational jurisdictions across Canada regularly engage in curriculum renewal, investing time, energy and a great deal of money into redesigning curricula to reflect current research, trends and societal priorities in teaching and learning. In Canada, history (and social studies) curricula are no exception, and currently much work is being done across the country to revise how history is taught and assessed in kindergarten through to grade twelve.
But changes to history and social studies curricula do not automatically lead to changes in teaching and learning. Why not? Doesn’t it automatically follow that if curricular content changes, then what is taught and learned will also change? No, it doesn’t.
As part of Active History’s Historical Thinking Week, the History Slam Podcast looked into how history is taught in high school. To do this, I traveled to an Ontario high school and spoke with both students and teachers about the challenges of teaching history in 2014 and some of the strategies used to get students interested in the past. While everyone had different opinions on what worked and what didn’t, there was unanimity on one point: the material must be presented in an engaging manner.
In the first part of this three-part episode, I talk with a grade 10 student about her changing perception of history. That is followed by my chat with a grade 12 student who is interested in teaching history as a career. The final part features my conversation with two teachers about teaching history, the methods they use in their classes, and the barriers to reaching students. We also discuss the content vs. skills debate and the pros and cons of digital tools in the classroom. Continue reading →