The Nation-State is not what we think it is: Teaching Canadian History from a non-national perspective

By Thomas Peace

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

Understanding Historical Thinking with Canadians and their Pasts

By Del Muise, Marg Conrad and Gerald Friesen,

cdns and pastsCanadians 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

Synthesis and Fragmentation: the Case of Historians as Undergraduate Teachers

By Ruth Sandwell

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

Historical Thinking and Teacher Professional Development: The Poor Cousin of Curriculum Reform

By Carla Peck

Plaque on the Last Chance Saloon in Wayne, Alberta. Photo Credit: Carla Peck, 2013.

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.

Allow me to explain. Continue reading

History Slam Episode Thirty-Six: Historical Thinking and Teaching History

By Sean Graham

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

A Matter of Time

Historical ThinkingBy Peter Seixas

For the Historical Thinking Project, 2013-14 was the best of times and the worst of times.

It was the best of times because two of Canada’s largest provinces made the most concrete and comprehensive headway in adapting the ideas of the Project for their curricula. Ontario implemented a new K-12 curriculum that embedded the historical thinking concepts as a core element of the history program. British Columbia released a draft social studies curriculum heading in much the same direction. As a result, the demands for professional development and materials in historical thinking have skyrocketed.

It was the worst of times because the Project, as it has taken shape over the past seven years, is coming to an end. Continue reading

Indigenous History in the Classroom: Four Principles, Four Questions

By Carolyn Podruchny 

Is teaching Indigenous history any different than teaching other histories? This question was posed to organizers of a day-long Teaching History Symposium on history, heritage, and education for Toronto area public school teachers, heritage experts, graduate students, and faculty members in the History Department at York University.[1] Rather than providing an answer, I suggest more questions to consider, and principles to guide decisions about teaching Indigenous history. I suspect that methods employed in teaching Indigenous histories can serve as a model for teaching about the histories of all peoples in the past.

I am a historian of Indigenous peoples and French colonists on the land that came to be known as Canada, and I specialize widely in histories of Anishinaabe, Cree, and Metis. I teach courses that are specific to Indigenous histories and general early Canadian or early North American histories that happen to include a majority of material that concerns Indigenous peoples. I do not have any Indigenous heritage myself, and I recognize my past as a descendent of Ukrainian immigrants on the Canadian prairies. I have benefitted from the system of colonialism implemented by the Canadian government, which dispossessed Indigenous peoples. My grandparents farmed on Cree, Anishinaabe, and Metis lands in western Manitoba (outside of Ethelbert and Ozerna); I grew up in Selkirk, Manitoba on the site of a former Anishinaabe community, the Peguis Band, which was relocated 160 km north in 1907.[2] Today I live on Mississauga land (in the town of Oakville), and I want to recognize that York University occupies lands that were once home to Mississaugas, other Anishinaabeg, Wendats, and Eries.[3]

Why am I acknowledging my ethnic heritage and history, and why do I remark on the past owners of the lands on which I live and work? I do so for three reasons. Continue reading

Music as a Gateway to Understanding Historical Practice

By Matenadaran [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsIn the mid-1990s, the music of the Wakami Wailers set me on the path to becoming a historian.  Singing the old songs from eastern Canada’s nineteenth-century lumber shanties, this group of former Ontario Parks workers instilled in me a sense of the past and its importance for understanding present realities.  By connecting some of Ontario’s premier provincial parks and province’s lumber industry, the Wailers encouraged me to consider the complex interconnection between logging and recreation in central Ontario (i.e. Muskoka and Algonquin Park).

I have come to realize over the decade and a half since I first discovered the Wailers that popular music can serve as a useful entry point for understanding the past.  This should not come as a surprise.  Approaches to teaching and learning, such as John Bigg’s SOLO taxonomy, emphasize the importance of understanding foundational concepts before higher order thinking can take place.  Popular culture serves as an easy way to establish these concepts by capitalizing on students’ everyday experience. Continue reading

Too Much Information: The Case for the Programming Historian

The Programming Historian

Depending on your vantage point, we have a looming opportunity – or a looming problem. Historical digital sources have reached a scale where they defy conventional analysis and now call out for computational analysis. The Internet Archive alone has 2.9 million texts, there are 2.6 million pages of historical newspapers archived at the Chronicling America site of the US Library of Congress, the McCord Museum at McGill University has over 80,000 historical photographs, and Google Books has now digitized fifteen million books out of their total goal of 130 million. Archives are increasingly committed to preserving cultural heritage materials in digital, rather than more traditional analog, forms. This is perhaps best exemplified in Canada by digitization priorities at Library and Archives Canada. The amount of accessible digital information continues to grow daily, making digital humanities projects increasingly feasible, and for that matter, necessary.

In this post, I will do two things. Firstly, I will give a sense of how much information is out there, and make the case for why Canadian historians need to start thinking about it. Secondly, I will introduce readers to the Programming Historian, a wonderful resources that at least puts you on the right track to a programming frame of mind. Continue reading

Announcement: Approaching the Past Workshop

The next Approaching the Past workshop is scheduled for Tuesday November 29th, from 5-7 pm at the Zion Schoolhouse, 1091 Finch Ave East, Toronto.  The theme of this workshop is Secret Lives: Affective Learning, Using drama to teach history.  The workshop features performances and demonstrations that integrate teaching history through historical drama.  The event is free, but please RSVP to approachingthepast-toronto.com.  Approaching the Past Workshops are sponsored by THEN/HIER, in partnership with the Archives of Ontario, the City of Toronto, ActiveHistory.ca and OHASSTA.