Queering Social Studies Education in New Brunswick

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By Casey Burkholder

During a late fall afternoon of syllabus writing, and distracted Googling, I came across the activist archival work of Dusty Green, who has developed the New Brunswick Queer Heritage Initiative (NBQHI). The NBQHI emerged after Dusty came across pictures donated to the New Brunswick Provincial Archives of rural New Brunswick boyfriends, Leonard and Cub, photographed between 1905 and 1940. Dusty remembers,

“Len and Cub broke things open for me, and got me really excited about queer history. Most provinces have an organization that actively seeks out queer content, because it’s important. It’s been actively suppressed by institutions and society at large for a really long time, so special archives or community archives have had to really come in and pick up the slack…archives are meant to represent the whole of a place. Queer people have always been here, and trying to fill those gaps is tricky work” (Chong, 2018, p. 25).

The practice of erasing the experiences and contributions of queer people in Canadian Social Studies Curricula is not limited to New Brunswick (For example, see also: Burrows, 2013; Crocco, 2001; Graphic History Collective, 2017; Lee, 2007; Maroney, 2016; Temple, 2005). To address the gaps in New Brunswick Social Studies curricula relating to queer and female-identifying New Brunswickers, I have developed a youth-led research project, Where Are Our Histories? (2018-2020) in an effort to queer the New Brunswick Social Studies curriculum. The study builds from the absence of queer and female-identifying people in the narratives that are presented in Social Studies in New Brunswick, and is inspired by activist historians, including the Graphic History Collective (2017), the Calgary Gay History Project (2018), and Dusty Green’s work developing the New Brunswick Queer Heritage Initiative (2018).

In the project, I am looking to learn:

  • To what extent are the intersectional experiences, histories, and activist practices of female-identifying and queer people included in New Brunswick Social Studies curricula (Grades K-12).
  • How might queer and female-identifying young people understand and speak back to dominant historical narratives in New Brunswick Social Studies curricula?
  • How might these young people come to understand and resist the ways that the experiences, as well as civic and activist contributions, of queer and female-identifying people have been overlooked and excluded?

As a first step to this project, to inform the study, my collaborator Amelia Thorpe and I are exploring the curricula that make up Social Studies education from Kindergarten to Grade 12. In our search, we have been looking for occurrences of the words: female, gay, gender, girl, homosexual, lesbian, non-binary, queer, sexuality, trans, woman, women. We also looked for images of women/ queer people / gender non-binary individuals. We are looking for both inclusions and erasures. In terms of inclusions, we didn’t find much.

To provide just one example, in Grade 10 NB students are meant to learn about ancient medieval history. We found some inclusion of the terms we were looking for, specifically the terms ‘women’ and ‘gender’. Some student activities, for example, asked learners to “construct a conversation between an Atheninan and Spartan woman in which they discuss their relative position in society” (NB Department of Education, 1997, p. 32). A similar activity was suggested where learners were asked to “construct a comparison between the role of women in Periclian Athens with those in Republic Rome” (p. 38). Later in the curriculum document, it is suggested that “an analysis of the class structure of ancient Egypt, the practices of slavery in Greece, the laws of Rome, and the role of medieval women leads students to a consideration of the principles of human rights and the many forms of discrimination” (p. 50). Students are later meant to “generalize about the role of women in Greece, the effect of geography on the Aegean world, the consequences of the Crusades, and to support their generalizations with relevant information.” Within the scope of our study, that’s it.

Image 1: Grade 10: Ancient Medieval history (NB Department of Education, 1997, p. 1)

Things improve somewhat with the ancillary resources. Relevant websites, for example, are highlighted at the end of the curriculum document (p. 67). Teachers are prompted to search the website “Diotima” for “Materials for the Study of Women and Gender in the Ancient World”. If the teacher goes to the Diotima website, and then to the “What’s New” section, they can find articles and course materials highlighting sexuality, gender diversity, and gender roles relating to the Ancient World. But, this would require some light sleuthing. This content is curriculum adjacent, rather than in the curriculum.

What does it mean for queer histories to be curriculum adjacent or erased entirely? What might young people do to respond to these erasures? How might young people capture, exhibit, and archive their responses to the erasures? How might the young people respond to the prompt, “Where Are Our Histories?”

Image 2: Where Are Our Histories? Flyer (image created by @coyotewatson)

The aim of the “Where Are Our Histories” project is to work with queer and female-identifying New Brunswick youth, aged 14-18 to create and widely disseminate cellphilms (cellphones + video-making) that address the ways that trans, gender-non-binary and cis-women, girls, and queer people—particularly Black, Indigenous, people of colour, and the dis/abled—have long been excluded from New Brunswick Social Studies curricula. It is, therefore, my goal not only to challenge a tendency to stabilize or prioritize certain productions of sanitized, gender-neutral civic engagement and historical action within New Brunswick Social Studies classrooms and curricula, but also to investigate how to bring an intersectional (Crenshaw, 1989; 1991), queer, and gender-focused participatory approach to the exhibition and archiving of visual research materials (cellphilms) over time (Beer & Burrows, 2013; Burkholder, 2016). In creating these cellphilms, and exhibiting and archiving them together in a participatory way, we seek to develop resources to bring into the classroom, to disrupt queer erasures, in an effort to represent the whole of this place.

Casey Burkholder is an Assistant Professor at the University of New Brunswick. A former history student turned teacher educator, her research explores issues of identity, belonging, and youth resistance with young people using cellphilm method (mobile film production).

This post was written on unceded and unsurrendered Wolastoqiyik territories—Fredericton, New Brunswick. The author identifies as a white woman, a settler, and a Social Studies teacher educator at the University of New Brunswick. She grew up and was schooled in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, and then later in Calgary, Alberta before attending the University of Manitoba, Acadia, Concordia, and McGill.


Burkholder, C. (2016). We are HK too!: Disseminating cellphilms in a participatory archive. In K. MacEntee, C. Burkholder, and J. Schwab-Cartas (Eds.). What’s a cellphilm?: Integrating mobile phone technology into participatory visual research and activism. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Beer, D., & Burrows, R. (2013). Popular culture, digital archives and the new social life of data. Theory, Culture & Society, 30(4), 47-71.

Burrows, T. A. (2013). Problematizing racialism: Exploring the complexities of racialization and the structuring forces of whiteness in the lived experiences of high school social studies (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Regina, SK: University of Regina.

Calgary Gay History Project. (2018). Calgary gay history project: Our past matters. [Website]. Retrieved from https://calgaryqueerhistory.ca/.

Chong, K.W. (Ed.) (2018). The gem (3rd Ed.). Fredericton, NB: New Brunwick College of Craft & Design. Retrieved from https://nbccd.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/The-Gem-3rd-Edition-Web.pdf

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of discrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist practice. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 89, 139-167.

Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 1241-1299.

Crocco, M. S. (2001). The missing discourse about gender and sexuality in the social studies. Theory into Practice, 40(1), 65-71.

Department of Education of New Brunswick. (1997). Grade 10: Ancient Medieval history. Retrieved from http://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/ed/pdf/K12/curric/SocialStudies/AncientMedievalHistory-Grade10.pdf

Graphic History Collective. (2017). Illustrate, educate, organize. [Website]. Retrieved from http://graphichistorycollective.com/.

Lee, J. A. (2007). Localities and cultural citizenship: Narratives of racialized girls living in, through, and against whiteness. In N. Angeles & P. Gurstein (Eds.) Learning civil societies: Shifting contexts for democratic planning and governance, (pp. 59-88). Vancouver: UBC Press.

Maroney, L. (2016). In social studies, no one can hear you scream: The representation of Women and gender in Ontario’s elementary curriculum. [Unpublished master’s thesis]. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.

New Brunswick Queer Heritage Initiative. (2018). In Facebook [Group]. Retrieved January 18, 2018 from https://www.facebook.com/NBQHI/

Temple, J. R. (2005). “People who are different from you”: Heterosexism in Quebec high school textbooks. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l’éducation, 271-294.

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