New Active History Paper: Citizenship Literacy and National Self-identity by Larry A. Glassford


WrongThe content of history textbooks and curriculum is an important factor in the political socialization of succeeding generations of students. This study of representative classroom textbooks authorized for use in Ontario at three distinct eras of the 20th century shows how the main lines of interpretation have shifted over time. During the pre-World War II era, the persistent underlying tone was one of reverence for Canada’s connection to Britain. By mid-century, the main theme was Canada’s bilingual dualism within North America. As the end of the 20th century loomed, the textbook authors were focusing much more on previously marginalised groups within the Canadian multicultural mosaic. Each era produces its own historical narrative, but within the school context, an authorized interpretation impacts the beliefs of the generation to follow. The ultimate goal must be to nurture democratic citizens of the global future with a sure understanding of their own national identity.

Link to full paper

Activating Foucault for Canadian History

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by Steven Maynard

Foucault“What does a queer, sadomasochistic philosopher have to do with the study of Canada’s past?” This is the question I ask students at the beginning of my first-year survey course on Canadian history. Over the years, colleagues have suggested that first-year undergrads aren’t ready for Foucault. But experience tells me that not only are many of Foucault’s ideas readily translatable in the classroom, but that many first-year students, not always convinced that the study of Canadian history might have some connection to their present, eagerly grasp onto them. This past week was a case in point.

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History and the Problem of Auto-referentiality

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by Jeremy Nathan Marksblackbird

Historical writing has long suffered from the problem of auto-referentiality. Auto-referentiality, as I define it, simply means historians are writing only in reference to human subjects and human problems. I don’t mean to say that historiography is populated only by human beings but we do not currently possess an extensive literature where humans are not the protagonists.

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Canadian Historians in the Newspaper

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Newspaper and TeaWhat if my supervisor disagrees with what I write? What if someone in the community sends me a nasty email? What if the editor ignores my article?

There are plenty of excuses young historians turn to when they convince themselves not to write opinion pieces for the newspaper. But, there are even more good reasons why they should: what if it makes government reconsider policy related to my research? What if I can convince Canadians to think differently about a topic for which I am passionate? What if my research makes a tangible difference because I put it where people would read it? Continue reading

Active History and learning from the early-Canadian past

Two weeks ago the  Telegraph in the United Kingdom ran a story announcing that due to government cutbacks the department of history at the University of Sussex has decided to end research and in-depth teaching on topics related to pre-1700 English social history and pre-1900 European history.  Under the new paradigm, topics such as the English Civil War, French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars would no longer be a focus of study.

Appropriately these changes were met with outcry from the academic community.  The Telegraph received a letter signed by 17 historians who called the program’s restricted emphasis short-sighted and risked skewing the public’s understanding of the past.

All of this got me thinking about the state of early-Canadian history and its relationship to Active History.  As the only member of our editorial board who does not study twentieth-century history, I must admit that I reflect on this often.  How important is early-Canadian history to current issues facing Canadian society?  And how does research on early-Canadian history compare with the study of later periods? Continue reading

CFP: Left History Theme Issue on Active History

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Left History is currently seeking submissions from new and established scholars for a special theme issue on the emerging field of Active History.

Working in collaboration with the editors of and drawing on the discussions that were initiated at the Active History: History for the Future Conference held at Glendon College in September 2008, Left History is looking for original articles, theoretical pieces, document analyses, and reviews that question and challenge the public responsibility of the historian. The issue will include a peer-reviewed article section, as well as a roundtable focusing on less conventional displays, examples, and short thought pieces. Continue reading

Promises, Prospects and Pitfalls of Digital Memory

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By Krista McCracken

People naturally forget things over time.  Details become vague, memories cloudy, and events are never recalled exactly as they occurred.  The act of recording history assists in preserving an authentic version of the past.  The way in which the past is remembered and recorded has drastically changed as technology and digital memory have improved.

Technology has created an abundance of new mediums.  Digital information is now cheaper and easier to store than ever before.  The cheapness of digital storage is a huge benefit for those interested in documenting the past.  Digital storage allows heritage institutions to preserve fragile and valuable information at a lower cost, while simultaneously saving space. Continue reading

Announcement: Words on the Wall

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Here is an announcement for ‘Words on the Wall,’ which is a fundraiser for plaques that will commemorate this 19th century patient-build wall in Toronto, Ontario.

Help us put Words on the Wall

The Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto (PSAT) is giving out bricks to serve as the basis for a work of art.  Artists and groups are welcome to use the medium of their choice. Works will be displayed and sold as part of a silent auction to help raise funds for historic plaques to commemorate the history of the patient-built wall at the Queen Street Site of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Words on the Wall will be held on April 21, 2010 at the Gladstone Hotel in conjunction with This is Not a Reading  Series. There will be a wall tour led by historian Geoffrey Reaume, followed by a relaunch of the 2 nd  edition of his book, Remembrance of Patients Past (University of Toronto Press). We will end the evening with a silent auction of the bricks donated by artists.

To request a brick or for more information, please email or phone 416-661-9975 or 416-809-1013.
For more information about PSAT visit
For more information about This Is Not A Reading Series visit


The Historical Memory of Louis Riel: A Long-Standing Canadian Debate

Louis_RielA controversy has erupted over the past week surrounding how Canadians should remember Louis Riel, a 19th century Métis who not only led the 1869 Red River and 1885 Northwest Rebellions, but also negotiated the terms for Manitoba’s entry into Confederation in 1870 before his execution in 1885 for high treason.

In a pamphlet posted online last December, Edmonton East Conservative MP Peter Goldring argued that Canadians should think of Riel as a “villain” and hold him responsible for the deaths that occurred during the Red River and Northwest uprisings.  Goldring’s statements responded to a recent private members bill, introduced by Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin, that seeks to overturn Riel’s treason conviction and officially recognize him as a Father of Confederation. Continue reading

Acts of Contrition: Rethinking the Purpose and Effect of Government Apologies

By Teresa Iacobelli

In March 2010 the Qikiqtani Truth Commission (QTC) will draw to a close with the release of a final report and recommendations for the future.  While the QTC has been ongoing since 2007 most Canadians remain unaware of its existence, and of the historical and social issues that it addresses.  The QTC was created with a mandate to research and report on the facts surrounding the alleged dog slaughters, relocations and other government policies that affected Inuit communities in the Eastern Arctic between the period of 1950 and 1980.  As part of completing this mandate archival research has been conducted, witnesses have been interviewed and oral histories have been collected in several northern communities.  In addition to uncovering the facts, the QTC website ( also indicates that the purpose of this commission is to ultimately promote healing and reconciliation between Inuit communities and the Government of Canada.

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