Call For Submissions – Beyond the Lecture: Innovations in Teaching Canadian History

Students in a classroom studing

Students in a classroom making notes and studying reference books in class. Carleton University, Ottawa, Ont, 1961. Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN Number

Being a historian is as much about being an educator as a researcher. And yet, most academic historians receive little to no training in pedagogy. Though there are many history education resources aimed k-12 teachers, there is substantially less for those interested in critically engaging with history education at the post-secondary level. During their tenure, THEN/HiER and the Historical Thinking Project created spaces for conversations around history education. However, in the years since the conclusion of both projects, these conversations have gone largely silent.

With this in mind, Active History invites submissions to a new monthly series of indefinite length focused on best practices for teaching Canadian history at the post-secondary level. While Active History has hosted blog posts over the past few years focused on this topic, this new series seeks to provide a framework for new contributions and renewed dialogue.

We seek submissions that expand perspectives, deepen insights, and challenge assumptions about history education. Contributions focusing on the use of digital history, collaboration, experiential/active learning, problem-based learning, public history, and new approaches to Canadian history, as well as those that privilege Indigenous and Black-Canadian histories, histories of abilities, are particularly welcomed.

As part of our ongoing efforts to ensure that Active History represents the diversity of our community, we would also especially welcome papers by and from female, non-binary, Indigenous, POC, queer*, and other minority scholars and communities, as well as early-career, precariously employed, and emerging scholars.

Submissions can be in the form of a blog post between 600 to 1,500 words in length, but alternative formats (including videos, graphics, podcasts, and online exhibitions) are also welcomed. Posts should be written in accessible, engaging style and avoid the use of jargon.

This series will be edited by Andrea Eidinger and Krista McCracken. The anticipated start date for this series is March 2018.  Inquiries, proposals, and submissions can be sent to either Andrea Eidinger and Krista McCracken via unwrittenhistories [at]gmail[dot]com.

The Endurance of Settler Colonialism: Senator Lynn Beyak and her “Letters of Support”

By Samuel Derksen and Eric Story

Senator Lynn Beyak is embroiled in yet another scandal. Her controversial stance on the legacy of Indian Residential Schools has returned to the public’s attention after Indigenous journalist Robert Jago published a short piece in The Walrus about the over one hundred “Letters of Support” the senator received following her March 2017 speech in the Senate, which were subsequently published on her website. Among other highly dubious claims, in her speech she praised residential schools for their “remarkable works, good deeds and historical tales”––all of which stand in sharp contrast to the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. After refusing to apologize for these remarks, she was forcibly removed from the Senate’s Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. And just a week ago, she was ousted from the Conservative caucus after rebuffing calls to remove the more racially-charged letters from her website.

Map of the Illinois Country in 1778, one example of a location where colonial discourses developed

Senator Beyak’s published “Letters of Support” represent an archive of Indigenous stereotypes that enable discussion and reflection about the history of settler colonialism in Canada and North America more broadly. The ignorant and racist sentiments expressed in the “Letters of Support” do not exist in a vacuum; in fact, their origins can be traced to the earliest points of contact in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The names of the authors of these letters could easily be substituted by that of a French trader in the 1750s or an Indian Agent in the 1920s. The discourses have not changed all that much. Continue reading

Reconsidering Stephen Harper’s Historiography

      1 Comment on Reconsidering Stephen Harper’s Historiography

By Andrew Nurse

Few Prime Ministers have been as interested in history as Stephen Harper. A wag might now say, few Prime Ministers have known so little about it. What is clear, as panels at the CHA, a special Labour/Le Travail forum, and a spate of other critical articles have demonstrated, historians had little time for Harper’s — or, more accurately, the Harper government’s —  historiography, the commemorative practices of his government, the lessons they drew from history, or their sense of the national narrative and what it said about community and nation.

Stephen Harper in the Murdoch Mysteries episode “Confederate Treasure.” From Murdoch Mysteries Wiki under CC Creative Commons Share alike license.

Indeed, Stephen Harper’s historiography seems like a long turn in the wrong direction. The de-funding of the international Canadian Studies program, Parliamentary inquiries into Canadian history, re-branding museums, and a range of other developments stand testimony to the long-term effect that the federal Conservative government sought to have how on Canadians thought about their past both as narrative and with regard to their place in that story. Some of its more grandiose intentions have been scrapped (the Mother Canada commemorative statue, for example), while others have been downgraded or redirected, but all of this begs a question: what legacy did Harper, or more accurately his government, leave on Canadian historical practices? What is the legacy of Harper’s historiography? Continue reading

The religious roots of Quebec secularism

      No Comments on The religious roots of Quebec secularism

Croix du Mont-Royal, 1960s. Archives de la Ville de Montréal, VM6 D1903.7-4

Laurent Carbonneau

Quebec and secularism are tightly bound together in the Canadian political imagination. From the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation to the Parti Québécois’ abortive 2014 Charter of Values and last year’s Bill 62 (passed into law by a Liberal government), the implementation of a secular vision of Quebec society has been an important political debate over the last decade. Quebec politicians on the left and right, sovereigntist and federalist alike, see religious neutrality as a key element of the province’s political culture.

The Anglophone media and politicians in the rest of Canada have had an uneasy relationship with Quebec’s efforts to legislate public secularism. On the one hand, there is (most of the time) a healthy respect for Quebec’s national institutions and autonomy, and for the concept of religious neutrality and secularism. On the other, however, there is legitimate concern for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities in Quebec who wish to continue to wear religious garb in public.

Quebec politicians and commentators communicating the desire for secularism to Anglophone audiences almost inevitably point to the Quiet Revolution as a justification for Quebec’s efforts. Current PQ leader Jean-François Lisée, then a Minister in Pauline Marois’ short-lived PQ government, wrote in the New York Times in the midst of the Charter of Values debate that, “[t]he charter is actually just the next logical step along the path of secularization. Until 1960, when its authority began to dip, the Roman Catholic Church held much sway in Quebec.”

This story, or one much like it, is the story Quebecers tell themselves about their own history. It adequately summarizes the feelings of many Quebecers towards the Church: an ogre standing athwart our history, stealing children and ruining families, until it was slain in a social shift whose crowning moment was the 1960 provincial election. Accompanied, of course, by the ascendancy of an activist and secular social democracy, a new political consensus whose substance would dominate Quebec politics for a generation, and whose symbolism endures. The notion of a clean break with the clerical past, along with its values and trappings, is central to the political self-conception of Quebec today. The term Grande noirceur, used to refer to the era from the 1930s to the 1950s when Maurice Duplessis was premier, is a good indicator of how Quebecers think of their pre-Quiet Revolution past.

I don’t think, however, that the popular view of a relatively clean break between clerical and secular eras of Quebec’s social development is strictly accurate. Continue reading

Tim Hortons, Ontario’s Minimum Wage, and the Need for Demand-Side Economics

'Wages' written in concrete supporting community services, government, business, and other economic factors.

By Christo Aivalis

On January 1st of this year, the Ontario government instituted a minimum wage increase to fourteen dollars an hour, with a pledge to increase it to fifteen dollars by January 2019. While 60% of Ontarians support the increase, numerous businesses have retaliated against their workers by retracting things like benefits and paid breaks. Many examples have come from the franchised fast-food sector, specifically Tim Hortons, where numerous branches—most of which are not owned directly by Tim Hortons itself, but by individual investors—have engaged in actions against their workers meant to cover costs of the new minimum wage. This has led to severe backlash on social media, with many people saying that Tim Hortons’ desire to be seen as an integral part of Canadian culture clashes with what Ontario’s premier called the bullying of low-wage workers.

But the issue goes beyond Tim Hortons’ public relations nightmare and the associated online anger. This story is important because even though much of the media coverage has focused on how the policy would hurt ‘mom and pop’ businesses, we are now seeing just how vindictive many employers are, and how their workers—almost exclusively un-unionized—can have their benefits taken away so autocratically. Beyond this, the bigger picture may be that the popularity of the minimum wage increase, when combined with a disdain for high-profile employer retaliations, might well increase public support for a form of demand-side economics in lieu of the supply-side economics that has dominated western society since at least the mid-1970s Continue reading

New Brunswick History Curriculum: Language Rights and Place-based History Education

As part of our History curriculum series, and as a complement to December’s post on collaborative curricula, Cynthia Wallace-Casey discusses New Brunswick’s unique diverse, regional, and bilingual approach to History and Social Studies curricula. 

In New Brunswick there exists two distinct narratives for provincial identities. Image credits: Author (left); Université de Moncton (right)

As the only officially bilingual province in Canada, New Brunswick holds a unique position regarding history education and collaborative curriculum development. In this province, it is as if we stand between two linguistic divides—with one foot firmly planted in English-speaking Canada, and the other confidently placed within a French-speaking world. This is because, unlike other provinces and territories in Canada, New Brunswick maintains two distinct education systems that are separate and equal. This distinction is not just a privilege, but a right: a right that is firmly embedded within our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As indicated in section 16.1 of the 1982 Constitutional Act of Canada:

(1) The English linguistic community and the French linguistic community in New Brunswick have equality of status and equal rights and privileges, including the right to distinct educational institutions and such distinct cultural institutions as are necessary for the preservation and promotion of those communities.

(2) The role of the legislature and government of New Brunswick to preserve and promote the status, rights and privileges referred to subsection (1) is affirmed.

In this sense, education and cultural identity operate hand-in-hand. For each linguistic group, school is not simply about “making the grade,” it is about preserving and promoting social responsibility to two linguistic communities.

How such dynamics play out within New Brunswick’s social studies curriculum, is through respect for regionalism and diversity. Regionalism, in that New Brunswick joins with like-minded provinces to share curriculum resources; and diversity, in that the province’s two curriculum narratives reflect distinctions within New Brunswick’s linguistic communities. This is further supported by the pedagogy involved with Peter Seixas’ six concepts of Historical Thinking. Continue reading

In Conversation III: Touring the Battlefields of Canada’s First World War

By Sarah Glassford and Ady King



This post is the product of a Q&A email exchange between Ady King, a Grade 11 student from Fredericton, New Brunswick, and Sarah Glassford, a Master of Library and Information Science student at Western University with a background in History. We met in the summer of 2017 when Ady gave a presentation to Treasury Board employees at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, where Sarah was working as an intern. We draw no broad conclusions, but hope to offer, through the prism of one student’s experience, insight into the role battlefield study tours play in shaping the historical (and perhaps national) consciousness of the Canadian youth who participate in them.


Our Conversation (More or Less)

Sarah: Civilian and veteran visits to the battlefields of the Western Front began before the peace treaty had been signed: “as many as 60,000 in the summer of 1919 alone.” That number rose to 160,000 visitors by 1939, with guidebooks, tourist agencies, professional guides, and organized pilgrimages catering to their desire to see for themselves. The first organized Canadian pilgrimage reputedly took place in 1927, when 30 Maritime veterans made the trip; in 1936 6,000 Canadians crossed the ocean to see the Vimy Ridge memorial unveiled.[1]

A century later, Canadians continue to visit the battlefields of the First (and Second) World Wars, as independent tourists or on arranged tours. Study tours designed specifically for students and/or History teachers are organized by academic institutions including the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick and the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic, and Disarmament Studies, while less academically or pedagogically-oriented visits are arranged through private companies like Canadian Battlefield Tours. Independent foundations with a memorial or educational mandate also offer students the opportunity to visit the battlefields.

Continue reading

19th Century Legacies in 21st Century Historical Research Practice

By Colleen Burgess and Thomas Peace

In 1898, T. Watson Smith delivered a detailed lecture on the history of slavery in Canada to the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society. In it he lamented:

Our historians have almost wholly ignored the existence of slavery in Canada. A few references to it are all that can be found in Kingsford’s ten volumes; Haliburton devotes a little more than a half-page to it; Murdoch contents himself with the reproduction of a few slave advertisements; Clement, the author of the school history accepted by nearly all the provinces, dismisses it with a single sentence; and in the long manuscript catalogue of Canadian books, pamphlets and papers gathered during a long life-time by the late Dr. T. B. Akins – a large and very valuable collection – the word “slavery” nowhere appears, even as a sub-heading.

The end of this quotation is perhaps most direct. In 1898, Watson Smith is saying: most historians do not see slavery as a subject requiring independent study.

The work of historians like Afua Cooper, Karolyn Smardz-Frost, Marcel Trudel, James W. St. G. Walker, and Amani Whitfield (among many others) demonstrates that nearly 120 years later this is no longer the case.

Last month, though, following the publishing here of a piece about treaties and public memory in Ontario that drew on Drew Lopenzina’s concept of Unwitnessing, and a presentation about the Library of Congress classification system run by Colleen in Tom’s North American history course, we began to think that perhaps things haven’t changed as much as we thought they had.

The Library of Congress Classification system (LCC) and the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) continue to reflect the world Watson Smith so severely critiqued. Scholarship has changed, but the frames within which it has been placed have not. If we are going to witness the way past assumptions about the world continue to structure our present, we feel a need to make these biases even more transparent. Continue reading

Fifth Annual (?) Year in Review (100 Years Later)

      1 Comment on Fifth Annual (?) Year in Review (100 Years Later)

By Aaron Boyes and Sean Graham

We give our two cents about the most important events from 1917

Four years ago, we had an idea for a post that came from our frustration with year end columns definitively declaring winners and losers for the previous twelve months while also predicting what the year’s ultimate legacy would be. As historians, though, we felt that these columns could not be written in the moment, as we need time to truly assess the important moments that come to define a give year.

With that, the Year in Review (100 Years Later) was born. (You can catch up on 1914, 1915 and 1916 before jumping into 1917) We adopted a March Madness style bracket and each year we select 16 finalists and narrow it down through a series of head-to-head match-ups to determine the most important event from that year.

Certain trends have emerged through the years. The first, and most important, is that we have eliminated all things from the First World War. We’ve done this for a couple reasons: first, our friends at Canada’s First World War have you covered on all things Great War. Second, the war would dominate the bracket and we want to highlight some lesser known developments that still influence our lives today – although to my great disappointment there is nothing aviation related this year.

Our brackets this year are the International Bracket, the Cultural Bracket, the Politics Bracket, and, everyone’s favourite, the Potpourri Bracket.

Round One

Potpourri Bracket

1) Order of the British Empire Inaugurated v. 4) Honus Wagner Retires

Sean: The first time I submitted a SSHRC application, I was applying to do a Master’s degree in England and actually wrote the words that it would be interesting to go to school in “the mother country.” It was a simpler time back then. Although, maybe I was just starting my campaign to be appointed to the Order of the British Empire. The OBE celebrates its 100th anniversary this year after being established by King George V during the First World War as a way to commemorate contributions to British society. With its five classes, two of which make you a knight or a dame, OBE appointments are made from recommendations by the United Kingdom and participating Commonwealth countries. Canada, though, not longer makes nominations because of the establishment of the Order of Canada. India, Pakistan, and Nigeria have similarly created their own honours.

Honus Wagner retired from baseball in 1917 after a 21-year career. Playing most of his career in Pittsburgh, Wagner won 8 batting titles and was part of the 1909 World Series champions. Apart from his Hall of Fame exploits on the field, however, Wagner may be better known today for his T206 baseball card, which is the rarest sport collectable in the world. With few copies remaining, the card rarely goes up for option, but when it does look out. A copy sold last year for $3.12 million, or as well call it around these parts, Aaron’s bar tab.

Between these two, I have to throw my support to Honus Wagner. The OBE has provided some cool things, like Dame Edna (she’s in it right?), but it’s a vestige of a by-gone era of British colonialism that has lost much of its relevance today. Wagner on the other hand, is still held up as one of the best players of all time and the story of his card will ensure that his name remains part of the culture in the future.

Slumming on Park AvenueAaron: What?!? Honus Wagner?!? I think you used by bar tab to come up with this conclusion. I have never heard of Honus Wagner and his 21-year career is no match for the OBE. I am no monarchist, but I believe that the Order of the British Empire is more important. What bothers me more is that you truly believe that Wagner is more important…

Sean: I really do. The OBE has been, too often, a way for rich people to celebrate other rich Slumming on Park Avenuepeople. It’s the Oscars of national awards. Plus, it’s part of a colonial tradition that rewards behaviour that has been damaging to millions of people. Wagner, on the other hand, was a terrific ballplayer who has remained a standard bearer for judging hitters. That is card is still relevant and sought after – not to mention subject to this terrific short documentary – tells me that he is more relevant to the average person in 2017 than the OBE.

Honus Wagner Retires Wins (75-74)

2) John F. Kennedy Born v. 3) First Synagogue Built in Madrid in 425 Years

Continue reading

The Great Christmas Bake-Off: Kitschy Americana vs. Canadian Victoriana

Butterhorns displayed on a section of log in Canadian Living. I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired.

During the holidays, the food we eat is often as loaded with meaning as it is butter and sugar, which is good news for those of us looking to eat as many cookies and candies as possible in the coming weeks: it’s not over consumption, you see. It’s research. Holiday cooking is part of a web of meaning, tradition, and history, both personal and, as it turns out, national. This year, while engaging in my long-standing family tradition of purchasing the Canadian Living Holiday Baking collector’s edition and planning my Christmas baking, I realized that Canada’s Christmas food culture is deeply rooted in our imperial past, with ingredients and processes that tend toward the classically British.[1] In fact, the desserts in Canadian Living would not be wholly unfamiliar to Sir John A Macdonald. The most recent issues of Canadian Living Holiday Baking (a fixture in my childhood home that I’ve maintained) demonstrate this clearly through the promotion of a particular vision of the holidays that is situated firmly in the Victorian era.  The connection between Britishness, tradition, and the holidays is especially clear when recent recipe collections from Canada are compared to those from the United States.

The recipes in Canadian Living, one of the more popular Canadian holiday baking publications, are decidedly British in flavour and have a nineteenth-century feel in both the simplicity of the ingredients and the way they are presented in the photos; evidently, Canadian culture continues to look to Britain as the source of all things traditional. The recipes in Canadian Living are predominantly twists on classic British foods like shortbread, gingerbread, and trifle, many of which were associated with Christmas in the Victorian era after the holiday was revived after being passé for many years. According to a BBC article on the history of Christmas, “the transformation happened quickly, and came from all sectors of society” and introduced many of the traditions we now regard as integral to the holiday, including roast turkey, Christmas crackers, and the obligation to see family members that one spends the rest of the year actively avoiding. Scholars generally attribute the revival of Christmas to the cult of the Christian family that Queen Victoria perpetuated after her marriage to Prince Albert.

While many of the rituals surrounding Christmas are derived from the Victorian era, the Christmas treats seem to be some of the most enduring. Continue reading