Cynthia Wallace-Casey successfully defended her PhD dissertation, “Deepening Historical Consciousness Through Museum Fieldwork: Implications For Community-Based History Education,” with the guidance of Dr. Alan Sears. Her work makes a substantial contribution by extending the examination of the development of historical thinking from classrooms to the informal learning context of community museums. One of the most interesting contributions is the examination of how collaborative work in historical inquiry fosters new ways of thinking about history and history education not only for students, but also for staff and community volunteers who work in museums. Alan states that her work does not fit neatly into any one of the three areas of foundations of education as described on the CAFE website, but it does make a substantial contribution to all three.
We agree and are pleased to recognize the work of Dr. Wallace-Casey. She presented two papers and chaired a session yesterday, which I know other CAFE members attended. Shirley Van Nuland, PhD. 1st Vice President CAFE
Chair, Awards Committee UOIT Faculty of Education
By Cynthia Wallace-Casey, PhD University of New Brunswick (Fredericton) There’s something about the experience of a Victorian Christmas that makes many of us feel warm and fuzzy inside. Our sense of nostalgia seems heightened by the festive season. Because of this, perhaps we’re more prone to let down our critical lens on the past, and simply enjoy the visual candy. Surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of the season, we encounter compelling evidence to suggest that we can truly experience the past for real… as it once was. Andrea Terry, however, in her publication Family Ties: Living History in Canadian House Museums(2015), dispels such nostalgia, as she closely examines the annual Victorian Christmas programs at three Canadian house museums: Dundurn Castle in Hamilton Ontario, Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site in Montreal Quebec, and William Lyon Mackenzie House in Toronto Ontario. With a keen eye for cultural hegemony, Family Ties delves down beneath the sugary surface, to reveal how interpretive Christmas programs in each of these living history museums are actually a product of present-day values, place-based politics, and nationalistic agendas.
Did you know that there are more than 1,500 museums in
Canada? Museums encompass many
disciplines of study, including history, science, nature, and the arts. Their collections range from tangible objects
to intangible ideas, and their methods of presentation range from static
displays to participatory environments.
From a pedagogical point of view, museums present rich
learning environments, where constructed narratives are communicated through
the use of sight, sound, touch, smell, and emotion. Within such narrative constructs, as
Trofanenko and Segall (2014) have pointed out, pedagogy is often positioned “to
assume particular assumptions, perspectives, and views about the world and its
people” (p. 1). In this sense, while
museums can provide powerful sites for learning, they can also be exclusionary
As teaching tools, museums also present their own
distinct challenges. This is because what
constitutes learning in a museum involves multiple sensory experiences, personal
interaction, and extended learning outcomes that change over time. For this reason, learning in a museum is seldom
immediately apparent or easily assessed (Wertsch, 2002, p. 114; see also Falk
& Dierking, 2000; Kelly, 2011; Wallace-Casey, 2013). Falk and Dierking’s (2013) Contextual Model of Learning, identifies
four broad contexts for analyzing learning in a museum setting: personal,
sociocultural, physical, and temporal. Such
a model also acknowledges (regardless of age or subject discipline) that
“Learning begins with the individual. Learning involves others. Learning takes
place somewhere” (Falk & Dierking, 2002, p. 36), and learning continues
over time (Falk & Dierking, 2013). This model, while reminiscent of constructivist
pedagogy, recognises the complex nature of learning in a museum, and calls for
more robust measures for assessment that extend beyond mere appropriation of a
desired narrative claim.
Dr. Jocelyn Letourneau, of Laval University (Quebec), will discuss a pragmatic approach to teaching history, intended to move students “outside the thinkable they’ve been accustomed to in living in a particular society and being subject to its broad representations.”
Dr. Arie Wilschut, of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, will focus his discussion on the Dutch national historical consciousness, in particular, “we” versus “they” perspectives when talking and writing about the past.
Dr. Stéphane Levesque, of the University of Ottawa, will discuss the function of narration in orientating a community (and the individuals who share a membership in that community) within the context of time and nation.
All of these presentations speak to historical consciousness as a reflection of the present. Indeed, as historian E. H. Carr (1990) once wrote, history is “an unending dialogue between the present and the past” (p. 55). In this sense, we “see” the past within the context of our present.
As Letourneau has pointed out, it can be initially difficult for students to step outside of the narrative to which they are accustomed, and to “see” the past from a different societal perspective. In this sense, while shared narratives can serve to orientate individuals as members of a community, they can also serve as blinders. My own research focused upon narrative constructs in a community history museum. Over a period of 14 weeks, an entire class of seventh-graders explored the use of evidence and sources in the museum.
The promise of historical thinking in museums rests with enabling students to interact with museum narratives, using more than pre-existing “mythistoires” (Létourneau , 2014) as their single point of comparison for validating or denying historical claims (Husbands, 1996; van Boxtel, 2010; van Drie & van Boxtel, 2008; Létourneau, 2014; Nakou, 2006; Trofanenko, 2008). As Jones (2014) and Savenije et al. (2014) have found, when museum collections are used simply to support a particular narrative claim (rather than reflect critically upon that claim), students in this age group accept the authority of the museum, while selectively adapting portions of the narrative to reinforce their own pre-existing understandings of the past. In this way, they re-interpret and rationalize portions of the museum narrative to accommodate their own world-view.
What makes good leaders? This was the question that framed Margaret MacMillan’s opening lecture in the 2015 CBC Massey Tour, which commenced last week in Fredericton. It was the first in a series, including stops in St. John’s, as well as upcoming lectures in Victoria (September 30), Calgary (October 2), and Toronto (October 7). During each presentation, MacMillan draws from her recent publication History’s People: Personalities and the Past (2015), to explore the qualities (both positive and negative) of individuals who have shaped the world in which we live.
In this first lecture, Dr. MacMillan focussed upon leadership and the art of persuasion. Drawing from the examples of Otto von Bismarck, as well as William Lyon MacKenzie King, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, MacMillan laid out an interesting argument for “good leadership.” Good leadership, MacMillan explained, demonstrates four key characteristics:
1. Timing and opportunity;
2. Instinct and determination;
3. Capacity to bring others along; and
4. Driving ambition.
MacMillan began by elaborating upon the political career of Otto von Bismarck. She described in colourful detail how the Prussian leader ruthlessly bullied his way into power – through good luck and good timing. Thus, by adopting a complex strategy of international trickery, von Bismarck managed to bring about a union of German states. He possessed few admirable qualities. He was determined, ruthless, and did not worry about principles – yet was opportunely elected to Prussian parliament at a time when things were beginning to change.
"The Persistence of Memory" by Salvador Dali (1931)
Who am I ?
Dr. Cynthia Wallace-Casey is a SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the University of Ottawa Making History Education Research Unit. Her current research investigates national narratives, difficult history in museums, and Historical Thinking. She lives in New Brunswick.
"I know a man whose school could never teach him patriotism, but who acquired that virtue when he felt in his bones the vastness of his land, and the greatness of those who founded it..." - PE Trudeau, The Ascetic in a Canoe, 1944