Monday, December 26, 2011

Day Tripping

Amid cutbacks, alternatives to traditional school outings emerge...

G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Globe Correspondent (February 17, 2011)
The group field trip — a time-honored tradition beloved by students and educators alike — is getting a makeover as schools adjust to tight budgets and strict curriculum standards.

It is getting increasingly rare for districts to orchestrate an old-fashioned field trip, complete with taxpayer-funded bus ride to one of the region’s natural or cultural resources. Instead, schools are saving money by having students walk to nearby sites, raising private funds for transportation, or by taking fewer field trips than in years past.

Revere High School students, for instance, take only about half as many field trips today as they did in the early 2000s, according to former assistant principal John Perella, who is now assistant principal at the city’s Garfield Middle School. Six per semester used to be common; now they’re lucky if they take two.

“The field trip philosophy has definitely taken a hit lately,’’ Perella said. “Part of it is financial, and some of it is also be cause we’re trying to refine what we’re doing [to meet state testing standards]. The days of the full-day field trip are unfortunately gone.’’

Field trip cutbacks are playing out around the region and the state as districts do all they can to slash costs without eliminating personnel, according to Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

“When you have to make a decision about whether you’re going to get rid of a teacher, or you’re going to get rid of a program like field trips that may be an extension of a curriculum, it’s an easy decision,’’ Scott said.

The shift in thinking has broad implications, both for schools and for institutions that depend on revenue from school group visits.

Some nonprofits are feeling the pinch. The USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown, for instance, saw school group visits drop by more than 15 percent, from an average of about 1,800 to fewer than 1,500 in 2010, according to museum learning coordinator Adriana Maksy. Wolf Hollow, a wolf sanctuary with an educational mission in Ipswich, has also felt the squeeze.

“The economy has hit us hard as we depend on school groups during the week,’’ said Wolf Hollow director Joni Soffron in an e-mail. Field trip visits to Wolf Hollow “are way off due to budget cuts in education. If schools are laying off teachers, they are not going on field trips.’’

Transportation fees in particular have climbed in recent years, as factors ranging from fuel to insurance have pushed the cost higher. As a result, teachers and students are increasingly setting off on foot to visit sites nearby, according to Sue Goganian, director of the Beverly Historical Society, which hosts field trips at three historic houses.

“It’s cushioned us a little bit to have some schools [nearby] that don’t rely on bus transportation,’’ Goganian said. “In some cases, a teacher will tell me, ‘We’re walking, [so] if it’s pouring rain, we don’t want to come.’ ’’

In Tewksbury, parents raise funds to help cover field trip expenses for students in grades K-2 at the Heath Brook School. The Beverly School District doesn’t have a budget for field trips because expenses are paid by students’ families, according to assistant superintendent Maryellen Duffy.

Even educationally, field trips are getting tougher to justify. In the course of preparing for state achievement tests, teachers and administrators are reluctant to have students spend even one day outside the classroom — unless the trip is certain to advance that week’s designated lessons.

“It’s not something that’s just green-lighted anymore,’’ Perella said. “Teachers have to present their reasons for going, back them up with evidence, and explain why it makes sense to do it.’’

Cultural institutions are beefing up programs that fulfill curricular requirements, sometimes in multiple subject areas. The Constitution Museum, for instance, is developing programming that imparts lessons in the core subjects of science and math along with history.

Organizations that spell out how their programs meet state standards have sometimes avoided the trend. Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield has produced materials that explain how its programs fulfill curriculum requirements in areas such as science. Organizers say these efforts, coupled with growing interest in environmental education, help explain why 10,600 schoolchildren visited during the 2009-10 academic year — a 2,300-student increase from two years prior.

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem hosted 23,000 students in 2010, up from 15,000 in 2009. Two factors helped boost the numbers, according to Gavin Andrews, assistant director for family, student, and teacher programs. The museum launched an initiative to tell teachers exactly how its programs fulfill state requirements. And classes flocked to “The Emperor’s Private Paradise,’’ a special exhibit of treasures from 18th-century imperial China.

Institutions increasingly are sending experts to schools whose students can’t travel. The Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary has trained at least five naturalists to do in-school presentations, up from just one in 2001.

“A significant percentage of the students we meet are through nature programs on the school grounds,’’ said Scott Santino, a teacher naturalist at the Ipswich River sanctuary. “In some instances, we’ll bring samples with us. In other instances, we’ll have naturalists walk the school grounds and develop a program that [features] the nature on those grounds.’’

Outreach is also a growing emphasis for Historic New England, which owns the Coffin House and Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury. Fewer students are visiting the properties, but through educators’ trips to schools, Historic New England met with 4,674 students in 2009-10, up from just 653 in 2001-02.

“We’re able to get across a lot of the same concepts,’’ said Carolin Collins, education programs manager. “But it’s really the sense of place that’s lost — the grounding in the actual historic environment.’’

Day tripping

Holocaust Survivor Defends Auschwitz Dance

David Williams, Sky News Online (July 16, 2010):

A Holocaust survivor who was filmed dancing with his family outside the Auschwitz death camp has defended his participation in the video.

The footage, posted online, shows the group jiving to disco hit I Will Survive at various locations connected to the Holocaust, as part of an art project.

Some Jewish community leaders have been outraged by the video, which they say is inappropriate and offensive.

But it has also been praised as an exuberant celebration of his life.

Survivor Adolek Kohn, 89, defended his role in the clip.

"Why did I do that? First of all because I came with my grandchildren," he said in an interview from his home in Melbourne, Australia.

"Who could come with their grandchildren? ... Most of them are dead.

"We came to Auschwitz with the grandchildren and created a new generation, that's why we danced."

<a href=';vid=317ecb7c-2294-4068-a128-e139cb96e073&amp;from=&amp;src=v5:embed::' target='_new' title='Holocaust Survivor Dances At Auschwitz'>Video: Holocaust Survivor Dances At Auschwitz</a>

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Interview with Museum Curator Gary Hughes - New Brunswickers at War 1914-1946

Interview by Cynthia Wallace-Casey,
PhD Student,
University of New Brunswick (Fredericton)

I recently had an opportunity to chat (electronically) with Gary Hughes of The New Brunswick Museum. Gary curated the exhibition New Brunswickers in Wartime, 1914-1946 which opened this week at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

New Brunswickers in Wartime, 1914-1946 presents the touching and dramatic stories of fellow New Brunswickers during the First and Second World Wars, at sea, on land, in the air and at home. It is an adaptation of a highly successful exhibition created by The New Brunswick Museum in 2005.

In the transcript which follows, Gary provides some interesting insights into the curatorial world of historical interpretation. In our chat, we touch upon concepts of epistemological interpretation, historical significance, perspective, collective memory, personal memory, and historical empathy:

Thanks for agreeing to this interview… I suspect you’re very tired after the long drive back from Ottawa...

I hear (via Facebook) that the exhibition opening at the National War Museum was a great success. About how many people were in attendance?

It was very successful. About 250-300 people were in attendance and all enjoyed the event. We hope for a good run until the exhibition closes 9 April.

Were there many from NB?

We had Minister Holder, M.L.A. MacDonald, Senator Joe Day, the Carty family from Fredericton, John McAvity, the Labillois family from Eel River Bar First Nation, the Devine family from Darling’s Island (last three had Fathers in the show) and others from N.B. and still living there and some born in N.B. but living in Ottawa. Hard to say, about 50 at least.

Nice! I’m quite certain that many more (with NB roots) will make a point of visiting the exhibition while it is there in Ottawa...

To begin our question, can you briefly explain to me how it came to be that New Brunswickers in Wartime, 1914-1946 opened in Ottawa? What was the original intent of developing this exhibition? And when did you begin working on it?

I began in late 2003 with an application to the Museums Assistance Program for funding support which proved successful the following spring. Work continued through 2004 and the exhibition opened to the public in November, 2005. It toured the province the next year going to Moncton and Edmundston and then came back for a return engagement at the NBM. It was then dismantled and put in its packing crates. Attempts to interest the war museum began in 2007 and in 2009 the CWM Board met in Saint John in which a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the museums. Approval in principle from the CWM came the next year and ended with our opening. The original intent of the exhibition was to showcase a regional perspective on the two wars and counterbalance years of message control from the centre of the country in terms of the storyline.

Interesting… Perhaps this is why the exhibition has sparked such interest here in the province... Could it be that we (in NB) often feel a bit left out of the national storyline?

We can definitely see aspects of our military history that have been ignored in the official history of the Canadian Army and in other media.

How would you describe your epistemological lens on the past? What type of historian would you describe yourself as being?

I would describe myself as a material historian who looks at both cultural and technological aspects of the history of artifacts.

How do you define material history? And how does that differ from – say, social history (if at all)?

Material history is the study of the object, its physical properties, its form and design, its symbolism either inherent or added which leads to a widening view involving its provenance, documentation of similar objects in printed sources and the context of the times in which it was created. It can reflect technological advance at the same time as a cultural pathway. I have an article, for example, coming out in the spring edition of Material Culture Review in which I examined Loyalist sword belt plates in our collection and compared these to the Adam brothers design revolution in England. My research suggests that the influence of the Adams’ Neo-classicism style produced a reaction in Loyalist New York which reflected a desire to maintain the Anglo-American cross Atlantic connection. There’s no way you can reduce this type of research to just social history. Material culture touches several bases all at once.

So perhaps the difference is that with material history you START with the objects – and contextualise from there? Is this an accurate observation?


Thanks… Now moving on to my next question..(and returning to the exhibition itself)... What was your research question for this exhibition?

Our exhibition followed four themes – motivation to serve, impact of war, variety of experience and the idea of sacrifice. These were subjects and questions we wished to ask of those represented, based upon their objects in the exhibition, survivors recollections, and print media. Our interpretation took the form of the personal story, rather than a strict chronological view of the war. This was implied. In the four sections we subsequently devised – Joining, Overseas, the Home Front and Life After War – we grouped First World War experiences and Second World War experiences together, in close contact, with only tangential mention of pre- WWI; the 1920s or Depression between the wars; the post war world beyond the immediate return of the service men and women in 1945-46; and wartime housing etc.

So the interpretation was focused upon the positionality of the individual NBer? Both Wars through their eyes and their memories?

How were the artifacts selected?

Yes, through the individual story. Selections were made based upon research in our collections, but also upon satisfying the themes which meant creating an exhibition in which a wide variety of service was represented, as well as experience, such as on the home front. Army, navy, air force, merchant marine, war industry, rationing, entertainment, air raid wardens, and life in a new war time house are all represented.

Did the collections speak to you first – and then the themes established? Or was it the other way around (you sought out artifacts to fit predetermined themes?)

We had a good idea of our artifact base at the beginning and knew the objects that could form the core of an exhibition and from there developed the basic themes. No use going the other way around and then be disappointed. Beyond that, however, we did seek loans from individuals and institutions which would increase our level of wide representation of the thematic package.

Nice… I look forward to seeing the exhibition... I must admit, I missed it when it was circulating within the province. A national venue certainly brings a highlight of interest.

One thing that comes to mind, when reading your words, is that while the perspective of the individual is always important, it also somewhat limited (ie, as Margaret Conrad has noted, the perspective of the poor soul occupying a trench in Vimy was very different from the perspective of a General at central command). How have you grappled with the multiple perspectives of War? Are there multiple narratives present?

True. This was not a history of the wars and couldn’t be in the space provided. One person’s experience could not be relied upon to tell the whole story of a platoon or section of the production line but it does give first hand evidence of that experience. As in our case on the 26th New Brunswick Battalion in the First World War. We knew we had several objects related to the Officer Commanding, Lieut. Col. J.L. McAvity which were private purchase articles – trench periscope, field service note book – the type of object an officer would carry in the trenches. Each appeared to be little used, perhaps more a vanity purchase next to the worn trench clubs and chipped helmets of active service by junior officers in the rank and file. McAvity’s belongings hinted at class structure and the pre-war militia that had no idea of what they were about to enter – a cataclysm of fire.

So the multiple narratives are there – which is often the case with museum exhibitions – less in actual words; more in actual objects and images...

Might we be so bold as to consider this exhibition a "peoples’ history" of war? New Brunswick’s peoples’ history of war?

Yes it is a people’s history.

Which brings me round to the next question...

Do you see the regions (of Canada) as having a role to play in shaping the national memory of the two world wars?

The regions have a role to play for they are a mirror to other parts of the country in terms of the human response to war. They complete the national picture from a regional perspective, a building block to that end. Museum collections by their nature tend to be regional – even our national museums simply by virtue of their location – for the most part Ottawa. If, for example, you were to visit the furniture collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization you would find the majority of examples come from Ontario and Quebec. It is impossible to be rooted in one spot and not be more heavily influenced nearer that spot than farther from it. That’s why our view and that of other regional museums should be heard. One day in 1994, Jim Morell Sr. of Fredericton brought up three insignia of the 1 SS Panzer Division Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler which he had gathered on the battlefield at Carpiquet near Caen after a courageous defence of that position by the North Shore Regiment on July 5, 1944, an engagement that didn’t make the official history despite the fact that this division was considered the best in the German Army and this was its first experience of battle against Canadians. Here was material proof of that engagement. It is available in other sources, but not the official history and these pieces reinforced that occasion.

Thank you for these words Gary… this demonstrates so clearly the profound personal connection that can come from object collections (provided that their provenance has not been lost). I’m certain that day in 1994 is well etched into your memory. Do I sense a feeling of personal duty (on your part) to have these solders’ stories told? Perhaps the memory of war means so much more (to museum visitors) in that people like Jim Morell Sr. wanted to make certain that his memories would be preserved in The New Brunswick Museum. Do you have more to add here?

And I agree with you fully – that the regions have a essential role to play in contributing towards a multiplicity of national narratives. Let’s hope there’s more opportunities for partnerships such as this one.

In closing, what message(s) are you hoping that visitors will walk away with after viewing New Brunswickers in Wartime, 1914-1946 ?

It’s important to have their stories told on one plane, but the combination of media, through a museum exhibition with objects and other forms of evidence – such as film and diary excerpts - does it with maximum impact and so will remain in the memory the longest, or at least stands that chance.

I hope visitors will applaud the heroism of these veterans and others on the home front for their courage in facing danger, or in waiting on the word of loved ones. And while this can translate to the national stage, there are particularities of region involved – in the case of New Brunswick the danger of U-Boat attack, or spies dropped on beaches, and escape attempts from the Ripples prison to the sea. We are a maritime community and our geography must translate to others in the central and western regions of the country. And, since I don’t think any other Atlantic regional museum will be mounting a show on the same themes as ours in the near future, we, as best we can, will be that voice for awhile.

Thank you Gary!

New Brunswickers in Wartime, 1914-1946 continues at the Canadian War Museum until April 6, 2012. Be certain to check it out while in Ottawa!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Participatory Mapping: Place-Making as Process in Montréal’s Mile End

Maps are more than pieces of paper. They are stories, conversations, lives and songs lived out in a place and are inseparable from the political and cultural contexts in which they are used. (A. Warren, cited in Giacomo Rambaldi, "Who Owns the Map Legend?")

Places resonate. They are keepers of stories and avenues for remembrance. As the Mile End mapping project demonstrates, community place-based projects offer opportunities to give shape to the past, outline the present and envision the future...

NCPH: Off the Wall - Participatory Mapping Place-making...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chalk (2006)

You're gonna say your name, and then I want you to tell me... what comes to your mind with history. OK? And I'd like you to start.



Well... that's why we're here.

Great movie!

How Chalk was Made...

Maintaining Classroom Discipline by using Democratic Methods (1953)

Practicing Democracy in the Classroom (1953). Points out that democratic techniques are more effective in teaching good citizenship than laissez-faire and authoritarian methods. This educator instruction film advocates the use of democratic prinicples within the classroom. Even today, so many classrooms based around teacher centered, autocratic methodologies, this is a timely message. This film displays many practices that are at the heart of progressive educational thought: student centered learning, authentic tasks, collaborative work, authentic assessment. This is all couched in the framework of bolstering democracy, which ironically it does, by promoting an independantly thinking citizen that tries to gather facts and reason, rather than relying on talking head demagogues. Producer: Educational Film Service. Creative Commons license: Public Domain.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What's Plan B for Museums in Canada?

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey
PhD Student, University of New Brunswick

Just over two-and-a-half years ago, during the keynote address to the 2009 Annual Meeting of the National Council on Public History, Harvard historian Jill Lepore spoke about the absence of historical sophistication within the realm of public discourse. Quoting a recent article by Motoko Rich in The New York Times, in which the author coined the phrase: “an unprecedented pileup of historic news”, Jill Lepore suggested that it is during times of dramatic change that societies feel a need to look back on the past for answers. In our fast-paced world of instant information, she explained, the news cycle speeds the process ahead so quickly that we expect no less than instant gratification; and when our search for understanding cannot be easily fulfilled, we turn to the past. Thus, she reasoned, it is during times of dramatic change that historical sophistication is valued the most.

Because the past “is always ending and always beginning”, societies actually live on the edge of history. The “unprecedented pileup” of events, to which both Motoko Rich and Jill Lepore were referring to in 2009 was the election of President Barrack Obama as the first African-American president of the United States; a spiraling economic crisis (that we are still experiencing) equated only to The Great Depression of the 1930’s; and an unimaginable series of financial scandals that have shaken the entire global economy. In our naivety, back in 2009, those of us listening to Jill Lepore’s words knew that North America was in the midst something big; but none of us could have predicted just how dramatic the pile-up would become. On this point I am referring to the current world debt-crisis, combined with shifting demographics in the workforce, leading to a belt-tightening in public service resources. It is seems inevitable that museums and other public history sites in Canada are going to feel it (if they haven’t already). How this on-going pileup will relate to public history is undoubtedly on the minds of many. Perhaps now is a good time to ask ourselves: “What is our plan B?”

In 2009, Cary Carson was awarded the National Council on Public History’s G. Wesley Johnson Award for outstanding writing in The Public Historian for his article “The End of History Museums: What’s Plan B?”. Written nearly 2 years before the “unprecedented pile-up of historic news” to which Jill Lepore addressed in her keynote speech, Cary Carson presented a worrisome discussion on the threats facing history museums in the 21st century, and how these institutions might adapt to new realities. These new realities seem to be even more apparent in the United States, since many of the history museums there are funded by private foundations. The collapse of money markets will have long-term ramifications on their operations; meaning, in the words of James Vaughan (2009) of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

If no one is coming to your site, then you are going to fail.

…With the current economic decline, many who were on life-support will now fail…

Now is the time to carefully re-think all the things we do, because actions will happen – not because of the economy, but – because it’s what should have happened in the first place.

In anticipation of such failures, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has developed guidelines on how to “transition” a house museum into private hands, with the mindset that such a transition is not necessarily failure but inevitable progress, because a private owner will be able to preserve the site more cost-effectively. As Cary Carson indicates in his article, however, such transition philosophy is not unique to the current economic condition. In 2007, Colonial Williamsburg sold-off nearby Carter’s Grove Plantation to a private owner for 15.3$ million, with the requirement that it be opened to public visitation one day each year. Last February, this historic site was once again on the auction block, when the owners defaulted on their mortgage payments. This 400 acre historic site had operated as a museum since 1969 and is still considered to be one of the best examples of Georgian architecture in the United States. Likewise, in 2000, the National Trust for Historic Preservation experimented with privatization when it helped the Lee-Jackson Foundation “save” Robert E. Lee’s boyhood home in Alexandria, Virginia, which the foundation had operated as a museum since 1967, by decommissioning it as a public museum and selling the site to a wealthy private owner. By 2008, the museum was again on the buyer’s market and it is now a private home.

Not all predictions for the future of public history sites need be doom and gloom, however. By contrast, as Cary Carson has indicated, some history museums were fairing very well before the recent economic collapse, and therefore are expected to weather any financial difficulties they may face in the near-future. The Sandwich Glass Museum near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for example, which has adopted a “community-centric” approach to engaging the public, continues to report record-breaking attendance figures each year. The newly restored James Madison’s Montpelier Estate, remotely located near the small town of Orange, Virginia (population 4,580), is one of 28 sites across the United States that is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation but operated by an independent non-profit foundation. In 2008, the site reported an annual attendance figure approaching 60,000 visitors each year, outnumbering the nearest community population by 13 to 1. Likewise, the waiting lists for guided tours through the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City are reportedly becoming longer each year.

In Canada, with recent reports in the news about threatened museum closures, (see: “Museum fans have message for Ford: ‘Hands off’” ), the experiences of our public history colleagues to the south may be an indication of things to come here. For this reason, perhaps now is the time for museums and historic sites in Canada to start thinking about their “plan B”. Closure need not be an option.

As history educators, we need our museums and historic sites to remain open! And perhaps this opinion cannot be expressed more clearly than in the words of fellow bloggers The Two Palaverers:

We (our youth in particular) are losing the connection to our past. In order to have children visit museums, we need to have parents visit museums. We need to do a better job of engaging and teaching our children history, something that can be done both in school and outside of it – as a family or among friends. There is no better place to do that than here in New England. Once we fix our society’s connection to the past, our local museums will be the beneficiaries. What’s the contemporary challenge? Think about Old Sturbridge Village (a working museum) versus Grand Theft Auto (a video game). Fortunately, it only takes a brief afternoon to open up a whole new world. And that new world is in our own back yard.

The “Plan B” for history museums that Cary Carson has proposed, draws upon the necessity of engaging a new generation that is multi-media savvy. This necessity translates into, not-necessarily more expensive ‘bells and whistles’ but, how the visitor interacts with the past:

  • History museum visitors today expect to be transported back to another time and place in their imaginations. It is not enough merely to be told about times past. They are fully satisfied only if they live it – feel it – experience it.

  • They want to meet ordinary people to whom they can relate… they are not content to be mere spectators even in these virtual worlds. Instead they expect to become personally acquainted with the historical figures they meet there, share their joys and sorrows, and in effect join in the action of the story being told.
Carson’s “Plan B” for history museums embraces a more humanistic style of engagement with the past: one in which visitors become active participants in their learning experience - not just observers.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Harvard Guide to Reading Texts Critically

Critical reading--active engagement and interaction with texts--is essential to your academic success at Harvard, and to your intellectual growth. Research has shown that students who read deliberately retain more information and retain it longer. Your college reading assignments will probably be more substantial and more sophisticated than those you are used to from high school. The amount of reading will almost certainly be greater. College students rarely have the luxury of successive re-readings of material, either, given the pace of life in and out of the classroom.

While the strategies described below are (for the sake of clarity) listed sequentially, you typically do most of them simultaneously. They may feel awkward at first, and you may have to deploy them very consciously the first few times, especially if you are not used to doing anything more than moving your eyes across the page. But they will quickly become habits, and you will notice the difference—in what you “see” in a reading, and in the confidence with which you approach your texts...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Arts-based Research... Meets Collective Memory... and Making Thinking Visible...

Alberta’s eugenics history

(Edmonton) Agata Derda grew up in Poland, but, intrigued with studying cultural differences, lived in Ireland as a young undergraduate arts student.

Along the way, she discovered something that inspires her work: “People are similar to each other, no matter where they were raised or where they live.”

Now, as a master’s student in the University of Alberta Faculty of Arts, Derda’s explorations in printmaking contemplate the great human chain, and are included in The Collective Memory Project, an art show that opens Oct. 23 at the U of A’s Faculty of Extension Gallery at Enterprise Square. An opening reception has been planned for 2 to 4 p.m. that day, with everyone welcome to attend.

Featuring a range of contemporary art such as paintings, digital printmaking, sculptural mixed media and archival photographs, The Collective Memory Project caps off Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week, Oct. 15–23, and contemplates both the legacy and contemporary attitudes about eugenic ideas in Alberta.

“There’s a danger of forgetting Alberta’s history with eugenics and that sort of forgetting is not an idle happenstance; I would argue that eugenics—while being a dark, traumatic event in history that begs remembrance for ethical reasons—hasn’t ended,” said Anne Pasek, curator for the exhibit, and a recent U of A Faculty of Arts graduate.

Between 1929 and 1972, more than 2,800 people who were deemed unfit by the government to raise families of their own underwent reproductive sterilization in Alberta. Other dark examples of Canadian eugenics policies include a head tax levied on Chinese immigrants and a residential school system that saw Aboriginal children seized from their families and their cultures.

But while those past actions have since been acknowledged by governments as unjust, some contemporary policies are also troubling, Pasek said.

“There are many aspects of public policy and collective ethics that are still profoundly influenced by eugenic ideas,” including selective immigration policies that screen out people with disabilities, and future ethical quandaries such as the question of “designer” babies, Pasek said.

The Collective Memory Project investigates how the concept of “personhood” “is unequally distributed in society,” she added.

The show features 20 works submitted by artists from across Canada, including an incarcerated woman, a man with a learning disability and, from an East Coast artist, an ambitious piece of performance art from a walk through an Edmonton park named for Louise McKinney. McKinney, who became Alberta’s first female MLA in 1917 and was a pioneer of women’s rights, was also a supporter of eugenics policies.

Students from the University of Alberta also contributed to the Collective Memory Project, Derda among them. Her three black and white digital photo compositions in the show pay tribute human individuality, and at the same time, explore a common human bond.

“We are all elements, puzzles, pieces of a much bigger construction, which we all create and influence. By excluding some of the puzzles we make that image incomplete,” said Derda. “Believing naively that our own experience is the most important and unique, we tend to overlook the fact that there is a world around us and we are all part of it.”

The show aims to widen the public’s understanding of eugenics and make it a “contemporary concern, so hopefully when people view the art, they’ll get a sense of how they can act on some of these problems,” Pasek said.

The show will also feature a community board where people are encouraged to write their reflections on sticky notes that will be posted for a collective remembrance in keeping with the exhibit theme.

The Collective Memory Project runs at the Faculty of Extension Gallery in Enterprise Square, 10230-Jasper Avenue, until Nov. 23 and can be viewed from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Friday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What’s Your Epistemology?

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey
PhD Student, University of New Brunswick

To Prince Edward Island, by Alex Colville
(Collection of Library and Archives Canada)
 In surveying the research about teaching historical literacy, it becomes evident that an educator’s own epistemological stance (their philosophical worldview) about history will have a direct impact on how and what students learn about the past. It seems inevitable that our own biases will be present – no matter how objective we may try to be - in the choices we make about what constitutes an appropriate source, good question, or valid response about the past. Of course, curriculum documents guide us in making many of our choices… but in between the lines of outcomes and assessments, lays the fuzzy area of interpretation; and interpretation is always open to individualised meaning.

Through the digestion of experiences, Jörn Rüsen theorizes that individuals construct their own narratives, and their own temporal understandings of how the past is relevant to the present and future. In this way, he argues, history learning can best be described as a process of meaning construction that is actuated through (to borrow an analogy from Denis Shemilt) a kaleidoscope of experiences. This is because, as Jörn Rüsen points out, “those who do this construction and negotiate it in their social context are constructed themselves. They have been shaped by the same past which they are historically dealing with.”

Rüsen’s point is particularly significant, because cognitive research on the teaching of history has drawn notable parallels between student beliefs and teacher epistemologies. As Linda Levstik has noted in her study of a sixth-grade classroom, “the data clearly indicate” that students’ interest as well as their responses to the past are directly influenced by their teacher’s “manipulation of the classroom context.” Also, if as Mike Huggins has found, teaching practise makes a difference in what key ideas students inherit from formal schooling, then if a teacher is unclear about their own epistemology in the history domain, their students will be unclear as well.

Both Peter Lee and Rosalyn Ashby have strongly cautioned that students’ ideas about the past do not simply evolve of their own accord. Teaching greatly influences students’ ideas. They have also warned that while progression models for identifying development in historical literacy can be useful in understanding prior conceptual knowledge and mapping subsequent changes over time, they must not be used in a way that might structure or restrict students’ ideas about the past. Such algorithmic approaches to teaching history are likely, Lee and Ashby warn, when teachers “do not themselves have a good grasp of the ideas they are attempting to teach.” What is most significant in this statement, I believe, is that to “have a good grasp of the ideas” does not mean knowing the what of history; nor does it mean being able to follow the procedures of historical inquiry; or adopt conceptual benchmarks that are unique to the discipline. To “have a good grasp of the ideas” that are being taught requires an ability to orient all three of these components within one’s own epistemological stance, and to do so with a self-awareness that there are alternatives that rest outside each individual’s worldview. This is what Rüsen refers to as the individual process of “digesting the experiences of time into narrative competencies.” For students, such a process can be intellectually empowering because it centers the historical narrative within the individual, while at the same time contextualising the past within the scope of immeasurable possibilities.

Like Rüsen, Denis Shemilt has called for the adoption of a framework in history education that links “past with past and past with present,” so that students will be able to view the past (with all its complexities) through the lens of a kaleidoscope:

To be truly useful, the frameworks employed by pupils must not just be ordered and coherent, complex and multidimensional; they must be polythetic and admit of alternative narratives.

In order to be admitting of alternative narratives, however, we must be ever cognisant of how our own worldview may be limiting our kaleidoscopic lens – as well as the lens of others.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Museum of Me App

Intel® The Museum of Me

The Museum of Me is an application that displays information from your Facebook account as viewable "exhibits" in a virtual museum of your very own...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Education for the 21st Century – Making Thinking Visible

NB Heritage Education Learning Circle Presentation
October 13, 2011 - Moncton
Cynthia Wallace-Casey

Making Thinking Visible in Museums

Saturday, October 8, 2011

(Re)Imagining Literacies of History Classrooms

UNCC Writing Project Book and Podcast Study:

Book: (Re)Imagining Content-Area Literacy Instruction Edited by Roni Drape

Podcast: "Disciplinary Literacy" by Elizabeth Moje

Source: Harding University High School Literacy Wiki

Saturday, September 24, 2011

10 (+1) Reasons Why Heritage Fairs are Good for You!

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey
PhD Student, University of New Brunswick

Now that all have returned to school, those of us in New Brunswick’s heritage community are looking forward and planning with eager anticipation for Heritage Fairs! So with this blog entry… in honour of project-based learning and disciplinary inquiry, I am taking on my motherly persona today to dish out some words of advice as to why Heritage Fairs are good for you. :)

Feel free to add your own comments and build upon my list:

1. You do not have to listen to your teacher talk…

• (facilitates independent study and helps to establish a classroom culture of thinking)

2. Let’s you ask Big Questions – like why is this topic significant? And whose voice is left out of this narrative?
• (promotes critical historical literacy)

3. Hones your research skills…
• (recognizes history as a discipline with its own unique modes of inquiry)

4. Let’s you make your thinking visible…

• (requires students to document their thinking visually)

5. Let’s you be creative…

• (supports differentiated learning and provides students with their own entry points into the past)

6. Gives you a soapbox for discussion…
• (strengthens language skills and allows students to express themselves verbally in a meaningful way)

7. Let’s you get to know people who work in your archives and museums...

• (requires students to examine the residua of the past first-hand by seeking out primary sources)

8. Makes you realize that you cannot believe everything that you read or see in communication media…
• (promotes critical thinking)

9. Let’s you make friends with old people in your community…

• (promotes transmission of knowledge and experience between generations)

10. You will come to see that history is complex and there are no easy answers…
• (recognizes complexity and diversity within the past)

And (one more)...

11. Makes you smarter!...
• (National History Day researchers in the United States have found that student participants perform better on standardized tests, are better writers, and are more confident and capable researchers.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Threatened Identity: What do We Lose When We Lose the Sense of Place? - Congress 2011 Big Thinking Lecture Delivered by David Adams Richards

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey
PhD Student, University of New Brunswick
As a writer of historical fiction, David Adams Richards is best known for his ability to explore elements of humanity within characters who "come from the fabric and the soil of the Miramichi." During Congress 2011, he spoke about this sense of place and what it means to those who identify with New Brunswick’s past.

Drawing upon the historical experience of mechanisation in the forest industry, Adams Richards explained how such concepts of modernisation are not new to Atlantic Canada. Here, he said, generations of people have weathered the sense of inevitable progress that is associated with global change. Often, such progress carries with it what Adams Richards describes as a "great anonymity" that threatens individual identity. It undermines a shared sense of belonging that comes from being part of a particular place and a particular way of life.

Within the abyss of anonymity, a sense of place is often regarded as a label of misfortune or unknowing ( "that people who live where we live would not know about what more successful people know about the world."); and so, to have a sense of place is thus to be restricted from being part of another more cosmopolitan place.

Yet, a sense of place can also be empowering. It carries with it a unilateral freedom that is grounded in a temporal sense of shared humanity. In the authors’ words:

Even on a patch of frozen soil, a solitary man is his own true nation, and free as he chooses to be. No moment or comfort is ever secure, no matter where we live; or future certain for any of us, no matter where we live. How we respond to this is up to us alone. Each one of us can choose to be free.

So, what does this have to do with history education? (You may be asking yourself right now). I see this Big Thinking lecture as very relevant to our discussions on the teaching of history for two reasons. Firstly, Adams Richards touches upon the imaginative element of history. His highly descriptive style of writing makes it possible for the reader to empathise with people in the past. This emotional layer adds a vibrant richness to the past that cannot be found in empirical evidence alone. But is it history? Indeed, in my humble opinion, the best historians are those who are able to fill in the spaces between the lines of evidence and contextualise the past in vivid, rich, detail.

A second reason why I feel this lecture is very relevant to discussions on the teaching of history, is that Adams Richards describes a particular sociological phenomenon whereby history intersects with collective memory. Indeed, through his writing, the author presents a darker side of life in Atlantic Canada: "a world of hurt and alarm ... a world that has faced globalisation for years and years.” Such a world is not unique to Atlantic Canada; yet it has become deeply embedded in our collective memory. Even so, it need not cage us in, because memory can be fluid and ever-changing.

The role of history education should be to enable each of us to look critically upon the narratives that shape – or threaten – our individual identities. As David Adams Richards has pointed out, how we respond depends upon us alone.

Listen to David Adams Richards’ entire lecture  here:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Who Speaks for the Forgotten? – Congress 2011 Big Thinking Lecture Delivered by Antonine Maillet.

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey
PhD Student, University of New Brunswick
Who speaks for the forgotten? This was the topic of discussion for Antonine Maillet’s Big Thinking lecture held during the recent Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Fredericton, New Brunswick (Canada). The Hon. Antonine Maillet is a well known Acadian author and linguist, whose fictional heroine La Sagouine (The Washerwoman) has come to epitomise the resilience and strength of Acadian heritage in North America.

La Sagouine dominates Acadian popular culture as a stalwart figure. Existing in somewhat contrast to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s romantic Evangeline (made popular by the 19th century epic poem Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie), La Sagouine does not pine for what has been lost. La Sagouine is strong. She is confident. Pragmatic. Optimistic. These are the descriptors that have transformed Maillet’s character into a symbolic figure for the 20th century Acadian Renaissance. In many ways she also represents the lifeways of many rural New Brunswickers before the introduction of Equal Opportunity social reforms in the 1960’s.

“This is a true story” – states Maillet in the opening line of her introduction to the published monologue entitled La Sagouine (1979). True – in that her character springs from a historical tradition. False, however – in that La Sagouine never really existed as a living person. She is fictional, yet also represents the nameless who will never be found in any archival record. She encapsulates a generation of Acadians who have long-since been forgotten. Who speaks for these people? How are they remembered? This was the topic of Maillet’s Big Ideas lecture.

Interestingly, Maillet’s discussion draws attention to the importance of not limiting historical inquiry to the written word; for just as the vast majority of us will never warrant inclusion in the school textbooks of 3011 and our names may never be found in archival collections (except perhaps by a great-great-grandchild tracing her past), so too are the voices of the forgotten lost to us except within the vernacular history of alternative sources of historical inquiry. How can we hear them calling to us? Antonine Maillet has sought their voices in the oral traditions of Acadia, that span from 16th century France to 21st century Louisiana, Nova Scotia, Québec, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick.

For those who are disempowered in any society, the keeping of oral traditions and the preservation of collective memory is very important. As Maillet points out, “they” can never take your voice. Indeed, our schools could benefit greatly from the humanist agenda of making space in our classrooms for such forms of vernacular history. This is because, with each generation, it is the youth who bear responsibility for perpetuating the essential elements of collective memory that define cultural identity. In the words of Maillet: “C’est vous [les jeunes] qui vont décider le futur de l’Acadie”

In Acadia, the collective identity of the voiceless has been preserved in the dialect and words of a language that is more ancient than the french of modern France. As Maillet so poignantly illustrates in her discussion about the forgotten, the generational links between past and present can be found within the stories and songs of Acadia. Here lie the traces of the voices of the forgotten. As educators, we would do well to never forget this.

Listen to Antonine Maillet's entire lecture here:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Contesting White Supremacy: An Interview with Professor Timothy Stanley - By Yeow Tong Chia

Professor Timothy A. Stanley recently published his new book Contesting White Supremacy: School Segregation, Anti-Racism, and the Making of Chinese Canadians (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011). The launch of this book is timely, as it comes in the wake of Maclean’s Magazine TOO ASIAN article, which stereotypes Asians as nerdy and hardworking and “whites” as fun and party going people. In the light of that, I had an email interview with Professor Stanley on his views on racism, Chinese Canadian history, Asian Heritage Month and his book.To start off, could you share on what motivated you to write the book Contesting White Supremacy? Is there a contemporary message you’d like to address in your book as well?


Sunday, May 15, 2011

What is Historical Thinking?

Watch this introductory video for an overview of ways of thinking inherent in knowing and doing history. Historical thinking is complex and multi-faceted; we focus on five key aspects particularly relevant to the K-12 classroom. These are:
  • Multiple Accounts & Perspectives
  • Analysis of Primary Sources
  • Sourcing
  • Context
  • Claim-evidence Connection
What resources are available to help with understanding these facets and teaching them to students of all ages? Below are a few of our favorite such resources at

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Who is Crafting our National Identity?

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey
PhD Student, University of New Brunswick

Nationalism is modern but it invents for itself history and traditions. (Eric Hobsbawm, The Invention of Tradition, 1983)

Public institutions in Canada, particularly those with a national focus, are mandated to present a national perspective on the past. Such a mandate raises the essential questions of “Who defines nation-ness” and “What represents a nation’s true identity”.

In Les Lieux de Mémore (1989) , Pierre Nora establishes a distinction between real memory and historical memory: Memory is life, while history is the reconstruction of what is no longer; memory is a perpetual bond with the present, while history is a representation of the past; memory is selective in its information, while history calls for analysis and criticism; memory is sentimental, while history is prosaic; memory is bound to a specific group of people, while history belongs to no group in particular and is thus universal; memory takes root in concrete objects, while history is temporal; memory is absolute, while history is relative. As historians, we are taught to be suspicious of memory, for as Nora explains, the “true mission [of history] is to suppress and destroy [memory]” . With the acceleration of history, Nora argues, there has occurred in France a slippage of collective memory (authentic environments of memory). In turn, collective memory has been replaced by “lieux de mémoire” (sites of memory), which serve the people as their official keepers of memory. Thus, these sites of memory constitute France’s national memory, and can be monuments, emblems, commemorations, symbols, rituals, textbooks, documents, or mottos: the material culture of France. Ironically, having destroyed memory, history “calls out for memory because it has abandoned it”, and in its place, nations “deliberately create archives, maintain anniversaries, organize celebrations, pronounce eulogies, and notarize bills because such activities no longer occur naturally”. Such national sites of memory are problematic, in that we must question who is creating the memory site and for what purpose.

Every public institution in Canada has a Collections Management Policy and curators, as well as archivists, must be selective in what they actually collect – so in an indirect way, they are crafting our national memory, or, as Benedict Anderson would indicate, creating our imagined community. Nationality, significations, nation-ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artifacts of a particular kind that are fabricated and imagined. Nationalism is not real: “it is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” Such imagined communities are perpetuated through the creation of a national consciousness - expressed through such national icons as emblems, maps, monuments, census, official languages, the arts, school instruction, and museums. As Anderson poignantly explains, “no more arresting emblems of the modern culture of nationalism exist than cenotaphs and tombs of Unknown Soldiers” . Rather than recognizing such monuments as sincere expressions of remembrance, Anderson sees them as tools to bind together our national imagination and somehow justify loss of life for a greater cause of national destiny.

Within such a gamut of national memories and imagined identities, our pursuit of “truth” in history seems ever more evasive. But, if our “national treasures” are the keystones to our national identity (no matter how fabricated this identity may be), they spark our imagination and thus selectively hold us together as a nation. This indeed is a great feat, and so the role of public historians in working with academic historians in crafting our national identity must be valued as a profession of utmost significance.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What History? For What Purpose? For Whom?

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey
PhD Student, University of New Brunswick
“In the history courses I took in school in the 1960’s, we read about history, talked about history, and wrote about history; we never actually did history.” (Chad Gaffield, 2001)

Among historians, there really is no doubt that history matters. We are engrained with the essential belief that without knowledge of the past, we are unable to contextualize the present – and it is only through history that we are able to gain insight, and learn from those who lived before us. Most historians agree that history must be evidence-based and that the practitioners must respect established methods of analytical inquiry that are as objective as possible. The controversy arises when one begins to interpret the evidence, and this becomes even more complicated when we consider the how and what of presenting history to students.

As the discipline applies to the classroom, Ken Osborne outlines three distinct concepts of teaching and studying history that continue to be at play in varying degrees within Canadian schools: nation-building, societal transformation, and critical thinking. He also extends his analysis, by suggesting a fourth concept, which he indentifies as historical mindedness.

The narrative of nation building - history from the top down, or bottom up – is something which many of us remember from our own schooldays. This is the history Chad Gaffield recalls in my opening quotation. It is history that is patterned upon chronology, often presented in a way that fosters an appreciation for progress. As J.L. Granatstein suggests, this is the history on which great nations are built:
If Canada is to be worthy of its envied standing in the world, if it is to offer something to its own people and to humanity, it will have to forge a national spirit that can unite its increasingly diverse peoples. We cannot achieve this unanimity unless we teach our national history, celebrate our founders, renew the old and establish new symbols, and strengthen the terms of our citizenship… We have a nation to save and a future to build.
Yet, as noble as this sounds, such narratives of nation-building are what Benedict Anderson would dismiss as pure fabrication – an imagined community and “in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” … crafted by the author to serve some higher purpose.

In the 1970’s, there emerged a greater interest in the social, cultural and gender aspects of history. In the classroom, history became a tool for societal transformation in which students learned about the past within the context of current public issues. As Osborne observes, “history became less a chronological survey of the past and more the examination and analysis of problems, themes, and concepts in which chronology was largely ignored.” Considered more of a social studies approach to teaching history, this methodology is still very common, as the events of the past are interpreted in ways that make them more relevant to the present. Much like Maurice Halbwach’s analogy of a self-portrait, history is built around fundamental themes, such as family, community, and nation – starting with the most immediate connection of “me” and extending out into a broader historical perspective - so that the here and now is a living part of a collective memory. In this way, history is presented not as a line of chronological events, but as a web of effects that are interconnected and applicable to the present.

In the 1990’s, a third dimension of teaching history was added to the mix, in that students were encouraged to develop critical thinking skills. Through the adherence to formal methods of historical research and objective analysis, students are permitted to arrive at their own conclusions. Thus, they are trained in the process of doing history. They learn the fundamental skills of historical thinking; question the evidence; and ideally learn how to think for themselves. Through this inquiry process, students role-play as professional historians by adopting “forms of knowledge” (modeled after R.G. Collingwood’s philosophy of history) that are identified in Canada as The Benchmarks of Historical Thinking:
  • Establish historical significance;
  • Use primary source evidence;
  • Identify continuity and change;
  • Analyze cause and consequences;
  • Take historical perspectives; and
  • Understand ethical dimensions of history.
The focus here is more upon developing the habits of mind that come from following a disciplined process of inquiry, rather than adhering to a particular genre of first-order interpretation.

In addition to the three distinct concepts of nation-building, societal transformation, and critical thinking in teaching and studying history, Ken Osborne has also identified a fourth concept which is more subjective: historical mindedness. This concept, he describes as a “way of viewing the world that the study of history produces”. Historical mindedness combines the traditional narrative and knowledge of the past, with relevance to the present and broader social issues, while also adopting the discipline of historical thinking. Thus, historical mindedness combines the three previous concepts of nation-building, societal transformation, and critical thinking, while placing the past within a continuum of time that is connected to the present as well as the future. Ultimately, Osborne suggests that there is room in the classroom for all three concepts of teaching and studying history (nation-building, societal transformation, critical thinking), and when these three are combined in an instructional plan, the end result is an overall instilment of a fourth concept: historical mindedness.

Although rooting the past in some aspect of the present can be beneficial when teaching basic principals to young people, such an approach can also be problematic in that the past becomes too easily consumable. As Sam Wineberg explains, by “viewing the past through the lens of the present”, the past becomes a useable commodity that is easily dismissed without much thought:
… by viewing the past as useable, something that speaks to us without intermediary or translation, we end up turning it into yet another commodity for instant consumption. We discard or just ignore vast regions of the past that either contradict our current needs, or fail to align tidily with them. The useable past retains a certain fascination, but it is the fascination of the flea market… Because we more or less know what we are looking for before we enter this past, our encounter is unlikely to change us or cause us to rethink who we are. The past becomes clay in our hands. We are not called upon to stretch our understanding to learn from the past. Instead we contort the past to fit the predetermined meaning we have already assigned it.

Wineberg describes the study of the past as existing between two polemics - that of the familiar and the foreign - in which either extreme has its pitfalls. It is through the achievement of mature historical thought and understanding (an intellectual process which comes about through the reinforcement of habits of mind) that the study of the past can become most beneficial. To this end history matters because it educates in the deepest sense: it teaches “humility in the face of our limited ability to know, and awe in the face of the expanse of human history”. Thus, it is of fundamental importance to every human being.

History is of fundamental importance to citizenship as well. As James Loewen summarizes, history “is about us”; and whether that us be “wondrous or awful or both, history reveals how we arrived at this point”. In Great Britain, the us of history is reflected within the current “Britishness” debate which Sir Keith Ajegbo introduced in the 2007 curriculum report on Diversity and Citizenship. Ajegbo recommends the introduction of a history element to the citizenship curriculum as a way of understanding what it means to be British:
While it is important for young people to explore [contemporary] issues as they affect them today, it is equally important that they understand them through the lens of history. It is difficult to look at devolution without understanding how we became the United Kingdom. Can immigration be debated properly without some knowledge of the range of people who have arrived on these shores over centuries? We are certainly not advocating that Citizenship education should be conflated with history. However, we are strongly of the opinion that developing an appreciation of the relevant historical context is essential to understanding what it means to be a citizen of the UK today. 

Such an approach supports the thinking of historians who participated in the British Institute of Historical Research Conference “Why History Matters” in 2007, where the utility of history was recognized as a powerful citizenship tool. In this sense, history is seen as a basis for understanding similarities as well as diversity; learning about the source of common belief systems and values; making connections to local, national and international identities; and ultimately gaining an appreciation of what it means to be human:
School history has to do much more than confirm or enhance an individual’s identity. It has to be about the bigger picture and a wider world because to study history is to grow up and move beyond ourselves. 

Many of these same assertions hold true in Canada as well. Recognizing that history education has moved beyond nation-building to embrace citizenship training in Canada, Christian Laville describes a duality that strives for a unified sense of shared memory on one hand, and independently-minded historical thinking on the other. Historical thinking equips students with the intellectual tools needed to exercise their civic responsibilities, while historical mindedness creates a common identity that serves to build unity. This common identity is what Ken Osborne would call the “big picture” of Canada’s past; and historical thinking is the ‘intellectual self-defence’ needed to participate in a democratic society. Osborne presents seven (sound) arguments for history as self-defence:
1. History armours us against all those people who claim to know it and are only too anxious to tell us what it proves;
2. It releases us from the grip of the past, which so easily holds us captive and shapes our ideas;
3. It teaches us how to be constructively skeptical (but not cynical or blindly rejectionist) when faced with appeals and arguments;
4. It protects us from being misled by the taken-for-granted conventional wisdom of our own times;
5. By showing us a wide variety of alternative beliefs systems, social practices, cultural norms, and the like, it enlarges our awareness of alternatives and choices;
6. It helps us understand and take part in debates that are going on around us about the future of Canada and of the world more generally, debates that are going to affect us whether we like it or not;
7. And, finally, it makes us less short-sighted and narrow-minded than we would otherwise be by helping us situate the present in the context of the transition from past to future so that we are not governed solely by the short-term imperatives of the here and now. 
With intellectual self-defence, comes intellectual freedom – and an ability to make informed choices and effect change in the present.

As an extension of citizenship training, history is also fundamentally important in establishing a shared sense of identity. It binds us together, by providing a broad framework in which every citizen must be able to find their stem of acceptance; and without this acceptance – a sense of belonging – citizens have no shared identity. In the words of J.L. Granatstein, history is important “because it is the way a nation, a people, and an individual learn who they are, where they came from and where they are going, and how and why their world has turned out as it has”. But shared identity, as Britain’s Diversity and Citizenship curriculum report shows, must be broad enough to embrace cultural and ethnic diversity, respect differences, and bridge commonalities. Such is the global nature of citizenship in the twenty-first century.

Living within a complex backdrop of globalization, students need to be equipped with the tools to think critically about the past and the present. As Stéphane Lévesque cites scholars Ken Booth and Tim Dunne: “we cannot assume, for the foreseeable future, that tomorrow will be like today. The global order is being recast, and the twists and turns will surprise us’. Teaching students to think historically can, as Levesque explains, “be a valuable contribution to the short and long-term challenges awaiting them”.

But, as Margaret Conrad has illustrated, history in the age of Wikipedia also requires new rules of engagement for historians. As the printed page is overtaken by cyberspace, Marshall McLuhan’s vision of a global village becomes ever more apparent and citizenship is no longer restricted to geographical boundaries. Within the “seamless web of experience” that the Internet has since availed, McLuhan predicted that the student would need a “do-it-yourself kit” in order to master the new global media. Perhaps The Benchmarks of Historical Thinking can provide students with the do-it-yourself kit that McLuhan predicted for the 21st century: the habits of mind that can enable Canadians to be full participants in today’s global society.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 Podcast: Ian McKay on the Right-Wing Reconceptualization of Canada

Great piece from the blog site of!

Ian McKay, professor of history at Queen’s University, recently delivered an engaging and provocative talk titled “The Empire Strikes Back: Militarism, Imperial Nostalgia, and the Right-Wing Reconceptualization of Canada”. McKay’s talk was the keynote address of the 15th annual New Frontiers Graduate History Conference at York University.

The talk is available here for audio download:

McKay is the author numerous books, including The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia (1994) and Rebels, Reds, Radicals: Rethinking Canada’s Left History (2005). He won the Canadian Historical Association’s MacDonald prize for his book Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People’s Enlightenment in Canada (2008). More recently, McKay co-authored In The Province of History: The Making of the Public Past in Twentieth Century Nova Scotia (2010), which was reviewed here on

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Let’s Talk History! - A Dialogue about Doing History

On February 17, 2011, students on the University of New Brunswick campus came together to talk history. This was an activity planned by members of the faculty of Education as well as History, in recognition of New Brunswick Heritage Week. It was a pragmatic occasion, designed to provide participants with an informal setting where they could pause and reflect upon how historians think historically.  

As a key part of Let’s Talk History, history graduate students were invited to participate in a dialogue with education students from Ian Andrews’ Teaching Canadian Studies class. This involved matching ten history students with Andrews’ fifteen social studies students, so that the latter could gain first-hand pedagogical content knowledge about history education. The Benchmarks of Historical Thinking provided a framework for their discussions.

As each history student talked about their research question, their method of inquiry, and epistemological lens, it became evident that there were many factors motivating their thoughts about the past. The history students spoke of their long-view perspective on continuity and change; of how history is a human experience; and how they are challenged to think beyond the parameters of presentist ideologies.

For their part, the education students were able to quickly identify elements of the Benchmarks of Historical Thinking in the explanations. They also witnessed the passion and motivation that historians hold for their research topics. History, for these students, is not (to borrow a phrase from Thomas Holt) "what somebody else already knows;" history is an act of intellectual exploration that empowers each individual to reach beyond the framework of what is already known.

Let’s Talk History was an excellent example of how the next generation of social studies teachers can learn to integrate the historian’s craft into classroom instruction. It also gave students an opportunity to network, dialogue, make friends, and share across disciplines. Given the positive response received by participants in this pilot project, I would recommend that it be duplicated on campuses across Canada in 2012. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

“What might it mean to live our lives as if the lives of others truly mattered?”

by Cynthia Wallace-Casey
PhD Student, University of New Brunswick

“What might it mean to live our lives as if the lives of others truly mattered”? This is the question that Roger Simon poses in his discourse on the pedagogical significance of remembrance-learning. His response: if the lives of others truly matter, then we should accept the memories of others as counsel and learn from them. Memory and remembrance provide the framework by which individuals have the ability to re-experience the past through the lives of others. Although highly transient in nature, memory and remembrance are the triggers that allow us to make connections between the past, present and future.

Engaging with the past is a profoundly personal experience that is driven by memory. Be it personal, collective or historical, each of us finds our sense of identity by (to borrow the words of Robert R. Archibald) “connecting the dots” between ourselves and others across time. In this way, we are able to make sense of the events that happen in our lives or in the lives of others.

Preliminary research findings from the national survey project Canadians and Their Pasts confirm that a vast majority of Canadians engage in the past as part of living their daily lives. As with similar findings in the United States and Australia, Canadians do this in a variety of ways, but activities that relate to the collective memory of families are considered most important. In explaining why family history is so significant to Canadians, most speak about issues of identity: “it identifies who I am, gives me an idea of where I come from, where I am going”. Such early findings confirm that Canadians possess a deep connection to their past – provided that it is encountered through the people who mean the most to them: the family unit, culture group, or nation to which they closely associate.

In his thoughtful publication about returning home, entitled A Place to Remember: Using History to Build Community, public historian Robert R. Archibald addresses many of these same memory connections. Returning to his boyhood home of Ishpeming, Michigan, Archibald wanted to use his own memory as a “personal historical experiment”; to explore relationships between place, memory, identity and community. In the places of his youth, Archibald re-remembered his past and learned a great deal about himself:
Here I cannot escape my present or past self. Here my own aging is apparent and I mourn my very own lost boy. And here I assess the proud successes and dismal failures of my own life. (15)

Archibald found that his personal memory was sparked by certain locales – a particular sight, sound, smell or sensation – and some of these memory triggers were unique to him alone. Walking and reminiscing with his sister Anne, for example, Archibald witnessed the power of memory and the experience of historical perspective in real life:
As Anne and I walk in the midst of these memory places and as we recollect with each other, we find noncongruent memories. First there are events and places that Anne remembers and insists that I must also, but I just do not; and vice versa. Then there are points where we agree that something took place but each of us has remembered or interpreted it very differently. We agree to not agree… (41)

But there were also times when Archibald’s personal memories shared a common thread with others in the community. Such memories (associated with locations or events that touched the lives of many) were not unique to Archibald, and were thus part of a collective memory. Some of these locations, such as the community’s landmark hotel (the Mather Inn), serve as memory anchors for many individuals, including the author:
… as the site of major events… combined with thousands of shared memories of proms, parties, visiting friends and relatives, dinners, and receptions, as well as more private memories of honeymoons, meetings, and partings, this building is a repository of civic memory that accords it a community-wide significance. (33-34)

Other landmarks, however, were shared by others who were not part of Archibald’s own collective memory nor collective group. Within the city of St. Louis, for example, where Robert Archibald is currently President of the Missouri Historical Society, the Homer G. Phillips Hospital, located in the center of St Louis’ historic African-American neighborhood, serves as a collective memory site for the African-American community of St. Louis:
… a place of nativity, a hall of hope, a promise broken, a place defiled, a legacy lost, a future imperiled. (12)

Both the Mather Inn and Phillips Hospital are equally significant to communities who extract their shared identity from these sites; the latter, however, is even more significant than the former, since it serves as witness to a community that (in the past) was excluded from the powerbase of the former. By preserving a landmark such as the Phillips Hospital, the community of St. Louis is reconciling historical memory (factual evidence that St. Louis’ African-American community truly did exist and contributed to the economic development of the city) with collective memory (concepts and remembrances held true by those who are still living). Such reconciliation of memory could provide a context for what Roger Simon describes as “remembrance-learning” – that is to say, not just representing the past as a foreign relic, but bringing the past into the present: finding counsel in the remembrances of others, relating this to the present, and learning from it.

To “live our lives as if the lives of others truly mattered” is to find counsel in the memories of others and in so-doing learn from the past. Such a prospect requires an acceptance of what Jörn Rüsen describes as “otherness” – either the otherness of another culture or the otherness of another space in time. Roger Simon describes such an encounter with otherness as “historiographic poetics” – the juxtaposition of differing points of view or remembrances – and he presents this as a pedagogical strategy for bringing the past into the present, drawing out personal meaning, and enabling societal re-generation through empathy and reconciliation.