Missed connections: looking for everything in the archives - Danielle Robichaud Archivists are commonly asked by researchers to produce everything available about a particular topic. While understandable from a resea...
9 hours ago
“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)
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.
… 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.
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.
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.
1. History armours us against all those people who claim to know it and are only too anxious to tell us what it proves;With intellectual self-defence, comes intellectual freedom – and an ability to make informed choices and effect change in the present.
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.