When entering school, kids are not empty pots. They know many things, including things about the past of their society. Getting into the body of this historical knowledge is an interesting business. It reveals to what extent assimilated family souvenirs and community memories and templates are important in shaping children’s historical knowledge and historical consciousness.
If family souvenirs and community memories are structural components in kid’s historical consciousness, they also represent limitations to take students out of the mythistories – a mix of brute facts and historical romance – they’re trapped in when telling the past. One of the main challenges to teaching the past to kids is to get them outside the thinkable they’ve been accustomed to in living in a particular society and being subjected to its broad representations.
The aim of the talk is to discuss a pragmatic approach to teaching the past to kids in the context of a strong presence of community memories and templates everywhere in society, assuming the fact that kids learn history in and out of the classroom. The proposed approach – to start from memory in order to get out of it – comes from an innovative study effectuated in Quebec in the last decade (www.tonhistoireduquebec.ca) which consisted in collecting short narratives (N = 5000) and phrases (N= 3423) produced by students responding to two basic questions: 1) “Tell me the story of Quebec as you know it;” 2) “If you had to summarize in one sentence the historical experience of Quebec, what would you write personally?”
Young People, National Narratives and History Education What young people do and do not know about the past is frequently discussed in news media and in political debate. Young people are typically presented as having a knowledge deficit in these discussions and it has become almost a truism to claim that the young know little or nothing about history. This seminar will explore what young people know about the past and the sources of their knowledge from an international perspective. Drawing on research from Quebec, Ottawa and Amsterdam, the seminar will reflect on the nature, form and sources of young people’s thinking about the past and aim to challenge the clichéd practice of itemising and lamenting ‘the ignorance of the young’.
Click on the image to read this short blog post: “Imagine you are in school and asked to write down, in a page or two, the history of your country, your nation or your homeland (patria) as you know it. While this task may sound trivial, it tells us some important facets of people’s ability to use knowledge of the past for constructing a meaningful historical narrative.”
“Blogging is a new digital medium that provides insights about the position of public historians as well as how ordinary people understand their past. Blogs are free online platforms where individuals post thoughts and ideas. As Michael Conniff asserts, they are structured in reverse chronological order, so that the latest addition is viewed first, and generally feature unfiltered content, posts with an informal tone and hyperlinks to other sites.60 In 1998, there were less than 50 known blogs worldwide, while in 2006 there were an estimated 57.4 million blogs in cyberspace. This figure is likely to continue to increase.61 Historian Stephanie Ho has recognised these sources’ significance and pioneered an investigation that uses blogs to uncover how people understand the past. Using Singapore as a case study, Ho demonstrates that blogs can be used to create a communal, participatory historical culture. They allow ordinary people to engage in a dialogue with one another and share their interpretation of the past. Although there are restrictions on what can be posted online – for example, ‘seditious’ and overtly political statements are policed by the State in Singapore – blogs still provide new avenues for historical understanding. They can expand the scope of history from the national and political past taught at school to the personal and experiential, as well as connect people by sharing knowledge about ‘their’ history.
Ho’s article draws on some foundational traditions in public history. In the 1990s, American scholars Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen were the first to study how ordinary people thought about the past, and this topic has remained popular ever since. Similar projects to the American case have been carried out in countries around the world and the most recent study, in Canada, was completed in 2013.62 These previous investigations, however, largely relied on interviews and questionnaires to understand how people use the past in their everyday lives. Ho’s study and others that use online forums do not need historians to intervene to gather this evidence. Individuals and communities make digital sources for themselves. This breaks new ground as it shows how people are using the Web to create, understand and interact with their past on their own terms. It also changes the historian’s role in these studies. From a participant-collector who physically interacts with ‘the public’, historians become more akin to observers as they analyse the material before them.”
60. Michael Conniff, ‘Just What is a Blog Anyway?’, Online Journalism Review, 29 September 2005. Accessed 10 January 2014 via: <http://www.ojr.org/p050929/>.
61. [Stephanie Ho, ‘Blogging as Popular History Making, Blogs as Public History: a Singapore case study,’ Public History Review, vol 14, 2007], p65.
62. Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, ‘The Presence of the Past: popular uses of history in American life,’ in Kean and Martin (eds) The Public History Reader, pp30-55; Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past: popular uses of history in American Life, Colombia University Press, New York, 1988; Ashton and Hamilton, ‘At Home with the Past,’ pp5‐30; Ashton and Hamilton, History at the Crossroads; Anna Clark, ‘Ordinary People’s History’, History Australia, vol 9, no 1, 2012. pp201‐216; Margaret Conrad et al, Canadians and Their Pasts, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2013.
7th Graders and Their Pasts: A New Brunswick Case Study
University of New Brunswick
This research presents findings from a case study that involved an entire class of Anglophone 7th grade students in New Brunswick. It expands upon the scholarly work of Canadians and Their Pasts as well as current research surrounding historical consciousness in Canada. The data provides a rare micro glimpse into the ways in which Anglophone youth in New Brunswick are currently engaging with the past. It also reveals some of the collective memory narratives students employ when remembering New Brunswick’s (as well as Canada’s) past. The findings present several points for consideration by both educators and public historians in this province.
“It is perhaps the recent pan-Canadian survey led by Létourneau and his team, Canadians and Their Pasts, that provides the most comprehensive review of people’s understanding and use of history. Using a detailed questionnaire with a representative sample of nearly 3,000 adult Canadians across the country and in both official language, Canadians and Their Pasts offers powerful evidence that “no matter what its source, the extend of the public’s engagement with the past in Canada and elsewhere is remarkable, suggesting that historical consciousness is alive and well.”
“When I moved from Montreal to Toronto four years ago, I was startled by the contrast of assumptions in each city regarding what Canada stood for, its history, and what issues were most important.
My personal experience finds an echo in the “Je me souviens” project, a recent study showing the enduring gap of historical consciousness between Anglophone and Francophone youth, in spite of increasing bilingualism in Quebec. This gap is built into us, as the study shows, long before formal history courses, which provide more facts while doing little to change our broader perspective on Canada. How we think about our country derives not from our actual knowledge of its history, but rather from the general public sphere in which we are immersed.”
“It all started with a defeat…” is but one of the numerous catchphrases used by Québec students to describe the narrative experience of their province according to Jocelyn Létourneau’s most recent book, Je me Souviens? Le passé du Québec dans la conscience de sa jeunesse (Fides, 2014), published last week.
For the last 10 years, Université Laval Professor Létourneau has been interested in the historical consciousness of young Canadians. Refuting survey results showing abysmal lack of historical knowledge among youth, he collected over 3500 historical accounts of Québec high school and university students, asking them to write a short story and sum up in one phrase the historical adventure of their province. The results are both fascinating and troubling.
Despite what political leaders and the media claim, young Québécois are not historically disconnected nor are they amnesiacs. If many undeniably lack basic historical knowledge, often confusing dates and figures, their visions of history are nonetheless rich and telling. They are based on narrative structures which provide intelligibility and orientation to otherwise disparate and incoherent facts. Among the most significant events listed are “Jacques Cartier and the explorers,” “Les filles du roi,” and the “Conquest” of 1759, which top the list. Beyond the recurring themes and historical actors, one is struck by the students’ narrative orientation. One dominant template emerging from the stories of francophone Québécois is that of “la survivance” of a melancholic and unhappy representation of Québec’s place in Canadian history, and still hesitant about its future.
Want to weigh in on a major controversy in history education in Canada? Be a part of THEN-HiER’s national Teaching the Past blog contest this March! THEN/HiER invites you to engage with a major issue in history education (for example, one of the Controversies from our website, or another issue) by blogging about it. Blogs will be judged by members of THEN/HiER’s Executive Board. First and second prize winners will choose from one of the following prizes:
• A Parks Canada Family/Group “Discovery Pass”
• A copy of Je me souviens? Le passé du Québec dans la conscience de sa jeunesse (2013) by Jocelyn Létourneau (in French)
• A copy of Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology (2014) edited by Kevin Kee
The deadline to submit your post is March 31st. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Winners will be announced in April.