Tag Archives: Jocelyn Létourneau

Is a Little Knowledge a Dangerous Thing?

Anxieties about national identity and its strengthening and preservation are common in countries around the world, and it is, of course, entirely natural that this should be so in times of great change, challenge and uncertainty…


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Dans: knowledge of history

Young People, National Narratives and History Education

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?”

About the event

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'.

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’.

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Dans: Articles

Negociating the nation Jocelyn Létourneau Arthur Chapman

The truism that young people know nothing about history has been successfully challenged by research. When surveyed using methodologies that interrogate understanding, rather than those with simplistic quizzes and factual tests, young people often reveal that they know a good deal about the past. Many can build historical narratives that address the past experiences of their culture, society or nation, and demonstrate that they not only know things about the past but are able to organise this knowledge. However, research also reveals that historical narratives crafted by young people, and the knowledge built from them, are structured as much by cultural and national myth‐histories – passed on through interaction with peers, family, culture, schooling and the media – as by formally agreed histories. Their rich historical learning can therefore result in deep historical misunderstanding, leading to the appearance that young people ‘know nothing’.  

This special feature in the London Review of Education will explore the multiple sources of young people’s historical knowledge – through collective memory and social conversation as well as in the formal history classroom – and the implications for historical education that young people are not passive assimilators but active builders of historical sense.  

We seek papers that examine the relationships between young people, schools, identity and cultural/other histories in national, intranational, international and supranational contexts, in any part of the world. We welcome submissions that adopt empirical and/or theoretical approaches to young people’s knowledge of the past, including studies of young people’s historical consciousness and papers that address the implications, for pedagogical practice, of that fact that young people’s ‘ignorance’ is a complicated matter.

Articles are subject to full peer review. Please send abstracts, outlines and expressions of interest by 31 January 2016 to Dr Arthur Chapman (a.chapman@ioe.ac.uk). The deadline for submission of manuscripts is 30 June 2016. Informal enquiries to the editors about possible paper submissions are welcome and should be addressed to the contact above. Articles in this feature will be published in January 2017.

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Dans: knowledge of history


Jocelyn Létourneau will give two presentations in London shortly.

WHEN? September 7-9 2015

WHY? The 12th International Conference of the History Educators International Research Network

WHERE? The University of London – Institute of Education

WHAT? The titles of the presentations are:

  • Teaching History To K12 Kids: Reflections Based On A Large Scale Research Project
  • Quebec Students and their Historical Consciousness of the Nation 

The complete program is here.



When submitted to trivia tests, kids seem to know very little about the past of their community (nation). I decided to look at the situation a different way in asking two broad questions to about 5000 different young people, during a period of ten years, when they were in the classroom: 1) “Tell me the history of Quebec as you know”; 2) “If you had to summarize the history of Quebec in a phrase, what would you write personally?” Analysing the corpus shows two things: 1) kids know more about the past of their community (nation) than we think they do; 2) what they know is as powerful as it is simplistic. So the question: How to teach history to kids in the context they are not empty pots but have a very strong prior knowledge?

First step is to assess knowledge kids possess… to discover that it’s very much rooted in their community’s mythistories (I shall define that concept in my talk). o Second is to create a cognitive conflict with kid’s prior knowledge so they are challenged in their historical representations. o Third is to provide kids with alternative historical knowledge structured in the form of “catchy” ideas (so they may remember something of what is taught to them), knowledge also focused on their community’s mythistories (in order to have them distancing from the common premises upon which their culture is constructed, so they study history with a purpose, which is a good inducement to develop their learning interest). o In the paper each point will be detailed and backed with arguments. The aim of the talk is not to go against historical thinking theory but to adjust the basics of this theory with the general context into which kids learn (and use that knowledge to live efficiently in complex social settings).


• J. Létourneau, Je me souviens ? Le passé du Québec dans la conscience historique de sa jeunesse, Montreal, Fides, 2014.

• J. Létourneau, “Teaching National History to Young People Today”, in Mario Carretero, Stefan Berger & Maria Grever (eds.), International Handbook of Research in Historical Culture and Education. Hybrid Ways of Learning History, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. [To be published].

• J. Létourneau, S. Lévesque & R. Gani, “A Giant with Clay Feet: Quebec Students and the Historical Consciousness of the Nation”, International Journal of Historical Learning, Teaching and Research, 11, 2 (May 2013), p. 159-175.

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Dans: Conférence

Becoming a History Teacher

A recent book chapter written by Stéphane Lévesque refer to J. Letourneau et al. study about historical consciousness.

Here’s a excerpt of that book chapter:

“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.”

Canadians and Their Pasts book cover

Canadians and Their Pasts alternate book cover

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Dans: Articles

Stéphane Lévesque in Public History Weekly blog

A blog post by Stéphane Lévesque about a research inspired by J. Létourneau’s work.

“Honestly, I don’t recall anything. But I think there were lots of troubles between French and English Canadians… ” says one 17 year old student when asked to recount the history of Canada. Like many of her counterparts, Annie was initially baffled by the task of writing a historical narrative of Canada because, as she put it, “I don’t recall anything”. Public surveys periodically remind Canadians of the catastrophic state of historical knowledge among youth. “Canada is failing history,” as one newspaper even put it.

To read the rest…

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Dans: Work citing us

Hermes-History education / Jocelyn Létourneau

From the HERMES website.


Project Description:

This project aims to explore what pre-service History teachers know, understand, and believe is important about Australia’s past. Australia has experienced two decades of public struggle over the national narrative; concerns over whose history is being taught in schools; reports that teachers and school students find Australian history of little interest; and anxieties over what the public knows about the nation’s past. Much of the concern has been driven by survey research that expects an encyclopaedic knowledge of the past. Using an open-ended narrative methodology, this study seeks to find out what participants do know and imagine about the nation’s past when given the opportunity to tell Australia’s history in their own words. The project draws upon a generative research methodology developed by Professor Jocelyn Létourneau (2006) and used over the past decade to investigate the historical consciousness of over 4,000 young French Canadians [See www.tonhistoireduquebec.ca for more details on the Canadian work that inspired our project]. Pioneered in Québec, the methodology has been appropriated by numerous scholars throughout Europe. Létourneau’s method involved approaching a room of participants with the invitation to “Please present or account for the history of Québec since the beginning, the way you see it, remember it, or understand it”. The RAP project seeks to adapt this methodology for an Australian pilot project. Currently, over one-hundred narratives have been collected from first-year pre-service History teachers, and the Research Team is in the process of analysing these narratives for what they tell us about the historical consciousness of pre-service history teachers.

Principal Researchers: Dr Robert Parkes, Dr Debra Donnelly, Dr Heather Sharp, Dr Josephine May, Dr Catherine Hart, and Dr Paul Zanazanian.

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Dans: Canadians and Their Pasts

Canadians and Their Pasts Je me souviens Jocelyn Létourneau.JPG

Jocelyn Létourneau was the principal investigator in Community-University Research Alliance Canadians and their Pasts. Here’s a short and recent article written by Del Muise, co-investigator in the project.

Poll Says Canadians Love Their History

Canadians and their Pasts, a Community-University Research Alliance project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, surveyed 3,419 Canadians on their engagement with and attitudes toward the past. Conducted as a telephone survey during 2007-08, its more than 70 questions per interview provide the most nuanced understanding of Canadians’ engagement with the past to date.


Among other things, the survey puts paid to commonly held notions that Canadians are uninformed about or uninterested in the past. In fact, considerable interest and activity regarding the broad field of history was reported; Canadians visit museums and historic sites and watch history related movies and television as well as reading history related books and magazines. So much more of Canada’s history is available in so many media that access to the past has flourished in the past few decades.


What can we conclude? Our survey illuminates a number of important themes that have been prominent in media commentary in recent years. Have people lost contact with the past as a result of today’s extraordinary changes in communication? We say, emphatically, no. Do they express any interest in Canada’s history? Yes, quite clearly they do. Are ethnic and religious loyalties evident in the pattern of their responses? Yes, without question, but regional and linguistic differences were not as significant as we had anticipated. Do immigrants differ in some way from the Canadian-born in their relationship to the past? Not nearly as much as has been suggested in public debates in other countries. Do interprovincial migrants have a distinctive view of Canada’s past? Yes, like immigrants, they express greater interest in Canada’s past than many of their fellow citizens. Do Canadians differ from Americans and Australians? In some matters, yes, but the bigger story is the presence of an internationally shared perspective.

For the rest of the article.

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Dans: Canadians and Their Pasts


This book is a scientific study. What is a scientific study?

A study is research based on data gathered methodically and analysed rigorously to convincingly demonstrate one or more ideas.


How long did your study take?

The 3,423 statements that form the basic material for the study were collected between 2003 and 2013. This is one of the largest collections of its kind in the world.


Who were the subjects of the study?

The statements were gathered from Secondary IV and V students in schools in many regions of Québec. The collection also includes statements produced by cégep and university students. The statements were gathered from Francophones, Anglophones and Allophones.


How did you conduct the survey?

The survey was held in class anonymously (the respondents did not have to identify themselves), suddenly (they were not prepared for the survey) and with few guidelines (no answers were considered unacceptable or inadequate out of hand).


Why did you conduct this study?

The purpose of the study was to test the hypothesis that young people know generally without knowing specifically. In other words, young people have strong visions of Québec’s past without detail knowledge of what happened. Indeed, the ignorance of the young people is not an emptiness waiting to be filled, but a fullness that can be turned into account.


Whose idea was the project?

I designed the project. I also began the research and obtained the funding required to carry it out. I engaged a team of assistants – master’s and doctoral students – who carried out various tasks. I want to mention in particular the extensive contribution of Raphaël Gani to this process. Many teachers and professors also helped gather the data by agreeing to have their students answer the survey.


What are the main results of the study?

There are many, many results, so I will limit myself to mentioning one: the historical perspectives of young people are complex, hard to understand and even more difficult to account for in light of the diagnosis of ignorance.


Why is this book interesting?

We know lots about the knowledge that is transferred to youth. We know far less about the knowledge they receive, internalize, understand and put to use to construct meaning that is useful to them. The value of this work is that it lays bare the system of representations that Québec youth hold about the past of their society. This is the most exhaustive study that has been led to date in Québec and in Canada.


Why is this book relevant to the reform of the teaching of history proposed by the Parti Québécois?

It is unfortunate that the PQ government has decided to reform the History and Citizenship Education program without first conducting a serious study of its virtues and shortcomings. Much has been said about the deficit of young people’s knowledge about Québec’s past. When it comes to ideas about history, the true religion in Québec, feelings run extremely high. This study provides fuel for a more grounded and more nuanced re-examination of the historical education of young Quebecers.


What makes the book original?

The idea behind the book is the simplest but also the most promising I have ever had. Studies based on mine have been conducted in France, Catalonia, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, English Canada and French Ontario. It is original in that, to test the historical conceptions of young people, rather than restrict them to the structure of an established questionnaire created to assess their answers according to standardized criteria, we let them speak freely and respected what they said and analysed it as stated. By doing this, we discovered what remains of what is transmitted to them; we also discovered the visions of history that they create from what they hear about the past. In this way, we got right into the heart of the structuring representations of collective identity that they translate to their own individual scale.    


Who is this book for?

Teachers, professors and education students, of course, who are directly affected by the content of the book, but also anyone interested in young people’s relationship with the past; people who are concerned about the way history is presented in the public space; people who are worried about historical education; people who want to know whether, in terms of the interpretation of Québec’s past, there are differences between Francophones and Anglophones, between  boys and girls, among young people at different educational levels, between youth and the general public, between youth who have taken the History and Citizenship Education course and those who haven’t.  


Why did you choose this cover?

Besides the fact the Garnotte’s brilliant caricature is closely related to the content of the book, it is a nudge to people who, quick to judge, consider today’s youth to be ignorant of history, careless of their connection to their predecessors, uninterested in anything that relates to the past and depoliticized. It is true that most young people do not know the name of the first premier of Québec. So what? Their smart phone can tell them in three seconds! They may not have encyclopedic minds, but young people are nevertheless inhabited by visions of history that, in general, reflect the identity themes of their reference community, whether that community is Francophone or Anglophone.

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Dans: Interview