Project Leader: Dr Robert Parkes Principal Researchers: Dr Debra Donnelly, Dr Heather Sharp, Dr Josephine May, Dr Jill Barnes, Mrs Vicki Parkes, Dr Paul Zanazanian, Dr Mark Sheehan, Professor Monika Vinterek, and Mr Robert Thorp.
This project adds a comparative and international dimension to a domestic pilot study funded in 2014. Many nations have experienced public struggle over the national narrative; concerns over whose history is being taught in schools; reports that teachers and school students find 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. TheRemembering Australia’s Past [RAP] pilot project explored what pre-service History teachers do know, understand, and believe is important about Australia’s past, using an adaptation of a highly successful narrative research methodology developed by Canadian Professor, Jocelyn Létourneau (2006), whose work [See www.tonhistoireduquebec.ca] has already had purchase in parallel projects throughout Europe.
This international comparative pilot project will utilise the same narrative collection methodology that was successful in the 2014 Australian pilot study. Participants will be asked to write for 45 minutes in response to the request to “Tell the history of the nation in your own words”. This project builds directly upon the RAP project work, and extends the scope of the Australian study by: (1) expanding the sampling to include primary pre-service teachers; and (2) adding an international comparative dimension. The sample will include pre-service primary teachers and secondary History teachers in four countries: Australia, Canada, Sweden, and New Zealand.
Why include pre-service primary and secondary History teachers in the sample?
In the 2014 study, narratives were only collected from pre-service secondary History teachers. With the completed roll out of the Australian Curriculum, History is now a mandatory subject from Kindergarten to Year 10 in all Australian states and territories. This means that all Australian primary teachers will also be teachers of history. Expanding the scope of the sampling to include pre-service primary teachers in addition to secondary History teachers, captures a purposive typical case sample of all those who will eventually be teaching history to the nation’s young people. The extended scope of the sample will allow for domestic comparisons between the historical consciousness of pre-service primary and secondary History teachers, and has the potential to speak to a range of public concerns, including (History) teacher preparation.
What criteria have been used to select the four nations participating in this comparative study?
Each of the four nations has been selected because it has a significant Indigenous population that has historically found itself in conflict with the dominant ethnic group. The nations are different, however, in their varied histories of reconciliation between the dominant and Indigenous groups; the part Indigenous histories play in the official stories of the nation; and the degree of attention to Indigenous history in the History curricula (and teaching media) of each country. Key to the comparative study will be determining how the Australian, Canadian, Swedish and New Zealand participants address the Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, First Nation, Sami, or Maori) histories of their nation.
Note: This project is funded through the Faculty of Education and Arts Strategic Networking and Pilot Projects Scheme, at the University of Newcastle, Australia.
“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.
This research helps us reflect on how to teach history to youth. We know to which extent, over the past twenty years, the historical thinking paradigm has influenced academics and teachers. Without diminishing the important contribution this intervention has made in teaching history, we need to acknowledge that historical thinking is not easily implemented in the concrete context of the curriculum or classroom.
We have arrived at this conclusion by examining a subset of students in Quebec’s mandatory History and Education to Citizenship course who, in principle, have been introduced to historical thinking methods. It appears from their submissions, however, that even after learning about historical thinking, students continue to adhere to canonical visions of Quebec’s past; a past that’s binary, simplistic and divided. Of course, it is possible that the historical thinking paradigm was not fully applied in the classroom and therefore these responses have nothing to do with its putative failure to fulfill its promise. It is equally possible, however, that the strong voices supporting this paradigm under-estimate a number of significant realities:
Youth develop their understanding and vision of history outside of the classroom as much, and often more, than inside the classroom.
Youth quickly forget most of what they are told or learn in class.
The grand national narratives remain a ready-to-use framework or template for young people diligently searching to make sense of the past that allows them to live efficiently in society (or at least pass the exam!).