Canadian history is not without its controversy - the traditional, Euro-centric version of it typically taught in schools is being critically examined and destabilized increasingly by educators, scholars and proponents of social justice. While most adults who grew up in Canada will recall learning histories of exploration, trade, colonization, and confederation, the growing consensus among educators is that this rendition of history is deeply one-sided and biased.The movement to re-evaluate Canadian history and how it is taught in school has taken more momentum than ever, thanks to widespread cultural movements to eradicate racism.
Because our notion of Canadian history and identity is changing so rapidly, there has never been a better time to re-learn our past, or support our children in learning and thinking critically about it. To study history is to study the past; it shows us who we are, where we come from, what may lie ahead. Knowledge of history makes us better equipped to understand the society we live in, who is in power, who is disempowered, and why existing power structures exist. While a study of history doesn’t lead directly to a job, it can help us gain skills and insights that can serve us in a variety of ways.
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Why Study History?
History is one of the most important subjects to study as it helps us develop new skills, foster a stronger sense of identity, and better understand the world.
When we study history, we develop and strengthen our reading, writing, and critical thinking skills as we encounter new texts and media that explain the events of the past. As you read a variety of different books or watch different films on the same historical events, you will start to see how narratives change from one author to another, and from one perspective to another. Watching a history film from the 1980s, for example, will be surprisingly different from one made in 2018 - even though they may be covering the same event. Writing historical papers and essays will strengthen your skills of communication as you analyze and articulate your own perspective of events.
All the skills you gain from studying history can be transferred to other subjects or areas of your life: literature, current events, sociology, and critical theory, just to name a few!
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Foster a Stronger Sense of Identity
When we study the histories of our country or even other countries around the world, we build a stronger sense of identity for ourselves as we learn about why Canada exists in its current form, and what people before us did to build the country we live in. When we delve deep and learn about our ancestors, we develop a stronger sense of connection to the past and who we are. Having a strong sense of identity will make us more confident and possibly even develop a sense of pride in who we are, and what we can do to improve or change from past mistakes.
Understand the World Better
When we study history - not just of Canada but of other places around the world - we enhance our understanding of current events and why the world is organized the way it is. For example, learning about colonization, its detrimental impacts to Indigenous people around the world, and it’s influence on the world economy can give you a better understanding of governments around the world and their official languages. You’ll deepen your knowledge of current international conflicts, as in many cases they stem from the past.
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The Traditional View of Canadian History
Now that we know why we should engage in a study of history, let’s discuss the traditional view of Canadian history and what we can do to study or re-learn it.
The traditional, mainstream view of Canadian history often starts with the Europeans arriving in the “new world” and ends with Canada as a world leader in human rights, an economic leader, and an powerful international ally. As kids, we often start first with the explorers: Cartier, Champlain, and Etienne Brule, to name a few; move on to the French fur trade and the beginnings of the Hudson’s Bay Company; and shift on to the eventual rise and dominance of the British. We learn about Confederation as an ambitious if precarious union of provinces driven by Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister; we learn about the tensions and “rebellions” that arose from the Metis and Indigenous people. Canada is often understood as having ‘two solitudes’, as writer Hugh MacLennan put it: when the reality is that there are so many more voices and identities that represent the social fabric of the country. While all of these ideas and events may indeed have some truth and validity, the historical narrative misses many important perspectives and events, from the destruction of Indigenous cultures to the devastating impact of the slave trade and widespread racism and the contributions of newcomer communities.
So where does a study of Canadian history go from here? The truth is that new textbooks, new narratives, and new ways of teaching it have yet to be discovered, in order to re-define Canadian history as one that honours the different communities of Canada over the past couple hundred years, and not simply the legacies of those that hold and maintain power. Let’s explore the best ways to study and re-learn Canadian history.
The Best Ways to Learn Canadian History
Consume the Latest Book Resources and Media
Get a new look at Canadian history by borrowing or purchasing some of the latest resources on the topic. Historians have been working hard to formulate new understandings of the past, especially as we explore the different perspectives of diverse communities. New historical texts will also critically examine what has been said by previous historians, dispute ideas, or provide new context on events. Check out books from Indigenous perspectives, like 21 Things You May Not Know about the Indian Act, by Bob Joseph or The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King, just to get started. Don’t focus solely on non-fiction: historical fiction from authors like George Elliot Clarke can be even more effective at learning history. Whatever you read, assume a critical perspective, compare multiple resources, and do your own research to get a fuller understanding of the events described.
Who says history has to be a load of reading? Why not check out some of the latest historical shows, documentaries, videos and summaries of history on the internet. The CBC has created an entire series on Canadian history that reflects modern, diverse perspectives, and numerous documentaries on Canada are available for free through the National Film Board. Of course, you’ll find plenty of media on YouTube, but again, take a critical lens when you explore any media and research who is creating it so you can discern what the real story is.
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Take a Class
Adults will find plenty of places to learn Canadian history with some of the best scholars in the world from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) or continuing education classes at your local university. Visit the University of Alberta for fantastic MOOCs on Indigenous History, Canadian Politics, and more. If you learned history years ago, you will probably find that history has changed - with a course, you’ll be up to date on the latest ideas and thoughts.
If you are looking for your child, why not start with critically questioning what they are learning from in school? Speak to your child’s teacher and find out what resources they are using to learn history, and find out what you might be able to do to support or supplement your child’s learning. There are plenty of kids websites and books out there that will support your child’s Canadian history learning, so visit your local librarian to learn more.
Hire a Canadian History Tutor
If you would like a more efficient and effective way to re-learn Canadian history, why not hire a private History or Social Studies tutor? History tutors are well-versed in the study of history and follow the latest trends, authors and insights around history learning. They can get you started on a unique study of Canadian history, refer you to the best books and sites, and work with you to analyze and synthesize new ideas. They can work with you through a course like a MOOC, or any history course you are taking in a school or institution. History tutors are also great for young students who may be just starting to learn history.
Tutors can work with you online or in-person at a location that is convenient for you, at a reasonable price. Sites like Superprof have listings for great history tutors near you - check it out today and find a tutor for your needs!
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