Monday, August 29, 2005

Do/Did You Find Canadian History Boring?

This is my last Montreal-based post on this blog. I'm neck-deep in boxes, so I'm going to make it a quasi-guest blog. A pair of columns have run on the past two Saturdays in the Ottawa Citizen. The first, by U of T historian Allan Greer is entitled "Why Canadian History is BORING", and he kindly
posted it to the H-Canada listserv
, which I co-moderate. He also provided the link to the rejoinder last weekend from York historian emeritus Jack Granatstein (of Who Killed Canadian History? fame) which you can find linked here.

I haven't made a pass through an elementary or high school Canadian history textbook of late, but have recently read through the major ones at the university level. What strikes me at that level is that I don't know of any Canadian history professor who teaches to the textbook, or parrots what they find there. I only ever assign them as optional readings, usually for a student who missed lectures or had trouble keeping up with the pace of my lectures, and wanted a bit of extra material. Pretty much every professor I ever had does a combination of what Greer and Granatstein are advocating - teaching both the contentious issues, but also stressing the issues of national development and pride where appropriate. Rare is the professor who limits him/herself to the textbooks alone.

Is the situation really so different at the high school level? It seems to me that if it is, this is more a problem of an overly rigid curriculum and teachers who don't go beyond the textbooks than of a fundamental flaw with the discipline of Canadian history.

For the last twenty-odd years, the academic discipline of Canadian history has seen an ongoing battle between the so-called "political" and "social" historians. It strikes me as being too easy to pin the alleged current state of Canadian history being "boring" on those schisms, especially when many historians are attempting to bridge that gap, and include the best elements of both approaches.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention my own connection to both professors. Allan Greer taught me the history of New France as an undergraduate student, and I have used many of his own books in my teaching. I didn't ever have Jack Granatstein directly, but his books on military and diplomatic history were central to many of my undergraduate and graduate courses, and I had one of his former PhD students as a professor at graduate school. I think that both men have done excellent work in their respective fields.

What do you think, gentle readers? Is Canadian history irredeemably boring? Is it being taught in an overly negative or jingoistic fashion? Is there a cure?

As for me, I'll be back to posting in a little while, once I'm partially settled in my new home of the bustling metropolis of Sackville, New Brunswick, where I will be teaching in the Canadian Studies Department at Mount Allison University.

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At 10:25 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd just like to say that at the high-school level, canadian history is boring as hell


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