It is time to get back to my researcher’s journal. The semester has been so busy with assignment work that there has been little time to think about anything else. Now after a great session with one of my profs – Dr. Nicholas Ng-A-Fook, I have some great material to work with!
First – I need a question. This is certainly a challenge, you would think this would be easy, but for my comps exam, I will need three questions and I write on two of these. The point here is to choose something that your committee will agree with and it is also important to come up with questions you can actually answer.
Where am I now?
So, I am starting with this – What would a poststructural or critical theory approach to examining grade 10 history teachers’ classroom practices look like?
This is probably the most challenging question that I am going to come up with. There needs to be something on epistemology or methodology so this is a theme to explore. But it is also grounded in reality – I am most interested in cataloguing how teachers are teaching the only mandatory history course in Ontario high schools. How is our national story being told in the classrooms of this province?
Thanks to VoicEd Radio and Dr. Ng-A-Fook there is an interview with Petra Munroe. This might help me with this first question.
Dr. Munro Hendry draws on curriculum studies, history, and philosophy to share her wisdom on the practice of history in relation to the COVID-19 Pandemic, curriculum history, and a history of education from a transatlantic perspective.
Nicholas Ng-A-Fook Twitter August 9, 2021
So far, I have a collection of reading themes where all the articles I have found so far have been organized – this is what it looks like now:
Historic Agency and Consciousness
Teaching Historical Thinking
History teaching methodology – teachers and teacher candidates
Students’ ideas about history
Continuity and Change
Alternatives to historical thinking concepts
Understanding the ethical dimension of historical interpretation
Cause and Consequence
There is a bit of a pattern here. The methodology of teaching history and more specifically, the teaching of historical thinking concepts are the two themes that are of the greatest interest right now.
What I need to work towards is a comprehensive knowledge of a particular topic. The topic revolves around the teaching of history in Ontario schools and the impact (if any) of historical thinking concepts. The question will be something like this – What are current history teaching methodologies used by history teachers and taught to teacher candidates? How are historical thinking concepts beginning to enter the school system?
This is probably still too unwieldy, but this is what I have right now. The next step – spend the next two weeks adding to the articles I have found and honing my question!
In all this I need to remember to keep this practical, make this something that is useful to teachers. For me this is essential. If I am eventually going to create something of value, it has to be situated in the classroom, it has to be grounded in reality.
In the first year of a doctoral program, one of the most important things to learn is who your supervisor(s) are. I am very fortunate to have two people working with me – Dr. Marie-Hélène Brunet and Dr. Cynthia Wallace-Casey. Marie-Hélène was suggested to me by Dr. Lindsay Gibson, a professor at UBC. I had messaged Lindsay to get some ideas about starting a Ph.D. I don’t know Dr. Gibson all that well, but I have read some of his work and I take part in the Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future project where he is on the executive committee. He suggested I contact Marie-Hélène and ask her to be my supervisor. Here, I have to stop to note what an incredible academic community I am now a small part of. I had only spoken to Marie-Hélène over Zoom, but she agreed to be my supervisor and carefully coached me on my letter of intent for the University of Ottawa. Pretty wonderful.
Incredible what one conversation on Twitter started!
This year, Marie-Hélène introduced me to Cynthia Wallace-Casey, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Ottawa; she is now supervising me with Marie-Hélène. Dr. Brunet started out as a high school and CEGEP teacher in Montreal and after four years went back to school to get her Master’s and Ph.D. She has been an Assistant Professor of social studies and history education at the Faculty of Education since 2018 and her current work focuses on understanding the historical consciousness of teachers and students. Her work enriches the literature on Historical Thinking Concepts (2014); she is currently a co-investigator on the Thinking Historically project (2020).
Dr. Wallace-Casey has worked in the field of public history and heritage in New Brunswick for the past twenty years. For her Masters, she studied the contributions made by women weavers in 19th century New Brunswick and how they contributed to the economy of Queen’s County (2011). Cynthia also has an incredible blog – Cynthia’s Heritage Education Blog – A View from the Picture Province… (2022) started in 2009 and updated on a regular basis. Her latest post includes a webinar (2021) outlining ways to bridge the gap between educators and museums to facilitate student learning.
Both of my supervisors have a keen interest in Historical Thinking Concepts, as do I. This is a methodology for teaching history that focuses on key concepts like cause and consequence, historical significance, ethics and the development of a historical perspective (Seixas et. al., 2013). They both write about this methodology and I am looking forward to working with them; there is a great deal I can learn. Dr. Wallace-Casey writes about the development of the Canadian History Hall in Constructing Patriotism: How Canada’s History Hall has evolved over 50 years (2018). She has also written about how students can develop historic consciousness through work with adult volunteers at community museums (2017). Dr. Wallace-Casey has followed up on this inquiry with a recent piece that investigates student learning at the Museum of History and their development of ‘Big Ideas’ in Canadian history (2019).
Dr. Brunet writes about historical consciousness and students’ and teachers’ sense of agency. In a collaborative piece with high school teacher Scott Pollock, they analyze the historical understanding of feminism held by different groups of female high school students. The surprising results of their research led them to examine why girls were hostile to feminist ideas. Their inquiry examines the students’ sense of historic consciousness and their personal theories of agency (p. 12). They conclude that in the mind of the students, the past has no connection to the present. While past struggles for the vote and legal recognition by women were understood by the students, these struggles have no present-day meaning.
Both of my supervisors see this concept as the key to understanding how people understand history. Both also reference Jörn Rüsen who writes about historical consciousness:
The basic category for understanding historical learning is that of historical consciousness. Its widespread definition sounds as follows: a mental activity of interpreting the past for the sake of understanding the present and expecting the future. Thus it combines past, present and future along the line of an idea of what temporal change is about. (p. 523)
Forming Historical Consciousness – Towards a Humanistic History Didactics. Antíteses. 5(10), 519–536.
After conducting separate studies, Brunet and Scott concluded that most of the students were operating at a level of historical consciousness that views history as a steady progression towards the good. The past battles for justice, are now over; there is no need for a feminist movement (p. 18). This in turn leads to a false sense of agency where the individual believes the past has no impact on the rights and privileges they currently enjoy.
The works of Drs. Wallace-Casey and Brunet are linked by the concept of historical consciousness. In Dr. Wallace-Casey’s research, she recounts a narrative describing the development of an inclusive Canadian consciousness through the slow evolution of the Canadian History Hall. In this piece, it is important to remember that the weaving of Canadian Indigenous stories into the main narrative only happened in 2017 (2018).
Both Drs. Wallace-Casey and Brunet agree that a sense of the past is something that must be developed over time. Both use the same categories of historical consciousness to situate the students and teachers with whom they work. Dr. Wallace-Casey sees a strong role for local museums in helping students to develop personal relevancy to the past – something that was lacking in the high school students in Dr. Brunet’s study.
Dr. Brunet also examines ways to develop a greater sense of historical consciousness through teacher-candidate workshops that examine how traditional male-dominated narratives are still told in our current textbooks (Brunet & Demers, 2018). By analyzing the stories that are missing from our current historical narrative. Dr. Brunet attempts to deconstruct the traditional narratives still held by new teachers. In doing so, there is a chance that these educators will be able to develop new narratives in their classrooms. In this sense, both of my supervisors are examining how we perceive our stories and what can be done to develop a more inclusive look at the past.
Author’s Note: This video explains a lot about Dr. Brunet’s work
References – what I read to put this together. Yet another challenge, figuring our APA!
Wallace-Casey, C. (2017). I like to take everything and put it in my own words: Historical Consciousness, Historical Thinking, and Learning with Community History Museums. Canadian Journal of Education, 40(1), 1–28.
Wallace-Casey, C. (2018). Constructing Patriotism: How Canada’s History Hall has evolved over 50 years. History Education Research Journal. 15(2), 292–307. https://doi.org/10.18546/HERJ.15.2.10
Wallace-Casey, C. (January 20, 2021). Museum Collections and N.B. Social Studies: Bridging the Two. Association Heritage New Brunswick.