What is History? Depends who you are?

Today in Canadian History we read the first chapter of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Granted, it does seem like a strange read for a Canadian history class, but I think that it does speak to our purpose this year and the purpose of historians. In fact, I think this chapter not only highlights the appalling events which occurred at first contact between Europeans and first peoples, but it also speaks to the debate that is required in the pursuit of History.

So what is History then? This is a question that has plagued western society for the past few thousand years, principally since Thucydides wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War and Herodotus wrote The History. These historians took different approaches to history, and have been critiqued ever since.

To help us with this question, let’s take a look at a contemporary issue where history might help us. Recently the Quebec Parti Quebecois government as proposed a new charter that would disallow the wearing of any religious symbols in government buildings and seems to, as some have said, a pro-secular offensive.

Here is the CBC’s At Issue Panel giving us a breakdown on the Charter (and among other things):

 Here are a couple of opinion pieces on the Charter of Values. One is from Ian Henderson, an SJR grad and a professor at McGill University. The other is from Edward Greenspon from the Toronto Star. Read both, and then comment on how the doing of history can help us understand this contemporary problem. What pieces of history do we need to know? Why might history be important in this case? What would happen if we took an A-historical look at this issue?

Lastly, let’s do some history of our own. How did Quebec get to this point? Why would Premiere Marois advocate for such a policy and why would Quebec have a different Charter of Rights?

I look forward to your insight!

Advertisements