Myth & History: #Warof1812 #sirJAM

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Taken from the Toronto Star

This week, we have looked a great deal at how Canada’s history has often been transformed into mythology, for better or for worse.

We have analyzed a number of historians, events, and positions related to the supposed mythologies of the Winnipeg General Strike, the War of 1812, and Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. Mcdonald.

We investigated what Desmond Morton referred to in his book Canada: A Short History as the christening of the War of 1812 as Myth (2006, p. 38). From there we looked specifically at the Battle of Queenston Heights from the perspective of two historians, Robert Vineberg and Donald Hickey, who argued that the heroes at Queenston Heights were really Sheaffe and/or Norton, respectively. We then questioned why the Government of would spend $28 Million on commemorations of the War of 1812, when historians, like Morton, seem to deem it not so significant.

Here is an article from the New York Times which looks at the War of 1812 and its politicization. Andrew Cohen is featured in this article and I would encourage you to read his linked article form the Ottawa Citizen (although republished in the Calgary Herald). He suggests that the Harper Government mythologized the War of 1812. Why would the Government do this? Do you agree with Cohen?

Next, as the 200th anniversary of John A.’s birthday is approaching this weekend and all the major papers will be full of “history buffs” explaining why John A. is a hero or villain. (Watch in Saturday’s Winnipeg Free Press.) We read in class Richard Gwyn’s essay on why we should commemorate John A. and we also researched how the Numbered Treaties were essentially negotiated under duress and how the Canadian Government under John A. arguably committed genocide and other atrocities. Here is a review of Daschuk’s book Clearing the Plains which we referenced in our student-led seminars on Big Bear and Riel/Dumont. How is it that John A. can be deemed the Father Figure of Canada, and at the same time have caused such harm?

So…Here we have a few events, people, and positions which have been arguably trumped up as myth. Why do we do this? Why do we create interpretations of history that might be embellished? What does this type of “history” serve? What is our task as critical and historical thinkers when it comes to myth and history?

Do some reading. Do some thinking. Call a classmate and have a conversation about the idea of myth and history, referencing specially the War of 1812, John A. and or the Winnipeg General Strike. Upload your conversation to Soundcloud and tweet it out ususingsirJAM, #Warof1812, and #sjrcanhis. Be sure to use the historical thinking concepts to help you analyze and create arguments. Please tweet out your phone calls by Sunday evening.

“Myth basically serves four functions. The first is the mystical function,… realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery….The second is a cosmological dimension, the dimension with which science is concerned – showing you what shape the universe is, but showing it in such a way that the mystery again comes through…. The third function is the sociological one – supporting and validating a certain social order…. It is the sociological function of myth that has taken over in our world – and it is out of date…. But there is a fourth function of myth, and this is the one that I think everyone must try today to relate to – and that is the pedagogical function, of how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.”

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

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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!