It seems that all students of Canadian History are taught about the causes of Confederation and about the Fathers of Confederation. It’s a neat little package that helps educators get to the next “unit” and then issue report cards at the end of the term. I find that it’s almost a rite of passage – that is that we must learn this stuff before we are issued our passport, or something.
Taken from CBC.
But what if we looked at Confederation in a more critical light? What if we looked at it from a Chinese or First Nation perspective? What if we put ourselves in the position of women, or as feminist historians? Dr. Lorna Marsden, a former Senator, University president, and currently a sociologist at York University, has attempted to do just that. In her book Canadian Women & The Struggle for Equality, she focuses a great deal on how women were not being considered persons 150 years ago, and that this caused one of the most incredible social movements in modern history.
In Chapter II, Marsden refers to the “Great Flaws of Confederation.” What were these and why is it important to critically analyze them? Why is it important to look at history from all perspectives? Are we obliged to do so? Is it unethical not to do so? How does this relate to Zinn’s understanding of radical history? Let’s discuss!
Here is a review of her book from the Winnipeg Free Press by a former SJR parent, Brenlee Carrington, that might help us. I also find this topic intriguing, firstly because I consider myself feminist, but also secondly because the CBC is currently running a series entitled The Mommy Myth. Have a look. How does looking at the role of women in history help us deconstruct some of the barriers they face today?
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?