What is History? (Term Test Edition)

6a00d8341bf7f753ef01b8d0a244ce970cAs part of your Term 1 test, participants in the History of Canada, the History of the United States, and the History of Modern China courses will need to contemplate what they mean by history. Specifically, what is history, what do we mean by the doing of history, and how do we do history? Members of our learning communities are asked to ponder what they think history is and then offer their personal philosophy and methodology.

Last night, I listened to Margaret McMillan’s lecture on CBC’s Ideas on what history might be. Have a listen if you get a chance. Once again, she has challenged me on my naive notions of history. I also love the way the program’s host, Paul Kennedy, introduces us to the idea of history.

This term, we have looked closely at the positioning of Desmond Morton, an SJR grad, Rhodes Scholar, and author of our History of Canada text, Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, and Odd Westad, who wrote Restless Empire.

In the History of Canada, we also looked at what Thomas King called history in the Inconvenient Indian, while those in the History of Modern China examined the process of Michael Dillon. Peter Stearns offers another interpretation of why we do history.

In this space, let’s enter into a dialogue as to what we think history is, why we do it, and how we do it. Let’s ensure that we are precise, that we use evidence, and that we are kind to each other when we respond.

Here is one example of an historian describing what he does. How can his understanding inform our discussion? What is history to him? Why do we do history?

Here is another historian taking about the use of memory:

To help massage our dialogue, I leave you with David Christian’s explanation of “Big History.” Is this an history?

Historical Perspective & Primary Sources: The Middle Passage

From Slave Voyages images database.

From Slave Voyages images database.

In order to examine how we generate historical perspective and also to explore the North American slave trade through primary sources, our US History learning community decided to create narrative podcasts. These histories had us explore various primary sources, notably at Slave Voyages, and then use the works of Howard Zinn and Lawrence Hill to create the story of a person who may have been stolen from Africa.

Here is a sampling of our work:

Radical History: Women in Lower Canada, 1832

As we discussed in class, Canadian history is often told from the perspective of white men – the predominant writers of history in the last 200 years. But how does history change when we start asking different questions? Howard Zinn discusses this in his article What is Radical History, and suggests that if we ask questions from a different perspective, we find answers that have not been addressed before.


Photo from Rethinking Canada, 6th edition, by Gleason, Meyers, and Perry (2006).

What if we asked questions about the role of women in Canadian History? Let’s start!!

Here is an article by Bettina Bradbury entitled Women at the Hustings. It is an account of women’s participation inn the 1832 election in Montreal, which arguably, was one of the most contentious and violent in Canadian history. Not only was this about class, but certainly about gender.

What does this article suggest about the role of women in 1832 and what does it suggest about the doing of history in terms of including all perspectives?