Doing History 

Profiles of people working in the area of history but not necessarily as history teachers.

 

Active History is a website that aims to, in its own words, “connect the work of historians with the wider public and the importance of the past to current events.” 

Risa Gluskin e-interviewed Daniel Ross, the Public Outreach Coordinator for Active History. He recently completed a PhD in History at York University.

 

Did you want to do what you are doing now when you were in high school? If no, what did you want to do?

I was actually headed in quite another direction in high school. Although I’ve always been interested in history, by the time I got to Grade 12 I was most interested in studying economics. So my high school experience involved a lot of math and sciences courses—physics, biology, calculus—and not much history. That changed pretty quickly when I got to the University of Toronto, however: I found the economics material baffling, the classes huge, and the program a bit alienating. Within a year I had switched streams from Economic & Commerce to History & Classics, and I certainly don’t regret it. Based on that experience, I really think anyone who has the luxury of going to university should treat it as an opportunity to grow and change: let yourself make mistakes, and learn from them.

Editor's note: 

DOING HISTORY will be a regular feature of the Rapport Blog. Doing History features profiles of and interviews with people who work in history, not necessarily as history teachers. Posts can be shown to students for career ideas in history and social science! If you know someone that Risa should interview, please email her This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

I meet Bruce Beaton at Mackenzie House in Toronto, the home of William Lyon Mackenzie, leader of the 1837 Rebellion. We are sitting in the day room, a medium-size room with a well worn wooden dining table and chairs, and an unlit fire place, located just off the kitchen. Bruce says this is where the family would have spent most of their time. It is 4:00 pm, so there’s still some light but it’s getting dimmer.

Bruce Beaton is a museum educator. What makes him so fascinating is that he’s also an actor, director, and writer. Bruce has great passion for learning – this comes across immediately when you meet him. He speaks eloquently and with beautiful diction, reflecting the Victorian era that Mackenzie House hails from. On student tours, he says, “we enliven history.” What a beautiful expression – makes me jealous of his job.

I asked Bruce, a museum studies grad, what a museum studies program entails: “learning to make museums better,” he said. Given that it’s a profession that requires both interpretation and creation, it is no surprise that he came to it through history-based theatre work. He also went into the field because he was curious about Mackenzie which lead to him writing a play for Summerworks, a theatre festival in Toronto.

Given his enthusiasm it comes as no surprise that Bruce likes to put the students in the drama. At Mackenzie House they take on roles such as Upper Canadian farmers who must choose whether to support the rebellion or not. Others may act as editor for a day of Mary Ann Shadd’s abolitionist newspaper, The Provincial Freeman (printed on the 170-year old printing press).

I was curious how a museum educator, especially someone who often portrays a role, approaches the issue of perspectives. In history classes we are careful to identify multiple perspectives, not necessarily voice one perspective. Bruce admits that there’s a bias – he is, after all, working in Mackenzie House and sometimes he is Mackenzie. However, other perspectives make their appearances in the tours as well; on tours outside of the museum he includes the view of loyalists; upon the execution of rebels, loyalists sang songs. The tours include these songs. Being so knowledgeable about Mackenzie, he adds that when he returned from the United States years after the failed rebellion, he was received with riots against him in which he was burnt in effigy. Quite interestingly, escaped slaves in Upper Canada did not want anything to do with radical Mackenzie because they feared the reintroduction of slavery if Upper Canada were to become a republic like the US. 

New Ideas for Curriculum: More Books and their Insights into How to Shape Curriculum

American History

By students of John Myers at OISE

Daniella Ciampa

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan offers a fascinating look at a period in American History and recounts the personal experiences and firsthand accounts of various women in the 1940s who were recruited to a secret city, called Oak Ridge, in Tennessee. They were enticed by high wages and the promise that their work would help end the war; however, they were kept in the dark and deceived. In fact, their hard work and efforts were direct contributions to the manufacturing of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The realities of propaganda, secrecy and at times, optimism and excitement are illustrated in this novel, drawn from women (who are now in their eights and nineties) who contributed to an unforgettable chapter in American history. 

With a focus on the role of women based behind the scenes, students can use the book to understand the reality of this event and gain insight on the large amount of strategy, leg-work and secrecy behind the project; in essence, they would gain awareness of varying perspectives on the Manhattan Project. This resource can be incorporated into a lesson that analyzes the key events that led to the atomic bomb’s manufacturing. One activity would be grouping students and having them read the viewpoint of one of the women and compare and contrast the similarities and differences between all of them. Each group would share with the class; the objective would be to develop insight of real and authentic viewpoints. Also, the book would be a good resource to discuss government control, deception, individuals’ vulnerability, along with creating debates over whether the atomic bombs had just cause.

A Canadian comparison can be made with Bomb Girls. Google the historical event and the TV series based on it.

 

 

 

Jason Chang

 

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott recounts the true tales of four women, Belle Boyd, Emma Edmonson, Rose O’Neal Greenhow and Elizabeth Van Lew, who each in their own way play the role of liar, temptress, soldier and spy during the American civil war. Whenever we discuss the major events of the civil war we tend to highlight the major battles or the major players while glossing over the contributions made by less notable individuals. Abbott’s book does no such thing; she recounts the roles of these four women in an intricate narrative that delves into the roles and expectations of women on opposing sides, the union and the confederacy, and who would overcome varying hardships. Through these differing perspectives, she has been able to easily touch upon the conflicting viewpoints between the northern and southern states and the shocking realities of war. This book can be integrated into the unit of the American civil war due to its rich and diverse examination of the different perspectives based on these four female historical figures. Furthermore, it can be used to build a foundation and justification for the advancement of the women’s movement and women’s suffrage that would follow. 

By using this book as a resource students will have concrete examples of individuals who contributed to the war efforts. These exemplars would help them to understand how people, namely women, participated in the war efforts, in an interesting read. In addition, because the characters challenge the societal pressures of the time period I believe that my students will be able to associate the struggles of these characters and find parallels with their own lives and immerse themselves in the viewpoint of another person. Since the book is written about four different women it is possible to divide the book so that each student reads about the life of a different character; then a member from each group can summarize the other character for the other group members who did not read about that person. After having done so the students can then research about other less noted individuals who contributed to American history and present their findings to the class, bringing forth new perspectives and addressing new issues.

 

Amaris Marshall

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings depicts the story of the early years of the late poet and author Maya Angelou. Set in pre-World War One United States, Maya takes the reader on a journey beginning in the very racist south through the hardships she faced as a woman of colour. She touches on a myriad of topics, such as poverty and homelessness, the lack of parental guidance, the fluid roles of men and women, questioning sexuality, rape, and pregnancy. The story begins with the divorce of Maya’s parents when she and her brother relocate from family to family in the context of racial prejudice and the Second World War. The story chronicles her beginning school in San Francisco, through to a journey of finding herself and her sexuality. It ends with the conception of her child.

This story is relatable to any teenager as it speaks to everyone’s humanity. I would use it as a mini novel study particularly when studying different minorities in America during the war. So often the contributions of women of colour are overlooked when recounting events in history. This autobiography sheds light on a black woman’s place in society and her contribution to the American fabric. I would probably do an introductory lesson on the civil rights movements and then prompt inquiry into what led to such a drastic change in American culture in the 1930’s and 1940’s. We would study how America’s involvement during the war affected racial and family dynamics on the home front. I would have my students study the chapters in the book where Maya is homeless and lives with the junkyard teenagers. At this point the students would reflect on the various opinions of Americans in regards to the war. The students would then have a debate on the three characters involved and make connections to Canada’s poverty and racial tensions today.

 

RESOURCES YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT

By Rachel Collishaw

Editor's Note: These resources provide a wonderful starting point for semester 2!

 

The Historical Thinking Project - The home of historical thinking in Canada. All resources are in French and English. You get background on Historical Thinking for you, posters to print out for your classroom, and templates that you can use right away with your classes. There is a thoughtful blog and a cross-Canada speakers list too.

The Critical Thinking Consortium - Source Docs Collection - only in English, but many, many great visual primary sources all organized around a theme in Canadian history - OCDSB has access, just need to log in.

The Begbie Contest Society - Everything is in English AND French - visual and textual sources in Canadian history from 1850 to the present. Three types of questions you could use - multiple choice, compare and contrast (paragraph), document study (essay). Searchable database all online and all free.

The Virtual Historian - Developed by Stephane Levesque at Ottawa U. Everything is bilingual, covers a wide range of historical events and organized into lessons of 1 day to 1 week. Some are available for free, and some are by subscription.

By Sara Esayas

The current Ontario high school history curriculum adequately prepares students for first-year history courses at universities in Ontario.  The focus on historical concepts and developing critical thinking skills, particularly through investigating historical significance, is sufficient in preparing students for a university history course due to lectures as well as tutorial discussions often focusing on analyzing the implications of historical events in the reading material and communicating them effectively.  

The Ontario high school curriculum prepares students well by teaching them how to evaluate historical events.  A lot of people tend to think that success in a history course is dependent upon memorizing facts. However, the Ontario curriculum is effective in teaching students how to investigate historical events, their significance, the bias surrounding them and their consequences.  This is an extremely beneficial skill set to possess in a university history course since being able to do these things to a high degree is what is expected of students.