By David Scott, University of Calgary, PhD, student, Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Doctoral Fellow
As part of the Then/Hier Education Network visiting doctoral program, over the last two weeks I have been fortunate to study in Québec City with Jocelyn Létourneau, who is a holder of a Canada Research Chair in Contemporary Political History and Economy Laval Université. Dr. Létourneau’s work examining the ways Canadians interact with the past and how this influences their identity formations has long interested me. Inspired by Dr. Létourneau’s (2004, 2007) work exploring the ways young Québécois story a national past, in my doctoral research I plan to undertake a parallel study examining how adolescents in Western Canada tell the story of Canada. Specifically, I am interested in the extent to which the narrative structure underpinning their recounting of the historical experience of Canada is collectively held, and the ways particular narratives shape their historical consciousness in terms of how they see the past, understand the present, and anticipate the future.
In undertaking this research, I had several goals in coming to study at Laval.
- Would this study offer a relevant addition to the literature and would it in fact, as I was assuming, be the first of its kind in English Canada?
- How did Dr. Létourneau and his research team go about collecting and coding their data set and what particular methodological approaches did they use in their studies?
- To what extent have scholars theorized the pedagogical implications of various memory studies that have occurred in Quebec and elsewhere (see, for example, VanSledright (2008) in the US and Wertsch (2004) in Russia)?
- Finally, I came here to meet with other scholars in Quebec whose research parallels mine in order to explore opportunities for collaboration and ongoing dialogue.
Thanks to the warm welcome and ongoing mentorship of Dr. Létourneau during my stay here, along with the continued conversations I have had with other graduate students here, I have gained great insights into my research concerns. In the first instance, it seems that similar research on Anglophone understandings of the past has been documented, but only here in Quebec. However, I was to learn that Dr. Stéphane Levesque at the University of Ottawa plans to undertake a similar study in English Canada. Through a Skype meeting with him, we are discussing possibilities for ways I could help him realize our mutual research interests.
In terms of my methodological concerns, through meeting with Dr. Létourneau and his research assistants Jean-Francois Conroy and Raphaël Gani, I was given access to their corpus of work and sat in on several sessions where they explained the data gathering and coding process. In this regard ongoing conversations and insights from Raphaël have been a tremendous source of support in helping me both better appreciate issues of methodology as well as the scholarly terrain of emerging work in the field.
In relation to how emerging studies in memory studies might inform newcurricular and pedagogical possibilities for history education, it seems that this is a fairly open field for inquiry. Here, I speak of further pushing forward an approach to history education that drawing on Létourneau’s (2004, 2007) work, moves way from seeing students as empty vessels deficient in knowledge and skills, but rather makes the narrative structures that inhabit students’ vision of the past a central object of historical inquiry. Within this frame teachers would enter students’ basic matrixes of understanding, first pointing out limitations and then proposing different narrative referents for storying a national past that might offer new pathways of thinking to emerge. This will no doubt raise debates in the field, as teaching history through narrative has long been out of favour with scholars in both the disciplinary and critical post-modern paradigms. However, I continue to believe that narrative is central to how all people make sense of history, and by ignoring how young people story the past and further failing to offer new narrative possibilities, we are failing to engage their primary engine of historical consciousness that informs how they orientate themselves in the world. This to me provides an important area for further theorizing.
In the coming months I look forward to continuing the conversations begun here and collaborating on future research with people I have met during my sojourn in Quebec.
I would like to thank Dr. Létourneau and the graduate students here along with Then/Hier Education Network in providing me with this opportunity to study here.
Létourneau, J. (2004). Young people’s assimilation of a collective historical memory: A case study of Quebeckers of French-Canadian heritage. In P.Seixas, (Ed.), Theorizing historical consciousness (pp. 109-128). Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.
Létourneau, J. (2007). Remembering our past: An examination of the historical memory of young Québécois. In R. M. Sandwell (Ed.), To the past: History education, public memory and citizenship in Canada (pp. 70-87). Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.
VanSledright, B. (2008). Narratives of nation-state, historical knowledge, and school history education.Review of Research in Education, 32 (1), 109-146.
Wertstch, J. (2004). Specific narratives and schematic narrative templates.In P.Seixas, (Eds.), Theorizing historical consciousness (pp. 49-62). Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.