Confederation and Teaching Canadian History
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Confederation and Teaching Canadian History

In this issue, we offer a second Historical Perspectives on Confederation. Earlier in this volume, in the June issue, we featured a Historical Perspectives on Confederation and Biography. At the time of its release, the sesquicentennial celebrations had not yet begun, but conversations about the contested nature and result of Confederation were well underway. Now, as the year draws to a close, we offer an opportunity to consider what, if any, effect this renewed attention to Confederation may have on how we teach Canadian history.

In this Historical Perspectives, we, as editors of the Canadian Historical Review, asked three historians to write about Confederation from a pedagogical perspective. Each of our authors, who are at differing points in their academic careers, address how teaching Confederation has changed over time, responding to new historiographical insights, innovative approaches to teaching, as well as the shifting nature of what our students know of Canadian history. All three pieces address both the promise and the challenges of teaching Confederation. Teaching Confederation offers our students a chance to understand the British North America Act as legal history–a history that is prescient to our students who have lived through an era in which, as Bradley Miller writes, "much of the social change that they care about [has been] litigated, rather than enacted by Parliament."1 Teaching Confederation from a place that honours regional and transnational identities also appeals to our students who are themselves so formed and who have grown wary of nationalist narratives that laud the "founding fathers." Rather than seeing Confederation as inevitable, Sasha Mullally [End Page 704] and Bill Waiser both point to the ways in which it was contingent on local demands and international imperatives that were themselves, at times, conflicting.

As many of us know, teaching Confederation can also be challenging. Too often, it bookends the pre- and post-Confederation surveys. Pressed for time, we are sometimes tempted to rely on the old political story of parliamentary deadlock and the combined pressure of American manifest destiny, Fenian raids, Colonial Office machinations, British liberalism in trade, and reluctance toward military spending. All three of our authors relate their own experiences of facing those challenges: from beginning the narrative far from Ottawa on a Missouri Plateau battlefield; to inquiry-based learning approaches that ask students to investigate the limitations of Confederation and how those limitations and failures were reflected in the figure and actions of Louis Riel; to exposing students to the creative ways in which the British North America Act was used, almost immediately, to give voice to a belief in inherent legal rights for every Canadian resident. We hope that you will find these pieces useful as you contemplate your own teaching of Confederation.

There is much here that resonates with the Historical Perspectives in the June issue–the place of gender in political discourse and the transnational networks that animated the Canadian nation-building project and excluded Indigeneity from Canadian life. We encourage you to look back and consider these Historical Perspectives together along with the bibliography we compiled for the June issue, as you reflect on this year of commemoration and controversy surrounding Confederation.

Dimitry Anastakis
Canadian Historical Review
Mary-Ellen Kelm
Canadian Historical Review
Perspectives historiques–La Confédération et l'enseignement de l'histoire canadienne

Ce numéro est le deuxième que nous consacrons à des perspectives historiques sur la Confédération. Dans le numéro de juin du présent volume, Confédération et biographie étaient à l'honneur et si, au moment de la publication, les célébrations du sesquicentenaire n'avaient [End Page 705] pas encore commencé, les contestations sur la nature et les conséquences de la Confédération alimentaient déjà bien des conversations. Maintenant que l'année tire à sa fin, nous profitons de l'occasion pour réfléchir aux effets que l'attention renouvelée accordée à la Confédération a eus (ou non) sur la façon dont nous enseignons l'histoire du Canada.

Pour ce second numéro de perspectives historiques, nous avons demand...


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