Great Resources for High School History

For high school teachers looking to provide their students with a gentle introduction to academic writing, or who are just looking for accessible resources for student research, talk to your librarian about the Pearson Seminar Studies in History series (previously under the Longman Press imprint). They provide short (around 100 page) histories of key events, people or movements - there are even thematic books on capitalism, communism and environmentalism. They tend to be focused mostly on Europe and America, but offer some volumes on colonialism and decolonization as well as African and Asian topics. Along with a brief history by an expert in the field, each book offers a selection of documents, a bibliography and an index to important people and events.

If you are looking for a great website with articles and a progressive take on Canadian history, head on over to Active History. They have pod casts, papers, book reviews and other resources all contributed by academic historians. This is more of a teacher resource to help bring you up to speed on some of the new content out there, there is, sadly, not too much stuff that is actually classroom ready. While the site claims to try and reachan audience outside the academy, some of the historians do struggle to speak to people beyond the ivory tower. Despite its shortcomings there are some interesting gems here, including podcasts on the hippies and black power movements in Canada, both of which would work with the right scaffolding in a high school environment.

If I had to choose one academic article that every high school teacher should read, it would have to be Ian McKay's Liberal Order Framework: A Prospectus for a Reconnaissance of Canadian History. It's not that I think it's the bees knees. I have a number of issues with it, but it's overall vision and argument could be a game changer for high school history whether you are an adherent to the left, right or centre of the political spectrum. It's already had a lasting impact on academic historians over the last ten years. It applies a Gramscian perspective to the history of Canada to suggest that we view our country not as a geographic place or an event (i.e. Confederation) but as an ongoing and incomplete project of liberal rule. Whether you agree with the full thrust of his Marxist interpretation or not, it is hard to deny the importance of liberalism in Canadian history as a governing logic. It is also hard to deny that Canada has been an uneven process. Western alienation, Quebec separatism, the maritime rights movement, the colonization of aboriginal people and the "retraining" of immigrant populations all stand as evidence of the way that Canada is enacted. It also allows high school teachers to think about how we can insert questions of power into our history classes and how we can bring social, political and economic history into conversation with each other. I'm presently working on an introductory unit for CHC2D/2P that incorporates McKay's ideas with the historical thinking concepts promoted by Then/Hier. When I finish it, I'll post it here.

On a somewhat related note, the history curriculum is designed to give the First World War a lot of attention, especially in Ontario. I think all historians would agree it had a profound impact on our country, but the jury is still out on what meaning we should take from this conflict. Is Vimmy really the birth of a nation? Given the ultimately futile attempt to hold the muddy hill after the initial victory by Canadian troops, it could just as easily be taught as one more example of the meaningless slaughter of imperial rivalry and trench warfare. Maybe a little of both, but in what ratio? In my experience, we give too much attentions to the historical perspective that the Great War made a vibrant modern Canada in spite of (or perhaps because of) the "sacrifice" of Canadian soldiers. One need only study the history of demobilization and the early twenties to see that the scars of war, physical, psychological and social healed slowly in a country that for the next two decades was like an exposed raw nerve. In the spirit of giving a critical reading of the First World War a little play time in the classroom, I've attached this little Op-Ed by Canadian historian Ian McKay and writer Jamie Swift which takes the warrior nation image of Canada to task. If they pique your interest here, have a look at their book.

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© Braden Hutchinson 2014