Articles

Volume 49, Issue 1

Special Issue: Monumental Mistakes? Confronting Difficult Pasts

Introduction to the special issue
Editor’s provocation: On history, fantasia, and sacred commemorations
Is elevating Sir John A. Macdonald really worth it? Hitting the reset button on Canada’s founding narrative in the classroom
The question of residential schools in Canada: Preserve, demolish or Repurpose?
The ethical dimension of Canadian commemoration controversies
Reflections on continuity, change, and historical consciousness
Reconsidering the summer residence: The city-text, historical commemoration and banal settler geography
Hyper-activating Inukshuks: The renewal of social studies in Alberta
(Not so) monumental agents: De/colonizing places of learning

Read the full issue here


Introduction to the special issue

by David Scott & Cathryn van Kessel

This special issue of Canadian Social Studies, entitled Monumental Mistakes? Confronting Difficult Pasts, has brought together a diverse range of scholars offering insights into discussions regarding removing or altering monuments, buildings, and other reminders of difficult histories. We requested that contributors submit short essays that we hope will serve as accessible prompts for classroom and broader public conversations and inquiries. Read the full article.

Editor’s provocation: On history, fantasia, and sacred commemorations

by Kent den Heyer

In an opening provocation, editor Kent den Heyer calls on educators to attend to the ways public memorials embody powerful emotionally laden fictions around Canada’s official historical culture.

Philosophers as diverse as Plato, Rousseau, and Carl Schmidt have wrestled with the question of what role the sacred and theology plays in forming a functioning polity. The question concerns what kind of civic theology might become embodied as a sacred covenant in which individuals may be free through being bound together as a people; a people who assent to the ‘just’ rule of the executive branch of a government. Under this condition of political life, the people legislate and the executive carries out its wishes. In Simon Critchley’s (2014) reading, Rousseau, for example, railed against theatre for its simulacrum of human action and called for civic rituals, not by actors, but by people who, in shared performances, enact itself, ex nilio, into being as ‘the people’. Read the full article.

Is elevating Sir John A. Macdonald really worth it? Hitting the reset button on Canada’s founding narrative in the classroom

by Adam Gaudry

Adam Gaudry calls for Canadians to show their government how as a society we might amplify Indigenous voices to form a basis for more respectful relations on this land.

In August 2017, the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario (ETFO) passed a motion calling on the province to remove the name of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, from all of Ontario’s schools (Nasser, 2017). Building on years of criticism of Macdonald by Indigenous intellectuals, the ETFO’s motion is only the latest move to displace Macdonald in the Canadian nationalist mythos. To most Indigenous people (and to an ever-increasing number of Canadians) Macdonald is remembered chiefly for his horrors: Indian residential schools (Milloy, 1999), the starvation policy on the plains (Daschuk, 2013), the wholesale refusal to honour treaty relationships (Asch, 2014; Venne, 1997), a violent military confrontation with three Indigenous communities in 1885 (Adams, 1989; Stonechild & Waiser, 1997), and his longstanding goal of politically marginalizing (if not physically exterminating) Indigenous nations (Stanley, 2015). Read the full article.

The question of residential schools in Canada: Preserve, demolish or Repurpose?

by Adriana Boffa

Instead of the broader society seeking one "right" solution, the most helpful course of action for potential reconciliation, according to Boffa, will likely be different for each community.

With public debates surrounding the removal of historical monuments in Canada (e.g., statues of, or schools named after, John A. Macdonald) and the United States (e.g., Confederate monuments), at times the voices of those who are most directly affected by their presence can be either drowned out or left out of the conversation entirely. It seems easy for the broader public to pass judgements and come to a consensus on a "right" way to approach such debates, but these judgements tend to be overly simplistic and removed from the immediate context and its attendant complexities. Read the full article.

The ethical dimension of Canadian commemoration controversies

by Lindsay Gibson

Lindsay Gibson uses the ethical dimension of historical thinking to critically examine calls to rename an elementary school in Regina named after Nicholas Davin who wrote an influential report advocating for residential schools.

Many Canadians expected that the summer of 2017 would be a time of celebration for Canada 150, the sesquicentennial anniversary of Canadian Confederation, but few could have anticipated that it would be the year that commemoration controversies were thrust onto the main stage of public debates. In addition to the contentious arguments about the celebration of Canada 150, there have been, and continue to be, vigorous debates about whether commemorations of controversial historical figures such as Hector Langevin, Egerton Ryerson, Joseph Trutch, Nicholas Flood Davin, Mathew Baillie Begbie, Edward Cornwallis, and Sir John A. Macdonald should be renamed, altered, or removed. Read the full article.

Reflections on continuity, change, and historical consciousness

by Gabriel A. Reich

Adding further insight into how historical thinking can be used as a lens to examine such debates, Gabriel Reich’s piece on continuity, change, and historical consciousness shifts our focus to the U.S. context.

One of the greatest historical traumas experienced in the United States was our Civil War. Over 600,000 Americans died in that war, and chattel enslavement—described in Mississippi’s 1861 secession declaration as "the greatest material interest of the world" (Civil War Trust, 2017)—was abolished. The rebelling southern states were devastated. African Americans, long depicted as form of degraded farm animal, had proved themselves equal in humanity and battle and were voted into power across the South. Read the full article.

Reconsidering the summer residence: The city-text, historical commemoration and banal settler geography

by Bryan Smith

Through the example of the city now known as Toronto, Smith shows how critically examining city-texts can provide a generative way to thwart the insidiousness of the colonial settler project.

In 1793, Elizabeth Simcoe, along with her husband (John Graves Simcoe) and an accompanying surveyor, rowed out onto Lake Ontario and came across the white sand of the local area’s bluffs. Upon seeing it, Simcoe was reminded of Scarborough, England and the bluffs there that defined and constituted the community’s central geographic feature. Already named Glasgow, the area that "appeared so well" was renamed Scarborough by John Graves Simcoe, a name that remains to this day as the official toponym of Toronto’s easternmost borough (The Scarborough Historical Society, n.d.). Read the full article.

Hyper-activating Inukshuks: The renewal of social studies in Alberta

by J-C Couture

Along these lines, Couture reminds us that monuments (and curriculum) need not be reduced to one more piece of clutter, but, rather, reminders about where and how to be in the world.

A recent study that surveyed close to 500 Alberta social studies teachers concluded that irreconcilable pressures "point to tensions between the formal program of studies and its prescribed outcomes, and the realities and complexities of classrooms where teachers attempt to realize good practices" (Alberta Teachers’ Association, 2016, p, 46). Read the full article.

(Not so) monumental agents: De/colonizing places of learning

by Marc Higgins & Brooke Madden

Marc Higgins and Brooke Madden invite us to consider the colonial logics continually reified across both the materiality and spatiality of place.

What might it mean to inflect the current focus on public memory encapsulated in monuments by considering an equally important yet more subtle or (not so) monumental agent: educational institutions as products and producers of colonial logics and ways of being in relationship? In this essay, the authors offer pedagogical orientations that seek to embed curriculum in a multiplicity of colonial here-nows and there-thens that always already constitute our places of learning and learning selves in the making. Read the full article.