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I realize subscribers to this list don't find Canadian history boring. But we all know about the rep that's out there, and most of us have heard from students whose highest compliment tends to be: "Even though it was Canadian history, this course was really interesting!" With this in mind, I wrote the following article, which appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, Aug 20. There was even a counter-blast from Jack Granatstein, entitled "Getting History Right," in the Aug 27 Citizen; you can find it in the online edition: http://www.canada.com/ottawa/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=b72cebe5-bc0d- 4ed0-84c9-f7652309dc84 Why is Canadian History so BORING? by Allan Greer As someone who has spent thirty years researching, writing and teaching the history of Canada, I hear two main messages from my fellow-Canadians about my favorite subject: 1. "It's boring"; 2. "We need more of it." The same people who tell you that Canadian history is a snooze will nod in agreement with newspaper reports raising the alarm over the latest Dominion Institute poll showing that the average fourteen year old doesn't know the difference between John A. Macdonald and Ronald McDonald. We need more Canadian history in the schools, they will insist, more historical content in the media. If this is to be a self-respecting country, every citizen should have the names of prime ministers and the dates of battles at their fingertips. And by the way, zzzzz... These two attitudes may look antithetical, but they're not. Depending on how you look at it, the Canadian past can be exciting and challenging or deadly dull. For most people, the formative encounter with Canadian history takes place in school. And this subject, unlike math, chemistry and English, tends to be valued mainly as civic education. Designed to tell us who we are as a nation and help us to be better citizens, the accent inevitably tends to be on consensus and uplift. Not that the content is all uncritical celebration - students learn that the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War was a bad thing and the hanging of Louis Riel may not have been a good idea - but even in the hands of dedicated and imaginative teachers, this is a subject bathed in an atmosphere of national piety. My point here is not to single out educators, since they only respond to the expectations of the society at large. Canada Day oratory, historic sites and reenactments, and television "heritage moments" express a similar attitude towards Canadian history; together they proclaim, in essence, that this is about national pride and warm feelings. All very nice, I suppose, but hardly the stuff of intellectual excitement. Leave out the qualifier "Canadian" and just talk about history for a moment. Under this broader rubric thoughtful people might expect, not affirmative tales of national identity, but challenging questions about the human condition. Did Christianity contribute to the fall of the Roman Empire? Was the Industrial Revolution a disaster for workers? Did Stalinism represent the culmination or the perversion of the Bolshevik revolution? Questions of this sort exercise the minds of historians, as well as the minds of their students and readers, and none of them is susceptible to an easy answer. Grappling with these historical issues requires erudition, hard thinking, and a willingness to question comfortable assumptions. That is not the spirit in which most people approach Canadian history. It is as if "history" and "Canadian history" existed in separate universes. One of these universes is an unsettling place where curiosity, ambiguity and debate reign; the other is an environment constructed around reassuring certainties. Why can't we close this gap and treat Canadian history as one dimension of the history of humanity? Even to pose this question is to invite ridicule. "We never had great wars and revolutions," everyone will tell you, "and so our undramatic story can only appeal to Canadians." (And only to dutiful and conscientious Canadians at that.) Well then why are so many American historians showing an interest in Canada's past? As a 17th-18th century specialist, I attend conferences where US colonialists meet to discuss their research. At this year's gathering at the University of California at Santa Barbara, much of the buzz focused on Yale historian John Mack Farragher's recent book on the deportation of the Acadians from Nova Scotia; Farragher sees the grand dérangement of 1755 as one of the first instances of ethnic cleansing in the modern world. There was keen anticipation at this same meeting of the imminent release of Alan Taylor's book, "The Divided Ground," about the establishment of a boundary, after the American Revolution, between Ontario and New York, a line that cut right through the middle of Iroquois country. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Taylor, like Farragher, is among the most influential American historians, and he too comes to the National Archives in Ottawa to do his research. I might also mention Brett Rushforth, an up-and-comer at Brigham Young University, whose work on native slaves in eighteenth-century Montreal is attracting considerable attention. For these three historians, Canada's past is not material for patriotic sermonizing, it's a site to examine basic issues about clashing empires and relations between colonizers and natives. The boring factor wasn't found, it had to be made. Obviously, we academic historians have to shoulder some of the blame for our contributions to the edifice of yawn. It pains me to admit that much of our research seems dreadfully narrow, safely directed towards a small circle of specialists. Moreover, trained to get it right rather than to spin a good yarn, many of us write clinical prose, soporific in its effect. So yes, we could indeed do a better job of framing our research more broadly and of communicating our findings to the public in more accessible and appealing forms. We can improve and I hope we will. But may I respectfully suggest that historians are only part of the problem? So strong is the hold of the standard school textbook narrative of Canadian history over the national imagination, that it is difficult to get a hearing for any other view. When academics reconsider and reinterpret familiar events or when they open up previously neglected aspects of the past - which is what scholarly research is all about, after all - their findings tend to be ignored by the media and the public. "Canadian history," as the phrase is commonly used, is straightforward and familiar; its civic and moral lessons are unambiguous. When Canada's past is considered otherwise, when it is examined on the same terms as other histories - as part of history in general - and when its conflictual, mysterious and troubling features are probed, then it just doesn't look like Canadian history to those raised on the standard, approved version. Around the world, it has been standard practice since the nineteenth century to force history into national moulds to serve nationalist purposes. In some countries, the history served up to school children is blatantly jingoistic; in others, such as Canada, a kindlier form of national celebration prevails. But whether belligerent or liberal, orthodoxies designed to shape young minds are bound to have a stultifying effect.