Nathalie Popa

  • May 25
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McGill University

Some say education is what is left when you have forgotten what you have learnt. Regrettably, my own schooling experience fits this description. My education in the subject of history was especially so. It took me three years of high school history, one history class in CEGEP, three years of history undergraduate studies, and a full year of graduate historical research to realize that I did not understand much about history. As a matter of fact, this discouraging experience drew me to educational research. What fascinated me when I was studying history, actually, was how individuals and communities across time have thought, experienced, recorded, and used the historical past. As a doctoral student at McGill University in the Department of Integrated Studies, I continue to pursue my interest in historical consciousness, but from the angle of education. I believe it offers a promising avenue for rethinking contemporary history education. Teaching history in schools generally serves to build historical knowledge and subject matter expertise. Yet, as it turns out, that approach more often than we would like fails to provide students with long-lasting, meaningful learning. Cultivating historical consciousness, in turn, could arguably make for a richer learning experience. It could help students interact with history in ways that deepen their understandings of the past, but also their visions for the future, while strengthening their orientation in the present, i.e. how they make sense of, and engage with, the world around and within them. My doctoral research, which will keep me busy for the upcoming years, aims to gain in-depth understanding about how historical consciousness can be applied to high school teaching and learning. My paper in this special capsule of the Canadian Journal of Education represents a first step toward mapping out the historical consciousness research landscape in Canada. In this article, I examine the ways in which the concept is defined, studied, and justified, and make the case for its relevance and role in history education. Moreover, this paper gave me the opportunity to engage with the ideas and scientific efforts of Canadian history educationists who greatly inspire my own work. I can only hope researchers, educators, and history teachers reading it will gain some insight into this blossoming debate.

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