Adam Pounder and Lori Buchanan: 2016 Governor General’s History Awards

Students look at some of their own histories. In the first part, they ask a family member about their history, and they share some of that history, and they write it down just like a nice story really. In the second part, called “The Story,” then they research how that same topic would be taught in Canadian history. What would a textbook say? What would an author say? Then, in a third part, “Our Story,” they try to reconcile those two stories. So, why is my story either exactly like “The Story” or why is very different from “The Story.” Both are really interesting. In some cases, you sit there and go, “why does my history become ‘the history’?” And sometimes you look at it and say, “why is my part of history not ‘the history?’ Why is it ignored?” Then finally, they write a preface, which is due at the end of the year, Everybody writes a preface to this big book that we put together for all the students and, in the preface, they try to answer the question of: what creates a nation? Did Canada become a nation? At what point did it happen? Some of my favorite answers, at least for me, is when they say no, it’s not. And then they try to pick reasons why and weave them into an introduction to all these different stories together, that are really part of Canada’s history. The part that we call “Our story” definitely has a lot of historical thinking in it. In the process of reconciling their relative’s story with more official accounts, they end up thinking about bias of particular authors, the strengths and limitations of the various sources they’ve considered, thinking about the narrative that’s at play in different texts or their own relative’s account and what’s being mentioned in this narrative and what’s being left out. When the project is done, everyone get a copy of this book, and we read each other stories and ask questions and so I think, in that process, they can see other peers who’ve grappled with issues that they haven’t necessarily had to. One thing I think they learn is new perspective on people they thought they already knew in their own families. We get a lot of stories like that back: “I had no idea that my relative had done this.” Second, maybe new perspectives on classmates. As Lori was just saying, we share the books. We go around, share, and read each other’s stories, and then we pick some to read to everybody and so sometimes, they also find an entirely new perspective on a classmate as well. You know, like your grandfather founded the first mosque in Edmonton, for instance, in the 1930s and that would be a part of your identity I didn’t know anything about. I think it’s helps them get a new perspective on Canada itself actually. Both through writing the preface and thinking about what creates a nation but also how all these stories come together. By the end of this project, they start to realize that we define what it means to be Canadian and what Canada is and the individual stories that students bring to the project are a part of developing that meaning.

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