Monday, September 21, 2009

Why Teach History

I recently read a “The Purpose of Teaching Canadian History”, written by Peter Seixas, the Canada Research Chair in Education at the University of British Columbia. (
Seixas’ articulation of why we should teach history was very enlightening. Being a student of history, I of course have long-know its study is important, but it was more of an innate sense of value rather than an easily digestible list, such as Seixas has provided.

He outlines a number of benefits to teaching history (and thus developing an historical consciousness), including that:
  • history helps to shed light on present realities;
  • history helps shape our sense of identity;
  • judging past actions can explain indebtedness of some groups to others based on past injustices;
  • history can serve as a benchmark for determining if our present realities are getting better or worse;
  • and an historical consciousness can help us to think critically about what stories about the past we should believe, and what stories about the past we should tell.

I would urge history-lovers to keep this list handy (as I plan to do), for the next time someone scoffs at the study of our past as an irrelevant.


  1. I once took the Walk-Home service at Queen's home from the library. It is their job to make small-talk with the walkees. I told them I was taking Medieval Studies, to which the Biology major scoffed audibly, 'hasn't all that history been done?' Indignant, I had to tell him that history is as much about who we are today as it is about who we were then. I rather wish I had this list with me at the time.

  2. An excellent intellectual cudgel to use on snobby biology students, for sure!