My Teaching This Week

26 02 2010

Undergraduate Teaching

HIST 1407.

I delivered two lectures this week in my Canadian history survey course for first-year students. On Monday, I spoke about Canadian history from 1945 to 1963.  The major personalities discussed in my lecture were Louis St-Laurent, C.D. Howe, Maurice Duplessis, and John Diefenbaker. The lecture ended with Lester Pearson becoming Prime Minister in April 1963. I attempted to present a fair and balanced picture of Diefenbaker by stressing his good points, including his opposition to apartheid in South Africa. I felt that it was useful to provide a corrective to all of the Diefenbaker-bashing the students may encounter in secondary sources later in their academic careers. In writing my lecture, I strove to achieve the right balance between Canada’s internal affairs (post-war prosperity, suburbanization, federal-provincial relations, the development of the welfare state, legislation related to race and ethnicity) and external affairs (the Middle Power Project, the golden age of Canadian diplomacy, Korea, Canadian reactions to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Suez, and, of course, Lester Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize).   I poked fun at Barack Obama’s recent Nobel Peace Prize, contrasting it with Pearson’s award, which was given for actual rather than potential accomplishments.

Canadians Wait to Vote, 1957 Federal General Election

Louis St-Laurent and Mackenzie King in San Fransisco, 1945

Diefenbaker with the Canadian Bill of Rights

Recently Enfranchised Natives Vote in Federal By-Election, 1960

My lecture on Wednesday dealt with Newfoundland’s history from the 1850s to its Confederation with Canada.  The most important figure discussed in this lecture was Joseph Smallwood, the man who brought Newfoundland into Confederation. I did not, however, neglect earlier periods of Newfoundland history, including the rejection of Confederation in the 1860s, Canada’s renewed offer of union, the French shore question and other fisheries issues, the devastating impact of First World War, the growth of mining and pulp and paper development, and railway construction. I also spoke about Commission Government.

I use Facebook to communicate with students in this course in between lectures. I sent the following FB message to my students.

“As you know, a major theme of the course is Canada’s relationship with two great Empires, the British Empire and the empire of the United States, which is, in many ways, the successor of the British Empire, even though few Americans will admit it. In my lectures, I have shown how Canada has struggled to assert its national autonomy in the shadow of these big empires. Canadian history can be seen as story of “colony to nation”. A more pessimistic interpretation is “colony to nation to colony”, the idea that Canada has merely exchanged one imperial master for another. You will have to decide for yourself which viewpoint is most accurate. Exams in HIST 1407 often have a question on this theme.

Although it certainly wouldn’t be on the exam, I thought that you might be interested in an article that recently appeared in the New York Times, “Like Rome Before the Fall? Not Yet” by Piers Brendon. The author discusses the predictions that the Empire of the United States is about to collapse. Anyway, I thought you might find it interesting.”

In my fourth-year seminar on British North America in the time of Confederation, this week’s focus was on Manitoba’s entry into Confederation. Our readings were: Gerry Friesen, “The Métis and the fur trade, and the Red River settlement, 1844-70” in The Canadian Prairies: A History, pp.91-128; Nicole St-Onge, “Saint-Laurent, Manitoba: Evolving Métis Identities,1850-1914”. The students enjoyed discussing the political implications of the decline of the buffalo population in western Canada.

Paul Kane, "Assiniboine Hunting Buffalo" 1851-6

Métis with Red River Carts, 1860

We also listened to a student presentation on the life and times of Donald Alexander Smith, Lord Strathcona.

D.A. Smith, 1820-1915, the Richest Man in the British Empire at the Time of His Death

We also did an in-class document study: I distributed an article on affairs at Red River that appeared in the Toronto Globe on 12 March 1870, which generated a lively discussion.

Graduate Teaching

In my graduate seminar this week, we discussed The Company : a Short History of a Revolutionary Idea by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. The students also announced that their group project is well underway: their website on the history of the Montreal Telegraph Company is now under construction and should be complete by the end of March.


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