Gerald Friesen on University History Teaching

4 01 2010

In this two-part video, University of Manitoba historian Gerald Friesen talks about effective history teaching at the university level.

Course Outlines for Winter 2010 Term Online

10 12 2009

The course outlines for my winter 2010 term courses are now available online. In the term starting in January, I’ll be teaching HIST 1407  Canadian History Since Confederation; HIST 4165, an honours seminar on British North America in the Confederation period, and HIST 5157, Selected Topics in 19th-century North American History. This will be the third time I teach HIST 1407. I finished teaching our pre-Confederation survey course today. 5157 is a graduate course designed to introduce the students to the vast secondary literature on business history while strengthening their skills in the digital humanities. As their group project, the students in 5157 will be developing a website about the history of a particular nineteenth-century Canadian company.

I will post more details once that website is up and running.

My Teaching This Week

26 11 2009

On Monday, I spoke to the students in my pre-Confederation Canadian history survey course about the impact of the Civil War on British North America. I spoke about the Underground Railroad, Abolitionism, anti-Americanism, Canadians who fought on both sides in the Civil War, the Trent Crisis, Confederate raiders who operated from Canada, Reciprocity, Jefferson Davis, and the Fenian Raids. I tried to explain why so many decent people in British North America were sympathetic to the southern cause in the Civil War. I made it clear that they did not approve of slavery, but merely felt that British North America’s interests would be advanced by the division of the United States into two or more sovereign entities. Canadians in the 1860s were anti-Yankee rather than pro-Southern. I stressed to the students that the paramount goal of President Lincoln and most Republicans was the preservation of the union, not the extinction of slavery. I also noted that anti-Black racism was very common in the northern states and that some Northerners wanted to free the slaves and then deport all Blacks! These are important facts for the students to know if they are to evaluate the actions of Canadians during and after the Civil War. The lecture also discussed Anglo-American relations from 1860 to the Treaty of Washington. The Civil War lecture allowed me to show some real cool photographs to my students. Thank god for PowerPoint!

Confederate Dead, Chancellorsville, Virginia 1863

On Wednesday, I spoke about Canadian Confederation, providing students with a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the conferences, elections, and personalities of the period between 1864 and 1867. I spoke about the Charlottetown Conference, the Quebec Conference, and the London Conference, as well as Macdonald, Brown, Cartier, Tilley, Tupper and, of course, Joseph Howe.

In the lecture, I adopted an anti-Confederation posture as a way of being the devil’s advocate. In arguing against Confederation and expressing support for the position of Joseph Howe, I was trying to get the students to think critically the celebratory narratives of Confederation developed by historians based in Ontario universities. I showed that many people in French Canada, the West, and the Maritimes were opposed to Macdonald’s centralizing vision for British North America. I also hammered home the point that Confederation in 1867 did not make Canada independent of Great Britain. I went on a little digression about the 1931 statute of Westminster. I think that I made it clear that any student who wrote that “Canada became an independent country in 1867” on the final exam would be summarily executed!

At the end of the class, I returned marked essays to the students. These essays were on the journals of Pehr Kalm, a Swedish-Finnish scientist who visited Montreal as part of an extensive tour of North America. Kalm kept a diary or journal during this tour. This diary was published in Stockholm in the 1750s and read by Swedes curious about conditions in North America. An English translation of Kalm’s journals was published in London in 1770. In 2002, the 1770 edition of Kalm’s journal was digitized by the staff of the Wisconsin Historical Society. My students read the sections of the journal related to his visit to Montreal. I asked the students to assess whether Kalm’s journal is an unbiased source of information on life in 18th century North America. Most of the students were able to detect that Kalm had an anti-English bias and that his comments on New France thus have to be taken with a pinch big scoop of salt. My students appear to have enjoyed the challenge of reading an 18th century primary source.

In my fourth-year seminar on Confederation, the focus was on aboriginal history. Our readings were on Duncan Campbell Scott, “Indian Affairs, 1840-1867” in vol. 5 of Canada and Its Provinces; Barry M. Gough, Gunboat Frontier : British Maritime Authority and Northwest Coast Indians, 1846-90 (Vancouver : University of British Columbia Press, 1984), 1-24; Sidney L. Haring, “The Common Law is Not Part Savage and Part Civilized: Chief Justice John Beverley Robinson and Native Rights” in White Man’s Law : native people in nineteenth-century Canadian jurisprudence (Toronto : Published for the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History by University of Toronto Press, 1998), pp.62-90. The students liked the reading by Gough, but I think that the one by Haring was a bit too complex, even for students in an honours seminar. We also listened to student presentation on the lives of Joseph Brant Clench, a 19th century Indian Agent, and Jean-Baptiste Assiginack, a First Nations leader.

On Thursday, I met my graduate student to discuss her research on the fur trading post at La Cloche. She has found excellent material in the microfilmed records of the post.

My Teaching This Week

12 11 2009

In my first-year course, the focus was on the 1840s and 1850s. On Monday, I spoke about the achievement of Responsible Government. I showed part of this clip:

On Wednesday, I talked about the advent of the railway in British North America. I stressed the revolutionary impact of the technology on society, the economy, and, above all, politics.I showed the following clip at the end of my lecture:

In my honours seminar on British North America in the period of Confederation, we focused on the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. We discussed the following readings: Jean Barman, The West Beyond the West: a History of British Columbia (Toronto, Ont. : University of Toronto Press, 1991), 52-98; Chris Clarkson, “Property law and family regulation in Pacific British North America, 1862-1873” Histoire Sociale / Social History 30 (1997): 386-416. Charles C. Irby, “The Black Settlers on Saltspring Island in the Nineteenth Century” Phylon 35  (1974): 368-374

One student gave an excellent presentation on the life of Sir James Douglas. I am including a video about Douglas here:

I’m also including this video about Black settlers in British Columbia.

I also met my graduate student to discuss two readings related to her research project. Edward S. Roger, “Northern Algonquians and the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1821-1890” in Aboriginal Ontario : Historical Perspectives on the First Nations edited by Edward S. Rogers and Donald B. Smith (Toronto : Dundurn Press, 1994), 307-344; J.R. Millers, Skyscrapers Hide The Heavens (Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1989).

My Teaching This Week

5 11 2009

In my first-year Canadian history survey course, I spoke about the Rebellions of 1837-8 in Upper and Lower Canada. I showed this clip from the Canada: A People’s History documentary.

I spoke about Lord Durham’s Report in my lecture, mentioning Durham’s desire to anglicize the French Canadians and quoting his famous remark that the French Canadian were a people ” a people with no history, and no literature “. I also pointed out that the French-language bookstore in Sudbury is located on rue Durham. Many students appreciated the irony of this. I also told my students about an interesting article in one of the free newspapers distributed on campus. The current issue of the paper contains an article on the decline of the French language in Canada titled “le spectre de Lord Durham”. I used this newspaper, which appeared on campus the day before my lecture, to show the students that Lord Durham is still remembered by some non-historians in French Canada.

In my honours seminar on Canada in the Confederation period, we began the class by talking about the various collections of digitized primary sources for the study of 19th century Canada. Many of my students enjoyed being introduced to Early Canadiana Online. We then discussed two articles on Blacks and the Underground Railroad in Canada: Kristin McLaren, “ ‘We had no desire to be set apart’: Forced Segregation of Black Students in Canada West Public Schools and Myths of British Egalitarianism” Histoire Sociale/Social History 38 (2005): 27-50 and Howard Law,  “ ‘Self-Reliance is the True Road to Independence’: Ideology and the Ex-Slaves in Buxton and Chatham”  Ontario History 74 (1985): 107-2.

I also met my excellent graduate student to discuss some secondary sources related to her research on the fur trade. We discussed the following readings: Carolyn Podruchny, Making the Voyageur World : Travellers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade (Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2006); John S. Galbraith, The Little Emperor : Governor Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company (Toronto: Macmillan, 1976); Toby Morantz, “ ‘So Evil a Practice’ : A Look at the Debt System in the James Bay Fur Trade” in R. Omer, ed., Merchant Credit and Labour Strategies in Historical Perspectives (Acadiensis Press, 1990), 203-222; John Lutz,  “After the Fur Trade: The Aboriginal Labouring Class of British Columbia, 1864-1890” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 3 (1992): 69-93.

A fair number of students were missing from my classes. This may have have been due to the H1N1 swine flu or its closely-related variant, whine flu.

My Teaching This Week

23 10 2009

In my first-year Canadian history survey course, I gave two lectures this week. The first lecture was on the Atlantic Colonies before 1850. The second lecture was on the history of Upper Canada between the War of 1812 and the 1850s. In my honours seminar on Confederation, we discussed the government’s increasingly important role in the economy in the Province of Canada in the 1840s and 1850s. The readings we discussed were:  Duncan McArthur, “History of Public Finance, 1849-1867” in Canada and Its Provinces vol 5, page 165-184; Frank Lewis and Ann Carlos, “Creative Financing of an Unprofitable Enterprise: The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada” Explorations in Economic History 31 (1995): 273-301; and my article “Toryism, Classical Liberalism, and Capitalism: The Politics of Taxation and the Struggle for Canadian Confederation”  Canadian Historical Review 89:1 (2008): 1-25. We also listened to student presentations on the lives of Egerton Ryerson and Sir Francis Hincks. Our excellent discussion of 19th century corporate welfare dovetailed nicely with our conversation in the previous week about the rise of classical liberalism in British North America. I also spoke to the students about the book review assignment, which concerns Jeff McNairn’s The Capacity to Judge: Public Opinion and Deliberative Democracy in Upper Canada, 1791-1854 (Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 2000).

My Teaching This Week

15 10 2009

Undergraduate Teaching:

Normally, I deliver two lectures each week to my first-year course on Canadian history. However, there was only one class this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday on Monday. My lecture on Wednesday was about the War of 1812. As it happens, the popular CBC comedy program Rick Mercer Reports broadcast on Tuesday evening contained a segment in which host Rick Mercer playfully interviewed some War of 1812 re-enactors in London, Ontario. Mercer is a well-known Canadian nationalist and appears to have relished participating in a War of 1812 re-enactment. About ten students in my class of 94 said that they had seen this segment the night before. During the lecture, I spoke about the place of the War of 1812 in Canadian popular culture, using Rick Mercer’s segment as an example of the use and abuse of history. I also spoke about anti-Americanism as a force in Canadian political culture. Rick Mercer’s show was a teachable moment as they say in the edutainment education business. You can view the segment here:

During our discussion of the War of 1812, one student mentioned a song about the conflict by the Canadian music group the Arrogant Worms. A video of this song has been placed online.

I am also pleased to note that a symposium on the military history of the Niagara region will be taking place on 6 and 7 November 2009 at the Lake Street Armouries, 81 Lake Street, St. Catharines, Ontario. The sponsors of the conference include the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies, Brock University, and the University of Waterloo History Department.There is a very extensive programme of speakers laid out, including: James E. Elliott, “Strange Fatality: The Battle of Stoney Creek, 1813”; Heather Moran, “200 Years of Peace: Celebrating the 1812 Bi-Centennial through Public History” and David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, “Robert Rogers: The Original Ranger”.For further information, contact Professor Geoffrey Hayes, at or by phone at (519) 888-4567 ext. 35138. (Hat tip to The Cannon’s Mouth / Par la Bouche de nos Canons, the Canadian military history blog).

Graduate Teaching:

This week I met with my excellent MA student to discuss three readings connected to her thesis, which deals with a fur trading post in north-eastern Ontario. The theme of today’s discussion was First Nations in the Fur Trade: Free Agents or Victims? The secondary sources we discussed were: Arthur J. Ray and Donald B. Freeman, “Give us Good Measure” : an Economic Analysis of Relations between the Indians and the Hudson’s Bay Company before 1763 (Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1978); Sylvia Van Kirk, Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-trade Society in Western Canada, 1670-1870 (Norman : University of Oklahoma Press, 1983); Ann Carlos and Frank Lewis, “Marketing in the Land of Hudson Bay: Indian Consumers and the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1770” Enterprise and Society 3:2 (2002): 285-317.

My Teaching This Week

8 10 2009

I teach a Canadian history survey course that is designed for first-year students. The course is designed to teach them about both Canada’s past before 1867 and about the study of history at the university level. Normally, there are two lectures per week. This week, however, I held tutorials during one of the normal lecture slots.

On Monday, I delivered a lecture on the impact of the American Revolution on British North America.United Empire Loyalists, Final Resting Place Our tutorial on Wednesday looked at the history of slavery in Canada. We discussed slaveholding by First Nations, the enslavement of First Nations individuals by whites, and the smaller number of Black slaves brought into New France and the British colonies. The student will be completing an assignment about a Portuguese-born Black slave named Angélique who was executed for arson in Montreal in 1734.

In my fourth-year seminar, our theme this week was economic change in the 1840s and 1850s. We began the seminar by discussing Adam Shortt, “General Economic History, 1841-67” in vol. 5 of Canada and Its Provinces. This reading gave the students a sense of the overall developments of the period. We then moved on to some more modern interpretations of the period.   Lawrence H. Officer and Lawrence B. Smith, “The Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty of 1855 to 1866The Journal of Economic History 28 (1968): 598-623 and Peter Baskerville, “Americans in Britain’s Backyard: The Railway Era in Upper Canada, 1850-1880Business History Review 55  (1981): 314-336. We then took our customary coffee break, after which we listened to excellent student presentations on the lives and times of two important individuals, Isaac Buchanan, a Canadian merchant, and Sir Samuel Cunard, the founder of the great steamship line.

Montreal Wharf

Montreal Wharf, 1874. Note railway boxcars near ship in foreground. Image Source: Library and Archives Canada.

Our discussion was wide-ranging and touched on important themes in the history of technology, international trade (hence the picture of a Montreal wharf), and Canadian-American relations. We also talked about how the rich get rich. Do they do it entirely through hard work and their own unassisted efforts? Or do they sometimes use subsidies and other help from the government to grow their firms? Next week’s seminar is entitled “Ideology”.  We shall look at how people in an age dominated by classical liberalism justified an increasing number of interventions by government in the economy.

University Dropout Rate II

3 10 2009

I have posted before about the dropout rate at universities. I am now in the process of preparing a report on the literature on this question.

This has involved looking at the following book:

William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos & Michael S. McPherson, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities (Princeton University Press, 2009). Cloth | 2009 | $27.95 / £19.95
392 pp.

You can watch an interview with William Bowen here:

My Teaching This Week

30 09 2009

Undergraduate Teaching:

This week, I gave two lectures to students my first-year survey course on pre-Confederation history. Monday’s lecture was on the social and economic institutions of New France. Wednesday’s lecture was on the Seven Years’ War and the Conquest of New France by the British. Next week, I shall be speaking about the American Revolution and its impact on present-day Canada.

In my fourth-year seminar on mid-19th century British North America, our focus this week was on Newfoundland in the 1840s and 1850s. The readings for the seminar included Getrude E. Gunn, The Political History of Newfoundland, 1832-1864 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966), (selected pages); Sean T. Cadigan “The Moral Economy of the Commons: Ecology and Equity in the Newfoundland Cod Fishery, 1815-1855,” Labour/Le Travail 43 (1999): 9-42; and the entry for Philip Francis Little in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. (Little was the first Premier of Newfoundland after Responsible Government came in).

These readings generated a lively discussion of Newfoundland’s place in the North Atlantic world,  the achievement of Responsible Government in Newfoundland and environmental history. We also had a very good discussion of the concept of the tragedy of the commons and how it can be applied to the study of history. I also distributed copies of a primary source (a 1854 letter from London to Newfoundland’s Governor) in the seminar and asked students to analyze and discuss it. Next week, the seminar shall be discussing economic change in the Province of Canada in the 1840s and 1850s.

I don’t know if I will assign the article by Cadigan again. It’s a very good article, but maybe not appropriate for students lacking the right background knowledge.

Graduate Teaching:

I also met with one of our graduate students to discuss her project on the fur trade. (Her master’s project involves looking at the records of a particular HBC trading post in northern Ontario). We discussed two secondary sources related to her research project, Harold A. Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada: an Introduction to Canadian Economic History (3rd edition, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999) and E.E. Rich, Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1870 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1960). We had a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the changing nature of economic history, the influence of Innis, historians’ depictions of Natives, and the impact of cultural differences on culture. At our next meeting, we shall discuss the more modern secondary literature on the fur trade. I’m enjoying working this very dedicated and intelligent student.