Saturday, February 27, 2010
Saturday, February 13, 2010
What better celebration of patriotism than the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Given the topics I’ve been considering in my coursework this last year, I couldn’t help but watch the opening ceremonies with a mix of my old patriotism kept in check by a critical eye considering the implications of history, heritage and patriotism.
Benedict Anderson argues in the introduction to his book, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism that the nation is a construct, a powerful imagined political community. These imagined political communities are intimately linked to and shaped by heritage.
It seemed like the opening ceremony committee armed themselves with a checklist of Canadian heritage points and made sure each was addressed. We saw Mounties carry and raise the Canadian flag; tap dancing and fiddling from Eastern Canada; First Nations groups welcoming the world to Canada; flashbacks to immigrants being received at our shores; a heavy emphasis on Canada’s natural beauty, with displays showcasing the forests, prairies, mountains and animals; and the necessary Canadian celebrities (Sarah McLachlan, Nelly Furtado, and my personal favourite, Bryan Adams). Slam poet Shane Koyczan’s “We are More” inventively summed up many of those themes.
The opening ceremonies lead to questions about the relationship between patriotism and heritage. Is Canadian patriotism dependent on a misguided sense of heritage? In the case of the opening ceremonies, patriotism was grounded in the story of Canada’s landscape and people. Disputed aspects of Canada’s history were glazed over to weave a multi-cultural quilt. I was intrigued by the fact that the ceremonies moved seamlessly from an introduction of various First Nations groups to a celebration of the settlement and exploration of Europeans without mention of the disconnect between those events. This patriotism is dangerous: it selects sections of Canadian history and highlights them out of context to tell a disjointed and manipulated story.
The Olympic version of Canada’s history is really patriotism mixed with a dash of heritage. There must be a way to make “Canada’s history” fair to the chequered events that blot the past while retaining an enthusiasm for what it means to be Canadian. Perhaps the Olympics are not the best platform for discussing those matters, for fear of making bold statements in front of an international audience. Still, there must be a better way to tell our story: a way that pays tribute to the good and the bad; a balanced perspective that celebrates Canada’s history while acknowledging past mistakes; a new portrait of “Canada’s history” that would continue to inspire Canadians and remain fair to the past.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
One of the most challenging experiences as a graduate student is justifying your studies to friends and family. I’m generally met with two reactions when I talk about my M.A. in Public History: disbelief and scepticism (the primary response); and excitement and enthusiasm. Any students entering a Public History program should arm themselves with a solid set of answers to both reactions. Since Public History is intimately connected to the general public, we need to be ready to get people excited about what we learn.
While you’re thinking about applying to a Public History program, or completing your M.A. upon acceptance, be prepared with a mental checklist of the best aspects of a graduate experience. Here are suggestions of the most significant aspects of a Public History education that you should be ready to discuss with anyone who inquires about your studies:
- Have a firm grasp of what Public History means. Public History is not a generally used term, and much of the scepticism that arises from people outside the field is because they have never encountered the phrase before. Make sure you have a solid definition of Public History to jumpstart your discussion. Not only will this help with friends and family, it will also be important when you are interviewing for jobs after you finish your M.A.
- Emphasize the guest speakers you meet. I have heard from an array of individuals who currently work in the Public History sector, and anyone asking about your program wants to hear about where you can work after you graduate.
- Don’t be afraid to discuss your projects. The hands on aspect of Public History has been one of the best experiences of my academic career. You will work on these projects in conjunction with organizations outside the University, and there are amazing opportunities to work in the community. Make sure you emphasize the great, practical projects you will be completing.
- Talk about Digital History. After completing the course, I realized that even if I didn’t completely understand all the material, I am now ahead of many people in terms of digital interactions. Talk about the website you will be creating, the blog you will be writing, as well as the potential of the Internet as an exciting medium for historical interpretation and interaction.
- Mention your peers and their experiences. As one of only ten Public History majors at Western, I have had the privilege of being part of a close-knit group. My peers come from a variety of different backgrounds and all have different goals, but each one has a unique story to tell.
If you assemble a mental checklist of the most exciting aspects of your Public History education, you will always be ready to discuss (and defend!) your graduate experience with friends and family. Best of all, you will be an effective ambassador for an important and growing field.