I’ve spent part of my day perusing the course offerings of other universities across Canada. Did you know that the University of Toronto has a first-year course entitled The Past Within the Present, which looks at the public face of history? Sounds interesting. The University of Alberta has one called The Last Ten Years. Highly practical, actually.
What I’ve been charting is the first glimmers of a move away from the traditional first year Western Civilization course — still a staple at many universities, even though the names and focus may have changed and broadened somewhat. In some cases, thematic courses rise to the first year level, such as Rebellion and Resistance in Canadian History at the University of Regina.
The reason for big, general first year history courses is, I have been reliably informed, to get students out of their narrow shells and show them the world. I applaud this technique — I enjoyed those classes, myself, when I was on that side of the lectern.
I’m wondering, though, if it might be time for a radical experiment. If I’m working at a University that is educating young people to become teachers, lawyers, doctors, agricultural scientists, nurses, entrepreneurs and other upstanding members of society — many or most of whom will practice within the province in which they take their schooling — perhaps it would be a good idea to have a course in provincial history on offer.
This isn’t necessarily a new or radical idea. The University of Regina offers a Saskatchewan history course. Both the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba offer classes in Winnipeg history, and Brandon offers several at the provincial level. Both UBC and UVic offer British Columbia history. There are others across the country, too.
What I’m wondering, though, is this: should we consider offering such courses at the first year level? Tipping the learning structure on its head, so to speak, and investigating the local as a starting point to investigating the national and global? The implications play out in many directions — some startlingly positive, some perhaps cautionary.
But I’d certainly like to try it.