Celebrating 100 years of considering the past

September 13, 2017

Logo for Department of History centenary celebration

2017 marks Canada’s 150th anniversary. It also marks a Century of History at Western.

In 2017, Western’s Department of History will mark a century of research, teaching and service to the community while its MA Public History Program will celebrate 30 years of putting history to work in the world. Among the numerous events planned for the year is the staging of both online and physical exhibits, a written history of the History Department, a formal gala evening, and an October symposium on the theme of commemoration, with a particular emphasis on how Canadian history has been taught and understood over the past 150 years since Confederation.

“In the early 20th century, history was taught at Western by a small number of men who had completed doctorates in the United States, and who mostly taught on a part-time basis,” said Francine McKenzie, Chair of the Department of History. “Today, there are more than thirty full-time historians in the department, evenly divided between men and women (one of a few history departments in Canada to achieve gender parity), trained in Canada, the United States, Britain, France and Germany.”

A centenary celebration will be held on October 27, featuring keynote speaker Bob Rae.

Other events will include a round table on history, how it has evolved, and how the study of it has change, and a three-minute pitch competition to find “The Greatest (Dead) Canadian.”

Along with celebrating the past, the Department of History reached out to the next generation of history students, to change how high school students think about the past.

In May, the History Department welcomed more than 200 high school students from across the London area to expand their idea of what it means to study history, showcasing history as an interactive and engaging field of study.

The “History: It’s About Time!” conference was dedicated to giving student a glimpse of what studying history is like, highlighting it as an active, and interactive, process. The conference featured mini-lectures, campus tours, and hands-on workshops.

“We want students to think about how interesting and useful history is, and how fascinating it is to ‘do history’-- that is, to ask questions about historical events, texts and artifacts, to inquire and weigh evidence, and to seek answers,” said Nancy Rhoden, Undergraduate Chair for the Department of History.

“It’s a good way to engage in history, and to make students think about history as a course of study,” she said. “We want to show them why it would open doors, and why it would be interesting.”

“There are clichés about how understanding the past is a way to ensure that we do not repeat its mistakes. Alas, history is not a guide to best practice, but it does deepen our understanding of how current conditions have developed,” said McKenzie. “We can make more thoughtful and better informed decisions when we understand the past. Our understanding of the past also informs individual, societal, national and global views, norms and values. History is a source of legitimacy in relation to the present and as a result it can be politicized, to serve purposes rooted in the present. We have to understand the past to ensure that it is not misrepresented and that its legitimating power is not misused. At a time when alternate facts are accepted as truth, we need people with historical training to question contemporary narratives and demand that they be based on a rigorous examination of the historical record.”

Events recognizing a Century of History at Western are supported through Western’s Canada 150 Faculty/Staff Fund.