Capturing the Historical Consciousness of Young People

I can’t boast that I’ve had many good ideas in my life. I can only think of five: my four children (ideas shared and achieved with my wife!) and then another (let’s hope it’s not the last!), that arrived late, but which I’ve been excited about since I managed to solidify it in the form of a research project.

I have always been fascinated by young people – by their intelligence, curiosity, and thirst for knowledge. I have always been disconcerted by those who claim, to the contrary, that young people don’t know much. The fact is that young people know a lot of things, but we don’t always know the best way to elicit what they know. For example, can we conclude that, since 95% of young people in Québec don’t know who the first premier of the province was, that their knowledge is deficient? We can’t, but we do anyway!

In order to counter such a simplistic methodology and interpretation, I told myself that, to get at the wealth of knowledge that young people in Québec have about their province’s history in a less superficial fashion, and to directly access their historical memory of Québec, it would be interesting to ask them a broader question, which was in this case: “Tell me the history of Québec as you know it, from the beginning.”

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Over the past ten years, with the support of many teachers and professors, I gathered close to five thousand short historical accounts from young people aged from about 15 to 25 years old, from all over the province. The corpus is as massive as it is rich, consisting of texts written by young francophones, anglophones, allophones and aboriginals. […]

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