Archives de Tag: history

In « Palgrave Handbook of Research in Historical Culture and Education »


Teaching National History to Young People Today

  • Jocelyn Létourneau


How to teach the nation without churning out little nationalists? How to bring young people to adopt a critical stance about the(ir) nation while passing national reference points along? How to represent the nation in its dissonances and ambiguities while making sense of what she was and is? Létourneau argues that presenting the nation as an open rather than a closed place, as a reality that can be questioned rather than proof that must be preserved, and as a composite rather than unambiguous historical shape may be a promising path for teaching the transforming nation to a young audience. He maintains that by initiating them to the true and the good and giving them a foothold on the world they, in turn, can build it in their own way.Palgrave_Handbook_of_Research_in_Histori-page-001Palgrave_Handbook_of_Research_in_Histori-page-002

Is a Little Knowledge a Dangerous Thing? Young People, National Narratives and History Education

Professor Jocelyn Létourneau, Department of History, Laval University

Dr Arthur Chapman, UCL IoE

Anxieties about national identity and its strengthening and preservation are common in countries around the world, and it is, of course, entirely natural that this should be so in times of great change, challenge and uncertainty.

These anxieties can cause our discussions of history education to tend to the negative and to become counter-productive and even irrational. Public discussion tends, first, to base itself on impressionistic surveys – hardly fitting for matters of consequence. Second, it tends to focus on deficits – on what children do not know. Finding the same absence – repeatedly – is not a constructive act (we learn nothing new by doing it) and, more importantly, a focus on what is not present tells us nothing about what is in children’s heads. Understanding the ideas that children do have is crucial if we want to help them build historical knowledge and understanding and it is more important to know how children think about the past than it is to know which particular fact they do or do not know. Finally, as Sam Wineburg has shown, the habit of repeatedly finding that children know less than they used to has a long history – the obsessive repetition of claims about children’s ignorance of the past generation after generation is evidence of continuity more than change.

What happens if we try and find out what children do know and if we try to do so in a sustained manner and on a large scale?

In the last decade, scholars in a number of places around the world – including this Institute, Quebec, Canada, France, Switzerland (Geneva), Germany, Spain, Australia, and Belgium – have begun to undertake large-scale studies of what young people know about the past.[i] Rather than posing fastidious questions on specific historical issues (such as “Who was Horatio Nelson?”), which usually prove young people’s lack of knowledge, many of these studies invite students to tell what they know (“Tell me the story of your country, as you know  it, from the beginning to the present”). With no constraint on their answers other than an injunction to be serious in responding to the task, most students were able to propose some sort of narrative in the 45 minutes allotted for the task. These narratives often revealed that students had meaningful knowledge and representations about their nation and that they were not ‘empty pots’.

[i] For Swiss, Germany, France and Spain see the Lantheaume, F., and Létourneau J. (2016). Le récit du commun. L’histoire nationale racontée par les élèves. Approche comparative: France, Catalogne, Suisse, Allemagne, Lyon: Presses universitaires de Lyon. Belgian work is currently in process.

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Presentations @ London / Sept. 7-9 2015

Jocelyn Létourneau will give two presentations in London shortly. WHEN? September 7-9 2015 WHY? The 12th International Conference of the History Educators International Research Network WHERE? The University of London – Institute of Education WHAT? The titles of the presentations are: Teaching History To K12 Kids: Reflections Based On A Large Scale Research Project Quebec Students and their Historical Consciousness of the Nation

Jocelyn Létourneau will give two presentations in London shortly.
WHEN? September 7-9 2015
WHY? The 12th International Conference of the History Educators International Research Network
WHERE? The University of London – Institute of Education
WHAT? The titles of the presentations are:
Teaching History To K12 Kids: Reflections Based On A Large Scale Research Project
Quebec Students and their Historical Consciousness of the Nation


When submitted to trivia tests, kids seem to know very little about the past of their community (nation). I decided to look at the situation a different way in asking two broad questions to about 5000 different young people, during a period of ten years, when they were in the classroom: 1) « Tell me the history of Quebec as you know »; 2) « If you had to summarize the history of Quebec in a phrase, what would you write personally? » Analysing the corpus shows two things: 1) kids know more about the past of their community (nation) than we think they do; 2) what they know is as powerful as it is simplistic. So the question: How to teach history to kids in the context they are not empty pots but have a very strong prior knowledge?

First step is to assess knowledge kids possess… to discover that it’s very much rooted in their community’s mythistories (I shall define that concept in my talk). Second is to create a cognitive conflict with kid’s prior knowledge so they are challenged in their historical representations. Third is to provide kids with alternative historical knowledge structured in the form of “catchy” ideas (so they may remember something of what is taught to them), knowledge also focused on their community’s mythistories (in order to have them distancing from the common premises upon which their culture is constructed, so they study history with a purpose, which is a good inducement to develop their learning interest). o In the paper each point will be detailed and backed with arguments. The aim of the talk is not to go against historical thinking theory but to adjust the basics of this theory with the general context into which kids learn (and use that knowledge to live efficiently in complex social settings).


• J. Létourneau, Je me souviens ? Le passé du Québec dans la conscience historique de sa jeunesse, Montreal, Fides, 2014.

• J. Létourneau, “Teaching National History to Young People Today”, in Mario Carretero, Stefan Berger & Maria Grever (eds.), International Handbook of Research in Historical Culture and Education. Hybrid Ways of Learning History, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. [To be published].

• J. Létourneau, S. Lévesque & R. Gani, “A Giant with Clay Feet: Quebec Students and the Historical Consciousness of the Nation”, International Journal of Historical Learning, Teaching and Research, 11, 2 (May 2013), p. 159-175.

Jocelyn Létourneau Heirnet

From @ThenHier September e-Bulletin

* Jocelyn Létourneau will be a Visiting Research Associate at University College London (UCL) Institute of Education this fall, where he will be working principally with Arthur Chapman and Stuart Foster. He will co-edit, with Arthur Chapman, a special issue of the London Review of Education with the theme, “Negotiating the Nation: Young People, National Narratives and History Education.”


« Introductions : Measuring History / Quantifier l’histoire« , Canadian Journal for Social Research/Revue canadienne de recherche sociale, 4, 1 (2011), p. 2-5.

Dans un monde connu pour la rapidité de ses changements où tout se défait et se refait dans le temps de le dire, l’histoire reste bon gré mal gré une référence cardinale au présent et le rapport au passé demeure un lien valorisé par les contemporains, qu’ils soient jeunes ou vieux, hommes ou femmes, très instruits ou peu scolarisés, cossus ou désargentés, d’ici ou d’ailleurs.

Au cours des dernières années, l’importance accordée au passé a été démontrée de bien des façons, d’abord aux États-Unis et en Australie, puis au Canada par la suite. S’appuyant sur une longue enquête menée à travers tout le pays entre mars 2007 et avril 2008 (n = 3,119), le projet Les Canadiens et leurs passés a permis de faire état de la présence du passé dans la vie quotidienne des gens ordinaires. Dans l’article qu’il publie ici, David Northrup met en relief l’intérêt et l’importance qu’accordent les Canadiens au passé, et plus particulièrement au passé familial. À travers son étude, il devient évident que le fait de s’inscrire dans une continuité, celle de la famille en l’occurence, est une nécessité humaine que la condition hypermoderne n’a pas abolie.


English version:

In a modern world defined by incessant change, history remains a constant in our lives, and the relationship that binds us to a past is a connection that is highly valued by all individuals, young and old, male and female, wealthy or poor, highly educated or not, born here or elsewhere.

In recent years, the importance that individuals attach to the past has been demonstrated in a number of studies conducted first in the United-States and Australia, and then in Canada. Based on an extensive research undertaken throughout the whole country between March 2007 and April 2008 (n=3, 119), the project Canadians and Their Past gives an account of the presence of the past in the daily lives of ordinary people. In his article, David Northrup exposes the importance and the interest that Canadians give to their past, and more particularly, to their family history. Throughout his research, it becomes clear that being able to insert one’s life story into a chronology, especially a family storyline, is a human need that has not been destroyed by our hypermodern world.



Reconstructing the Canadian identity

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Online survey : Quebec’s past in pictures

This is our online survey made in collaboration with Musée de la civilisation.

In your opinion, which images are associated with Quebec’s past and the Quebec identity?

Among the 60 images presented, select the 10 that you consider best represent Quebec’s history and identity.

Click on the image to vote in the english version of the survey.

Image_sondage_passe_qc (1)