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Post-Confederation Canada: A History of the Present

Image of the beheaded statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Montreal

What does modern Canada mean to you? Is it having the right at 18 to vote in a liberal democracy? Getting a job and pursuing your aspirations? Living in a multi-racial, multi-cultural society? Moving here to study or work? Expressing your gender difference and sexual diversity? These have become some of the defining features of modern Canada in the post-Confederation period, so much so they can seem like common sense. However, instead of taking these features for granted, we will subject them to historical scrutiny, using an approach called “a history of the present.”

When and why did Canadians first start to work for wages, and how did we become a nation of consumers dependent on the market to meet our needs and desires? Has liberal democracy always delivered on its promise of political and social equality? When in the country’s complicated history of immigration did Canada first become a multi-racial, multicultural society? How, over the course of the twentieth century, did the state come to assume its vast role in regulating our personal lives, in everything from our drinking habits and sexual behaviour to how we express our cultural and religious identities?

Looking at the forces of regulation, we will also examine how ordinary Canadians, through political parties and social movements, have contested liberal capitalism and resisted efforts to regulate their lives. We will track the back-and-forth movement between regulation and resistance, including first- and second-wave feminism, the struggles of working people, and Indigenous people’s fight for truth and justice.

The course comprises three parts: a weekly lecture by the professor; a bi-weekly seminar led by Teaching Fellows; and, in the weeks between seminars, a self-directed research project. Seminars, which are more like workshops, will focus on developing transferable skills in the interpretation of primary historical documents.

The research project will press the ‘history of the present’ into action by focusing on the popular genre of ‘graphic history’ to think about the Canadian past, Indigenous history, and decolonization.

Department of History, Queen's University

49 Bader Lane, Watson Hall 212
Kingston ON K7L 3N6




Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.