Skip to Content

Barbre, James Orman III. “Powers of Depiction: A Textual Analysis of Secondary-Level History Books Currently in Use in Toronto, Ontario and Stillwater, Oklahoma.” Ph. D. Diss., Oklahoma State University, 2006.


The purpose of this study is to gain insight into the cultural and national assumptions that find their way into classrooms through the texts that are used. How do Canada and the United States represent themselves in history textbooks? How do they represent their interaction with each other, both historically and currently? By approaching this topic through the examination of textbooks from two countries that share a profoundly common heritage, the author hopes to contribute to a future framework of analysis for examining other countries that do not have such a common heritage and perhaps not so friendly a set of relationships.

Discourse analysis is used to examine how Canada and the United States represent their interactions and experiences with each other, and so themselves, by emphasizing particular events and their outcomes. Four textbooks, two from Canada and two from the United States, were chosen because of their emphasis on national character though the teaching of each nation’s history. From the United States, two 11th and 12th grade textbooks from Stillwater, Oklahoma were analyzed: America: Pathways to the Present, and Making America: A History of the United States. Two textbooks from Toronto, Canada were also analyzed: the grade 10 text Canada: A Nation Unfolding (Ontario edition) and the grade 12 text Defining Canada: History, Identity and Culture.

While each country covered its own history in seemingly great detail, there were omissions from the greater historical account of interaction between the two nations. One indicator of omission was the extent to which the Canadian texts included influences from United States in the shaping of Canadian written history, and the extent to which the United States textbooks did not include Canada. Regardless of the exact historical accuracy of the accounts for both countries, Canadian history books were consistent in presenting the United States in negative terms when discussing national expansion, military conflict, economic activity, Canadian national identity, communications and entertainment, and the environment. While the American texts did not include as much information or references relating to Canada as the Canadian texts did for the U.S., the references included were overwhelmingly positive or neutral and served to reinforce the historical tale of the United States.

This study provides an overview of scholarly literature as it relates to nationalism, civics education, and the presence of economic interaction between Canada and the United States. It also discusses the contextual background of textbook production, the importance of text, and the importance of civics education in both countries. The analysis of the textbooks was divided into the following major themes: considerations for civics education and economic reality; the rule of ownership and nationalism; orientation of the texts; economic interaction between the nations; military conflict; and the importance of omission or dilution.

A useful extension of this study would be to analyze history texts from different countries that share relations, such as Mexico and the United States, Poland and Germany, the island country of Cyprus, Israel and Syria, and Iraq and Iran. This would provide a useful litmus test to gauge how civics education is used to reinforce a particular civic orientation as it is taught by the schools. Staying within the confines of the nation-state, one could examine the attitudes of members of minority groups who take the same mainstream history courses as other students. Similarly, one could evaluate the compatibility of the civics education that students received in their schooling with the experiences they have once they leave the education system.

Mary Chaktsiris