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Tangelder, Mary L.R. “Imagining the Nation: A Textual Analysis of Canadian and Australian History Education Materials.” M.A. Thesis, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 2001.


This study examines the relationship between citizenship and history education by identifying different approaches to citizenship education in the teaching of national history. The purpose is to broaden and strengthen the body of literature concerning the relationship between history and citizenship education in the formal school setting. Through a cross-cultural examination of education materials produced in Australia and Canada, the study aims to stimulate a discussion of possibilities for reflective-active citizenship education, and to move beyond, not simply to critique, the ideas presented in the materials analyzed.

This study is a critical textual analysis that aims to examine, through different interpretive practices, the explicit and implicit meanings of texts as part of the discourse of the nations through which notions of citizenship are produced and regulated. A comparative textual analysis of four cases of education materials produced in Australia and Canada is undertaken to gain a better understanding of how a multicultural “settler” society might teach citizenship through education about natural history (either in history curricula or civics curricula), in the context where legal membership as a citizen is not contingent on either ethnic or cultural membership. Two sets of education materials were chosen from each country. These materials encompassed a set of activities and resources made available to teachers to complement the school curriculum. Each of the four educational initiatives are either partially or fully funded by provincial, state or federal governments: the Dominion Institute and Historica in Canada, and Discovering Democracy and Teaching Heritage in Australia.

Despite the tensions within the discourse of national identity in democratic multicultural societies, the educational materials examined in this study reveal that readily available and widely distributed narratives continue to construct exclusive notions of national identity and citizenship behaviour. On the other hand, these same materials also presented a wide and diverse range of activities that can be used to challenge the dominant and exclusive presentations of national history. The four cases examined in this study illustrate that there is no single framework or method for teaching citizenship education through history education. Essential historiography skills, such as the ability to examine historical documents, to analyze critically the construction of historical narratives, and to understand the complex factors that lead to historical change, continuity, or development, can also be considered citizenship skills, as these are essential skills for participation in political life. The study also found that few structured opportunities exist within history education materials for students to examine their own relationship to the histories examined.

Discussion topics include: scholarly literature in the field of history and citizenship education; democratic citizenship education in Australia and Canada; the relationship between history and citizenship education; a review of current debates concerning history education in Canada and Australia; problemetizing “empathy” as a pedagogical tool; the skills associated with critical citizenship literacy; and a comparison of citizenship education in Canada and Australia.

Further research is needed to build upon the numerous possibilities presented in the four case studies concerning the proliferation of active-citizenship education. While the educational materials analyzed in this study identify diverse actions such as voting, protest, lobbying, negotiation, debate, and challenging dominant national narratives as important citizenship actions, the same materials provided few structured opportunities for students to disagree, to study or to enact protests, or to engage in dissent or political action. Such opportunities might encourage students to imagine the agency of citizens and in turn, allow them to envision their own potential agency.

Mary Chaktsiris