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Montgomery, Kenneth E. “The Imagined Canadian: Representations of Whiteness in Flashback Canada.” MA thesis, University of Ottawa, 1999.


This study involves a critical examination of the racialization contained within a secondary school Canadian history textbook entitled Flashback Canada (Cruxton & Wilson, 1994). The primary goal is to understand how the racialized concept of whiteness is represented in the textbook. The guiding purpose of this study is to generate a theory about the representation of ‘whiteness’ in public school Canadian history textbooks, and particularly, to see what role, if any, whiteness might play in the production and reproduction of racisms in contemporary educational curricula. This project is also concerned with how ‘race’ articulates and intersects with concepts of ‘the nation’ and ‘ethnicity.’

This study is grounded in the theory and pedagogical principles of both “anti-racism” and “critical multiculturalism.” The first part of this project involves the survey of a number of key studies exploring the content of school textbooks in an effort to establish methodological guidelines for the study. The rationale for choosing a textbook as the unit of analysis is based on an anti-racist understanding that the state-sanctioned education system is implicated in the production and reproduction of racisms in society. The second part includes a study of Flashback Canada, focusing primarily on the historical narratives of Canada’s past and how “naturalized meanings” reinforced ethnic, national and racial divisions and constructed the category of ‘whiteness.’

Flashback Canada racializes Canada and Canadians as white. This is not a singular or pure whiteness; rather, it is an hierarchy of white ethnicities which are positioned to varying degrees as constitutive of the nation. “British” individuals are at once represented as the best and most natural form of Canadian and the most supreme form of whiteness. Other ethnically and nationally named groups exhibit many of these same characteristics, though not to the same degree of ‘perfection.’ These racializations are not, in any way, natural, but rather they are naturalized by the textbook through repetition and their presentation as unproblematic. It is suggested that textbooks like Flashback Canada be replaced or rewritten to tell histories without hierarchically categorizing groups of people as racialized essences.

This study includes a discussion of: the terms racialization, anti-racism education and multi-cultural education; the relationship between history textbooks and racialization; a survey of key studies in the area of Canada textbook analysis since 1970; processes of racialization; and issues concerning the writing and re-writing of history textbooks.

While this study examines the potential of Flashback Canada to influence children to adopt a particularly white supremacist viewpoint on Canadian history and citizenship, a logical extension would be to look at the effects of such hierarchical representations on young readers. Similarly, more research is needed into the political economy and historical circumstances surrounding the production of the textbook and how this influences the nature of its content. However, simply replacing or rewriting textbooks is inadequate as this must be paired with the occurrence of critical and liberating approaches by the students and educators who use them. Students and teachers must be given the tools that will enable them to question the textbook in many of the same ways this study has. The best method to convey these tools, and structure the classroom, would also benefit from future research.

Mary Chaktsiris