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Montgomery, Kenneth E. “A Better Place to Live”: National Mythologies, Canadian History Textbooks, and the Reproduction of White Supremacy.” Ph.D. Diss., University of Ottawa, 2005.


This dissertation examines some of the ways that Canadian textbooks have represented race, racism and antiracism in relation to the nation and national identity from 1945 to 2005. In using textbooks as a cultural site to comprehend the embeddedness of racism within them and, by implication, in the social order that created them, the author illustrates how racism has permeated and continues to permeate the banal structures and taken-for-granted experiences that organize life in a “racial state.” This study also considers the ordering of knowledge about race, racism, and the ways that opposition to racism articulates the representation of the nation-state.

This study analyzes a total of 27 textbooks sanctioned by the province of Ontario for use by grade 10 students of Canadian history since 1945. The study has been limited to textbooks of the post-WWII era, and is focused on assessing the validity of the claim by conservative critics that the “content” of Canadian history represented in the schools is now substantially different than it was at mid-century. The choice of grade 10 survey textbooks was done to limit the literally hundreds of resources approved for use in history classrooms and to take advantage of the introduction of a mandatory grade 10 Canadian history credit post-WII. This study also focuses on survey textbooks rather than pamphlets or specialty books and on student (rather than teacher) resources.

This analysis illustrates that Canadian history textbooks have been - and continue to be - problematic in the way they reproduce certain myths about race, racism, and nation, as mandated knowledge for high school students. These myths continue to be fostered in even the most recent textbooks despite explicit efforts by those responsible to make learning materials more inclusive and less biased. It is found that the combined effect of the representations of race, racism, and opposition to racism has been to depict the space of contemporary Canada as one largely antithetical to racism. Moreover, the very concepts of race, racism, and antiracism, through such representations, work to racialize the nation of Canada and Canadian national identity. This is accomplished by upholding white supremacist state formation in the depiction of the Canadian nation as a model of racelessness and one morally superior to all others.

This study includes a discussion of: the relationship between textbooks and racialization; the debate concerning the “death” of Canadian history; a review of literature on textbook analysis and the role of textbooks in the “imagined community” of the nation; the socio-political and curricular context surrounding the production of textbooks since 1945; and suggestions on how to adapt textbooks to antiracist dialogues.

This study provides insights into how Canadian history textbooks present and represent a racialized view of Canada and Canadians. It suggests the following questions concerning future research projects: how might race, racism and anti-racism be better represented in textbooks; what should be done with our current history textbooks; should more “bias checklists” be formulated and more stringent standards for approval be adopted; should we do away with nationalist narratives all together given that they are always and already racist; and how, then, should we teach Canadian history?

Mary Chaktsiris