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Seixas, Peter. “Who Needs a Canon?” In Beyond the Canon: History for the 21st Century, edited by Maria Grever and Siep Stuurman. London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2007.


In this chapter Seixas examines the television series “Canada: A People’s History” to illustrate how a canon functions and how it excludes. To understand how the historical canon influences high school students’ constructions of Canadian history he draws from a larger study in which they gave students forty minutes to write their narratives.

According to Seixas, the history education canon is the dominant historical narrative which in turn is often concerned with nation building. In “Canada: A People’s History” the dominant historical narrative defines Canada as always having been egalitarian and is thus aimed at unifying a seemingly divided nation. The construction of this narrative in the series relies on three principal aspects of canonical history: heroic figures, a linear narrative of progress, and a historical epistemology reliant on excluding the process inherent to historical representation such as critique and varying interpretations. In contrast, Seixas found that students’ narratives vary greatly and that these differences are due primarily to the experiences that each individual student has had in Canada. To conclude, Seixas maintains that collective memory is going to differ between students and that schools are only responsible for providing students with the necessary tools to inform their individual constructions of collective memory – that is, the ability to think critically about contrasting interpretations and representations of history and, thus, to challenge the canon.

Ana Laura Pauchulo