Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Discovering La Vieille Capitale (Quebec City)

For the past three years, Carleton students have packed their bags and headed 500 km east to Quebec City — a place that hosts some of the richest history and culture in Canada.

Students set out on this learning adventure as part of one of two courses that study Quebec culture, history and language in the greater context of Canada.

Professor in the Department of French, Sébastien Côté’s (in place of Professor Charles Doutrelepont, who taught the first two editions) fourth year seminar focuses on the literature and culture of New France (1534-1763) and is held in French, while Anne Trépanier of the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies’ fourth year seminar held in English explores national identity, and examines the essence of Canada’s two capitals — Quebec City, and Ottawa.

Together, the early summer courses travel to Quebec City for an absolutely unique and rewarding experience, immersing themselves in places, culture and language that they are studying. When Côté and Trépanier first thought about creating a new course, they both concluded that teaching on location was by far the best pedagogical approach. Fortunately for their students, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences John Osborne agreed with them, and in a meeting that lasted about five minutes, he allocated the necessary funds to implement this fantastic learning opportunity that features lectures, round-tables, guest speakers, field visits with highly qualified guides and other activities relevant to each seminar.

Such a course is designed to help meet student demand for additional research and practical experience in a francophone environment filled with history, and create a more vibrant link between the research interests of faculty and the learning experience of Carleton students.

Quebec City is beautifully maintained, and for these students, many of whom have spent most of their time living in the suburbs, they hope the visit fosters in them an appreciation for historical aesthetics, be it old stones or beautifully written manuscripts. The main goal is that, thanks to the proverbial je ne sais quoi, they truly feel dépaysés (or out of their element), even though they are still in Canada, barely 500 km away from Ottawa.

“We wanted students to experience this spectacular city, in order to make them aware of the layers of history it conveys. Some cultural knowledge can’t really be described in a textbook,” they explain. “Why spend hours convincing students of the importance of the Ursulines when it’s possible to visit their museum and see the fantastic premises they have built since 1639?”

Sarah Parvaiz, a student of the 2013 French edition of the course, describes how she benefitted from this approach.

“For the very first time in my life, I felt history; I lived through it. The main reason being, Quebec is, to this day, left untouched in many ways. The Citadelle, Château Frontenac and the battlefield all reflect the richness they semi-hide in them, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Quebec City is indeed a jewel, a place that makes you believe you’ve stepped in an entirely different world and in a different era.”

As can be felt from Parvaiz’s description, the two courses are designed with the intention of helping students achieve a greater understanding of Quebec and thus, a more thorough comprehension of their own personal identity within Canada. Both Profs deem that learning is about summoning fruitful experiences.

“I believe that learning is about mobilizing the whole individual, brains and heart,” says Trépanier, who believes and implements a Socratic method of teaching where her students learn through doing. Côté follows a similar philosophy, “I believe students should experience what they are learning from as many angles as possible. Travelling, physically submersing oneself into that context is a great way to accomplish this. You can see that students have a sense that they are elsewhere.”

Experiential, practical, outside of the classroom learning is what these courses are designed to achieve, and the striking and engaging venue offers an environment that sublimely facilitates these goals. The group makes the most of the ten-day trip by exploring relentlessly – guided tours, museum visits, and lectures in the city about the built heritage, for instance, foster a sense of history, and raise new questions about national identity and Canada.

Though great emphasis is put on learning and outcomes, Trépanier and Côté also recognize and help nurture the cohort aspect of the travelling course. Throughout the trip, students eat, relax and socialize together. The Profs even organize a couple of ‘fancier’ dinners in beautiful Quebec City restaurants and a day trip to rural heritage île d’Orléans which has proved to be a much loved activity where New France History and nature intersect. “Last year,” Côté remembers, “as we were visiting the Manoir Mauvide-Genest on the island, the guide told us en passant that a neighboring house built in 1649 was up for sale! That’s an anecdote you never forget.” All of this means that more often than not, students complete the course with not only a greater sense of self, but stronger friendships and bonds. Students in both the French and English courses also see their skills in language improves drastically over the short trip!

Trépanier and Côté encourage students from any discipline to consider either of the Quebec City Seminars. They are inherently multidisciplinary courses that touch on everything from politics to film, from religion to art, and of course from material history to colonial literature.


  • While rigorous, the writing-intensive and interdisciplinary approach not only fostered a deep engagement with the subject, but also provided students outside Quebec with an accessible framework through which to examine Quebec’s cultural, historical and identitary complexity. – Valerie Luchak
  • The experience of the colloquium sums up the rigor, the sense of community, and your ability to mentor a variety of interests ranging from military history to critical theory. All the presentations reflected an intensity on the part of the students. In the time leading up to the colloquium I remember having conversations with my peers not only on their topics but on the mentorship Dr. Trépanier provided. This sort of dissemination and reverberation of ideas underlines her ability to teach and create an environment where creativity, learning, and ultimately a desire for success are incubated. – Benjamin T.H. Derksen
  • In 2013 I joined the French Department’s trip to Québec City. The course, as taught by professor Doutrelepont, was one of the absolute highlights of my academic career at Carleton. By reading the entirety of Les Anciens Canadiens, I gained invaluable contextual understanding of Canadian history. Moreover, by going to Quebec City and seeing for myself the Plains of Abraham, the remains of the Citadel, and the Ile-d’Orléans, I could fully appreciated the magnitude of La Conquête. There is no substitute for going on the trip. The course work and French immersion in the old city was one of the most lasting academic influences in my 4th year at Carleton.   I could write about the subject material, the course work, or the innumerable tours we went on, but those were not the most important part of the trip. In the ten days we spent in Quebec, my French language skills improved markedly. I regained a fluency I had thought lost. I won back the ability to speak French at a level I had not enjoyed in years. – Gabriel Gosselin
  • Comme étudiante en éducation maintenant, le séminaire m’a enseigné deux choses importantes : le contenu – c’est-à-dire le lien entre la littérature et l’histoire – mais aussi comment rendre ces sujets vivants et intéressants aux yeux des apprenants. Le cours offre l’occasion unique de marcher là où des conflits, des résolutions et de grands changements se sont passés dans la formation du Québec et du Canada. Les concepts étudiés ne se voient pas seulement en cours, mais à travers l’architecture, l’art, des costumes, etc., et ils continuent d’être des sujets de discussion captivants à table, en prenant une bière ou avant de s’endormir. Ce séminaire permet cela, tout en donnant l’occasion d’apprendre avec des camarades de classe enthousiastes d’améliorer leurs capacités et leur compréhension de la langue française et de la culture québécoise. Je suis très reconnaissante de cette expérience et j’espère que d’autres étudiants pourront avoir la même chance d’enrichir leur éducation de cette manière. – Elena Copeland

Tuesday, August 29, 2017 in
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