Instructor: Jean-Pierre Morin

Course Description:

In 2017, Canada achieved an historical milestone – one that politicians, pundits and academics all believed was worthy of recognition: the sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation. Throughout the year, a series of events were held across the country to mark the 150th anniversary, not all of which was well received. The criticism and comments surrounding the anniversary and the events pointed to the fact that all commemorations are political in nature and that they are more about the current perceptions than the historical events themselves. Fundamentally, commemorations are more about the present than they are about the past. In the last decade and as a lead up to 2017, there have been a large number of commemorations in Canada. From the 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec, to the bicentennial of the War of 1812 to the centennial of the battle of Vimy Ridge, every commemoration has been constructed and implemented to fit within a specific political ideology of what it means to be Canadian, sometimes at the expense of historical analysis and approaches.

In this course, we will examine an historiography of Commemoration, how various groups and political parties have attempted to influence the national narrative of the “pasts” and construct “identities” for themselves often through commemorative practices such as building of monuments, holding national event, and directing commemoration funding and policy on non-governmental entities. We will specifically look at the role of the state in areas such as tourism, the creation of historic sites, and historical milestones such as the 150th of Confederation. We will also look the ways in which commemorations and public history might be contested and negotiated by groups such as women, Indigenous people, members of Canada’s working class, and ethnic and racialized groups. The assignments for this course, an assessment of a past commemoration and the planning of a future commemoration, will provide an opportunity for real-world application of Public History method and techniques.

There are 2 primary goals for this course: 1- to understand the place of commemoration within Public History as a field of practice; and 2 – to develop approaches that apply historical practices and technics to the process of planning historical commemorations.



There will be two major assignments for this course. The first will be an examination and assessment of a recent commemoration initiative in Canada where you will be expected to critique the goal, the messaging and the roll-out of the initiative based on the approaches examined in class. The second assignment will be to develop a detailed commemoration plan for a potential commemoration initiative. In this assignment, you will be expected to develop a rational and objective for the commemoration, as well as define the primary messages and a series of potential commemorative activities. Projects will then be presented to the class at the end of the term.

Course Evaluations

Weekly Participation – 30%

Course Assignments – 70%

  1. Assessment of a Commemoration – 30%
  2. Commemoration Plan – 30%
  3. Presentation of Commemoration Plan – 10%