Jeremy Côté


Interconnecting Histories

Through secondary school, I had to take history classes. During them, I learned the history of Canada, and how there were a bunch of important wars, conflicts, and political moves that brought us to where we are today. I took classes on this for four years, and throughout all of it, the theme was the same: war between the French, British, and the native Americans, and how both the French and British flourished while taking over from the native Americans (something that is often only brushed upon in school, which is odd since it really is a place for ripe ethical debate).

What didn’t happen was a discussion on the scientific breakthroughs of the centuries we studied (roughly 1600-1980). We didn’t learn how the ingenious development of electrical power spread out through the world, nor did we learn how the Copernican heliocentric view of the solar system changed the way people looked at Earth with respect to the rest of the cosmos. We didn’t study the engineering breakthroughs of telecommunications, and how they changed the way information is transmitted around the world. We also didn’t study anything about ancient history, by which I refer to the history of life itself. None of this was studied. It was only war, trade, and politics, and for just one small part of the world.

Of course, I realize that there is only so much material that can fit into a course, and that the total history of our species is long. However, I feel like we do ourselves a real disservice to only focus on a couple of points like we do in secondary school. I fear we give students the impression that what is taught is our (local) history, and we fail to give them the bigger picture. Those other connections I mentioned above are definitely important ones, and I feel like at least a couple deserve to be up there with the material that is taught.

When I reflect back on my experience in history classes, I remember a lot of dates, names, and places that had to be memorized for tests. I also know that the idea of the course was to give students an understanding of the big picture through essay questions, but often they didn’t capture how wonderfully exciting history could be. I think learning about a much more global history that incorporates science into the fold would have generated that excitement more than the order of the provinces of Canada joining the official country.

I don’t know if it is realistic to expect the curriculum to be updated to fill this function. Perhaps this sort of thing could take over one of the optional classes in later years. I feel like I’d be able to do something with this idea, because showing the wonders of science (particularly, when you only have to dive into the qualitative aspects), students will be captivated. There’s always more history behind the broad strokes that are made by curriculum history, and I think many interesting science stories lurk behind them, just waiting to be presented.

Personally, I’ve only begun on this journey a bit. I’ve read some history books on science, but not many. I know that there are many more things left for me to learn, and that’s why I’m going to discover them. I want to make sure that other students think about this opportunity as well, and not like they know their history because they passed four history courses in secondary school.