The bearing of historical consciousness

Ann Chinnery


In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released a list of 94 Calls to Action as a framework for Canadian society to begin to address and take collective responsibility for the harm done to generations of Aboriginal children, families, and communities by the Indian Residential School system and related governmental policies. The Calls include several items specifically addressing education, including a call to all levels of government to make curriculum about the residential schools, treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ history mandatory for students from kindergarten to grade twelve. Obviously, within such a context, history education cannot be about the construction and transmission of a coherent national narrative and national identity; rather, it requires getting to grips with what Britzman calls “difficult knowledge” about Canada’s past. My purpose in this paper is two-fold: in the first section I provide a brief introduction to the two main conceptions of historical consciousness informing Anglophone history education in Canada; and in the second section I take up recent discussions about the distinction between historical consciousness as the possession of historical knowledge and historical consciousness as a life-orienting, or life-bearing praxis. Taking the latter term quite literally, I explore three potential meanings of the phrase, “the bearing of historical consciousness”: 1) as a burden or weight that one bears; 2) as a stance, comportment, or way of walking in the world in relation to the past; and 3) as a measure of the relevance and significance of the past for our lives today.


Historical Consciousness; Difficult Knowledge; Epistemic Humility; Ethical Indebtedness; Roger Simon; Peter Seixas.

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Copyright (c) 2021 Ann Chinnery

Historical Encounters is a double blind peer-reviewed, open access, interdisciplinary journal dedicated to the empirical and theoretical study of historical consciousness, historical cultures, and history education.

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A/ Professor Robert J. Parkes, PhD
Editor-in-Chief | Historical Encounters
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The University of Newcastle
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