Dr. Eric Strikwerda is an AU assistant professor in the Center for Humanities. He teaches a number of courses and this article is a continuation of our interview with him about History 338: The History of the Canadian West
Is there a part of the course they’ve heard students really enjoy? What is it?
I have, yes: the course content. And them not learning just about the history of the region, but also how to do history. How do we do history? What kinds of things do we think are important? This has to largely be driven by the individual for example. So, we don’t have arbitrary things that we say is the most important thing you need to learn.
All people coming into history come from different backgrounds and have different interests. That’s great because that’s why the story is constantly being challenged, sometimes revised, sometimes merely added to.
You asked before what was one of the challenges? Well, it’s not really a challenge, but it’s getting students to think about the wider context of things.
What I sometimes get from students is what I call, and not in any kind of negative way, a laundry list. This happened… then that happened… then that happened… then that happened.
That’s more what antiquarians do: just collecting facts. As historians, we are much more interested in the context. How is the past a contingent place? How does what came before affect what came after? We are interested in continuity and change over time.
It’s the wider context of things.
Frankly, it’s a skill that one learns over a long period of time. But this is a great way to start. It can totally change the way that you see the world and the way that you see yourself in the world and the way that you understand the past.
Imagine what a bleak place it would be if tomorrow was always just tomorrow and nobody cared about what happened in the past or indeed how we got to where we are now.
You start to ask wider questions such as Why do your cities look the way they do? Why is Calgary where it is? Why isn’t it somewhere else? How did Calgary come to be one of the two dominant metropolises in Alberta? Why not Lethbridge? Why not Fort McMurray?
Are there exams, and, if so, what are they like?
There is a final exam. It’s written with an invigilator in the usual way. It is composed of three questions, but students have a choice and students have the questions going into the exam.
All of the questions we use in the final exam are found at the end of each unit. Some of those questions will appear on the final, but not all. Students have the questions in advance, and they can prepare their response to all of them and then go in and write the exam.
That reduces exam anxiety considerably. The alternative would be students believing they need to memorize everything and probably remembering nothing when it comes time to write the exam.
What would you change to make the course even better if you could?
I am in the process now of changing it, and I am going to hive British Columbia off from this story, and I’m going to incorporate Canada’s North.
I am doing that for a couple of reasons: (1) Most similar courses offered by other universities in Canada tend to offer up a treatment of the prairies alone, and so this move would bring AU’s offering in line with that (2) We are offering in MAIS a revised Canadian Studies program that emphasizes Canada as northern nation, and so I’m incorporating a northern focus to the course as well.
I think it’s important that we have the historical context for the North for the MAIS program. But also, my friend, Josh Evans (who is a human geographer here at AU), and I are working on revising the Canadian Studies program at the undergraduate level, and it’ll have a similar emphasis on Canada’s North.
Those are two reasons. The third is that the North is going to become increasingly important in Canada’s story in the future. It has been in the past, but it’s going to become increasingly important.
Stephen Harper, our former Prime Minister really wanted to develop the North. He believed the North was going to be a big part of the 21st century. He’s right, I think.
But, I would differ from him ideologically. The North is going to become a bit of a political football, too, because there are a number of circumpolar nations that also have eyes on developing that region. Canada is intending to move much more strongly in terms of establishing sovereignty over the region.
In your opinion, do you think this course is a harder one or an easier one than the average at AU?
It’s not easier. It’s like any course at AU or any course generally. You get out of it what you put into it. If you are just looking for the credit and you want to breeze through it, you’ll probably pass. If you really want to learn about the region, you’ve got to put the time and the effort into it.
What kind of personality type or talent is required to succeed at this course?
Just generally, as with all AU courses, it is the kind of person who is able to apply themselves largely on their own.
Does this course qualify for any certificates or diplomas or degrees?
It’s part of the History program. If you wanted to do a BA in History, this would certainly be a part of that. It’s also part of the Canadian Studies program. If you wanted to do a BA in Canadian Studies, this would be an excellent course.
I can’t speak for other disciplines, but if you are doing a science degree, for example, this would most definitely qualify for your arts component.
It is easily transferrable to all other accredited universities in Canada and elsewhere.
What take do you have with the assigned reading Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (And Doesn’t Seem to Care)?
I think it provides a critical commentary that in many ways goes against the mainstream media’s commentary, which tends to be pretty superficial with respect to oil and gas.
We are seeing that now. It’s very troubling and very disheartening to see people losing their jobs when oil and gas is in the tanker, as they say.
I think that this book offers up a critical analysis of the oil industry in Alberta and the ways that previous Alberta governments have dealt with things like royalty regimes and the environment and trying to strike a balance on those two.
It is pro-environmental and very critical of the boom and bust cycle that Alberta seems to be stuck in for the past century. You know… Times are good. There’s lots of spending and very little planning, and then the bottom falls out and everything is terrible. Then it stays like that for a time.
If you are a Calgarian, born and raised, you know exactly what I’m talking about.