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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Seeing historical injustice : a qualitative study into how students use historical photographs to make sense of residential schooling in Canada Miles, James Anthony


This qualitative study explored secondary social studies students’ ability to think historically using historical photographs of Indian residential schooling in Canada. Twenty-one Grade 10 students participated in task-based research that focused on how students utilized three historical thinking concepts: using primary source evidence, perspective taking and making ethical decisions. In small groups the students participated in various tasks and questions using contextual information, as well as six historical photographs on the issue of residential schooling in Canada. This study also employed theories of visual culture, trauma, and photography to address the ways students’ ways of seeing and looking practices influenced how they encountered and made sense of photographs of historical injustice. Findings indicate that historical photographs provide students and teachers with a useful entry point into historical thinking, and that they encourage complex thinking in dealing with historical evidence while simultaneously revealing other interpretations dealing with power, the body, and the unseen. Significant issues arose in defining what historical empathy and perspective taking looks like in the classroom, as well as the value of any form of affective engagement with historical actors. This study also sheds light on issues of student positionality when engaging in historical thinking concepts and making ethical judgments about the past.

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