By Manal Sheikh
History 340: Multiculturalism, Immigration and Ethnicity, is the newest course in the University of Calgary’s department of history for this fall. The course concentrates on the history of multiculturalism in Canada and covers how Canada grew into a country of different beliefs, attitudes and backgrounds.
The course “is an inquiry-based research course,” according to the course outline, and it seeks to show how conceptions of multiculturalism are “fundamentally interpretive according to lived experiences and individual and collective historical subjectivities.”
U of C history professor Paul Stortz teaches the course. He explained that the program is beneficial to U of C students because of how it looks at the history of multiculturalism and its importance in the development of Canada.
“The course enables the students to look at the world they inhabit with the long-term goal being that students have the opportunity to consider how multiculturalism works in the Canadian context, and to use the knowledge [they acquire] throughout their lives,” said Stortz.
Not only does Stortz’s work have an emphasis on the history of multiculturalism in Canada, but also the history of education and the history of universities. Stortz’s background allows him to handle the complexities of the course.
“One of the challenges in diversity is the question of total respect and acceptance of others,” said Stortz of how universities used to be limited to the elite.
The course looks into embracing a more diverse student body, said Stortz. Over the centuries, there were more and more different ideas that departed from establishment thinking, and greater expectations about what universities should do to promote pluralism in society.
Stortz cannot say for sure if other universities offer similar courses, but he stresses the importance of this particular course.
“Canada is a nation of social and cultural differences. Canadian citizenship does not rely on having a cohesive background socially or culturally and so we have terms like tolerance, diversity and pluralism to explain our society,” he said. “It is such an integral aspect of Canadian culture and further study is needed to understand it.”
The only obstacle Stortz can see is the happy circumstance of high enrolment rates. The course has about 40 students enrolled at the time of print. Class participation and class debates are integral in the course, meaning it could get very large, very fast. The large number of students interested in the course is not surprising, said Stortz.
“People want to know more about Canada. We are a unique country because our nationalism agrees on difference. It is important to know the history behind this uniqueness because to know where we are today, we have to understand where we came from,” he said. “In consideration of the aboriginal communities who were originally here, we are a country of immigrants, an immigrant nation. It is difficult not to talk about it.”
This historical and contemporary topic can also foster ideas about individual identity.
“A course like this increases awareness of self,” said Stortz. “It brings up questions like, ‘Who am I?’ Embracing differences is a very powerful and very personal intellectual stance. It means that you do not take things at face value, but you look deeper.”
This multiculturalism course is an offshoot of History 493: the History of Activism and Protest, a previous course Stortz taught.
Both courses broaden student horizons and perspectives on living in a multidimensional country like Canada, and give students a foundation and voice to be able to join the on-going discussions on these issues, said Stortz.
“Imagine wandering around with no memory. You would realize how important history is because you would have no history of your own to rely on where to go, what to do and who you are. History is so important,” said Stortz.