The Historical Thinking Project (www.historicalthinking.ca) points to the importance of taking of historical perspectives as part of constructing and understanding histories. It is a central part of historical work. It seems facile to say, but it’s important to always remember that people who lived in the past were surrounded by cultural, emotional, spiritual and economic worlds that were no less varied and complex than those of the present. The reason this is tricky is that distilling an historical argument requires generalization, which in turn often means skirting the edges of logical fallacies like hasty generalization and exceptionalism.
The fourth element of historical literacy identified by the Historical Thinking Project (www.historicalthinking.ca) is the analysis of causes and consequences. Sorting out causes and consequences is one of the most common sources of difficulty—and perhaps errors—in constructing histories. Causal relationships can be hard to establish properly, especially when they are rooted in an unfamiliar and complex past.
In a large park in Montreal’s east end borough of St-Leonard stands a rather impressive bronze statue of a young man holding a suitcase. He is posed on a giant bronze half globe, one foot on the outline of Canada, the other on Italy. As a child my maternal grandfather would take me for walks around his neighbourhood and we would inevitably end up in front of this statue, where he would explain that it was of him, coming to Canada with ten dollars in his pocket. The plaque on the statue simply reads “L’immigrante” (The Immigrant). I can’t remember exactly when I found out that the statue wasn’t actually of my grandfather, but for years I was convinced the city of Montreal had erected it in remembrance of his immigration to Canada. And why not, the story of his immigration is an embedded piece of my family’s folklore….