History as Story
“One of the reasons people don’t do this kind of qualitative research is it takes so much time to analyze the data, and it takes money to do that. This is where the funding comes in.” – Raphaël Gani, history of education doctoral student
History and identity are closely linked—a concept University of Ottawa doctoral student Raphaël Gani explores through research into whether Franco-Ontarian high school and university students can recount their own history. Gani, who works on the project through the Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture, is finding surprising results.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the students responding to his questionnaires are not historically illiterate. They can sketch a basic narrative about where they came from, beginning with New France, and those who identify strongly as Franco-Ontarians can pinpoint a specific historical event as central to their identity.
“Kids who identify strongly tell the history in a way that is close to the basic narrative that the Franco-Ontarian community tells itself,” says Gani.
It’s important to know what stories people tell, and how that contributes to their identity, because coherent narratives link people and forge communities, says Gani. By understanding what students know, how best they learn and what they don’t know, his research can also help change the way Franco-Ontarian history is taught.
Gani’s research is supported by a grant to the Centre from the Michel Gaulin Research Fund, endowed by Dr. Michel Gaulin (BA ’61; MA [Université de Montréal]; PhD [Harvard]), a University of Ottawa alumnus and now Professor Emeritus in the Department of French at Carleton University. He has always been a passionate advocate for the French language and culture in Ontario.
Dr. Gaulin wanted to create this fund, which is linked to the Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture, because he knew that his gift would help the Centre continue to acquire and maintain critical archival collections that allow researchers to conduct unique projects examining the French presence in Ontario.
“For Franco-Ontarians, the Centre has become, over the years, an essential resource for researchers looking for key documents on Francophone life in Ontario,” Dr. Gaulin says. “As an academic myself, I understand the importance of research funds for universities and —particularly for us Franco Ontarians — of the Centre’s funds.”