Spencer Foundation Grant and New Research Project

I’m delighted to be a recipient of a Spencer Foundation Grant for my latest research project entitled Families without Schools: Rurality and the Promise of Schooling in Western Canada, 1920s to 1960s. The project re-visits the family letters of the Elementary Correspondence School files at the BC Archives and asks the following questions: 1) How did settler parents and children negotiate the demands of their rural settings in order to get an education? 2) How did they articulate the purpose and value of schooling and what impact did their rural location have on these articulations?  3) What can this history reflect about contemporary efforts to ensure that parents and students feel included in school communities?

At the end of March, 2016, I presented the first paper from the project at the European Social Science History Conference, University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain. My powerpoint presentation for that paper, entitled “Families Without Schools: Rurality, Remoteness, and the Promise of Schooling in Western Canada, 1930 to 1960,” is linked here:

ESSHC 2016 Valencia POWERPOINT Families Without Schools

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New Publication

My co-authored article with Claudia Diaz-Diaz is now available and we are pleased that this Hampton Grant-supported research is circulating!

Claudia Diaz-Diaz, Claudia and Mona Gleason (2015) “The Land is My School: Children, History, and the Environment in the Canadian Province of British Columbia,” Childhood 22 (4): 1-14.

I’ve also provided a link her to the Land is My School blog for some more information about this research project that wrapped up last year.




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New Research and a Forthcoming Article in “Childhood”

My very latest research project is entitled “Families without Schools: Rurality, Remoteness, and the Promise of Schooling in Western Canada, 1900 to 1960.” In it, I return to the archival collection of the British Columbian Elementary Correspondence School Collection and again concentrate on what letters from parent and students to governmental officials reveal. Here is a brief description of the focus:

“This project investigates a challenge to public schooling in the twentieth century that remains under-examined in the history of education: living in remote and isolated locations where attending a traditional public school was impossible. The research is based on the archival collection of the Elementary Correspondence School (ECS) that operated under the auspices of the Department of Education in the western Canadian province of British Columbia between 1919 and 1960. Between these decades, the ECS sent correspondence materials free of charge to families who indicated that they had school-aged children but lived more than five miles from the nearest public school. Along with being far from schools, these families were often limited by treacherous terrain. Contained within this larger archive is a collection of hundreds of letters exchanged between White settler families (parents and children) and ECS teachers and officials. Eager to take advantage of correspondence schooling, families received the approved curriculum in the mail, children then completed the various lessons, and sent them back to the ECS for marking and feedback.
The ECS family letters represent a remarkable repository of parent and child perspectives on the value and purpose of schooling over the twentieth century in rural British Columbia. They amplify the voices of those often silent in the history of education: parents and children generally, and rural parents and children, particularly. Through the letters, we gain a deeper understanding of their attitudes towards schooling even as they found themselves without the benefit of traditional public schools. Three key questions guide the project: How did settler parents and children negotiate their rural and remote setting with the desire to get an education? How did they articulate the purpose and value of going to school and what impact did their rural and remote location have on these articulations? What can this history reflect about contemporary engagement with school inclusion and exclusion?”

Stay tuned for more details of the project. In the meantime, see my co-authored article on another dimension of the ECS collection to appear in the fall in the journal, Childhood.

Claudia Diaz Diaz  and Mona Gleason,  “The Land is My School: Children, History, and the Environment in the Canadian Province of British Columbia,” Childhood (In Press, November, 2016).

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Visiting Scholar, Linköping University, TEMA Barn

I am very pleased to be joining my colleagues in the Department of Thematic Studies, Child Studies (TEMA Barn) for the month of April. Bengt Sandin, Karin Zetterqvist Nelson, Johanna Sköld, and Judith Lind are all members of TEMA Barn, not to mention their wonderful graduate students. At TEMA Barn, the emphasis is on sharing research. There is an thoroughly engaging atmosphere of intellectual curiosity, convivial conversation and collaboration. On April 9th, I presented a seminar to the TEMA based on my recent article entitled “Constructing Vulnerability and Producing Vulnerable Children: Sexuality, Innocence and Childhood in Twentieth Century Canada.” I look very much forward to the remaining weeks of research presentations, coffee chats, and intellectual enrichment.

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History of Children meets the History of Nursing

I’m very excited to be invited by Dr. Geertje Boschma from the Consortium for Nursing History Inquiry, School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia, to present to their Nursing History Symposium, on November 20th, 2014.  My talk will focus on how the history of children and childhood might inform the history of nursing. Shifts in attitudes towards children and their medical treatment over the 19th and 20th centuries profoundly affected nurses and their practice. My talk will bring some of this to light.  For more information about the day, please see the poster linked here: Nursing History Symposium Nov 20, 2014

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Work in Progress: How Adults Make Children Vulnerable

I’ve recently returned to an piece of writing that started out as a critique of sex education in Canada in the first five decades of the twentieth century and ended as something slightly different. I’ve entitled it “Constructing Vulnerability and Producing Vulnerable Children: Sexuality, Children, and Childhood in Mid-Twentieth Century Canada.”
In it, I attempt to “rethink the intertwined history of children, childhood, and sexuality in the first five decades of the twentieth century in Canada not primarily as legal transgression (although this has been an important focus in the historiography),  but rather as part of a broader adult-driven process of constructing childhood as a vulnerable life stage and children as vulnerable people.” Here’s my main argument in the piece:

I explore two significant effects that the social construction of vulnerability regarding sexuality produced in the lives of children: the shame effect and the abuse effect. That children were constructed as vulnerable meant that adequate and accurate information about their own bodies was often compromised or entirely absent. As my analysis will demonstrate, this produced debilitating shame in the lives of many young people. Second, the construction of vulnerability in childhood did not always protect children, which was often the stated goal of adults; it instead rendered them at times more, not less, vulnerable to abuse at the hands of other children and adults alike.

I’ve submitted this piece for publication – so fingers crossed that it will soon see the light of day!



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Countdown to Vienna!

A second paper emerging from “The Land is My School” project (see more information about this project in my last blog entry) is coming together. I’ll present it at the European Social Sciences History Conference at the University of Vienna happening from April 23rd to 26th, 2014. Unfortunately my co-author, Claudia Diaz, a PhD student in EDST is not able to join me – however, she will be there in spirit!

Paper Title: “The Land is My School: Children and the Natural Environment in British Columbia’s (Canada) Interwar Period.”
Venue: European Social Sciences History Conference, Education and Childhood Network, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, 23-26th April, 2014.

For more information on the conference, visit:

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Upcoming Presentations of New Research

After some months of organizing a new research project entitled, “The Land is my School: Children and the Landscape in British Columbia’s Past and the Enrichment of Contemporary Environmental Learning,” I am about the embark on a some conference presentations.

See the project blog at: https://blogs.ubc.ca/thelandismyschool/


land is my school blog photo


This particular project, funded by a UBC Hampton Grant, continues to benefit from the research assistance provided by Claudia Diaz (PhD) and Jonathan Fisher (MEd), graduate students in EDST. Claudia and I continue to work on co-publishing papers from the project. Stay tuned for news of a blog devoted to “The Land is My School” research, as well as notices of publications. In the meantime….

Paper Title: “Environmental Education and Democratic Citizenship in Canada: Lessons from the History of Children and Childhood”
Venue: 1st International Annual Conference on Democratic Citizenship: Educating Youth for Democratic Futures
Moroccan Centre for Civic Education
Marrakesh, Morocco
February 26 to March 1st, 2014.

For more information on the Conference, visit:


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The Trouble with “Children’s Voices”

In a recent contribution to the Society for the History of Children and Youth’s (SHCY) blog, I suggest some caveats for historians regarding our (flawed?) search for “children’s voices” in our scholarship. Have we been self-reflexive enough about the theoretical, methodological and analytical limitations of this pursuit?

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History of Children and Youth Group (HCYG) Session at the CHA Meeting, University of Victoria, June 4, 2013

Join  us for a session entitled: “Unraveling Common and Uncommon Threads: Writing the History of Childhood and Youth in Canada”

This bilingual roundtable will examine the conference themes of intersections and edges by asking contributors to unravel the common and uncommon threads within the history of childhood and youth in Canada. Contributors will identify and interrogate the fundamental theories and methodologies in Canadian historiography, as well as trends in the growing field of global and transnational histories of childhood and youth. Key themes to be discussed include the relevance of age, the search for children’s voices, and the emphasis on constructions and deconstructions of the normal, the deviant, and the symbolic child. The panelists will consider how these threads are used in teaching and research to connect and unwind the common and uncommon historic experiences of young people in Canada.
Dr. Jonathan Anuik, Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta
Dr. Cynthia Comacchio, Department of History, Wilfrid Laurier University
Dr. Mona Gleason, Department of Educational Studies, University of British Columbia
Dr. Dominique Marshall, Department of History, Carleton University

Chair and Commentator:
Dr. Jason Ellis, Department of History, Trent University-Oshawa; Faculty of Education, Western University; Contemporary Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University.
Commentator: Dr. Tarah Brookfield, Youth and Children Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University
(Co-presidents, History of Children and Youth Group of the CHA.)

(1) “Chronology, Biology and History: Why Age Matters”

Cynthia Comacchio, Department of History, Wilfrid Laurier University
Age and generation mark identity and status, are social constructions as well as biological classifications, and are fundamentally ‘historical’ as they mutate in accordance with our subjects’ lives and their larger ‘moment.’ That they are intrinsic to the subject matter that we explore, just as much as the social historian’s ‘holy trinity’ of class, gender and ‘race,’ is commonly acknowledged among historians. Their critical application as categories of analysis, however, is less evident, despite recent discussions about the possibilities of such approaches. My contribution to this roundtable explores the reasons why age and generation always signify in power relations, especially where children, historically the most subordinate of citizens, are concerned.

(2) “Beyond the Fetish of ‘Voice’ – Theoretical and Methodological Innovation in the History of Children in Canada”

Mona Gleason, Department of Educational Studies, UBC
A now common feature of many histories of children and youth in the Canadian context and beyond is a discussion regarding the “voice” of children as the most powerful (and ostensibly most authentic) source of information about their past lives. Scholars, myself included, have routinely evoked the idea of the sanctity of children’s voices as the necessary ingredient for a truly representative history of young people. Where do we find these voices and what are the mediating factors that make them more complicated than we might first recognize? What assumptions (and omissions) frame this focus on children’s voices? This paper seeks to explore more deeply what we mean by children’s voices and whether this preoccupation has precluded other, perhaps more innovative, ways to research and write the history of children and youth. Our common interest in weaving the perspectives of young people in the past might be furthered by taking up uncommon threads.

(3) “Canadian Children’s Political Action: Transnational Dimensions, Discoveries and Suggestions”

Dominique Marshall, Department of History, Carleton University
This contribution represents a reflection on the political role of children and childhood in Canada in light of the histories of humanitarianism, state formation and children’s rights, which I have been researching. Around a series of cases, it will suggest ways by which children and notions of childhood have influenced Canadian public life. It will discuss the concepts most often used by scholars to address these issues, such as agency, power, resistance, autonomy, rights, citizenship, identity, authority, appropriations, discourses, trauma, and innocence. It will also pay a particular attention to the transnational phenomena involved in these stories.

(4) “The Futility of the Hypothetical in Canadian Childhood and Youth: Practical Considerations from Education”

Jonathan Anuik, Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta
Real and imagined children and youth are the repository for Canadians’ fears and anxieties. Such emotions are also intellectual pillars of normal childhood. Sutherland (2000) and Comacchio (2008) demonstrate how philosophy becomes practice in enclosed spaces of childhood and youth. Subsequently, appropriate behaviours come to define normal childhood and youth in elementary and high schools. The outcome: teacher candidates rely on the hypothetical to predict the normal outcome. In my talk I take these intellectual underpinnings of Canadian concepts of childhood and youth and put them into practice as an instructor of Canadian childhood history courses whose students are undergraduate pre-service teacher candidates. I demonstrate how teacher candidates come to understand how historical and contemporary philosophies of normal childhood and youth affect their practices. Specifically, this presentation draws on my weekly lecture and seminar discussion of Childhood and Youth, Gender, Sex, and Sexuality in Canada, and shares promising practices that motivate students beyond the hypothetical and the normal, fear and anxiety. I argue throughout that historians must be mindful of the consequences of anxiety and fear of real and imagined childhood and youth for contemporary educational issues in Canadian society.

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