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Narrating a Nation: University of Regina history students co-author a new book

By Kara Vincent and Dr. Raymond Blake Posted: February 5, 2021 1:00 p.m.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks on as Governor General David Johnston delivers the Speech from the Throne in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday Oct. 16, 2013.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks on as Governor General David Johnston delivers the Speech from the Throne in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday Oct. 16, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Eight University of Regina history students are among the university’s newest published authors. They are all contributors to a new open access ebook, Canada and Speeches from the Throne: Narrating a Nation, 1935-2015

The book is a project of UofR history professor and Associate Dean of Arts (Research and Graduate Studies) Dr. Raymond Blake’s History Canadian Political History course (HIST403/803) and explores how Canadian Prime Ministers have articulated their vision of Canada through Speeches from the Throne and Leaders' Day replies. 

The Speech from the Throne is one of the most important moments in the Canadian Parliamentary calendar, according to Blake. ‘It is an occasion steeped in history and tradition, emerging first in the United Kingdom and later adapted to Canada’s constitutional monarchy. It signals the beginning of a new Parliament, and it lays out the government’s agenda for the upcoming session’, he says. The Throne Speech itself is followed by several days of debate in Parliament led by opposition parties, set in motion on what’s known as ‘Leaders’ Day’. 

When Blake broached the idea of compiling their research term papers into a book, students Brady Dean, Sarah Hoag, Rebecca Morris-Hurl, Braden Sapara, Dayle Steffen, Joshua Switzer, Alexander Washkowsky, and Deklen Wolbaum readily agreed. ‘There was a level of excitement that I don’t normally see around writing term papers’, Blake remarks. 

02-051.jpg

Cover of Canada and Speeches from
the Throne: Narrating a Nation,
1935-2015
Credit: Faculty of Arts

Exploring Throne Speeches from Prime Ministers William Lyon Mackenzie King, Pierre Trudeau, Stephen Harper, and others, each of the book’s eight authors have contributed a chapter demonstrating how these speeches have historically served to address the issues and priorities of the current Government and inform Parliamentarians and the Canadian people of the policies and laws it intends to pursue.

‘What each author illustrates’, says Blake, ‘is how the speeches serve to strengthen, shape and even reconstruct the national identity and change the national narrative. These addresses can be nearly as important – some might contend more important – than policies and the government’s legislative agenda in constructing a national identity’. 

Though the circumstances of the global pandemic dictated that the course would be conducted remotely, Blake and the HIST 403/803 students quickly realized that the publication project offered a unique opportunity for peer to peer collaboration and support. 

Says contributor Joshua Switzer, a graduate student in the Department of History, ‘all of us in the class could ask questions, critique, and understand one another’s research when we shared it with one another. After each of us presented our findings I think we learned from each other’s approach, focus, and attitude towards research, more and more, and that this helped us craft our essays’. 

His book chapter examined the 1967 Throne Speech of Lester B. Pearson, which ‘stoically honoured and shouldered the ‘weight’ of Canada’s Centennial, proclaimed Canada to be an international contender and defender and tried to steer the federal-provincial agenda around constitutional talks’, says Switzer.

Contributor Rebecca Morris-Hurl is a graduate student in the Department of History. She describes the process of collaborating with her classmates and fellow authors to refine each chapter as a unique and rewarding experience. 

‘I appreciated and enjoyed the process of working with and presenting my work to my classmates for their input, as well as working with Dr. Blake on revisions of my chapter’, she says. ‘The experience was quite collaborative which I did not expect, especially because the class was online due to COVID-19. I am quite grateful for Dr. Blake's innovation’. 

Her book chapter examines various speeches of Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker and how they served to outline a vision of an inclusive Canada, and one seen as a defender of human rights on the international stage. 

‘I found that the collective process only added to the quality’, notes contributor Alexander Washkowsky, an upper year undergraduate student in the Faculty of Education. ‘When you find yourself with a group of academics you have not met before, all with their own sets of diverse beliefs you can challenge your own biases and write with greater impartiality, which I believe is key in a historical work’.

Washkowsky’s book chapter explores the lasting legacy of Prime Minister Paul Martin’s brief administration on Canada’s foreign and domestic policy. 

Once the chapters were written and edited, Blake worked with Isaac Mulolani, an Instructional Designer with the UofR’s Flexible Learning Centre, to publish the book through Pressbooks, an open source software platform that provides online authoring and publishing services. The platform is a key resource supported by the UofR’s Open Educational Resource Program, an initiative that facilitates the creation and use of open educational resources for teaching and learning. 

Blake couldn’t be happier with the end result. ‘It is the hard work and intellectual gifts of these students that have made this book possible’, he says. ‘The book looks great. It took a lot of effort from the students and a little extra effort from me but their excitement at having the published book was very gratifying and well worth the effort’. 

Theirs may well be the first book to emerge from an undergraduate and graduate seminar in the Department of History – perhaps even at the University of Regina, although Blake hopes others will also consider taking on similar publishing projects with their students. 

Morris-Hurl agrees. ‘I absolutely encourage other instructors and students to explore collective publishing because not only does it challenge students to produce quality work, but the process really does help foster a community in class – which is especially difficult in an online environment’, she says.

‘I found this work to be a great project to be a part of’, says Washkowsky. I learned lots about the shaping of our Canadian identity, and how we remember those who give the speeches that change our country’. 

‘It is because of students like those I encountered in my online classes this year – and especially those that attended my History 404/803 class that I continue to enjoy engaging with bright young women and men at our university each semester’, says Blake. ‘I hope this project has introduced them to the wonderful world of discovery, research, history, and publishing and that all of those will be a passion they may pursue, regardless of the road they choose once they have graduated’. 

‘Even though these are some strange days indeed’, says Switzer, ‘I feel extremely grateful and, to some extent, lucky to have been part of the project that became this book’. 

Canada and Speeches from the Throne: Narrating a Nation, 1935-2015 is available to read or freely download through the University of Regina library and at: https://opentextbooks.uregina.ca/primeministers2020/#main

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