Music as a Gateway to Understanding Historical Practice

By Matenadaran [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This piece was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca.

In the mid-1990s, the music of the Wakami Wailers set me on the path to becoming a historian.  Singing the old songs from eastern Canada’s nineteenth-century lumber shanties, this group of former Ontario Parks workers instilled in me a sense of the past and its importance for understanding present realities.  By connecting some of Ontario’s premier provincial parks and province’s lumber industry, the Wailers encouraged me to consider the complex interconnection between logging and recreation in central Ontario (i.e. Muskoka and Algonquin Park).

I have come to realize over the decade and a half since I first discovered the Wailers that popular music can serve as a useful entry point for understanding the past.  This should not come as a surprise.  Approaches to teaching and learning, such as John Bigg’s SOLO taxonomy, emphasize the importance of understanding foundational concepts before higher order thinking can take place.  Popular culture serves as an easy way to establish these concepts by capitalizing on students’ everyday experience.

Music can be used to teach about the past in at least seven overlapping ways (feel free to add other categories and examples in the comments section): Continue reading “Music as a Gateway to Understanding Historical Practice”