Rethinking history

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a long-awaited formal apology to the Canadian Aboriginal community for the abuse suffered in the government-funded church-run residential schools that were phased out in the 1970s after more than a century of operation.

It also proved to be a day of personal significance for U of L education professor Dr. Brian Titley, who has spent the last three decades researching and writing about Aboriginal history.

"I was very moved when I watched the national apology on residential schools because I realized that 30 years ago a government apology could not have happened because nobody had written a thing about it. History needed to be rewritten and reinterpreted," says Titley.

His book, A Narrow Vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada (1986), was among the first to be written in Canada about Indian policy.

"Up until the 1970s, our history in Canada had been very much about nation building, great men, railways and Vimy Ridge," says Titley. "Historians then began writing about the history of women, the working class, minority groups and Aboriginal people. These writings played an important role in educating the public."

A critical historian, Titley has devoted his career to challenging conventional wisdom. His list of published books and articles reads like an epic story that journeys through time, exploring the cultural fabric, political climate and religious circumstances of numerous countries at different points in history.

In addition to the administration of Indian Affairs in Canada, he has covered many controversial topics, including the role of the Catholic Church in the Irish education system and that of France in its former African colonies.

As a newly appointed University Scholar, Titley has chosen the history of Magdalen asylums in North America as the subject for his next line of research.

First and foremost, however, Titley considers himself an educator – a teacher of teachers who aims to inspire his students so that one day they'll inspire their own.

"I've always tried to explain to my students that as historians we must go back and understand origins to realize why the present is the way it is."