Continuity and Change

“Thomas Moore as he appeared when admitted to the Regina Indian Industrial School” and “Thomas Moore after tuition at the Regina Industrial School.”
Library and Archives Canada, NL-22474

Students sometimes misunderstand history as a list of events. Once they start to understand history as a complex mix of continuity and change, they reach a fundamentally different sense of the past.

There were lots of things going on at any one time in the past. Some changed rapidly while others remained relatively continuous. The decade of the 1910s in Canada, for instance, saw profound change in many aspects of life, but not much change in its forms of government. If students say, “nothing happened in 1911” they are thinking of the past as a list of events.

One of the keys to continuity and change is looking for change where common sense suggests that there has been none and looking for continuities where we assumed that there was change. Judgments of continuity and change can be made on the basis of comparisons between some point in the past and the present, or between two points in the past, such as before and after Confederation in Canada. We evaluate change over time using the ideas of progress and decline.