Your topic should explore some event, person, or trend in Canadian history that is important to you and to others. It can be personal and little known or it could be national and well known but it has to be something that interests you enough to spend several weeks exploring it. Here are some ideas for how to find a great topic.
Start with your own interests
List your interests (as many as you can!), and then rank them to come up with one or two which are the most compelling. For example:
- Name one of your hobbies. Now try to connect this hobby to history. For example, if you are a musician, you may think about how technological change over time has influenced your instrument. If you are an athlete, consider how your sport has changed through the years – rules, equipment, style of play, popularity, and the like. If you like to knit or weave, you could explore the stories of Cowichan sweaters or HBC blankets.
- Use these thoughts to begin to generate some potential research questions. Consider the question: What was happening in the past (the historical context) that might have influenced your topic (e.g., technology, immigration, politics, economics, climate)?
Look at what you know already from school and social studies
Picking a topic from projects you have done before or a person or event in Canadian history that you have already studied in class could help you find ideas that interest you. Skim your textbook or school work and make a list of everything that you have studied. Which one topic gets you curious? (You shouldn’t just repeat previous work but you might find something that you want to follow up.)
Walk through your neighbourhood and think about what you know and what you wonder about the place and people. For example:
- Buildings: Kristen Schulz of North Vancouver did an award winning Heritage Fair video on the history of her home. Are any there any especially unusual, old or important buildings in your neighbourhood (maybe your own)? Your final project for the Fair could be a walking tour of several historic buildings.
- Memorials or monuments: If there is a plaque, statue or monument of sorts nearby, you could research the origins of the event or person or the creation of the monument. You could compare different monuments or evaluate a monument: What is its purpose? How well does it succeed?
- People: How well do you know your neighbours? Where did they come from? How did they come to live in your neighbourhood?
- Everyday life: You may find a good research topic from things you see and do all the time. For example, if there is a fast-food restaurant nearby, you might want to think about answering a question on how eating habits and food choices have changed over time. You may also want to research the origin of other businesses, roads, or places that you see everyday. Remember not to take things for granted. Try to observe through fresh eyes to produce rich research insights.
Look at the names of your local streets and schools
What do you know about the people, places or events that someone thought were important enough to recognize? When were these names given to the street or school and what does this tell us about what people thought was significant at the time?
Talk to your family members
Most likely someone in your family has an important story to tell about their immigration, migration, experience with war, important events or changes. Choose one, research the background, and decide on an inquiry question to explore further.
Current events or timely issues can be a good place to find a promising inquiry question
For example, environmental events such as floods and fires have brought questions about the use of land and resources into the mainstream news. Any of these topics would make a good starting place for an environmental history project. Commemorations about World War One or Confederation mean that there are many sources available that might hold a topic worth exploring.
Don’t forget your school
You may have lots of readily available sources close by: former students, old annuals, and old textbooks in the library or storage room. The focus for the topic could be what has changed over time and what has stayed the same in teaching style, punishment, students, textbooks, or exams. You could ask some tough questions about why changes happened or whether they are for the better or worse.
Talk with someone at your local museum
You can find a community museum near you by looking at the BC Museum Association site.