Historic Space

Historic Space is a conceptual history model designed to encourage students to discover, discuss, and decode the signs and symbols that make up the national narrative.

My PhD research used Historic Space as an attempt to understand the classroom practices – the interactions between teacher-student, student-student, teacher-material, and student-material – that supports or curtails the opportunities for engaged, meaningful learning and teaching history in service of social justice.

Click here for a introduction Powerpoint and handout as seen at OHASSTA 2011!

Check out the Historic Space theory info brief

(Google PDF will open in a new window)


In 2005 I developed Historic Space out of my experience working at a pioneer living-history museum while completing an undergraduate Women’s Studies degree. Working at the museum showed me the centrality of the national narrative in the minds of many people but Women’s Studies taught me the importance of challenging tradition.

Historic Space developed as a model for conceptualizing history that aimed to satisfy the simplistic frame of historical reference that many people had, while applying feminist tools of analysis and deconstruction that challenged this very knowledge and encouraged people to see beyond it.

Also see the History behind Historic Space


A “historic space” is a fancy way of saying a historic period, but to teach through Historic Space is so much more.

Historic Space is a way of learning history that keeps the constructed nature of all stories as central and encourages students to always question what these stories and the stories we hear less often tell us about Canada, our values, and our futures. Historic Space is unique because conceptualizing history as space provides the space for students to build and rebuild the narrative of history.

Working with Historic Space compels a different conceptualization of history than the typical and predictable structure of the grand narratives.

Of course, everyone knows that there isn’t one national story, but a dominant narrative exists that frames certain people and events as central to Canada and other people and events as sidebars, or at worse, nonexistent.

Rearticulating what history can do and say needs a new way of thinking about history. A graphic novel or a play can tell the same story as a novel but, borrowing from Marshall McLuhan, the message changes with the medium. What kinds of messages can we encourage our students to explore? And what will these new messages tell them about themselves, their histories, and their futures?

This is what Historic Space is all about.


Historic Space can be pedagogically interpreted through conceptual learning strategies, particularly Hilda Taba’s Concept Formation strategy, and provide opportunities for student-centred differentiated learning, critical problem solving, and parental and community involvement.

Historic Space can provide meaningful learning opportunities for students by having their historical learning more applicable to their lives and possible futures, encouraging history education to work in service of social justice.

Interested in applying Historic Space in your classroom? Check out some sample lesson plans.

For more information about History Space and to read the results of the 2007 pilot test, see:

Historic Space encourages a frame to one's engagement with history so that the constructed and conceptualized nature of popular narratives is emphasized over a static and seemingly immobile grand narrative. This engagement provides more opportunities for your students to categorize, question, and add to historical knowledge in meaningful and purposeful ways.

Cutrara, S. (2010). “Transformative History: The possibilities of Historic Space.” Canadian Social Studies, 44(1).

From <http://www2.education.ualberta.ca/css/CSS_44_1_REVISED.pdf>

Native children and teacher in classroom of residential school at London, Ontario (Archives of Ontario, F 4369-1-0-5)