Canada and the Third World: Overlapping Histories

To mark the publication of Canada and the Third World: Overlapping Histories, one of the co-editors, Karen Dubinsky, addresses the lack of available teaching materials on Canada and its relationship with the rest of the world, and how this helped motivate the publication of the book.

Canada and the Third WorldI began teaching in the Queen’s History Department in 1993, and in 2008 I started a cross appointment with the Department of Global Development Studies. I was (and remain) enthusiastic about teaching students in what were some new research areas for me, namely Cuban cultural studies and Canadian/Global South relations. I approached my new courses with the same level of enthusiasm as when I began undergrad teaching over twenty years ago (laced, I’ll admit, with a dose of new-teacher panic). I spent a summer preparing myself to teach “Introduction to Development Studies – Canada and the ‘Third’ World,” a huge first-year class. I read up on the activities of Canadian missionaries and NGOs and mining companies. I re-acquainted myself with readings I had done years ago about issues in Canadian/Third World political economy: development aid, foreign policy, trade relations. It was fun to think about how to teach a course in contemporary global issues from the perspective of a historian; that is, focusing on the origins of things, as we do. I found some wonderful, richly researched and teachable articles and books from which to draw for my lectures. But I was shocked to realize that the last book that had been published on Canadian/Global South relations was from 1991. Of course there are plenty of fine studies about Canadian relationships with individual countries and regions, but there was no up-to-date synthetic overview I could use as a textbook. Even worse, the various texts that promised to explain “Canada and the World” typically paid virtually no attention to the Majority World.

So what’s a teacher who believes that Canada’s relationship to The World goes beyond the US and the UK to do? Mulling this problem over with friends and fellow teachers Sean Mills and Scott Rutherford, who were experiencing the same incredulity at the lack of contemporary resources for their own Canada/Third World courses, we hit on the obvious solution. We wrote a book ourselves. We quickly disabused ourselves of the fantasy that this was something we could do alone, and we reached out to some of the many people whose work we have been reading and teaching in our classes. So eleven people, including historians, a community activist, and a veteran NGO researcher, have contributed to a book of essays we’re proud to introduce to our classrooms. Our essays cover topics such as Canada’s exclusionary immigration and refugee policies, development aid, the relationship between missionaries and NGO workers, Canadian mining companies overseas, foreign policy, domestic aboriginal policies, and Canadian/Third World solidarity campaigns. It is by no means the last word, but we hope it’s a start.

We think a book like this is necessary in our classes now—whether they are in the Development Studies world, or History, or Political Science or other related fields—because, as is often the case, our students are sometimes way ahead of us. This generation has far more direct experience with the Global South than previous generations have. Our undergraduate classrooms include increasing numbers of the Global South diaspora in Canada. We also teach students who have visited countries like Nicaragua or Ghana as volunteers, the complexities of which students should be encouraged to engage with. Every time Canadians use their cell phones or buy tropical fruits or send remittances or donate to an international charity, they are of course participating in Canadian/Third World relationships. We’ve realized that many of our students are actually quite aware of this relationship. It’s time our textbooks caught up.

Karen Dubinsky is Professor of History and Global Development Studies at Queen’s University. She is the author and editor of several books, including Within and Without the Nation: Transnational Canadian History (2015).

Note: Canada and the Third World: Overlapping Histories, edited by Karen Dubinsky, Sean Mills, and Scott Rutherford, is now available. If you are scheduled to teach a course in which this book might be useful, please email for an examination copy.


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