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Students demonstrate at Queen's Park in Toronto for lower tuition fees in 1947. Tuition protests continue today.
courtesy of University of Toronto Archives

Canadian protest course offered this fall

U of C professor examines past and present protest and activism

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This fall, history professor Paul Stortz will offer a course that focuses on understanding how activism and protest occupies our daily living. History 493.47 will examine contemporary activism and protest in Canada, while also taking a historical perspective.

"We look at the whole idea of activism and protest. We try to understand how these movements developed, where they started from, who started them, what they're like, and what their character is," said Stortz. "We look at in the longer sense of why it started in the first place, and if you can actually find a place where it started in history in Canada, and how it's moved up today."

The course will cover student activism and activism on the university campus, political protest, labour movements, and gender, judicial, legislative, and environmental activism.

Stortz identified three major demographic characteristics that have been instrumental in creating change in history across nearly all the movements: youth, women and university students.

His own research has to do with the history of universities and academic cultures. He is currently examining university development over the last couple hundred years in Canada and comparing that to medieval universities in order to compare how intellectuals organize themselves.

"How do 'smart people' -- people who think about ideas -- organize themselves politically, socially, intellectually to make their lives meaningful," he asked.

Additionally, the class examines the history of multiculturalism, racism and sexism and how it intersects with the university.

Stortz originally taught the course in the Canadian Studies department, but as a big believer in looking at the historical aspects of a movement, he feels that the theories and practices of social justice is conducive to a historical focus.

"In terms of this, we get a fuller understanding of what the definitions are of activism and protest, and how they shape Canadian society and the Canadian state," he said.

The class is a 400-level course but Stortz welcomes students who are interested in the topic from all levels to enrol. It focuses on participation, discussion and group presentation.

"This material is conducive to the student expression," Stortz said. "It would be antithetical to the whole ideology of activism and protest to hear me lecture the whole time."

Stortz begins his course talking about logic, informal reasoning and argumentation to help his students organize their thoughts.

He recognizes that activism and protest can be deeply emotional. He urges his students to understand "we don't deal with opinions. We deal with arguments, so let's present those arguments."

Stortz challenges his students to re-examine their definitions of activism and protest. He is an advocate of the view that activism and protest is everything from political protest to buying milk at the corner store. In either case, "We're taking one step at a time in our lives and we want to change our lives in particular ways. That's activism and protest."

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