Community Based Project-- History Option -- Description


Students attend the whole class meeting and listen to various options. The historian will give a short summary. The historian usually leaves and waits for students at the classroom or office designated.


If they would like to choose the history option, they go immediately to the previously booked room to meet with the historian supervisor (Duffin) while the rest of the class sorts out their choices .


First meeting


The students have selected themselves as individuals, but they form a group because of their common interests. The historian collects names and contact info.


For usually an hour or less, an informal “go round” of the group highlights what their interests might be. All must commit to


1. keeping their historical research focused on some aspect of community health or epidemiology.


2. committing to attending the presentations of the other student members of this group at the end of the unit.


If students have no specific topic in mind, no problem. There are several ways to kick start an engagement with history. Consider an historical aspects of your preferred specialty (at the moment). Consider your favorite period and/or place in your previous learning or reading (even leisure reading. Consider community initiatives in which you or your family have been involved.


No decisions need to be taken on this first day.


Time and place for second meeting is booked…usually 2 or 3 weeks later.



Students think about possible topics. They are free to contacts supervisor with various questions. Objective is simply to find a satisfying topic. Remember MEDLINE is an excellent source for historical articles. One caution only: Recall -- from Heroes and Villains MEDLINE does not index books, and in history (unlike science) books are the gold standard.


Almost every year a refugee student or two will join the group in this interval.


Second meeting


For an hour or less, another “go round” where students declare their specific interests—and with discussion of entire group focus on one or another aspect of the topic. The other students help by expressing curiosity and enthusiasm. The historian helps by opining about the relative difficulty or easiness of finding sources to sustain the proposed research.


A date is fixed and a tentative schedule is drawn up for the presentations. At the time of writing, this has always been several weeks later—February or March.


The date and time must take into account the students’ schedule. It is usually late afternoon or early evening. Students are reminded of their commitment to attend every presentation.


If there are more than 6 students, it is usually best to slot TWO evenings for presentations. The order can be determined chronologically by historical era—or the topics can be grouped by their similarities. Synergy is usual.


During the Interval


With guidance from historian as needed (and often simply by email as well as in person) students conduct their research independently and prepare their presentations.


Presentations in the past were usually written papers—but now they most often take the format of a power point presentation. A power point is not necessary. All that is required is a talk to the class about the research. Students are STRONGLY encouraged to keep a detailed bibliography which will be useful for the future should they wish to return to the topic.


The amount of time invested in the research is variable—10 to 20 hours on average depending on how original the work is to be.


“Original” in history means new questions and the use of primary sources (such as archives and oral interviews). Originality is not required for this project. If the students simply wish to read around what has already been published on this topic by others (secondary sources), that will be more than sufficient.


Queen’s archives, the Prison archives, the Archives of Ontario (Toronto), the National Archives of Canada (Ottawa), and various institutional archives have been used to sustain original projects. But students can use medical journals as primary sources too. Some have conducted interviews.


Third (and fourth?) meeting: The Presentations


All students attend all sessions. Friends and family are welcome. Each student has 15 or 20 minutes to present and 5 to 10 minutes for discussion. Time is strictly controlled (It is hard on the last speaker if people run over time.) Snacks have been provided courtesy of the Hannah Chair.


The historian evaluates the research, the presentation, etc. and either assigns a mark or a P/F according to faculty requirements in the year concerned.


In some years, students have chosen to “elect” a prize winner from among their group.


The presentation sessions are advertized to the entire class and to the History of Medicine mailing list and the John Austin Society. This will generate a handful of keen listeners. But the audience is usually small.


Outstanding research projects in the history option have won prizes in Community Health and Epidemiology at the time of graduation.


It is interesting and fun.


Further options beyond CBP


Papers based on this research have been published in CMAJ, QHSJ, QMR, and other journals. This is a recommended option for original work. Presentations based on reading the existing literature are fine for the CBP, but they are not suitable for publication, because they represent only a “review of the literature.”


Papers based on this research (including “review of the literature work”) have been proposed for annual conferences such as the Calgary History of Medicine Days (for meds students across the country and always lots of fun) and the Royal College meeting. Also specialist medical meetings have heard from our students. As of 2008, the Royal College meeting became off limits to medical students, but the Calgary HoM Days continue. The Call for Papers is usually in the fall (before your work is done—but that is OK). The meeting is usually in March. Before submitting a proposal, students are strongly encouraged to show the abstract to the historian for advice.

Calgary contacts

Professor Frank Walter Stahnisch <>

Beth Cusitar <>