Working History: Jean-Pierre Morin
Employer: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada
Job Title: Historian
What are the regular tasks for your job?
My work as an historian at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada is varied and constantly changing. At its core, my main role is to provide historical information and analysis for policy and programs of the Department which often consists of providing answers to historical questions, providing historical context to current issues and providing the historical analysis to new initiatives and policies. As a spin-off to this function, I also develop and present historical seminars on several sweeping issues such as the history of the Department, the North and the Indian Act in a classroom type setting.
I am also responsible for historical information on the Department’s website and answering inquiries of an historical nature from the public at large. While I’m based out of the national office in the Ottawa region, I’m often on the road to undertake research, give historical presentations, and provide advice on historical issues across Canada and occasionally abroad.
What is the best part of your job?
My favourite moments in my work are always those that end up being long drawn out conversations with colleagues where we discuss the fundamental importance of history on the various issues of the Department. These are the types of discussions where we challenge core and often stereotyped beliefs to expose hidden elements of policies and positions. When I see people begin to realize that the issue at hand is not limited in time to the present but is rooted in the accumulated historical experience of the Department and Aboriginal people, I realize that there’s an inherent worth to the work that I do as an historian working in the Public Service.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
As the history of any specific issue is rarely viewed as something other than a very secondary element, the most difficult part of my job is trying to get people in government to realize that a proper understanding of history will help them better respond to the issues faced by government. Often, the focus of government policies and initiatives is on the “here and now”, such as dealing with an issue in a community, without trying to understand the full cause. Ultimately, the challenge that I’m face is to get people to take a step back and look at the longer term causes of current situations. This is made all the more difficult by the fact that time lines are very short and rarely allow enough time to undertake fulsome research into issues.
How did you get interested in history?
I have always been interested in history. As a kid, I would force my family to visit every single national historic sight during the annual family road trip. While in high school, I volunteered at the local historical museum and even worked as a volunteer at local archeological digs. I only ever had one career in mind – being an historian, specifically an historian in the Public Service! At university, I enrolled in the Co-op program which gave me real world experiences which drove my goal to become an historian.
What advice would you give to student’s who are interested in a similar job?
In my opinion, students of history looking to work in a non-academic milieu need to have real and practical experience working in history. History programs with opportunities to gain this experience, such as co-op programs, internships, placements, etc., are some of the best ways to develop valuable skills and experiences, as well as, allowing for unique opportunities to network. These work experience can often translate into jobs opportunities.