Vance: Imagination is behind understanding the world

By Adela Talbot
June 10, 2014

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VANCE_lecturePaul Mayne // Western News

Today’s graduates must foster – and use – their imaginations to fully realize their potential, said Distinguished University Professor Jonathan Vance.

“History, as a subject, is one thing, but I use the subject to teach a way of thinking, thinking historically,” Vance said.

“The world is made up of continuities and discontinuities; what will be is a product of what is and what was. Thinking historically demands an imagination. We can teach you to memorize things, write and (do) research. It’s hard to teach someone a creative imagination,” he continued.

Vance spoke to graduates from the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies and the Faculty of Social Science at the Tuesday, June 10, morning session of Western’s 303rd Convocation.

Vance told graduates, regardless of their discipline, thinking historically and using their imaginations to realize their potential, is the key to success.

“Imagination is behind everything I hope you will take with you when you leave Western. We hope you learn other skills. Be considerate; imagine how your actions affect others. Be skeptical; imagine things might not be all they seem. Be empathetic. Be idealistic and innovative; imagine a new way of doing things,” he said.

“If Western has done its job, and you’ve done your job, you will be better prepared to exercise that imagination and take it to other parts of your life.”

A specialist in Canadian military and cultural history, Vance teaches History at Western. His current research focuses on the First World War, Canadian culture, and prisoners of war.

In his 14 years on campus, Vance has supervised more than a dozen dissertations to completion, and has nearly 10 more in progress, yet students never have difficulty getting his time. His work in social memory and military history attracts graduate students from across Canada and has contributed substantially to the growth of the faculty’s graduate program.

From 2000-10, Vance held the Canada Research Chair in Conflict and Culture, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2008. His book, Death So Noble, won the 1998 Sir John A. Macdonald Prize, the 1998 C. P. Stacey Award, and the 1998 Dafoe Book Prize.

“Jonathan Vance has emerged as one of Canada’s most-prolific and widely read historians,” the Royal Society of Canada said in 2008. “His work has had a profound influence on the next generation of scholars in the humanities and social sciences.”

Vance’s work on the First World War, aviation, national building projects, prisoners of war and social memory crosses disciplinary boundaries to embrace history, cultural studies, communications theory, geography, and sociology, and has been praised for its originality.

“Never stop imagining how things used to be in the past, how things are for other people right now, and how they might be in the future,” Vance said.

Also during the ceremony, the status of professor emeritus was conferred upon History professor Craig Simpson and Psychology professor Richard Sorrentino.


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