Most of the classes I have taught or TA'd for have been courses that are known as "surveys." These classes are introductions to general, broad topics in history. For example, the American History survey, part I, provides a broad overview of U.S. history from colonization through Reconstruction; the American History survey, part II, provides a broad overview of U.S. history from 1877 to the present day. (In other words, the Civil War and Reconstruction always get lost in the shuffle. But that's not my point now.)
It is easy, in teaching these classes, to despair of their worth for students. Most of the students who take these classes are non-history majors and are merely trying to fulfill a graduation requirement. Some of the students are, oddly enough, getting their masters in teaching history, but they are required to take the class. Some, a few, students are bona fide undergraduate history majors, many, maybe most?, of whom probably have a background in US history and probably don't necessarily need the class.
Another cause of near despair is that in covering such a broad swath of history (it's gets worse in "Western Civ" or "World History" classes, where the geographical scope and span of years are usually even broader), it is possible only to skirt over the basics. Teaching the class in anything resembling an accurate manner paradoxically requires the teacher to overgeneralize to the point of being inaccurate. The history majors who take the class, if they really need it, will probably spend the rest of their academic careers unlearning or learning the exceptions to the overgeneralizations.
But, as usual in a blog about this, this post isn't about them, it's about me. The dissertation I'm working on right now is, in some respects, a comparison between US and Canadian history. My knowledge of US history is very good: broad-ranging and deep, if I may be immodest. I have, in some respects, been studying studying history with avidity since at least 7th grade or so. There is much that I don't know, but I feel as if I have more than a good command on US history.
But Canadian history? There, I am very, very ignorant. I know the broad outlines that most Americans (i.e., Unitedstatesians) know: the origins in French Canada, the imperial wars of the 1700, the Quebec Act of 1774, the War of 1812, the British North American Act of 1867, the Louis Riel Rebellion (I know that it happened, but I don't know the details or the years) and the Patriation Act of 1982. Additionally, I know a few tidbits relevant to my topic of antitrust: Canada past its first antitrust law in 1889, amended it in 1899 (and again, I think, in 1901, but I'm unclear on that point), 1910, 1923, and in the 1930s.
But the point is, I know precious little about the basics of Canadian history or even Canadian government. And my ignorance is conspicuous. At a conference a couple years ago, I flubbed a very basic fact about Canada and was corrected (and I'm glad I was....I learned from the experience and the one doing the correcting did so nicely, after my presentation was over). Further, as much as I like history and even, sometimes, reading textbooks, I learn new historical subjects best when I have to take a class in them. If my university offered a survey course in Canadian history, I'd probably take it.