Decrease font size Reset font size Increase font size
Curriculum, Teaching  & Learning
Ruth Sandwell

Ruth Sandwell

phone: (416) 978-1216

Department: Curriculum, Teaching and Learning

Research Overview

Dr. Sandwell's teaching and research interests are in Canadian history (of education, rural society and the social history of energy) and the teaching of history, and broadly reflect the importance of studies in the humanities in general, and history in particular, to theories and practices of education. She is the founding co-director and executive board member of The History Education Network/Histoire et ducation en Rseau ( and founding co-director and educational director of The Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project (

More specifically, her interests focus on:

developing discipline-based historical thinking in students and student teachers

understanding changes in the meaning and purposes of history education in Canadian history

understanding the relationship between family, the educational state, and the Canadian economy in nineteenth and twentieth century Canada

exploring the history of rural Canada in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

and most recently, the social history of fossil fuels: exploring changes in household behaviour that accompanied Canadians' change from self-supporting energy systems in their homes (mainly wood) to the collectivities and mass consumption of energy from the grid.

Curriculum Vitae

Academic History

Ph.D., History, Simon Fraser University, 1998. "Reading the Land: Rural Discourse and the Practice of Settlement, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, 1859-1891." Supervisor: Dr. J. I. Little. Fields: Canadian and European Family and Rural History.

M.A., History, University of Victoria, 1981. "'Making Health Contagious': The Medical Inspection of Schools in British Columbia, 1910-1920." Supervisor: Dr. Chad Gaffield.Fields: Canadian History of Education and the Family; English Social History.

B.A., English, First Class Honours, Carleton University, 1979.

Teaching Overview

Dr. Sandwell teaches at OISE and in the History Department at the University of Toronto. Her graduate courses at OISE include:

CTL1454: Battles over History Education
CTL 1799: Special Topics: Bringing together theory and practice in the history curriculum: exploring historical thinking
CTL 1407: Education and Social Reform in Rural Canada, 1860-1960

Senior Undergraduate Courses in the History Department:
Special Topics in Canadian Society History courses, including
HIS466: History of Energy and Everyday Life, The History of Rural Canada, The Social History of Energy

Representative Publications



R. W. Sandwell, ed. (2016) Powering Up Canada: Essays on the History of Heat, Light and Work from 1600 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press) Winner of the 2016 The Canadian Studies Network – Réseau d'études canadiennes Prize for Best Edited Collection.

R. W. Sandwell (2016), Canada’s Rural Majority, 1870-1940: Household, Environment, Economies (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), part of Themes in Canadian History, Series Editor, Colin Coates

Ruth Sandwell and Amy von Heyking, eds. (2014), Becoming a History Teacher: Sustaining Practices in Historical Thinking and Knowing, Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 345  pages

Ruth W. Sandwell, ed. To The Past:  History Education, Public Memory and Citizenship Education in Canada, (Toronto, University of Toronto Press: October: 2006), 131 pp.

R.W. Sandwell, Contesting Rural Space: Land Policy and the Practices of  Settlement, Saltspring Island, British Columbia,  1859-91,  Kingston and Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, June 2005, 318 pp

R. W. Sandwell, ed. ,  Beyond the City Limits: Rural History in British Columbia, (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999).


R.W. Sandwell and Abigail Harrison Moore (2018), “Introduction: Off-Grid Empire: Rural Energy Transitions across the British Empire,” Off-Grid Empire: Rural Energy Consumption in Britain and the British Empire, 1850-1960, edited by Abigail Harrison Moore and R.W. Sandwell,  Special Issue of  The History of Retailing and Consumption (Taylor and Francis) Volume 4, No. 1, 2018, 1-9.

R.W. Sandwell (2018), “Heating and Cooking in Rural Canada 1800-1950: a hybrid energy transition,” in Off-Grid Empire: Rural Energy Consumption in Britain and the British Empire, 1850-1960, special issue of The History of Retailing and Consumption (Taylor and Francis) Edited by Abigail Harrison Moore and R.W. Sandwell, Volume 4, No. 1, 2018, 64-80.

Ruth Sandwell, "The Coal Oil Lamp" Agricultural History, v. 92, no. 2, Spring 2018, pp. 190-209, (Recipient of the Article of the Year Award for 2018 by the Petroleum History Society)

R.W. Sandwell, “The Emergence of Modern Lighting in Canada: A Preliminary Reconnaissance” The Extractive Industries and Society: An International Journal Volume 3, Issue 3, 2016, 850-863.

R.W. Sandwell (2015), “Pedagogies of the Unimpressed: Re-Educating Ontario Women for the Mineral Economy, 1900-1940” Ontario History, Volume CVII, No. 1 / Spring. 36-59.


Penney Clark and Ruth Sandwell, “The History Education Network: a Canadian Experiment in Historical Thinking Networks” in Theodore Christou and Chris Berg, eds., The Palgrave Handbook of History and Social Studies Education (London: Palgrave Macmillan) in press, 2019.

R. W. Sandwell, (2017), “People, Place and Power: Rural Electrification in Canada, 1890-1950,” in  Paul Brassley, Jeremy Burchardt and Karen Sayer, eds. Transforming the Countryside: the Electrification of Rural Britain,(London and New York: Routledge), 178-204.

R. W. Sandwell (2016) “Introduction: Towards a History of Energy in Canada,” in R. W. Sandwell, ed. Powering Up Canada: Essays on the History of Heat, Light and Work from 1600 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press), 3-36.

R. W. Sandwell and Colin A.M. Duncan (2016) “Manufactured and Natural Gas,” in R. W. Sandwell, ed. Powering Up Canada: Essays on the History of Heat, Light and Work from 1600 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press), 300-328.

Ruth Sandwell, with Penney Clark and Stéphane Lévesque (2015), “Dialogue Across Chasms: History and History Education in Canada,” Elisabeth Erdmann and Wolfgang Hasberg,eds.,  History Teacher Education: Global Interrelations, Wochenschau, Geschichte, 163-182.

Ruth Sandwell, (2014) “On Historians and their Audiences: An Argument for Teaching(and not just writing) History” in Ruth Sandwell and Amy von Heyking, eds.  Becoming a History Teacher: Sustaining Practices in Historical Thinking and Knowing, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 77-90.

R.W. Sandwell (2014),  “Mapping Fuel Use in Canada: Exploring the Social History of Canadians’ Great Fuel Transformation” in Jennifer Bonnell and Marcel Fortin, Historical GIS Research in Canada, Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 239-268.

Ruth Sandwell with John Lutz (2014), “What Has Mystery Got To Do With It?” in Kevin Kee, ed. Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 23-42.

R.W. Sandwell (2013),  “Notes towards a History of Rural Canada, 1870-1940” in John R. Parkins, and Maureen G. Reed, eds. Social Transformation in Rural Canada: Community, Cultures, and Collective Action, Vancouver: UBC Press. 21-42.

"We were allowed to disagree, because we couldn't agree on anything': Seventeen Voices in the Canadian Debates Over History Education," in Tony Taylor and Robert Guyer, eds., History Wars and the Classroom: A Global Prospective, (Information Age, 2011)

Ruth Sandwell (2011), “History is a Verb: Teaching Historical Practice to Teacher Education Students” in Penney Clark, ed., New Possibilities for the Past: Shaping History Education in Canada, Vancouver: UBC Press. 224-242.


Research Grants and Contracts

2016-19 SSHRC Insight Development Grant, "The Canadian Clearances: Land, Energy and the Transformation of Rural Canada, 1940-1980"
2013-16 SSHRC Partnership Development Grant "Life and Death in the Arctic: The Franklin Mystery"
2013-14 SSHRC Connections Grant "Powering Up Canada: A Social History of Energy from 1600"
2009-13, Principle Investigator, Heat, Light and Work in Canadian Homes 1900-1950: The Social History of Fossil Fuels and Hydro-Electricity. $72,000.
2008-15, Co-investigator, The History Education Network )/ Histoire et ducation en Rseau (THEN/HIER) SSHRC Strategic Research Cluster Grant for $300,00 per year for seven years ($2.1 million dollars total) to support research in history education in Canada; Penney Clark, UBC, principal investigator

Honours and Awards

2019: Fellowship, Rachel Carson Centre for Environment and Society, Munich, Germany, April - June 2019 to write Heat, Light and Work in the Canadian Home: A Social History of Energy

2019: Awarded Article of the Year Award for 2018 by the Petroleum History Society for R.W. Sandwell, "The Coal-Oil Lamp" Agricultural History, v. 92, no. 2, pp. 190-209,

2016 One of three finalists for 2016 SSHRC Impact "Connection" Award for the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History Project. The Connection Award recognizes an outstanding SSHRC‑funded initiative to facilitate the flow and exchange
of research knowledge within and/or beyond the academic community. It is given to an individual or team whose project has engaged the campus and/or wider community, and has generated intellectual, cultural, social and/or economic impacts
2008, Pierre Berton Prize for Canadian Public History for the educational website series The Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History co-directors John Lutz, Peter Gossage, Ruth Sandwell
2008, Chosen as the 2008 Canadian National Leader in History EducatCion by the Ontario History and Social Science Teachers' Association (OHASSTA).
2008, MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) "History Classic" Award for the history education website project "Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History" (American based)

Professional Activities

Invited lecture: Pedagogies of Modernity: Re-Educating Canadians for the New Energy Regime, 1880-1940, Michael Cromer Memorial Lecture, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, January 2019

Invited Keynote Address: "Understanding Canada's Distinctive Energy History, 1860-1960: The View from the Household," at Energy Transitions - Histories, Cultures, Politics International Workshop (University of Calgary and Max Planck Institute, Germany), University of Calgary, June 21-24, 2018.

Invited Keynote Address: "Leading Lights: A History of Energy and Everyday Life in Canada," Leeds Energy Symposium, School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, Leeds University, May 4, 2017.

Roundtable participant: "Future Directions in Energy History", European Society of Environmental Historians Annual Meeting, Zagreb, Croatia, June 28-July 2, 2017

Invited Keynote Address, "Households at the Centre: Understanding Canada's Energy Transformation," for the workshop Transitions in Energy Landscapes and Everyday Life in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Munich, 27 to 29 April 2017. Rachel Carson Center, Deutsches Museum, Munich.

"'An Almost Perfect Illuminant:' Kerosene Lighting in Rural Canada, 1859-1940"' European Social Science History Conference, Valencia, Spain March 31-April 3, 2016

"The First Modern Lighting: A Short History of Manufactured Gas in Canada" in panel "Rethinking Canada as a Fossil Fuel Nation," American Society for Environmental History, 18-21 March 2015,