The personal and the historical

PROFile: Jon Malek, sessional instructor, history department, U of W

As a teenager, Jon Malek, now a sessional instructor for the University of Winnipeg’s (U of W) Department of History, had an entirely different career path in mind.  

“When I was in high school, I initially wanted to be an astronomer,” he says. “That was my dream, to keep my head up in the stars.” 

But after a not-so-stellar pre-calculus final grade, Malek decided to pursue a career in history and soon discovered he had more passion for the subject than for astronomy.  

Over time, Malek took a special interest in immigration history. Now, he’s teaching a course about Filipino immigration to Canada. 

In his approach to teaching, however, Malek believes a personal element is critical when engaging with history. Specifically, Malek tries to be mindful of his students’ lived experiences and learn from them when necessary. 

“Sometimes, you just have to be quiet and listen to what someone is saying,” he says. “Even if you don’t understand it or your initial reaction might be ‘well, I’ve heard differently,’ you weren’t there. You didn’t experience it.” 

One issue Malek tackles in his class is an insider/outsider dichotomy: who has the right to write about the history of a group of people. According to Malek, it’s a deeply personal issue for some of his students, but he’s honoured to facilitate those discussions. 

“The personal perspective of a person writing or recording the history is absolutely crucial,” he says. “It’s a little bit cliché, but that’s often one of the reasons people say history’s so important, because it affects all of us.” 

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

“I think I would fly.”

What’s the best thing about your work?

“The interaction with students, but in terms of the broader work that I do that’s academic, the student interaction would be tied with being able to travel for research.”

What do you like to do in your spare time?

“Well, if I do ever have spare time, I like to write. I have been – ever since high school – working on a fantasy novel.”

If you could time travel to any point in history, where would you go?

“It would have to be probably medieval Scotland or maybe Italy during the Renaissance.” 

Published in Volume 75, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 4, 2021)

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