Walking History Course Offers Research and Writing Skills

Author Art Joice Brings Class to Selkirk College’s Nakusp Learning Centre


Have you ever wanted to turn your family papers into a memoir? Are you interested in writing a history that transcends mere facts to become a fascinating narrative? Do you volunteer for a historical society and feel like you need more skills to write local histories? If so, you should consider signing up for Walking History—Exploring the Past in the Present, being offered at the Selkirk College Learning Centre in Nakusp on April 18 and 19.

Taught by well-known Kootenay author and journalist Sean Arthur Joyce, the course will spend two instructional days covering the basics of historical research and writing technique.

Art Joyce history writing

West Kootenay author Sean Arthur Joyce will help guide students through the process of properly researching and writing family history.

“Research skills are the foundation of all well-written histories and family memoirs,” says Joyce. “The irony is that the internet age has fostered as much misinformation as bona fide information. It’s important to know how to distinguish between the two.”

Joyce's Journey Full of Sharable Knowledge

Joyce is the author of two local histories: A Perfect Childhood—One Hundred Years of Heritage Homes in Nelson (1997) and Hanging Fire & Heavy Horses: A Century of Public Transit in Nelson (2000), on that city’s classic heritage homes and streetcars. These books were compiled in large part from research Joyce had done in his popular Nelson Daily News column, Heritage Beat (1996–2000).

Seven years ago Joyce made a historical discovery that was deeply personal—he discovered he is the grandson of a British Home Child (BHC). Having no knowledge of this aspect of Canadian history, he applied his research skills to develop his next book project, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West.

The book was published in May 2014 by Hagios Press of Regina and has become the publisher’s fastest-selling title. Following the initial launch in Calgary it hit the Calgary Independent Booksellers’ Top 10 Nonfiction Bestsellers list. A national tour to promote the book followed, with reading dates in 24 communities from Ontario to BC. An estimated four million Canadians are the descendants of BHCs.

“With all the competition out there in the media for audience, it’s more important than ever that historians and nonfiction writers have a strong grasp of storytelling techniques,” says Joyce. “Unless you’re writing a textbook, just the facts won’t cut it. People have always responded powerfully to a well told story, whether fictional or nonfictional.”

Joyce will teach two components to the course. Day One will feature the Three ‘R’s—Reading, Research and Recall. This component of the course will rely on the author’s experience researching his family history and incorporating it into his latest book. Students will learn the basics of research—how to refine a topic and frame a research plan, how to recognize whether sources are primary or secondary, etc. Participants will also learn the importance of reading lists on historical topics, and techniques of prompting recall of personal and family memories. Please note: this is not a course in genealogical research.  

Day Two—Using the Techniques of Creative Nonfiction—will explore with students the basic craft of writing. The author will help students understand how to transform historical writing from “just the facts” into narratives that are engaging, personable and immediate. This is achieved through unconventional techniques, focusing on character development and even elements of poetic technique. Joyce will explore both the possibilities and limitations imposed by different writing approaches to history.


Learn more about Selkirk College Continuing Education & Workplace Training and join us on Facebook.