Jocelyn Létourneau, author of Coffre à outils du chercheur débutant, is internationally recognized for his research on collective memory, the historical consciousness of young people, and the relationship of ordinary people to the past. He published transformative works and conceptually broke new ground in these fields. Grants from the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), Collegium de Lyon, the Fulbright Program (Yale University; University of California at Berkeley/Stanford University), and Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research) show that he earned an enviable reputation abroad. In Québec, Dr. Létourneau rewrote the narrative of Québec’s past. He is considered the contemporary heir of the Québec Historical School.
An innovative career in research
Jocelyn Létourneau’s main contribution is the investigative method he developed to capture the historical consciousness of young people. Drawing on short history accounts produced by thousands of respondents, he showed that young people have simple but powerful perceptions of the national past, rooted in the mythistories of their culture. His method has been widely replicated (www.tonhistoireduquebec.ulaval.ca).
Between 2006 and 2011, Jocelyn Létourneau led the research alliance Canadians and Their Pasts. This project enabled him to conduct an extensive survey of the uses and practices of history in Canada. The nature and scope of the material collected provided a wealth of data for a number of community organizations involved in disseminating history to non-specialist audiences.
One field where Jocelyn Létourneau’s work is indispensable is the study of the great national narrative of the Québec people. Since 1990, he has tirelessly analyzed the scholarly and popular histories through which Quebecers make sense of their journey through time. He wrote the book accompanying the exhibition People of Québec... Then and Now presented at Musée de la civilisation. His work paved the way for a reinterpretation of certain historic events that formulate the metanarrative of Québec survival. Through his book Passer à l’avenir, which won the Eva-Le-Grand Spirale award, he sparked an in-depth debate on Québec identity. He created an opening through which many young researchers have passed in their quest to update the repertoire of the Québec people’s collective perceptions. Jocelyn Létourneau himself contributed to this renewal by publishing a fascinating summary of Québec’s history. One of the drivers of his scientific endeavour was to get societies to step away from their customary references.
A fourth area where Jocelyn Létourneau took a bold stand was in the liberating possibilities of the historical narrative. Concerned with the civic role of history, he reflected on the historical narrative as a way to move forward, earning the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Award for his contribution. Over the years, Dr. Létourneau gave numerous talks on the theme “history as a passageway.” He wondered whether there might be some potential for reconciliation between history and hope that could be exploited through scientifically accurate narratives. The question of the right history led him to open up a field of thought on the theme “What history for what future of Québec?.” Developed as part of a Canada Research Chair, the initiative enabled him to make his areas of investigation more accessible, while making Québec an interesting topic for international research.
A career marked by excellence
Elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2004, Jocelyn Létourneau, who supervised 50 graduate students, made a name for himself as a theorist, methodologist, interdisciplinary practitioner, practitioner of applied history, public intellectual, and thinker. It is rare to find a researcher who embodies these six facets of scholarship. All in all, Dr. Létourneau made history more conceptual, sociology more historical, science more lyrical, the essay more methodical, the method more creative, academia more open to social issues, and society less impervious to complex thinking. His work, which won the Acfas André-Laurendeau Award in 2018, can be considered his signature, forming a coherent whole in terms of its epistemic foundation, thematic complementarity, and temporal continuity, which is the hallmark of the work.