Assistant Professor

Research Supervision Interests

Main area of supervision: History of education, in particular (but not limited to): history of urban and suburban education; history of school reform; history of special education; history and education policy; history of progressive education; history of educational administration and leadership; history of education in B.C., Canada, and the United States.

History of education is one of the most established areas of study in the UBC Faculty of Education, with a reputation for scholarly excellence stretching back over several decades. Current and former faculty include well-known historians of education F. Henry Johnson, Neil Sutherland, Marvin Lazerson, J.D. Wilson, Jean Barman, Veronica Strong-Boag, Mona Gleason, and others. The UBC Faculty of Education is also home to Canada’s history of education scholarly journal, Historical Studies in Education/Revue d’histoire de l’éducation.

Today the history of education is part of the Department of Educational Studies’ (EDST) offerings. Prospective students wishing to study history of education at the master’s level may apply to the M.A. degree in Educational Studies, concentration in Society, Culture, Politics and Education (SCPE), or to the M.Ed. degree in SCPE. For doctoral level study, apply to the Ph.D. degree in Educational Studies. Applicants interested in historical studies may request to work with me. I am currently accepting students at the M.Ed., M.A., and Ph.D. levels.

Course offerings in the history of education, within the Department of Educational Studies and the SCPE degree and concentration, are listed in the UBC calendar. A few of my sample syllabi may be viewed under the EDST activity tab of my profile page as well.

I also supervise students interested in the politics of education, especially school board politics and the politics of educational reform.


I am a historian of education. My research covers topics such as school reform, educational change, disability history, special education, childhood and youth, urban and suburban education, and education policy and politics.

My current project, a book manuscript, A Class By Themselves? Children, Youth, and Special Education in a North American City–Toronto, 1910-45  (under advanced contract with University of Toronto Press), is on the history of school reform and children with disabilities and learning difficulties. I am interested in how urban schools – in this case the Toronto public school system – were reorganized to accommodate pupil difference after approximately 1900; how this bureaucratic reorganization and the science of eugenics contributed to the rise of special education classes as a school reform; and how special education classes and policies helped to construct new categories of disability, deafness, and difference in public education, categories that often endure today. I am especially interested in young people’s experiences of special education. The project employs a large number of pupil record cards that I use to explore how children and their parents navigated the early special class system, in a time of dramatic educational transformation and reform when modern educational ideas about disabled children’s schooling were being born.

I have several other projects at various stages of development. One smaller project is a historical investigation into the pedagogical values, professional careers, and personal life courses of Canada’s earliest special education teachers – who taught between approximately 1910 and 1945. The project focuses on Toronto and Vancouver, two Canadian cities that established special classes early on (in 1910 and 1911 respectively). Using research techniques drawn from digital humanities and women’s and gender history, the project seeks to explain the personal and professional factors that motivated mostly women teachers to teach a group of pupils many people said could not be taught. This research is funded by a 2-year UBC Hampton Foundation Grant ($16,877).

Longer-term projects at the development stage examine urban and suburban education in Canada’s major metropolitan areas. A project on schooling and suburbs in post-World War II Canada examines suburban planning and the development of large suburban school systems, with a particular emphases on the built environment, governance, opportunity and inequality, and policy change. I presented on this project at the 2015 History of Education Society (HES) conference in St. Louis, MO. The paper was titled “Centralization, De-centralization, and Mega-Centralization: Urban-Suburban School Board Governance in Metropolitan Toronto, Canada, 1953 to 1998.” A UBC Haagenson Fund Grant ($9,000) will enable me to build a digital repository and research infrastructure housing policy documents related to post-war suburbs and Canadian schools.

A related project, a work of synthesis, will examine schooling in four Canadian cities (Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, and Montreal) between 1881 and 1929, with particular emphasis on the period’s contested urban educational politics, on Canadian state formation, and on the idea of schooling and social and political change. I presented a first paper from this project, entitled “Socialists and Canadian Public Education: From Edges to Convergences,” at the 2013 Canadian Historical Association Conference.

I earned MA and PhD degrees in History from York University, where I studied under Dr. Paul Axelrod, a historian of education, Professor emeritus of Education and Graduate History, and former Dean of Education. My PhD fields were Canadian history (major field) and US history (second field). My dissertation, “‘Backward and Brilliant Children’: A Social and Policy History of Disability, Childhood, and Education in Toronto’s Special Education Classes, 1910 to 1945,” was awarded the 2012 Cathy James Memorial Dissertation Prize by the Canadian History of Education Association for the best history of education dissertation in Canada, 2011-12.

Prior to joining the Department of Educational Studies at UBC, I taught educational studies, child and youth studies, history of education, and Canadian history at Western University, Brock University, Wilfrid Laurier University (Brantford), OISE-University of Toronto, and Trent University (Oshawa).

I am the English language book review editor for Historical Studies in Education.


York University, 2011, PhD, History
York University, 2005, MA, History
OISE-University of Toronto, 2012, BEd, Intermediate/Senior
Queen’s University, 2004, BAH, History and French Studies


Cathy James Memorial Dissertation Prize. Canadian History of Education Association. 2012.

Research Projects

A Special Vocation: Teachers of Early Special Education Classes in Two Canadian City School Systems, 1910 to 1945 Current
MetroPolicy Virtual Research Infrastructure development Planning

Selected Publications

Peer reviewed articles and essays:

Jason Ellis and Paul Axelrod. “Continuity and Change in Special Education Policy Development in Toronto Public Schools, 1945 to the present,” Teachers College Record 118, no. 2 (February 2016): 42 pp. DOI: n/a .

Jason Ellis. “’All Methods–and wedded to none: The deaf education methods debate and progressive educational reform in Toronto, Canada, 1922-1945,” Paedagogica Historica 50, no. 3 (2014): 371-389. DOI: 10.1080/00309230.2013.833273

Karen Yoshida, Fady Shanouda, and Jason Ellis. “An Education and Negotiation of Differences: The ‘Schooling’ Experiences of English-speaking Canadian Children Growing Up with Polio during the 1940s and 1950s.” Disability & Society, 29, no. 3 (March 2014): 345-358.  DOI: 10.1080/09687599.2013.823080

Jason Ellis. “‘Inequalities of children in original endowment’: How Intelligence Testing Transformed Early Special Education in a North American City School System.” History of Education Quarterly 53, no. 4 (November 2013): 401-429. DOI: 10.1111/hoeq.12035

Jason Ellis. “The History of Education As ‘Active History’: A Cautionary Tale?” (24 September 2012).

Other publications:

Jason Ellis. Review of Sue Wheatcroft, Worth Saving: Disabled Children during the Second World War. H-Disability, H-Net Reviews (January 2016).

Jason Ellis. “Special Education,” Living Eugenics Archives of Western Canada website. (24 October 2014).

Jason Ellis. Review of Sara Z. Burke and Patrice Milewski eds., Schooling In Transition. Canadian Historical Review 95, no. 1 (March 2014): 107-108.

Jason Ellis. Review of Wayne Urban ed., Leaders in the Historical Study of American Education. Historical Studies in Education 25, no. 2 (Fall 2013): 142-144.

Jason Ellis. Review of Michael D’Antonio, The State Boys Rebellion, Historical Studies in Education 19, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 169-171.

In review:

Jason Ellis. “James L. Hughes (1846-1935),” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. XVI.


Students Supervised

Ph.D. in Educational Studies

  • (in progress.) Co-supervisor (w/ Dr. A Metcalfe). J. Anderson. “Higher Education ‘beyond Hope’: A Political History of Institution-Building in British Columbia’s Hinterland.” (UBC Entrance scholarship recipient.)
  • (in progress.) Co-supervisor (w/ Dr. A. Metcalfe). D. McCartney. “Envoys of Neoliberalism? International Student Policy and the Changing Higher Education Landscape in Canada, 1945-2014.” (UBC 4YF scholarship recipient; SSHRC doctoral award recipient, not funded.)
  • (2017.) Committee member. B. Cowin. “Public Policy and the Structural Development of Post-secondary Education in British Columbia, Canada, 1960 – 2015.” (SSHRC doctoral award recipient, 24 month award.)

Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy

  • (in progress.) Co-supervisor (with Dr. A. Taylor). R. Sikkes. “A History of Education in Yukon.”

M.Ed. in Society, Culture, and Politics in Education (SCPE)

  • (in progress.) Y. Keles.
  • (in progress.) O. Ramprashad.
  • (in progress.) C. Keirn.
  • (in progress.) T. Feitosa de Britto.
  • (2015.) E. Collins.
  • (2015.) S. Wilkinson.

Ph.D. in another department

  • (in progress.) Committee member. K. Gemmell. “From the Second Vatican Council to Funding: A History of Catholic Schools in British Columbia, 1962-1989.” (EDCP.) (SSHRC doctoral award recipient, 48-month award.)

M.A. in another department

  • (2014.) Committee member. K. Gemmell. (EDCP.) “The Impact of Progressive Education on Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, 1924-1960.” (SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS, MA award recipient; winner of Canadian Association of Foundations of Education (CAFE) outstanding MA thesis award.)