Op-Ed: A Democracy Relies on a Critical Approach to the Past

Maria Grever Articles

The following is a translation of Maria Grever's opinion piece "Democratie steunt op kritische benadering van het verleden", which was published in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, 7 January 2022. The piece was written in the context of the recent dissolution of the Russian NGO Memorial. For more on Memorial, please also see the statement and appeal published 24 November 2021. 

In his interesting but ominous article about the dissolution of the historic organization Memorial by Russian President Vladimir Putin, journalist Hubert Smeets (NRC, 30-12-2021) concludes: "Woe to the land where the call for a national canon becomes so compelling that in the end, only one consciousness remains.” The abolishment of Memorial is intended to stifle any criticism of the Soviet past and current undemocratic decisions. Censorship in Russia goes even further, banning the use of historical skills in history classes to help students think critically about the past.

Despite a prescribed frame of reference knowledge with ten historical eras and a Dutch canon of history and culture in the Netherlands, historical skills are still important in history education, although the teaching time is limited and the false contradiction between knowledge and skills regularly crops up in discussions. Acknowledgment of the importance of historical skills is a hallmark of the Netherlands as a democracy. While history education in Russia consists of memorizing facts and conveying certain (state-dictated) views, Dutch young people learn to carefully read historical texts and sources in order to recognize continuity and change, discern facts and ideologies, and formulate their reasoned analysis of historical issues based on evidence. Teachers also guide them in their search on the internet so that students are somewhat able to unmask fake news and fake histories.

The use of historical thinking concepts in history education and museum education in countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, England, Germany, and Canada is virtually impossible in totalitarian systems. This applies not only to Russia but also to Poland, for example. In 2017, the director of the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, Pawel Machcewicz, was fired by the right-wing conservative government. The reason: his museum was not patriotic enough because, in the exhibitions, he also gave space to experiences and perspectives from other countries. The emphasis was to be on the Polish story of national pride, heroes, and martyrs. The result is a form of equalization that effectively robs Poles of their history.

By applying historical thinking, young people can become aware of the changing interpretations of the past. In the Netherlands, you can make high school students discover that the polarisation between Catholics and Protestants around 1900 in historiography led to opposing interpretations of the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish king in the 16th century. From about 1970, this so-called "pillarized" approach to historiography disappeared, and national history was written and taught in a more distant way. Today, Dutch history is important again, and there are other points of conflict, such as the interpretation of slavery and the colonial past.

Precisely this permanent history of new interpretations – called wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein by the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer – undermines the idea of fixed historical facts and poses a significant threat to authoritarian leaders who legitimize their position on the basis of a specific representation of the past. Putin's authority increasingly relies on a glorifying portrayal of Russia's past. As under Joseph Stalin, Russian history is regularly rewritten today, but always from only one perspective, that of the Kremlin.

The best we can pursue in research and education is a dialogue about the changing past with sound arguments and evidence. This type of history education is indispensable for a democracy. Exploring different historical interpretations increases the knowledge people rely on when making judgments. In contrast, legal decrees on public memories and top-down canons lead to a petrification of history. They are all attempts to escape the workings of the past: the elimination of the living, productive aspect of interpretation.

However, the past cannot be easily squeezed into a straitjacket. It is illusory that Putin's canon and the dismantling of Memorial founded by Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov could cut the Russians completely off from Stalin's history. People often appear to be connected in many ways with handed-down histories that influence their thinking and behavior. That is why a reflection on the permanent history of interpretations is so important for our knowledge of the present world.


* 'Memorial International' is a well-known and much-respected civil rights organization and historical society, operating from their headquarters in Moscow, Russia.

Maria Grever is em. professor of Theory of History and founding director of the Center for Historical Culture at Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is currently a research fellow of the NL-Lab KNAW Humanities Cluster, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

THE THIN LINE between propaganda and fake news: a blog post

Birgit Göbel Articles

On a cold day in November, we enjoyed Dylan Wray’s plenary seminar: THE THIN LINE between propaganda and fake news. Attendees joined in from across the globe; spanning Vietnam to Turkey, Norway to Portugal, Albania to Canada, Croatia to Denmark and Slovakia! Dylan’s presentation set the tone for the thematic webinar: Fake & Real, as webinar series on Propaganda and Fake News, which was organised in collaboration with the House of European History. 


As any good plenary does, we began with defining some crucial terms, such as 'Fake News' and 'Disinformation'. Dylan then took a turn to the secret power of history teachers: how they are equipped to instil skills in their students that will help them determine the credibility of sources and news. Lastly this blog post also includes several resources on the subject, for further reading. 


Please note that if you are interested in what you have read here as a little taster, the plenary session of Dylan Wray has been recorded and published over on our YouTube channel.


Key terms

Before embarking on such a topic or presentation, it is important to clarify and define the terms which dominate the debate. Both the terms propaganda and fake news are heavily loaded and mean slightly different things to everyone. But aiming to provide a neutral stance, Dylan opted for the following definitions:

PROPAGANDA: The selective use of information for political effect.

FAKE NEWS: News stories that are false, fabricated, have no verifiable facts or sources (note this definition is not entirely sufficient).

Whilst these are the most-used terms, at least when it comes to journalism and the news scene, it is perhaps more useful to think about propaganda and fake news in different terms. The following terms below are somewhat more appropriate for history education and also help to perceive how these phenomena have existed far before they became well known under the above-mentioned names.

DISINFORMATION: false information shared intentionally to cause harm or to deceive.

MISINFORMATION: false or misleading information shared not necessarily with the intention of causing harm.

Despite the overlap between the two terms, they highlight a crucial distinction: that the spreading of incorrect information is not always maliciously done, as is the case with ‘misinformation.’ 

Amongst many examples Dylan used to illustrate the terms, he mentioned that certain media outlets had created Fake News about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 US Presidential election. This Fake News was created not with the intention to support Donald Trump, but to obtain clickbait and likes on their websites. Therefore it is a case of misinformation not disinformation. 

There are also certain dangers by propagating the term Fake News, as it could promote the use of censorship. Maybe it is more useful to think: how do we encounter disinformation? And this is where the role of history teachers comes into play…



Fake News/Disinformation- How teachers can fight back

(History) teachers have a responsibility to impart with students ways in which to deal with disinformation. Once students leave school, this chance is arguably missed or at the very least it is much harder to engrain on young adults.


The power of history teachers lies in the skill set they possess, most notably: how to scrutinize a source- e.g. identify the source, who, where, when, what kind of document and why was it produced (the 5 W’s). Within history it is of the utmost importance to evaluate the information presented- what are the intentions, what if any assumptions are made, and what sources have been used? The techniques historians use to painstakingly examine historical sources can also be applied to sources found in the news and on social media if these types of questions are asked.



Disinformation/Misinformation and social media?

Nowadays our exposure to materials, information and resources knows no limit. A lot of what we read about the news is also published on social media channels. However, caution should be taken as many social media platforms are known to use ‘confirmation bias’- a tool that means posts on our feed tend to usually agree with posts we have supported and believe in, therefore confirming the worldview we already possess.

Here are some tips and questions we should ask to avoid confirmation bias:


  • How do these facts fit into my worldview versus how do these facts confirm what I already believe?
  • Vertical reading (reading top-down) versus lateral reading (reading across, opening different tabs, different sources). We should do a bit of both
  • Read widely. Become comfortable with ambiguity. If you haven’t read a news article with a critical eye, DON’T SHARE IT


About the Host: Dylan Wray

Dylan Wray is the co-founder and executive director of Shikaya, a non-profit civil society organization that acknowledges the increasing role of teachers in building up South Africa’s democracy. Shikaya supports teachers and school leaders to educate and teach young pupils to become responsible, active citizens who think critically and engage socially in their country’s democratic processes. Dylan Wray is the co-author of an online blog  A School Where I Belong – Creating Transformed and Inclusive South African Schools (www.aschoolwhereibelong.com), on an online platform dedicated to the transformation and belonging in schools. Dylan Wray is a former History teacher. He wrote and created numerous educational resources and textbooks to help young people to grapple with ethical and moral decision-making.



Useful Resources

Lie Detectors, the pan-European news literacy project - article or podcast (Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck) Press Release https://lie-detectors.org/
Resources to counter COVID-19 conspiracy theories through critical thinking and empathy https://en.unesco.org/news/new-resources-counter-covid-19-conspiracy-theories-through-critical-thinking-and-empathy
The Conspiracy Theory Handbook https://www.climatechangecommunication.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/ConspiracyTheoryHandbook.pdf
#ThinkBeforeSharing resources from UNESCO http://en.unesco.org/themes/gced/thinkbeforesharing
Under Pressure- Interview with a Teacher https://www.getunderpressure.com/interview-with-a-teacher/
The Facing Facts programme was set up in 2011 by four organizations with the goal to improve monitoring of hate crime data. Since then, it has grown into a Europe-wide civil society network. Managed by CEJI – A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe, the programme offers training to law enforcement personnel, people working in authorities, and civil society actors. In recent years, the programme has shifted to focus on online hate crimes and since 2015 has implemented a comprehensive online learning curriculum. By working in close collaboration with partners across sectors, the long-standing initiative has generated a wealth of lessons learned. www.facingfacts.eu
The Media Diversity Institute works to ensure a correct representation of minority groups in traditional and social media. The Institute acts as a resource hub and brings together a wide range of actors across Europe in its programmes. One of the projects, “Get the Trolls Out,” seeks to monitor and combat anti-religious hate and other discriminatory behaviour on social networks. The materials and workshops of the initiative help civil society actors to identify different kinds of anti-religious hate speech in order to develop and implement counter campaigns. Because it is so widely connected, the Institute was one of the first actors to detect and report about the QAnon movement in Europe. www.media-diversity.org
In 2018 the Libertas Center for Interconfessional and Interreligious Dialogue implemented the “School of Interreligious Journalism,” a training project with the goal of combatting fake news and one-sided narratives on social media platforms. The Libertas Center is a non-profit organization and was founded in 2013. Its work concentrates on promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue to contribute to peacebuilding and understanding in the Ukraine and beyond. Its School of Interreligious Journalism brought together religious representatives and media professionals and enabled joint learning and spaces for dialogue and reflection. www.facebook.com/libertascenter
The Global Disinformation Index has as their key mission to reduce the amount and spread of disinformation. https://disinformationindex.org/
Ich bin hier (German resource)- Encourages digital civil courage and promotes a culture of better discussion. www.ichbinhier.eu
Facing History and Ourselves Resource- WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LIVE WITH SOCIAL MEDIA? https://www.facinghistory.org/educator-resources/current-events/what-does-it-mean-live-social-media?utm_campaign=fy22-educator-newsletter&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=182080527&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_3bSNzjvw8ufqO6jGvV70M6yW4mxK2T9Lfvq-Gn0LkfjyrtW6Lq5ZPwFVwVtqKyjPdNwnEj95TED1sRtgW-0oK82cblQ&utm_content=182080527&utm_source=hs_email
Taken from Practical Histories- Teaching pupils the importance of ‘truth’ in history https://practicalhistories.com/2021/09/teaching-pupils-the-importance-of-truth-in-history/


—Fake (f)or Real temporary exhibition at the House of European Histories is open to the public until the end of January 2022. Please see opening times on the website, or view the virtual exhibition following this link: https://historia-europa.ep.eu/en/fake-real


History textbooks in Moscow: a visit to Russkoe Slovo, an independent publishing house in Russia

Andreas Holtberget Articles , ,

The day after the World Congress of School History Teachers (4-7 October 2021), EuroClio had the opportunity to visit Russkoe Slovo (“Russian Word”), an independent publishing house producing history textbooks for use in the Russian educational system.

Located in the central and historic Zamoskvorechye area, on the right bank of the River Moskva, Russkoe Slovo publishes educational and methodological literature for use in preschool all the way up to upper secondary school level, along with popular science and art publications for children and adolescents. 

The EuroClio visitors, consisting of Secretariat staff Eugenie Khatschatrian, Catherine Savitsky, Andreas Holtberget and Steven Stegers, were met by Kirill Kochegarov, heading the publisher’s history department. Mr. Kochegarov shared his experience on the current state of history textbook production in Russia and the work of his team.

An emerging monopoly

Mr. Kochegarov explained how the number of publishing houses has been decreasing in recent years. Illustrative of this, Russkoe Slovo is now one of two larger companies still represented on the federally approved list of textbooks for Russian history classrooms. Schools only get the costs covered for textbooks that are on this list. Schools can use other resources, but these costs are not covered, which is problematic for commercial publishers. The other large company on the list, the formerly state-run Prosveshcheniye (“Enlightenment”), has come to gradually buy up smaller competitors, who ran into financial difficulties, leading to a virtual monopoly.

While Mr. Kochegarov was clear on the fact that his operation is free from direct censorship from the government, they do understand that certain topics might be too difficult and as a result adopt a “softer tone". Remaining on the list of federally approved textbooks is clearly of immense importance to a commercial company like Russkoe Slovo. That this is not guaranteed, was illustrated by an example Mr. Kochegarov shared of a mathematics textbook, which was deemed as “not contributing to the formation of patriotism”, leading to its publisher temporarily losing its authorisation. 

Russkoe Slovo presents the digital versions and features of their teaching resources.

The authorship of history textbooks is, as your EuroClio correspondent understands it, largely left to academics and professional historians. Teachers are on other hand drafted into the review process to provide didactic expertise and ensure that student exercises and inquiry questions work in practice and not only in theory. Once a textbook has been vetted, tested and approved by the Russian Ministry of Education and Enlightenment it can be included on the officially sanctioned list for schools to request. 

Some of the more pedagogically innovative features may not necessarily reach all students, however: while the textbooks themselves are provided free of charge by the government, accompanying workbooks for students are not - with the cost effectively passed on to the individual school or the pupils’ parents. 

Textbook digitisation

Subdivisions and territorial changes of the Soviet Union. Russkoe Slovo produces its own maps, 3D animations and videos

The history team at Russkoe Slovo runs what seems to be a smooth operation producing textbooks whose quality EuroClio’s russophone staff members could attest to. With an in-house map-making facility and a team of former history teachers advising on methods and pedagogical approaches, the publishing house also impressed with its digital education offerings. Kirill Kochegarov’s team shared 3D models of the Moscow Kremlin, a video portrayal of an historic battle and online assessment tools - all available either through QR codes inside the textbooks or from an accompanying online space. These tools provide students and teachers with opportunities to actively engage with the historical content and explore key moments, personalities and perspectives.

EuroClio’s team, enjoying a day off from the World Congress, was similarly invited to share snippets of its own digitisation efforts, including some of the latest Historiana features, and left Russkoe Slovo and Moscow with both inspiration and hopes for future collaboration with Russian colleagues.   

EuroClio would like to thank Kirill Aleksandrovich and his team for the warm welcome we received at Russkoe Slovo Publishing House.

Teacher interview on students’ media habits

Andreas Holtberget Articles , ,

Under Pressure talked to Anouk van Butselaar (41), who has been a teacher for more than 20 years, about the media habits of her students, how polarisation is increasing and why she is concerned about her students

Hi Anouk! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about this issue. Let’s begin with what you enjoy most about your job.

I love that I can get students fired up about playing an active role in society. I raise awareness of the fact that they are allowed to vote, file complaints or join organisations to express their views. We address relevant topics such as ‘how does the government work’  and ‘why follow the news?’

Why are you looking to take part in Under Pressure?

My students often have a rather singular point of view. During the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, for example, they focused solely on the story of “the white man brandishing weapons to defend his property against a mob”, completely losing sight of the fact that there are lots of black American citizens fighting against inequality. They can get overly focused on one side of a discussion, to the point that they actually start believing that that side is the only “real truth”.

Under Pressure combines peer education and gamification to make European young people resilient to disinformation and polarization. It was co-developed by Diversion, the Dutch bureau for social innovation. We recommend that teachers interested in employing the Under Pressure methodology consult their overview page for educators. For more information about Under Pressure or Diversion, please go to www.getunderpressure.comwww.diversion.nl or get in touch with Emma van Toorn at etoorn@diversion.nl.

Are you concerned about your students’ media usage?

As a teacher, it concerns me that all these young people are thrown into society with such black and white conceptions of the truth. They watch videos posted by conspiracy theorists or footage of mobs storming the Capitol and create their opinion accordingly: they believe what they see on social media. Fortunately, I can see that they still have empathy. Sometimes, they will talk to me about what they watch and tell me: “I don’t know whether you would want to see this” or “I don’t think you would quite agree”. I always try to encourage them to consider a different perspective by asking them whether they watch the news, but I can tell that there is a huge gap in how we use media. They often either do not care about the news, or they do not understand it.

What do you like most about the Under Pressure method – peer education and gamification?

Having students engage in conversation with their peers is very powerful. I have found that, unfortunately, I am getting a bit old: I get my news from other sources and often have a different opinion than my students. Talking to someone who speaks their language and who they can identify with can be helpful, because it is a far cry from the he said/she said discussions they will typically have with teachers. We have taken part in peer education programmes before and it is very successful every time, with students really identifying themselves with their peers. In my opinion, we currently do not make enough usages of games in education, because teachers are still afraid to give up personal interaction with their students. Students, however, love learning by playing games: it gives them a clear role to play, something to do, and a break from having to listen to the teacher.

Do you think your students can recognise disinformation, or distinguish a fact from an opinion?

No, I do not think they can. It is difficult, of course, because there is often a thin line between disinformation and the truth. Sometimes, I will hear my students say that “all journalists are fake news”, but only because they do not know better. If you do not know that journalists have to abide by certain codes of ethics and that you can lodge complaints with the Press Council, it is no surprise that you believe that all journalists do is share their opinions.

Under Pressure was set up with the aim of countering polarisation by making young people resilient to disinformation and strengthening democratic values. How do you view polarisation in the Netherlands?

Attitudes in society are becoming more tough. In the past, I could show my students whatever I wanted, but now, I have started second-guessing myself more often. The Charlie Hebdo attacks ushered in a real change and you have to be careful about what you say and how you say it.

How does this manifest itself in the classroom?

Students are much more rigid and outspoken, even to each other. In the past, they would think: “I don’t know you, so I don’t know if you’re any good.” Now, they think: “I don’t know you, so you must be no good.” Now that many schools have stopped offering all different levels of secondary education, dedicating themselves to one or more levels instead, a kind of segregation has emerged. How much do VWO pupils really know about VMBO pupils, and vice versa? They do not meet anymore.

How do the Internet and social media contribute to this?

I have noticed that young people tend to gravitate towards opinions that match their own and only watch what they want to watch. Social media reinforce this and it is easier than ever before to disappear into a tunnel of sorts. In the past, people would watch mainstream media and see people from all kinds of different backgrounds. Now, it is as if old-school polarization has returned in a new guise.

We are now a year into the corona crisis. Has this affected your students’ media habits?

I do not have as much insight into what they are interested in anymore, because I am more concerned with their state of mind: what do their days look like and are they getting enough sleep? In the past, I would watch the news with my students, but now it has become hard to tell what is happening on the other side of the screen, which also makes it more difficult to make them aware of the bubble they could be in.

Soon, you will be taking part in Under Pressure and welcoming our peer educators. What do you hope to accomplish with the classes?

I can not change what my students come across online, but I hope that I can inspire them to ask themselves whether what they are being told is true. What are the intentions of the person who created this video? At the moment, they see everything in black and white and they are blind for shades of gray. Questioning what you see happening around you is essential, as it makes the world a more nuanced place.

Anouk van Butselaar is a teacher of Citizenship at the Koning Willem I College in Den Bosch, the Netherlands. This interview was originally published on getunderpressure.com.

For more on how to deal with fake news, propaganda and media literacy in the classroom, join EuroClio's thematic webinar series Fake & Real.

Three key takeaways from the 1st World Congress of School History Teachers in Moscow

EuroClio recently joined forces with the National Committee of Russian Historians in co-organising the 1st World Congress of School History Teachers. The Congress, which took place in Moscow 4-7 October, brought together more than 300 history teachers from around the world to discuss both thematic and methodological issues of history education. As co-organisers, EuroClio had the opportunity to bring a large delegation of both speakers and participants to Moscow.

Executive Director Steven Stegers interviewed on Russian TV

The Congress tackled a number of thematic issues, most notably Revolutions in World History, the role of textbooks in history teaching and how World War II is taught across countries. EuroClio’s Secretariat staff and several Board members were present as either participants or workshop hosts at all Congress sessions. Here are our three key takeaways from our stay in Moscow:

History teachers in Europe, Russia and the rest of the world all face similar challenges

Being a history teacher can be an incredibly rewarding profession. Teachers contribute to the personal development of young people, teaching them to think critically and how to respectfully disagree with one another. History teachers are also uniquely placed to provide students with the toolbox needed for recognising and resisting manipulation or “fake news”.  

Being a history teacher can also be challenging. During the World Congress it became clear to us that most of these challenges are widely shared across borders and educational systems. 

Teachers in most countries struggle with the sheer amount of content that they need to cover in their curriculum. With too many facts and too little time, it is difficult to teach students how to think rather than instructing them what to think. An overloaded curriculum also makes it difficult to focus on questions and topics that resonate with a teachers’ classroom, selecting questions and topics that tick the right boxes with their students. It is also challenging to keep up to date with the latest research, especially when there is so much content that needs to be covered. 

History teachers everywhere have also been faced with an additional challenge as they struggled to transition to teaching online during the pandemic. Online teaching, in some form at least, is likely to stay with us even beyond the current pandemic, but few teachers have been given specific training on teaching methodologies or the practical aspects of online teaching. 

Shared challenges also call for shared efforts and EuroClio’s team left Moscow with a renewed faith in cross-border collaboration with colleagues both in Russia and elsewhere. Our joint resolution with the National Committee of Russian Historians is hopefully a small step in the right direction.

World War II remains a difficult and sensitive subject

Panel on WWII

Several sessions of the World Congress in Moscow were dedicated to the Second World War - including by EuroClio Ambassador Emina Zivkovic who provided a personal reflection of how her own perception of the war and how to teach it has changed over time. A history teacher in Belgrade, she also pointed to the longer term repercussions of the memory of the war for the relations between peoples of the former Yugoslavia. 

Perhaps not entirely surprising, the history of World War II remains both a difficult and sensitive subject. We left Moscow with an impression that a prevailing view in Russia is that there are efforts elsewhere to intentionally downplay the role of the USSR in WWII. Delegates from Russia frequently emphasised that history must not be “rewritten” to remove or mitigate the contribution of the Soviets in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Speakers and participants from other former Soviet republics and more peripheral regions of Russia itself also called for a greater recognition of the contributions of their own republics or regions in the defeat of Nazi Germany. 

World War II is evidently of immense importance in Russia, as witnessed by choice of language (it is largely referred to as the “Great Patriotic War”) but also by recent legal measures adopted by the Russian Federation that criminalise the “defaming of War veterans”. The law was invoked in a question from a Russian teacher trainer present at the WWII roundtable (how can we investigate as historians when faced with the threat of legal repercussions?). The response from the chair of the panel, the editor-in-chief of the journal Historian, Vladimir Rudakov, was revealing: According to him "the history of WWII victory is akin to a 'civic religion', in need of regulation in order to prevent 'social explosions’ with unpredictable consequences” (see video recording).  

Linguistic - and cultural - challenges are there, but can be overcome!

One of the biggest challenges in organising a World Congress is language. The sessions at the Moscow Congress were all held in either English or Russian with simultaneous interpretation. Evidently, a lot of thought and planning had gone into making this run as smoothly as it did, but, as EuroClio’s bilingual staff members could attest to, things nevertheless got lost in translation on occasion. 

In addition to language, cultural differences must also be overcome. For instance, what constitutes an interactive or participatory workshop in one setting might be seen as static in another. 

We witnessed a great deal of openness and interest in innovative teaching methods, including place-based and project-based learning, along with open discussions with colleagues both from Russia and elsewhere. 

A number of already existing initiatives in which historians and history educators are working together across borders were presented during the Congress that can be used to seize this openness and interest: Textbook committees, the development of educational resources, creation of parallel histories, and source banks. These resources, which are often complementary to textbooks, can help to promote a more nuanced and complex image of the other and promote multiperspectivity in history education. 

These and other initiatives give us great hope for the future editions of the World Congress and we look forward to continuing working together with colleagues in Russia and elsewhere to facilitate international dialogue, exchange and cooperation among teachers, methodologists, textbook authors and other representatives of the history education community in the future. 


To watch recorded sessions of the 1st World Congress of School History Teachers, please visit the youtube channel of the Institute of World History.

Please also consult the Joint Resolution adopted by the National Committee of Russian Historians and EuroClio at the conclusion of the Congress.

Dealing with Trauma: Processing Memories, Connecting to History through Graphic Novels

Giulia Verdini Articles

On September 25th, ‘History that Connects - Sri Lanka’ hosted the second webinar of a series on creative teaching methodologies. Following the first workshop on stamps as historical sources, this second workshop hosted the speakers Irushi Tennekoon and Misko Stanisic to shed some light on the use of graphic novels in history education. Irushi spoke about what graphic novels have taught her about history and memory, whilst Misko told his experience in creating graphic novels specifically to be used in the history classroom.

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History that Connects – Sri Lanka’ is an initiative resulting from a cooperation between Strengthening Reconciliation Processes in Sri Lanka (SRP) of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), EuroClio, and the International Society for History Didactics. The workshop series on creative teaching methodologies has the purpose to foster collaboration between educators and educational content creators.

“If subjects were taught to me through art I would have had a completely different experience of school” -

Irushi Tennekoon

Finding an intersection

Irushi Tennekoon is an artist and an illustrator but also an educator, as she currently teaches the English language at the University of Colombo. She started off her presentation by sharing her internal conflict about having to choose between what society perceives as two different paths.

“It’s been a confusing journey for the most part. I’ve always felt like I’ve been at a crossroads where I had to choose one or the other. [...]

I carved out my own path in this journey and I found an intersection. Education systems in the world try to put us in boxes: I was one of the students who felt left out of the system and I had to make my own path.”

- Irushi Tennekoon

Irushi eventually managed to find an intersection between art and education.  First of all, she has incorporated art in education by using art-based resources and animations when she is teaching language to her students. Conversely, she draws from academic practices and uses research methods in her approach to art. She explores art through research, for example in her master thesis she focussed on graphic novels. She has recently produced an animated series ‘Animate Her’ on exceptional female role models working and living in Sri Lanka. For the series, she interviewed a group of women (author and illustrator Sybil Wertosinghe, architect Amila de Mel, marine biologist Asha de Vos) about their work and brought to life their characters by creating an animation for their stories.

“[Our system is] such a one-track kind of system and so many are left behind just because our system doesn’t help them - most of us. That’s why it’s so important to look at alternative narratives and alternative texts. If history was taught to me through a graphic novel or if subjects were taught to me through art I would have had a completely different experience of school. - Irushi Tennekoon

Irushi perceives and describes art as something very fluid that can transcend disciplinary boundaries, a feature that became the justification for using graphic novels in the history teaching context. She then invited the audience to reflect upon how we learn history and the importance of storytelling.

Irushi explained why comics can be such a powerful tool in storytelling by drawing on Scott McCloud. In ‘Understanding Comics’ (1998), he drew a continuum of faces, with a very realistic image on the left side, which slowly transitions into a very stylistic abstract image. Whilst the person in the left-hand corner is not recognisable, the next to last person might look like someone we know: we can start relating to these characters when they become more abstract.

“The final one is so abstract that, in a sense, it could be you. If you draw a very quick comic of yourself, you could draw yourself like this. And that’s the power of comics, that you can instantly relate to a character, you can see yourself in there. And if you use a text like this in a history classroom and if you can engage with a text on such a personal level, see yourself in the story... it can be an amazing way of reading and understanding history.” - Irushi Tennekoon

What is a graphic novel?

Whilst comics are often described as a hybrid of word and picture, Irushi looks at comics as a language on its own, where words and images are parts of a whole. Artist and colour theorist Joseph Albers speaks about something called ‘word pictures’. He says: “In reading, we do not read letters but words, words as a whole, as ‘word pictures’.” [Interaction of Colour, 2013]. Drawing on this, Irushi defined a graphic novel as a book-length work that is written in the language of comics. 

She specifically talked about three autobiography books that tell the life story of the author written through comics, three stories that capture a moment when he or she went through a big change in history. 

  • Maus” by Art Spiegelman: the author interviews his father who was a Holocaust survivor and he draws the Jews as mice and all the Nazis as cats.
  • Barefoot Gen” by Keiji Nakazawa, a ten-part graphic novel series, where the author tells his experience of surviving the atomic bomb in 1945 at the age of 6.
  • Persepolis” by Mariane Satrapi is based on the author’s experience of the Islamic revolution in Iran.

To show the potential of the medium, Irushi shed light on how time and space can be used in a comic and showed specific examples of how these novels have incorporated photographs. These novels are all based on traumatic history and traumatic memories, and Irushi suggested that the arts could be a good way of processing these memories and dealing with trauma. Irushi talked about postmemory, a term coined by Marianne Hirsch which refers to intergenerational memory or memories that we would inherit from our parents or grandparents, stories that we were told and might become so embedded in our memories even if we did not experience them in person. This is particularly applicable to Sri Lanka, where newborn generations are inheriting trauma memories of previous generations. Irushi spoke about the danger of this: “I do know they are becoming silenced and repressed memories and they have been passed down as trauma memories to other generations. How do we make sense of these memories? And it’s not just about the memories we have. We have had so many natural disasters, including the tsunami, and now with the pandemic, there is so much sadness and so much trauma that it’s just being buried and we don’t really know what to do with that trauma.”


How graphic novels can be used in the history classroom

Irushi’s recommendations

  • The book series called “Horrible Histories” incorporates comics and history, particularly “The Groovy Greeks” and “Ruthless Romans” written by Terry Deary and illustrated by Martin Brown;
  • The book series called “The Silk Roads” by Peter Frankopan, illustrated by Neil Packer;
  • The Photographer” (Guibert, Lefèvre, Lemercier), subtitled “Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders”;
  • Fun Home” (Alison Bechdel);
  • Vanni - A Family’s Struggle through the Sri Lankan Conflict”.

“There is an inner need for a person to remember, to keep the memory” - Misko Stanisic

Misko Stanisic, a co-founder of Terraforming, shared his experience in developing educational methodologies and teaching materials about the Holocaust. Terraforming is an NGO based in Novi Sad (Serbia) aiming to empower cultural remembrance by combining best practices in contemporary pedagogy with new-media technologies.

Misko is from Sarajevo, and as a refugee from the civil war, he fled to Stockholm in 1993 and has been based in The Netherlands since 2012: Misko started his presentation by showing a picture of his kitchen in Amsterdam and a little ashtray he has put on the wall. Before leaving Sarajevo, he took his grandmother’s ashtray just because it fitted in his pockets, and not because it was representative of his past or particularly valuable. For many years, he didn’t pay much attention to it:

“Only recently I realised this was the only thing I had originally that I took from my home when I escaped. I’m showing this because it means something to me, this quite insignificant object, that was not even representative of my life, but it is now. We remember through so many different ways and we even use artefacts and stories. We need it. There is an inner need for a person to remember, to keep the memory. That’s why I put it on the wall.” - Misko Stanisic

Misko is aware that his personal experience might not be the same experience for other people and for this reason, he invited the audience to reflect upon the question “who owns the past?”. He explained why it is vital that students learn about the Holocaust and recommended looking at “Recommendations for teaching and learning about the Holocaust” developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Together with the Historical Archives of Belgrade, Misko started to do historical research about the Sajmište concentration camp, where nearly the entire Jewish population of Belgrade and the surrounding areas was murdered - specifically from 8 December 1941 to the end of March 1942.  At first, they wanted to find real people who were protagonists of this history so that they could tell their personal stories, but then they realized that they couldn’t: there were only very few photos. For this reason, they decided to illustrate stories instead. They were also faced with the question: is it okay to dramatize history? 

“Our protagonists were killed in the camp, so we could not ask anyone to tell us about the details and we were facing the fact that we need to dramatize parts of it, which is why I’m not sure if it’s easy to say whether our graphic novels are fictional or not fictional. They are certainly based on historical facts and all protagonists presented in our novels are real, but not all the details we represented in our novels are based on facts, they are mainly based on dramatization.” - Misko Stanisic


What is Ester?

  • Ester is a collection of educational graphic novels and teaching material;
  • The stories are about Jewish victims killed in the concentration camp Judenlager Semlin at Staro Sajmište near Belgrade at the beginning of 1942;
  • The novels are based on true historical events and people, focusing on young victims and their families, the pre-war life;
  • The novels are specifically developed with the purpose to be used as teaching material and thus suitable for students.


The objective is also to help students to understand how we know this history and to address this phenomenon called ‘distortion of history’ which is propagating falsified or distorted facts about the Holocaust. Misko wanted indeed to demonstrate that the novels are based on a huge amount of historical documentation and that illustrations in the novels depict history accurately. Real historical places are drawn in a realistic way so that students would recognise streets and buildings, and the historical photographs are available next to the illustrations as proof that what readers see in the illustrations is accurate. In addition to that, there are hundreds of investigating tasks for students that teachers can choose from, so that pupils can research online available digitised archival records and other sources about the context and daily life. A very useful exercise is, for example, stimulating a comparative analysis of the same locations at different times.


Behind the scenes: creating a novel for educational purposes

Misko shared his experience in creating educational graphic novels and explained that there are two main streams going in parallel: history at a global and local site. The base of everything is historical events, but also people. Whilst creating the novel, they are selecting what part of already well-known history and events they will use, but they are also looking for personal stories. At some point, there is no more data available about a particular family, so the work proceeds by assumptions and only when something is plausible or probable it can be added to the story. Then they start developing the dramatization, interviewing survivors, drawing from historical newspapers, working very closely with historians and other experts in Jewish traditional culture. Only then, they invite illustrators. Every graphic novel is illustrated by a different artist: by choosing to use different illustrators, they choose to highlight that there are many different, equally valuable ways of looking at history and making sense of historical events. 

Why is this important?

In 2017 the current Jewish community contacted Misko, asking for permission to use the illustration from their graphic novel as the cover page of their book about the history of the community, as they didn’t have any other visual representation. Oddly enough, the real community recognised their illustration as a representation of their own history and memory, and it is now the cover of their book.

Another time, Misko was called by someone who claimed: “you created a novel about my family”. Misko recalled how shocked he was, as they thought that all the members of that family were killed. He also started wondering whether they made a terrible mistake by creating the novel, as obviously not every detail can be accurate, not everything is absolute and real truth, so he apologised. Nevertheless, the person said: “I had nothing, now I have a story”. Misko concluded:

“A need for memory is such that even when we are creating educational material, a dramatised story, it fills the void, the need of people to have a memory, to visualise it and I am very proud that we contribute to it.” -

Misko Stanisic

Novels on Ester

Written by Giulia Verdini

Get involved!

The next workshop on creative teaching methods will be about strategies for using counterfactual history in the classroom.. Join us on Thursday 28 October at 2:30 pm CEST. Click here to register!

In Memoriam of Roy Hellenberg: Towards inclusive classrooms in South Africa

Birgit Göbel Articles ,

The following article takes a look into the life and work of the South African educator, Roy Hellenberg. First of all Roy’s career and his personal connection to Apartheid are explored. The relevance of the past in education is next reflected upon, from the standpoint of Roy’s position as a history teacher. Lastly, informed by decades of experience, we take the time to acknowledge Roy’s takeaway solutions to teaching in post-conflict societies.

“How can I expect students to make themselves vulnerable and expose their ideas to criticism if I am not willing to do the same myself? How can I encourage my students to become active citizens and challenge the people and practices that undermine democracy, and then fail to take any action myself in the face of injustice?”


Roy Hellenberg and Apartheid

These are the words of the late South African educator, Roy Hellenberg, who sadly passed away towards the end of the summer. The questions posed above are not rhetorical nor merely reflections on society, but were huge motivations for Roys’s career. His values and work, however, cannot be viewed in a vacuum. To understand his approach to pedagogy, which focused on post-conflict environments as well as the role of the school in establishing democratic beginnings in society, it is important to understand that Roy grew up under apartheid, was educated under apartheid, and became a teacher during this time. 

As a result, his understanding of apartheid is not just because of his professional choices but his life experience--and he knew that he was not alone in that reality, that all South Africans were shaped by apartheid and carried apartheid's legacies. He also understood that he was shaped by his family, by dinner table conversations, by an emphasis on respect, on listening, on being informed and negotiating with others who might not be like you. He knew that his education was incomplete because he saw and heard the contradictions---this piece--the conversations, the respect, the engaging people outside the classroom and school--this is also critical.

Aside from being a teacher, he was heavily involved with developments in teaching methodologies. Since 2006, he has worked with the organisations Shikaya and Facing History and Ourselves to develop resources, design and run teacher training programs. In line with his teaching philosophy, these programs encourage the development of critical thinking in the classroom and stimulate democratic debate with the purpose of allowing young people to develop as compassionate, engaged, and active citizens. Additionally, Roy co-founded FutureProof Schools with Dylan Wray - an initiative that strives to ensure that education is offered to successive generations and will provide students with the critical skills needed in today’s society. One of the outcomes of this was a program entitled A School Where I Belong, that addressed exclusion and discrimination across South African schools. Together with Prof. Jonathan Jansen, they published a book with the same name. 

In many ways, Roy will be remembered as a trailblazer, one of the educators who supported the schooling system through this process of significant societal transformation. 


Relevance of the past

"The past defines us, ... So whether we study it or not, the reality is it affects us as a nation and it affects us as individuals as well. The advantage of studying it is it gives us an idea of what streams have impacted us and to what degree, and also, how it has unfolded in our community, in our society and the institutions that we are a part of. Until we understand where we come from, we don't really appreciate where we are. And we can't really define the pathway forward."

Roy was a firm advocate for history education. He believed that too often the focus is placed on the here and the now, that the past can become easily neglected. He understood that people inherit the legacies of the past and carry that “residue.” For that reason, it is important to compel young students and their adult teachers to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of history. Particularly in countries of social unrest, or those experiencing societal transformations, a lot of attention is given to change, developments, and other progress but little thought is given to the very recent tumultuous history. However, how then can we aim to move forward after such times?


Solutions to teaching in post-conflict societies: Make it personal, recognise the challenges, the legacy

"One of the challenges is overcoming the baggage that we carry, ... Facing the Past, and participating in it as a teacher in that program, helped me to open the suitcase that I was carrying around, to take the articles out. I wish I could say that the suitcase is empty--that I've moved on from there--but it's not true. But at least I understand what's inside there and what's affecting me."

Roy’s approach to dealing with the legacy of societal inequalities and struggles is simple: the past cannot be ignored, nor swept under a carpet. On the contrary, persisting challenges and the legacies of past history need to be recognised, and only then can we begin to address them. In this way, Roy encourages teaching to be personal, not only for the students but also for the teacher who themselves need to grapple with the legacies they have inherited. The mutual willingness to face the past is what ultimately fosters a relationship of trust and a comfortable environment, where ideas can be freely discussed.. This philosophy sees the school as a ‘playground’ for the future, where it shapes citizens that are respectful of one another’s opinions and thereby encourages students to become active participants in society. 

“Teaching democratic values is not contained in a series of lessons; it is a lifestyle, an ethos that one creates.”


South African educator Roy Hellenberg passed away on 23 July 2021. 

Interested in the intersection of democracy and education? Please take a look at our webinar series: A Resilient Promise: Teaching the Fragility of Democracy

The allure of authoritarianism and modern populism: A keynote lecture with Prof. Takis Pappas

Ralitsa Angelova Articles

On the 15th of September on the international day of Democracy, EuroClio hosted the first session of a series of online workshops entitled A Resilient Promise: Teaching the Fragility of Democracy.

Prof Takis Pappas opened our webinar series on democracy with a compelling keynote lecture on The allure of authoritarianism and on modern populism.


Democracy is something that must be learned at early age

Prof. Pappas commenced with a strong statement that democracy is not something that you can touch or feel. Democracy in his words is something that must be learned at early age. He emphasized that democracy cannot be felt, sensed, or otherwise experienced other than, through formal education and practice from early age, which begins at school. In this respect, he added that teachers are the responsible for teaching young Europeans how to be good democratic citizens.

Furthermore, he noted that there is a challenge how to teach democracy at schools. In this regard, the idea of applied political science helps us to draw lessons from past historical and political experiences to ameliorate our lives in modern societies.


Explaining the concepts

To better understand democracy prof. Pappas highlights some important concepts that we often hear but do not know what exactly the meaning of. He defines democracy as a pluralist political system in which the incumbent party may lose office after free and fair elections.

And what then is liberal democracy? Liberal democracy is a recent phenomenon. According to Prof. Pappas, there was no liberal democracy before 1945. Liberal democracy is a democracy based on the rule of law, i.e., the principles and precepts of political liberalism.

And what is then non-democracy? Non-democracy is a system in which some leaders hold nearly unbounded and arbitrary power even if there are (unfree & unfair) elections.

Modern populism is, in Prof. Pappas taxonomy, a novel political system which is democratic but militates against political liberalism. Hence, democratic illiberalism.

The final important concept is nativism, which is a liberal democratic system meant to protect the interest of native-born citizens against immigrants and other populations. This system is liberal and democratic but prioritize the interest of the natives.

Prof. Pappas clarified the distinction between populists and nativists. When talking about a perceived backsliding of democracy, an association is often made with populists and populism.

The Difference between populism and nativism, according to Prof. Pappas. Source : https://pappaspopulism.com/populism-nativism-infographic/


Prof. Pappas defines 10 ways to tell populists and nativists apart. The key to distinguishing the two lie with the last three points: power capture, performance in office and core democratic idea.


The lecturer argues that when populist parties come into office they tend to stay in office for many years, while attempting constitutional changes in effect replacing the liberal constitution with an illiberal one. The difference with the nativist parties is that they do not intend to change the (liberal) constitution. In Europe, these parties have so far not managed an outright majority and have only been in power through coalition governments.

­­­­­Prof. Pappas listed some of countries were populist parties won office, amongst which are Greece (since 1980), Italy (since 1990), Hungary (since 2010), Poland (since 2015), the USA (in 2017), Mexico (since 2018) and Brazil (since 2018).

As previously mentioned, when populist come to power, they try to change the constitution. In some cases, they succeed, in others, they fail. In the infographic below you can see the major populist and nativist parties that, according to Dr. Pappas’ research, endanger liberal democracy.

Source : https://pappaspopulism.com/populism-nativism-infographic/


To better understand the political parties in Europe prof Pappas proposes the following classification, dividing parties into two main groups : democratic and nondemocratic.

Source: https://pappaspopulism.com/category/nativism/


According to Prof Pappas, we can successfully located all political parties, irrespective of time, geographical space or political circumstance, in the simple “map”.

Using this overview, Prof. Pappas demonstrates the political landscape in today’s democratic Europe. He claims that in Europe there are no more than six or seven types of parties. We will find liberal democratic, populist, nativist, nationalist, regionalist and secessionist, antidemocratic parties.

Source : https://pappaspopulism.com/populism-nativism-infographic/


A typology of parties in Europe.  Blue refers to liberal, yellow to nativist, and magent to populist political parties.

Source : https://pappaspopulism.com/populism-nativism-infographic/


In his lecture, Prof. Pappas introduced the audience to is “typology of parties” wheel. The wheel comprises 19 significant parties in 18 countries divided into seven party types based on the political goals and kind of society each type wants to achieve. In terms of historical evolution, the wheel was largely blue (liberal) until about 1990.

Prof. Pappas underlines that the infographic gives us a very dynamic idea of the forces of liberal democracy, where it is moving towards and what happened with the opponents of liberal democratic parties, both populist and nativist parties.



What can we learn form that? Prof. Pappas summarized several key takeaways from his lecture.

  1. Europe’s liberal democracy is still strong, but fragile. The only countries in Europe in which we currently have exclusively liberal, democratic parties (thus not nativist and not populist) are Portugal, Ireland and Luxembourg. In other countries in Europe, a mixture of liberal, populist and nativist parties exists. That was not the case some 20-30 years ago. The European Union was meant to be a union of countries with liberal governments and we have since its establishment seen an increase in parties on the nativist and populist flank.
  2. The enemies of liberalism are populism, autocracy, nativism. These are the biggest threats of liberal democracy.
  3. Populist parties are strong in Southern and Eastern parts of Europe. We see a lot of populist parties in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. In the last twenty years there have also been a strong presence of populist parties in Greece, Italy and Spain.
  4. When populists come to power, they usually rule singlehandedly. There is one exception- Spain, where the current government consists of a liberal party (PSOE , Spain’s socialist party) together with a populist party (Podemos, a left wing populist party). Usually, however, when populists come to power, they rule by themselves, and they stay in power for many years.
  5. Nativist parties are strong almost everywhere in Western and Northern Europe (From Norway to France).
  6. No nativist parties have ever come to power singlehandedly. There are only three cases in the EU where nativist parties have been in office as junior coalition partners- Austria, Finland, and Italy. In all those cases, the governments did not last very long. They were not successful governments.
  7. Strong antidemocratic parties are almost non-existent in today’s Europe. They do exist but they are not very strong.
  8. Europe is now faced with having to deal with anti-democratic, “rogue” states. There was a time, not long ago, when Europe was a collection of liberal states, and an ally of a liberal United States. There was a sort of attraction to liberalism, with other countries wanting to “join the club”. Turkey, for instance, had its eyes set on becoming an EU member. Hopes for a liberal Russia were also present, at least up until then occupation of Crimea. The same thoughts appeared about the Middle East after the Arab spring. There was excitement about the Arab spring, however bad the results have turned out to be.

Europe today as an adherent of democratic liberalism is, in a sense, standing alone. The number of antidemocratic “rogue states” includes Russia, Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries. With Brexit one of the most liberal nations in Europe has left the EU.


About Prof. Takis S. Pappas.

Takis S. Pappas is a scholar of political science. He has done research on populism, democracy, and political leadership. Presently, prof. Pappas is a docent and associate researcher at the University of Helsinki, Finland, working within the EU funded Horizon 2020 project “Populism and Civic Engagement” (PACE). His latest book Populism and liberal democracy provides an exquisite and concise analysis on the notion of populism, and how it threatens liberal democracy.

To learn more about democracy, populism, nativism and other important topics please visit prof. Pappas’ blog.

A concise piece of history – a blogpost on the workshop on stamps of the ‘History that Connects – Sri Lanka’ initiative

Charlotte Huijskens Articles ,

On the 24th of August, Niroshana Peiris, Dennis Röder and Susanne Popp hosted a workshop on the use of postage stamps as visual historical sources. The workshop included an approach to promote historical competencies in history lessons and is part of a workshop series on creative teaching methodologies in history education. Future workshops will include topics such as the use of graphic novels in history education, music as a historical source and the use of counterfactual history. The workshop series forms part of the initiative ‘History that Connects - Sri Lanka’, a partnership between Strengthening Reconciliation Processes in Sri Lanka (SRP) of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and EuroClio, in cooperation with the International Society for History Didactics


The use of postage stamps was established worldwide in the second half of the 19th century, during the time frame of imperialism and colonialism. Although postage stamps have been around for quite some time, the use of stamps in history education is relatively new and unexplored. This blogpost will provide insights into the use of stamps in history education. 


Identity politics on a stamp

The beginning of the workshop was kicked off by introducing the most important features when looking at stamps. These include the name of the issuing nation, the denomination of the monetary value and the design and colour of the stamps. It's often the case that persons, events or symbols are depicted that symbolize national traditions and values. Therefore, stamps are usually used by governments as effective tools of national identity-building. Similar to coins, stamps are widely used on a daily basis, but most people are unaware of the messages that are spread with the use of stamps. As stamps are the official accounts of governments, they play a role in how the nation wants to portray itself or its past. It is the invention of identity and tradition on one piece of stamp.


A twofold use of stamps in history lessons

The workshop introduced two options of reading stamps as visual historical sources in history lessons. Firstly, the stamp’s picture can be used to illustrate historical topics. Visual impressions help students to better memorize historical topics. Additionally, students are able to recognise that the topic of the history lesson plays a role in the contemporary history culture of a country. The second option to use stamps in history lessons is to read stamps as a visual historical source for the time of the emission of the stamp. Students can analyse the history culture of the time of the emission of the stamps, and this will help students to become aware of culture of remembrance. It also helps students acquire skills they can use in their daily lives to analyse messages of the history culture around them. It will similarly deepen students’ methodological competences of visual source analysis. In sum, both the historical event that is depicted on the stamp as well as the publication date of the stamp are two angles that can be explored during a history lesson.  


Checklist: four steps to work with stamps as visual sources in history education

What stood central in the workshop was the explanation of a guideline on how to work with stamps as visual sources. The checklist is not limited to the use of stamps as visual sources, but it can be used with other visual sources as well. The following steps and guiding questions will help you to empower your didactical decisions in the classroom, when analysing visual sources with your students. 


Step 1. Give students time to formulate their first perception of the picture: encourage students to think about their individual perceptions of the picture, as this activates their prior knowledge. Give students the space to freely express their associations and to ask questions about the topic. After this, you collect the first information about the stamp, such as text, monetary value, format, size and colours. 


Step 2. Let the students describe the picture: they should try to describe as detailed as possible what they recognize in the picture when they look at it more closely. For example, identity the representation technique (photo, drawing, painting), identify major and smaller elements of the picture (people, places, objects, symbols), pay attention to the way how they are represented (e.g. gestures, facial expressions, postures), describe the major features of the arrangement of the picture (center/periphery, background/foreground) and the colour scheme. 


Step 3. Students will analyse the picture as a visual source. 

Students can make use of the following guiding questions when analysing the content of the picture: 

It is important to look at the year the stamp was published, and the historical event that is depicted on the stamp. Students can reflect on how these times are related. The example below shows how the time of emission and the time of the depicted historical event are related:

Additionally, students can collect additional information regarding the political or social context of the stamp, by making use of the following guiding questions:

When looking at the value of the stamp, it is not automatically the case that the most important event or message is related to the highest monetary value of the stamp. It is often that the lowest valued stamp portrays the most important message or the highest ranked person. This is the case because low value stamps are used on a daily basis so the message will be more widespread. 


Moreover, students can analyse what kind of picture is depicted on the stamp, and how that relates to the date of emission of the stamp.

Step 4. The students interpret and evaluate the stamp as a document of the history, culture and governmental identity policies at the time of its emission. Which conclusions can the students draw? What is the main message behind the stamp? Students can make use of the following questions:

Suggestions and creative ideas for the use of visual sources in history lessons

A general remark on the use of stamps in the classroom is that stamps can be used throughout different phases in the lesson; for the introduction of a topic, for deepening historical thinking or methodological ‘training’ or even during examinations. The workshop concluded with a few suggestions on how to use stamps in history lessons:

  • Compare a historical event and the representation of it on stamps. You can even compare several stamps on the same historical event. 
  • Use stamps for lessons about topics such as history culture, remembrance culture, the use and misuse of history, invented traditions or idendentity policies.
  • Use a complete series of stamps: how did it change? A symbol can be used differently in the 50s, in 60s or even now. Students can explore continuity and change in the history culture.
  • Look at a whole stamp set with the same emission date, from the smallest to the highest value. You can explore the selection and the attribution of value; which stamp was the most popular with which depiction? Which image was attributed the highest value? 
  • Use blank stamps for the students to create a stamp (series) related to a curricular topic. Which persons and events should be depicted in which way? Which symbols could be used and why?

Want to learn more about creative teaching methodologies for history lessons? Coming Saturday 25 September from 12:30 - 2:30 CEST, another workshop is hosted on the topic. This time the workshop will include a methodology on how to use storytelling and graphic novels in the classroom. You can register to join the online workshop here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIvd--qqT4tH9yLK7mpEqEHvLik1xWMvAy5

Towards a history education for the 21st Century: An interview with Dr. Jochen Hung

EuroClio had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Jochen Hung about the challenges and opportunities for history education at university level in Europe. Dr. Hung is Assistant Professor of Cultural History at Utrecht University and a specialist in the cultural and media history of 20th-century Germany. In his role with the history department of Utrecht University, he is also leading the coordination of the project Teaching European History in the 21st Century, a collaboration between seven European research universities (Utrecht, UA Madrid, HU Berlin, Sheffield, Prague, Budapest, Lille) and EuroClio. 

Q: What is Teaching European History in the 21st Century and what are the challenges you seek to address? 

Dr. J. Hung: The idea for the project started 6-7 years ago as we here at Utrecht University set up an English-language Bachelor’s programme in History. As far as we know, this was the first such programme on the European Continent with all three years of study offered entirely in English. As we were setting this up, we connected with several other European universities who had similar plans or who were already offering much of their history education in English. We really set out to build a network with universities elsewhere, also for our students through Erasmus exchanges, and we were quickly convinced that this would be a much more normal thing in the future: that with Brexit in particular, there would no longer be a need to go to Britain or Ireland to get your English-language degree but that this could be done in Continental Europe. 

While talking to our partners elsewhere we noticed a quite practical problem connected with this development: that the usual entry-level textbooks used in English-language undergraduate teaching were all written by British, Irish or American authors. As a result, they portray a very specific view on European history - essentially the view of European history as seen from Britain and the United States. This is of course entirely normal and expected, but we felt that it did not accurately reflect the European experience: that lots of different nations and countries are connected to each other through various points of interactions and processes. 

Concretely, if you have an Italian student going to study European history in English at a Dutch university, what should then be the national perspective? Our view on that is there should not be any one national perspective, but rather a multi-perspective approach to our shared European experience. 

Formally speaking, the project is now a collaboration between seven different European universities, plus EuroClio, that is being funded through the Erasmus+ Key Action 2 programme of the European Union. We received a three-year grant and the project is designed for creating innovative, multi-perspective teaching material. When our project started, online lectures with a digital platform were still something quite innovative. With the pandemic, this has now become the new normal for universities. In that sense, we see that our project now fits within a larger trend and that we no longer need to convince people that this is the way forward.

Q: What do you see as the key challenges and opportunities facing history departments at European universities at the moment?

Dr. J. Hung: There are of course challenges, but also clear opportunities, particularly connected with Brexit. I expect that students that were planning to go abroad will be going to Britain in much fewer numbers and that we will see a big influx of students coming to Europe, including Utrecht, wanting to study in English. While this is great for us, it does also entail some practical challenges - some of which we are addressing with our project. We also see a larger discussion around the merits of this development. Here in the Netherlands, for instance, there are questions about what will happen to the specific Dutch view of European history. Does this internationalisation mean we are losing something in the process? Personally, I see it as an opportunity. 

An additional challenge is connected with online teaching. Even as the pandemic is less of a concern, it is here to stay. This presents us with some clear opportunities for internationalisation: it might be both easier and cheaper to study abroad with some parts of your degree being offered online. Having said that, we see of course the usual problems with technical challenges and the lack of direct interaction with students. I do think these are challenges that will be solved in the coming years, however. 

A final thought on the challenges we are facing now is the new nationalism that we see rising all across Europe. As far as I see it, it will be good to teach our students that it is totally fine to have national perspectives. It is normal and it is what has made Europe, in a way. What we need is, however, to get to know all of these different national perspectives, acknowledge that there is no hierarchy between them and, in a sense, try to bring them together and teach students how they interact.

Q: Coming back to the project that you are leading from Utrecht University. What are the current plans and when can we expect to see some of the tangible results coming out of it?

Dr. J. Hung: Well, there are three big outputs of the project. That is a handbook, co-authored by the universities involved. It is our magnus opus and will be finished by the end of next year. Additionally, we are at the moment recording a number of online lectures. We hope to make some of these available in the coming months. Finally, EuroClio is working on an online portal where you can find these texts and use them together with primary sources to construct teaching plans and syllabi. 

Q: Do you see any uses for teachers at secondary level education? 

Dr. J. Hung: The aim was to produce a handbook for first and second year undergraduate students. That is really close to high school level and it was always the aim for us that the texts that we author are very accessible, so I do hope that secondary education teachers can use the platform, the texts, and the sources, giving their students an idea of what awaits them at university. It is also a great opportunity to make use of our multi-perspective approach. If you for instance teach in high school about the history of, say, inequalities in Europe, you could pick up these texts produced by authors from four different countries and their corresponding viewpoints. The same topic can be understood and taught in very different manners and these contrasting perspectives can, I hope, be really valuable also for history teachers.