Three Promises: The Kalef family of Belgrade, a Centropa multimedia film

“The film is a valentine to a lost Sephardic world, but one that doesn’t shy away from the horrors that destroyed that world.” Lilith Magazine, New York, March 2016

 

 

I promise I’ll protect our daughters, no matter what happens. I promise I’ll hide you, no matter who comes looking. I promise if I get out of this alive, the world will know about this priest.

Backgound: what makes Centropa different

Centropa was founded in 2000 so that they could interview over a thousand elderly Jews still living between the Baltic and the Black Seas and ask them to tell stories about the entire century, just as they lived it.

Centropa was not founded as a Holocaust-interview project. They did not use video in those interviews. Instead, Centropa’s teams spent a decade sitting in 1,200 living rooms in 15 countries, held up 25,000 old family photographs, and asked their respondents to tell stories about the people in those pictures—from the small comedies of everyday life to the great tragedies that befell them.

You can find the English language online database here. It is also available in German, Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, and other languages. No one had ever captured European Jewish memory in this way before. It is sadly too late to begin such a project now (in 2020).

Using personal stories to bring history to life

That’s why films like the Kalefs of Belgrade is so important. Matilda and Breda Kalef  take us into their Sephardic Jewish community in the 1930s to tell us about cousins, aunts and uncles, Jewish holidays and family vacations. And when the Germans invaded Serbia in 1941, their mother hid her giant family photo album, grabbed her daughters and knocked on the door of a church in a nearby suburb.

In October, 1944, they returned from hiding to find their home wrecked but the photo album still there. Everyone in those photos, however—from babies to great grandmothers--had all been murdered, including all those pictured above.

This is the story Centropa tells in the award-winning film, Three Promises, which has now been shown in six international film festivals.

Teachers — and students — love this film because

  • very few of us have ever seen Holocaust-related stories about Balkan Sephardic families;
  • even fewer have seen photographs of Sephardic women dressed in traditional costume;
  • and most important, this is a film with a strong moral and ethical core to it: of reaching out, leaning in, and saving a life.

There’s a punchline to Three Promises: Father Andrej Tumpej, the priest who saved their lives, always told Breda Kalef she had a lovely voice and she really should do something with it. And did she ever!

Watch the film here:

 

Black-Lives-Matter and the importance of history education: 
a conversation with Professor Maria Grever on how to deal with the past

Looking back at her illustrious career, recently retired Professor Maria Grever can not only be proud of her achievements, but also rest assured that her work is especially relevant today. Emeritus Professor of Historical Culture at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Professor Grever and her team have relentlessly investigated how people deal with the past, including what and why they remember and celebrate. Therefore, she has a lot to say about the current destruction of statues related to the Black-Lives-Matter movement taking place around the world. Interviewed by Erasmus Magazine shortly after the launch of her latest book, Onontkoombaar verleden (Inescapable Past), she warns against the total eradication of monuments and statues that constitute testimonies of past injustice: destroying statues is no medicine against racism! Moreover, without such evidence, modern societies would forget, instead of facing, their mistakes. But, she stresses, we cannot expect monuments alone to tell the whole story. While on-site explanations can help contextualisation, it is crucial to improve history education in schools so that the young generations are equipped to critically approach this material heritage, and to understand the controversies surrounding it.

History education is a topic dear to Professor Grever. Once a high school teacher herself (1980-1984), as an academic she has relentlessly advocated increased co-operation between the two sectors, and also the domain of heritage institutes. In order to further research on this relationship, she founded in 2006 the Center for Historical Culture, and conducted extensive investigation into processes of canonization in the historical discipline and history education. Another research project focused on how history education can benefit from a critical and dynamic approach to heritage related to the Transatlantic slave trade and WWII /Holocaust. Recently, she co-investigated the opportunities and risks of popular representations of modern war heritage as informal ways of history learning. In August, the bilingual Journal for the Study of Education and Development (Infancia & Aprendizaje) will publish a Special Issue edited by Maria Grever and Karel van Nieuwenhuyse on Popular uses of violent pasts in educational settings ( Los usos popularos de pasados violentos en entornos educativos): https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/riya20/current.

Over the years, Maria Grever has been critical of a top-down canon for history education. In her view, such a canon fails to stay up to date with the latest research findings, particularly regarding multiple perspectives on the past. For example, while in the past few decades historiography has grown more and more interested in the history of women and slavery, it has been challenging to incorporate these topics in school curricula. Nevertheless, Professor Grever is quite satisfied with the current situation in the Netherlands, where there is growing interest among academic historians into history instruction and historical culture in general. Young generations of professional historians are now keen to engage with their subject in new ways, confident that their research will have a positive impact on society. But the drafting of the Dutch canon has not only benefited from the contribution of academia: the involvement of local museums and heritage associations has produced a variety of (counter-)canons built on regional particularities, including the history of migrants and colonialism.

While enthusiastic about the co-operation of teachers, historians and museums, Professor Grever rejects the interference of governments and politicians into the contents of history education. These actors tend to promote a single and frozen narrative of past events focusing on the formation of the nation, thus often overlooking world history and excluding the perspectives of minority groups. They fail to grasp the complexity of the subject, overlooking the importance of critical discussion, and expecting students to simply acquire knowledge of facts without engaging in their interpretation. In order to guarantee a high quality of history education practices, it is necessary not only to resist this kind of interference, but also to allow teachers the freedom to deviate from the prescribed canon to organise activities fostering discussion. For example, Professor Grever recalls that once when she was still a teacher, she organised a debate about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It took her a lot of effort and planning as she had to prepare the students in advance, find appropriate material and effectively chair the debate. In the end, it was a very positive experience for her and the students. Hence, she encourages teachers to organise this kind of activities. However, she is well aware of the difficulties that teachers face, such as the constraints of curricula and the inadequacy of textbooks. And it is this awareness that makes Professor Grever a firm supporter of EuroClio.

The Legacy of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College

Oliver Anthony Articles , , ,

When a protestor left a sign on the doors of Oxford’s University Church reading ‘Rhodes, You’re Next’, there was little doubt that the monumental Black Lives Matter movement, sweeping the world after the death of George Floyd, would next be turning its attention to the statue of the imperialist figure adorning Oriel College’s entrance arch. 

With the pulling down of a statue of Edward Colston in Bristol only days earlier, a fresh series of protests, beginning on Tuesday 9th June, sought removal of the controversial monument of Cecil Rhodes, fuelled by the 19th century mining magnate’s association with colonialism and racism on multiple accounts.

On the 12th June, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, released an open letter that reached no binary view about Rhodes’ legacy, though did warn against “hiding our history and indicated little accord to the aims of the protestors. Her statement was also later criticised by fourteen dons at the University who wrote that it was “inappropriate” of Professor Richardson to “ventriloquise” the anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela, by using his words to defend a colonial-era statue. (1)

Following Professor Richardson’s statement, significant headway was made within Oriel College’s Middle Common Room (MCR – graduate student body of Oriel College) in response to the renewed protests. On Sunday 14th June, numerous motions were passed in support of the Rhodes Must Fall movement, including 124 votes for and 62 votes against endorsement of the removal of Cecil Rhodes on the high street façade of Oriel College, with a further 143 votes for and 32 votes against preserving Rhodes’ statue in a museum/exhibition. (2) 

On Wednesday 17th June, the governing body of Oriel released a much-awaited statement, recommending the removal of the statue and the King Edward Street plaque (3). The report stated that an Independent Commission would be launched to  examine Rhodes’ legacy, chaired by Carole Souter CBE, the current Master of St Cross College, and former Chief Executive of the National Lottery Heritage Fund (4). It has more recently been announced that broadcaster Zeinab Badawi, former Conservative shadow culture secretary Peter Ainsworth, and Oriel College’s alumni advisory committee chairman Geoffrey Austin will also sit on the inquiry group (5). Alongside deliberating on the legacy of Rhodes, the commission will additionally consider improvements to BAME access and attendance at the College. A public notice is expected to be posted near to the statue, outlining how people are able to contribute their views, including both written and oral submissions, as well as further oral evidence public sessions to take place at a later date.

It will undoubtedly make for an interesting case to reflect upon as the Commission’s findings are published in January 2021, particularly since a similar consultation was organised by the College in 2015, when the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford campaign initially called for the removal of the statue. In this earlier instance the Oriel’s governing body released a statement suggesting they were seeking information from the city council relating to the removal of objects of listed status (of which the Rhodes Statue is Grade II listed) (6). A six-month listening exercise was also set to take place but fell short of becoming fully realised, with some leaked documents to The Telegraph suggesting that this was in part because of threats made by College Alumni to withdraw funding equating to £100 million if the statue were to be removed (7)

Since the protests in June there have already been pledges to cover any withdrawn funds. Particularly notable is that of Oxford alumni, Husayn Kassai, founder of Onfido, who has pledged to “make up for every penny any racist donors pull”, further stating that, “All racist status and symbols belong in museums, where we can safeguard our history, in all its gore and glory” (8). While there are yet to be any reports of donors withdrawing support to Oriel, there is certainly the capacity for future disputes to arise from stakeholders less receptive of the statue’s removal.

The decision made by Oriel College to seek consultation to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes has been described by Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, a founder of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, as a “greatly vindicated” feeling (9). Although, as he further outlines, a successful outcome is only dependent upon the Commission’s decision to remove the statue, which, given the the earlier short-lived inquiry of 2015, is certainly not one which is inevitable. In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, the current inquiry’s Chair, Carole Seuter, said it “was not a forgone conclusion” that “Rhodes would fall”, adding that, “We acknowledge politely that the governing body has expressed a view but there wouldn't be any point at all setting up this sort of Commission if it was already a foregone conclusion” (10).

Oriel College’s recent statements have certainly not quietened protests. Further Black Lives Matter marches took place in Oxford on the 18th and 26th June, with sustained emphasis on Rhodes, further calls for the removal of a statue of slave owner Christopher Codrington at All Souls College and demands for decolonisation of the curriculum. Discussions of Oxford’s problematic past are clearly not diminishing, with organisations such as Uncomfortable Oxford dedicating tours, talks, and blogposts to the histories of inequality, discrimination, and imperialism throughout Oxford (11). Taking these movements as indicatory of unresolved points of contention, it is fair to say that campaigns for social justice in Oxford are only just beginning. In regard to the statue of Cecil Rhodes, it will be an interesting case to watch now that significant advances have been made with regards to its future legacy.

Monuments Matter: A Singaporean Solution

Miranda Richman Articles

We are pleased to present the case on The Statue of Sir Stamford Raffles and His Legacy as part of a series of in-depth studies for the Contested Histories Initiative. We hope that this series will provide insights and lessons learned for engaging with and addressing instances of disputed historical legacies in public spaces.

Oftentimes, the Contested Histories Team encounters statues embroiled in conflict, which can result in destruction or removal of a monument. The public debates over images of Cecil Rhodes or the watery ending that met the Colston statue in Bristol, England are two memorable examples. In stark contrast, the case of the Sir Stamford Raffles statue in Singapore presents an absence of contestation that offers an innovative way to simultaneously preserve and contextualize history in the public space. Despite its associations with colonialism, the Raffles statue attracts very little controversy. This case study provides a unique opportunity to examine the role of States in shaping narratives and underscores the positive power of public space to spark thoughtful dialogue.

The white polymarble statue of Raffles occupies a very public and central location, along the banks of the Singapore River where Raffles allegedly stepped ashore in 1819. Thousands of tourists pass by the statue daily where it stands against a backdrop of the sleek Singapore skyline. The statue was intentionally installed in this iconic spot for the 1919 Centennial celebration of Singapore’s founding. Today’s statue is a 1972 replica of the bronze original, with a plaque that celebrates Raffles’ ‘genius and perception [that] changed the destiny of Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis’. This complimentary and curated historical narrative, which paints the colonial period as ‘ineffectual’ rather than cruel, helped facilitate Singapore’s transition into independent statehood.

Modern Singaporean history begins with Sir Stamford Raffles; his arrival to the Southeast Asian city state brought Singapore under the British Imperial umbrella in 1819. Today, Singapore openly acknowledges both the benefits and detriments of its colonial legacy, celebrating its independence from colonialism while also attributing modern Singaporean institutions, like the rule of law, to British influence. This 1819 origin story was not an accident; Singaporean officials deliberately centered Raffles at the beginning of Singapore’s modern history. As the country embraced independence in 1959, public officials sought to craft a historical origin story that achieved two goals. First, they did not want to elevate any single ethnic group over the others. Although British colonial structures reinforced racial stereotypes in Singapore in many ways, pinning modern Singapore’s inception on Raffles’ arrival allowed the state to celebrate the diversification and globalization of Singaporean society. Officials also wanted to send the message that Singapore was still open for business. Investors were wary of the new socialist republic, and Singapore wanted to emphasize its connection to the past in order to reinforce relationships moving into the future. Thus, Raffles became a household name in Singapore and 1819 became a date to remember in history class.

Singapore decided to use the 2019 Bicentennial as an opportunity to revisit the Raffles statue in a new, contextualized way. A committee of government ministers, an advisory panel composed of civilians, and over 300 partner organizations contributed to planning the Bicentennial event. As a teaser for the upcoming celebration, artists painted the front side of the Raffles statue a dark gray so that when onlookers observed the statue head-on, it blended into the industrial steel building behind it. Raffles being indistinguishable from the surrounding landscape was meant to spark reflection and broaden people’s understanding of Singaporean history beyond the role of a single man. Once the Bicentennial truly got underway, officials added 4 additional statues beside Raffles, each honoring a key historical figure in Singapore. Together the 5 statues are meant to represent the multiculturalism behind Singapore’s founding and reflect the diversity of modern Singaporean society. Free exhibitions exploring Singapore’s history and the colonial period also called on the public to ask questions and consider a deeper understanding of Singapore’s origins. One exhibition helped visitors explore Singapore’s pre-1819 history, starting at 1299. The second exhibition offered a multidimensional analysis of Raffles, investigating the authenticity of his historical contributions while also acknowledging his imperialist role. Some wished the exhibition had done more to critically frame Raffles within Singapore’s history.

However, this use of public art and public space created access for Singaporeans to reflect on the 200 years of history since Raffles’ landing. Singaporean officials chose to contextualize Raffles by adding monuments to the public space that commemorated the achievements of other local communities. By visually transforming the Raffles statue to make a familiar monument unfamiliar, it became dynamic. Officials leveraged the public space to elicit curiosity about Raffles’ role in history and challenged passersby to take a second look. The Singapore case provides a unique opportunity to explore the absence of contestation and the active role that the state can play in narrative formation, contextualization, and public debate.

Drawing on more than 160 case studies from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, the Contested Histories project seeks to identify underlying causes for disputes dealing with monuments, memorials, statues, street names, building names and other physical markers of historical legacies. The aim is to distil "best practices" for decision-makers, policy advisors, civil society activists, scholars and other stakeholders faced with similar disputes in their communities or societies. The case studies will also inform the development of educational resources that address disputed historical legacies and highlight the complexity of historical memory. 

Call for images: photographs documenting disputes are central to our research and the team is often constrained by images that are copyrighted. If you have an image of a contested monument, street name, statue or other physical representation of historical legacies in public spaces, please share them with us! Appropriate credits will be given.

For more information and to share images, email info@ihjr.org.

The Contested Histories project made news in Chile

EuroClio Articles

During the last week, the Contested Histories project had intensive activity in Chile, the South American country where even before the Black Lives Matters movement, over a dozen statues and monuments were vandalized or removed in a matter of days. One of our team members participated in an online talk and was interviewed by CNN Chile, reflecting on  how monuments and statues have become the center of our attention, both locally and globally. 

By Contested Histories Team

 

In the midst of a turbulent Spring of 2019, when Chileans came out to the streets protesting against inequality and poor living conditions, statues became the epicenter of the riots. From Spanish conquerors to Chilean military commanders, several examples throughout the country revealed how statues mattered, especially in times of crisis. 

The monument to General Manuel Baquedano in the Plaza Italia (“Italian Square”), a traditional meeting point for protestors in the capital Santiago, went through the uprising covered in paint and ropes of different types: one day against police brutality, the next day in favour of LGBTQI+ rights; the week after in favour of indigenous peoples rights. 

The military general who served as a Commander-in-chief during the War of the Pacific (1879-1884), when Chile clashed with Peru and Bolivia over the rich lands full of saltpeter in the Atacama Desert, was utterly resignified by thousands of people. Protestors and civil society organizations, such as political collectives and football fans, coordinated schedules to use and paint the statue each day of the protests. The monument to General Baquedano acquired an entirely different meaning.

Meanwhile, in the south of Chile, in the city of Temuco, the statue of Caupolican, an indigenous hero, was vandalized by protestors, who achieved a brief but worthwhile moment of justice.

The statue to the Mapuche toqui
Caupolicán in Temuco, with a
Mapuche flag in one hand and the
head of Pedro de Valdivia in the other.
By EIE__oAX0AAvTJD /

Caupolicán was a war leader, toqui in mapudungun, the local indigenous language. As such, he led the resistance against the Spanish conquest, causing the retreat of Spanish troops in several battles, until he was captured and sentenced to death by impalement in 1558. During the outcry of 2019, protestors toppled a statue of Pedro de Valdivia, a highly praised Spanish conqueror, located in the same city. Once off the pedestal, protestors beheaded the statue and hung his head from Caupolican's hands. The powerful picture spread all over Chilean and international media. 

Cases like these were reported from North to South between October and November of 2019. Today, just six months after the social outburst, Chile is reaching the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic and thus protestors are confined in their homes. The monument to Manuel Baquedano in Santiago has been cleansed by authorities, while most local governments are looking for the fastest and least expensive way to reinstall removed statues. The issue appears to have been overruled by more pressing concerns.

Nevertheless, the outbreak of the Black Lives Matter movement in late May 2020, and its spontaneous focal point on statues and monuments devoted to slave-traders and colonialists, attracted Chileans attention to this phenomenon. In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, some media outlets have devoted time to talk about the removal of statues all over the world, finding  linkages between BLM and their own social movement last year.

In an online talk organized by Monumentos Incómodos (“Uncomfortable Monuments”), Catalina Gaete, Research Associate at the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, and part of the team of Contested Histories initiative discussed several issues around the removal of statues and monuments around the world, calling attention to different types of remedies and decision-making processes. 

“The main point I wanted to raise in this conversation was that, according to our research, after reviewing hundreds of case studies, the participation of local communities and all the actors involved, particularly the victims and their relatives, is a must in this debate. But their representation should be in the right proportion, thus avoiding the overrepresentation of the ruling elites and promoting marginalized voices to join the debate”, she concluded. The talk can be viewed here (in Spanish).

Subsequently, in an article published on July 1 by CNN Chile, Catalina joined historians, local authorities and civil society activists to comment on this pressing situation. 

In this article, Catalina  highlighted the complex issue at hand. "Many of these characters (the figures honoured with statues and monuments) gave prestige to their countries and they call for feelings of pride. Yet at the same time, their public representations are evidence of a forgotten history", she said. Therefore, the focus of the current protests in monuments and statues is calling for a wider reflection upon these issues, because “falling into an attitude of denial, pretending like these underlying problems do not exist, will bring consequences in the future. That is the lesson we can draw from Black Lives Matter”, Catalina concluded. 

The article can be reviewed in this file (in Spanish).

Featured image credit: "MG_7046" by notroborts (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Parallel Histories: An interview with Michael Davies and Theo Cohen on how to handle teaching controversial history in the classroom

Across Europe, history teachers are grappling with the subject of how to handle controversial history in the classroom, and of course, it is the theme of this year’s conference in November 2020. At EuroClio we like to keep an eye on educational innovations, and we are delighted to e-meet with Michael Davies (UK) and Theo Cohen (France) to talk about Parallel Histories, a UK educational charity which aims to change the way we study the history of conflict.

Alice: What’s the purpose of Parallel Histories?

Michael: I set up Parallel Histories as an educational charity in 2017 in order to change the way we study history, and in particular, the history of conflict.

I was frustrated that controversial historical subjects were gradually disappearing from the UK school curriculum when I knew from personal experience that these were exactly the historical subjects which students loved to study. For example, many British schools in 2014-2018 gave close attention to the history of the First World War, but no attention at all to the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the consequences of which have shaped the Middle East and underpin the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine and still cause controversy in Britain today.

Research showed us that the main reason teachers avoided controversial subjects such as Israel and Palestine was that they felt ill-equipped to teach it without exposing themselves to the potential accusations of bias, and in some cases they worried that bringing the study of conflict into the classroom would stir up trouble within the school or in the wider community.

So, with those obstacles in mind, we set out to create a teaching methodology which would:

  1. change the teacher’s role from teaching history to students, to teaching students how to think like historians,
  2. protect the teacher from accusations of bias,
  3. emphasise the critical evaluation of source evidence, and
  4. encourage debate and discussion in the classroom.

The core idea in the methodology is that we retell the standard history of a conflict as two parallel but competing histories. We then place them side by side for students to compare, contrast, analyse, debate, and ultimately form their own historical judgment. We believe that the very best place for controversial subjects to be discussed is in the classroom and that this gives teachers an opportunity to show students how to critically evaluate competing evidence and how to debate with each other robustly, but respectfully. We believe that all of these skills are increasingly important for young citizens in pluralistic democracies.

We understand that history teachers have always shown their students a range of alternative viewpoints and interpretations about particular historical events or people, and we want to build on that tradition by making the learning process more immersive so that students will understand the complete and cohesive historical narratives of both sides.

Alice: Where did the idea come from?

Michael: As a teacher, I was struck by the powerful impact on my students which came from visiting areas of conflict like Belfast, or Israel and the West Bank and talking to opposing sides about their history. It really brought alive the importance of history and its uses – both good and bad.

I guess I have always been interested in identity and conflict - I spent formative years as a child in Northern Ireland as the Troubles began. I have a very clear memory of my father taking me aged nine to see the aftermath of the previous night’s rioting on Bombay Street in Belfast. The sight of a Catholic family carrying their furniture out of their terraced house with its smashed windows and loading their possessions onto a lorry to make the move to a safer area made a profound impression on me.

Alice: What has been the impact so far?

Michael: Parallel Histories is used in over fifty schools in the UK, up from twenty last year, and we think it will be over eighty by the end of this year – we have begun to feel that we are now pushing on an open door. We organised some online training – it filled up in two hours and we have had to run seven further sessions to cope with demand. I believe that this interest must be the same in the rest of Europe given that the central theme of this year’s EuroClio conference is ‘Controversy and Disagreement in the Classroom’. We have also used it in an Israeli and Palestinian university and as teacher training for an international school in Israel, but at this point it’s not possible to use it in Israeli and Palestinian schools.

Alice: How have you responded to Covid19?

Michael: We have been running inter-school debates on zoom involving schools mainly in the UK, but also France, Ireland and Turkey. Teachers have found this a good strategy for keeping their older students involved, especially the ones for whom exams have been cancelled and there is no planned return to school.

We have also had the chance to work on some new controversial topics like the Parallel Histories of the Union between Scotland and England told from Unionist and Nationalist perspectives, and we have started to work with HTANI (History Teachers Association of Northern Ireland), another member of EuroClio, to create a Parallel Histories of Northern Ireland told from Catholic and Protestant perspectives.

Alice: What are we trying to do now?

Michael: We would like to work with EuroClio and find partners in other countries who would like to develop this model and methodology in their own language and designed for their own school systems. Our work with Theo Cohen in Lyon is a very good model for this. We all share the same philosophy and belief in the key elements of the methodology, and Theo has been able to take our English language resources and reformulate them as part of a teaching programme designed to meet the very specific requirements of the French educational authorities and the French school system.

 

 

Theo Cohen French case study

Alice: Why did you choose to get involved with Parallel Histories?

Theo: I thought, here’s a programme which is very relevant to solving a challenge we face in French schools right now – we have to teach about Israel and Palestine (unlike in the UK where it can be avoided because it is too difficult), and I don’t think in general we do it as well as we could – at least I am sure I don’t!

As a high school teacher, I am regularly challenged by my students' views, passion and sensitivities whilst teaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, this conflict is extensively covered by mass media in France while being regularly on the top of most discussed topics on social media. This is partly due to France’s demographic specificity with the largest Muslim community in Europe and the 2nd largest Jewish community in the world outside Israel. Often students come into the classroom with a strong sense of identification with one side or the other and can view any challenge to their received understanding coming from a position of hostility.

Nor are the textbooks any help. It’s the same problem in France as Britain - traditional history textbooks by aiming at a so-called "balanced view" leave out the historically-rooted perceptions underlying the protagonists' actions on each side, and so leave students with an inadequate explanation for the intensity and intractability of the conflict.

So a couple of years ago I was feeling, here is a really important historical topic with profound impact on French society today and yet we are in a position where many teachers feel poorly prepared to teach it, the official textbooks are no help, and we run the danger of making our students feel we are hostile to the historical narrative of their own community and that we are not listening.

So, I started to research and I came across Michael and Parallel Histories – we talked about all of this one evening and immediately hit it off – I found the Parallel Histories approach to teaching very refreshing personally, and absolutely appropriate for teaching a highly controversial subject like Israel and Palestine.  Unlike a top-down pedagogical approach which revolves around an impossible objectified vision, learners are presented with competing historical narratives, leading them to engage with the available historical materials in order to formulate their own opinion. This helps them to develop their ability to critically analyse the arguments, assess the evidence made up of the documents provided to them and synthesize different stories. Parallel Histories is not about teaching students what to think, but how to think. We give them the tools to deconstruct their own and other historical narratives to better understand how the historical interpretations which underpin conflict are constructed

Alice: Do you provide ready-to-use in materials in French?

Theo: Yes. I felt it was important to make ready-to-use materials dedicated to French-speaking students and teachers. They all have been designed to be in line with the new French curriculum of History and Geography and the new subject “Histoire-Géographie, Géopolitique, Sciences Politiques”.

As of now, three chapters in French are available on a dedicated page: https://www.parallelhistories.org.uk/le-conflit-israelo-palestinien

  • an introduction delivering a complete overview of both narratives. This helps learners get an overall understanding of the chronological arc and begin to see points of comparison and contrast between the two narratives.
  • Lesson 1 deals with the pivotal year of 1948 and asks the question of who can be held responsible for the Palestinian exodus. Of course, Israeli and Palestinian narratives disagree on this.
  • Lesson 2 is designed around another simple but controversial question: who can be held responsible for the failure of the peace process since 1993, Israelis or Palestinians?

The use of our videos is really flexible but we know from our practical experience that these videos can be used in a 4 to 6 hour timeframe of work. There are more details and ideas for lessons on the French page of our website, and we are available to answer any questions or provide further materials, if needed.

Alice: What is your teaching experience so far with Parallel Histories in France?

Theo: I’m very happy so far. Of course, the first place any teacher tries out new material is his own school and my students have been very supportive. They enjoy this approach and push me to get on with creating more programmes. We have also been taking part in an online debating programme with schools in the UK, Ireland and even Turkey, and I have been very proud of the way my students have risen to the challenge of not only debating these difficult topics but doing it in English, too. We were fortunate to get some Erasmus + funding for a project with British and Irish schools, and we are planning (Covid permitting) for an international conference next year.

We put our materials online earlier this year on a dedicated French resources page and this has generated many new enquiries. Teachers from Brittany, the Lille urban area and French schools abroad (Lycée Français de Rome, de Bruxelles, d’Irlande…) expressed strong interest in using Parallel Histories in class. We also have some official recognition – we are proud to be part of the official teacher’s trainings catalogue in the Académie of Lyon, which is the country’s 2nd largest urban area. Our materials are also used by numerous schools in Brussels, as Parallel Histories tools and approach are now fully integrated into Belgian NGO’s training programmes dedicated to school learners and teachers.

Alice: What are we trying to do now?

Theo: The core idea of Parallel Histories is the same in every country – to change the way controversial topics are taught and learned in classrooms. To achieve this in France we set up three goals:

  • Delivering virtual or in-person training to French-speaking teachers and educators interested in using Parallel Histories;
  • Welcoming teachers and educators willing to adapt our materials to their local educational requirements and context as we know that what may be true or expected in France, or in the UK, is surely different elsewhere;
  • Broadening our studies spectrum to other controversial topics. Here, too, collaboration is key – if you have an idea for other historical conflicts which are still causing controversy today, we’d be happy to hear from you. This could take the form of new ERASMUS + projects in the near future.

 

Parallel Histories focusses on creating groundbreaking learning resources to aid students in examining controversial historical topics. Their inaugural syllabus covers the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Micheal Davis is the founder and editor of Parallel Histories. Theo Cohen operates as the French editor at Parallel Histories. 

The Contested Histories Project: A response to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities’ open letter on symbols in public spaces

A statue of King Leopold II of Belgium was set alight and covered in red paint. Antwerp, 4 June 2020.

Whether in the context of the West reckoning with its colonial past or former Soviet states reconciling antagonistic historical narratives to recover or reaffirm their own distinct identities, over the past three decades, contested histories have increasingly served as a flashpoint for conflict. 

Last Friday, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities issued a letter on symbols in public spaces to Ambassadors of 57 OSCE Participating States that underscores the importance of respecting the ways individuals relate themselves to history when attempting to resolve contestations around historical legacies. The institution of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities is an instrument of conflict prevention at the earliest possible stage. Its mandate involves containing and de-escalating tensions involving national minorities by providing early warning and early action where a situation has the potential to turn into a conflict.

The Grandstand, Budapest. A replica of the tribune serves as the pedestal for the 8-meter-tall bronze statue of Soviet party secretary, head of state, and general Stalin. A crowd revolting against the communist regime sawed the statue at its knees and pulled it down. The General’s boots remain as a reminder.

In this letter, the High Commissioner highlighted his own experience engaging with groups throughout the OSCE region where opposing perceptions of history and their tangible, public representations have led to instability. It is understood that differing interpretations of historical legacies can exacerbate internal tensions and that the exploitation of memory can have geopolitical implications, spurring the involvement of kin-states in domestic issues of sovereign states. To contribute to greater societal cohesiveness and transnational security, the HCNM supports the establishment of consultative processes with clear mandates that include representatives from aggrieved groups.

The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation’s Contested Histories project understands that, in almost all cases, calls for the removal of statues, renaming of streets, and reframing of school or university curricula, are symptomatic of deeper divisions within societies. Confronted with public protests and social media campaigns, decision-makers often respond in haste, out of panic, and without the benefit of established principles, processes, or best practices. This results in inadequate, ineffective, or arbitrary remedies with unintended long-term consequences, including but not limited to ‘whitewashing’, i.e., purposeful public forgetting of traumatic events and contentious figures, through erasure (destruction or removal). This failure to engage society in critical discourse about historical traumas can fuel further conflict. 

In recent articles published by EuroClio, Le Monde, and Novoye Vremya, the Contested Histories team presented possible solutions for such contestations over monuments, among them remedies that facilitate important educational discussions and contribute to raising awareness of historical wrongdoings. Placarding, additive elements, and counter monuments are just a few examples of remedies that can serve to contextualize historical legacies and foster debate and discussion. Removal and destruction are underscored as tools of last resort reserved for extreme cases. The CH team stands firmly behind the idea that erasure of scars on a community’s landscape alone cannot conceal or heal the influence of ones on the public’s psyche.

Read the full text of the High Commissioner’s Open letter on symbols in public spaces here.

 

 

A statue of Edward Colston thrown into Bristol Harbor, UK. 7 June 2020.

About the Contested Histories project

The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation is a research center at EuroClio that works in cooperation with a range of public, private, and independent institutions.

The Contested Histories project seeks to identify, document, and examine cases of contestation around the world with the goal of identifying a set of principles, processes, and best practices that inform decision making. To this end, the IHJR has identified and conducted research on more than a hundred cases in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. At present, an interactive web platform that will host a digital map and related database is under construction and will soon be accessible to a wide range of stakeholders. Although each case is unique and underlying causes are context-specific, the CH team is confident that the aggregated materials will (a) provide insights that facilitate better-informed decision making in response to future contestations and (b) serve as a resource for educators interested in examining multi-perspective approaches to history education.

Follow the work of the Contested Histories project here

Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, an iconic case to launch Contested Histories Series

Grace Sahota Articles , , ,

We are pleased to present the case on The Legacy of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford as the first in a series of in-depth studies for the Contested Histories Initiative. We hope that this series will provide insights and lessons learned for engaging with and addressing instances of disputed historical legacies in public spaces.

Rhodes at Oxford is an iconic case in our catalogue of more than 160 cases globally. It relates to the #RhodesMustFall movement, which began at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and saw a prominent statue of Cecil Rhodes defaced and removed from the campus in 2015. The movement has since spread to the University of Oxford, UK, where Rhodes’ legacy remains an unresolved point of contention. Rhodes, who received an honorary Doctorate in Civil Law from the University in 1899, was a principal figure in the diamond mining industry in South Africa, frequently divided public opinion–both in his own time and today–for his racist views and imperialist morals.

(Photo credit: John Merrington, 9/6/2020 Oxford protests)

His legacy is most visible at his erstwhile college, Oriel, where a statue to his honour decorates the building on High Street. Additionally, the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and Rhodes House, where the scholarship is administered, also bear his name. Rhodes also acted as a benefactor to the University of Oxford, leaving £100,000 to the College in his will.

Movements that call for the removal of objects such as statues, often referred to as fallist movements, use the object as a symbol to raise awareness of historical injustices and campaign more broadly for social justice. The RMFOxford movement is “determined to decolonise the space, the curriculum, and the institutional memory at, and to fight intersectional oppression within, Oxford”, stating that “statues and symbols matter; they are a means through which communities express their values. The normalised glorification of a man who for so many is a symbol of their historical oppression is a tacit admission that – as it stands – Oxford does not consider their history to be important.” The movement garnered national media attention and led to heated discussions over historical revisionism and the erasure of history, the complexity of historical figures and embedded racism and colonial legacies in UK society.

Most recently, the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the US and across Europe has stimulated momentum for many disputed statues and monuments that pay homage to historical figures associated with colonialism, imperialism and slavery, and which symbolise systemic racism. Rhodes at Oxford is no exception. After the statue of Bristolian slave trader Edward Colston was toppled by protestors, dragged through the streets and dumped in the harbour on Sunday June 7th, a sign was taped to the doors of Oriel College, warning: “Rhodes, you’re next”.

(Photo credit: John Merrington)

Protests were held at Oriel on Tuesday June 9th (pictured above), calling (again) for the removal of Rhodes. Despite claiming to be “deeply committed to equality”, Oriel’s Governing Body remains evasive, stating that they “continue to debate and discuss the issues raised” by the continued presence of Rhodes’ imposing legacy. Meanwhile the chancellor of the University accused student protestors who receive the Rhodes Scholarship of a “bit of hypocrisy”.

Additionally, similar discussions over various colonial and slavery related legacies at higher education institutions and in wider public spaces in the UK have been held in recent years. For example, the legacy of eugenicist Francis Galton at University College London, and inquiries into historical links to slavery at the Universities of Glasgow and Cambridge have garnered media attention. The movement is also present in the United States with legacies of benefactors and historical figures connected with Yale, Harvard and Stanford coming under consideration. Similar fallist movements have also been launched, for example GandhiMustFall at the University of Ghana, LeopoldMustFall in Belgium, and FaidherbeMustFall in France, as well as movements calling for street names to be changed, for example those referencing slave traders in Le Havre, France, Glasgow, Scotland, and Liverpool, England. 

Drawing on more than 160 case studies from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, the Contested Histories project seeks to identify underlying causes for disputes dealing with monuments, memorials, statues, street names, building names and other physical markers of historical legacies. The aim is to distil "best practices" for decision-makers, policy advisors, civil society activists, scholars and other stakeholders faced with similar disputes in their communities or societies. The case studies will also inform the development of educational resources that address disputed historical legacies and highlight the complexity of historical memory. 

Call for images: photographs documenting disputes are central to our research and the team is often constrained by images that are copyrighted. If you have an image of a contested monument, street name, statue or other physical representation of historical legacies in public spaces, please share them with us! Appropriate credits will be given.

For more information and to share images, email info@ihjr.org.

Photo credit cover image: Christopher Hilton, Statue of Cecil Rhodes, High Street frontage of Oriel College, Oxford, CC BY-SA 2.0

Who will deal with the real issues once the statues are out of sight?

EuroClio Articles ,

This week, activists in Europe and the United States attacked statues of historical figures because they are seen as colonialists, imperialists, slave-traders, and racists. Will these symbolic acts result in the structural and systematic changes that are needed? 

Steven Stegers, Marie-Louise Ryback-Jansen, 10 June 2020, The Hague/Berlin

A monumental movement is sweeping the world. Sparked by the death of George Floyd and propelled by widespread public outrage at systemic racism and police brutality, statues that blended into the scenery for the average person have been vandalized, toppled, stomped on, and – in the case of Bristol's Colston statue – dragged through the streets and dumped into the harbor. These acts appear to have brought years of debate about these statues to an abrupt conclusion – they must fall. But is this the most effective measure to achieve the aims protesters are seeking?

Soon after the removal of Colston, a protester left a sign on the doors of Oxford’s Oriel College that read "Rhodes, You're Next". Thousands of protesters are demanding its fall as we write this piece. In Virginia, we witnessed the statue of Columbus set alight and thrown into a lake. The transnational nature and broad applicability of the movement’s message are clear. Related protests have touched numerous countries with a history of racism, imperialism, and colonialism – Cecil Rhodes in South Africa, James Cook in Australia, Leopold II in Belgium, Columbus in Argentina, and Confederate monuments in the United States, to name just a few. 

Many of these figures glorified in stone were heralded for their heroic actions, philanthropy, or other accomplishments without acknowledgment of the human rights violations committed in achieving these deeds. Erected to honour the conquests and wealth that brought their countries and themselves fame, the injustices these “heroes” committed remained for most of their tenure camouflaged, but not for everyone. For many, these statues symbolize the deep systemic and structural inequalities rooted in historical legacies of slavery, racism, colonialism, and imperialism. 

Of all the measures that can be taken to protest controversial statues, removal and destruction are the most extreme. There are in situ remedies that facilitate important educational discussions and contribute to awareness raising of historical wrongdoings. Placarding, additive elements, or counter monuments can serve to contextualize historical legacies, fostering debate and discussion. The statue of Josephine Bonaparte in Martinique, erected in 1859 to honour the French empress in her native land, has been decapitated several times over the last decades for her alleged actions to convince Napoleon to re-instate slavery. She now remains headless and splattered with red paint as a symbol of  France’s culpability in the slave-trade. In 1956, during a revolution in Hungary, 100,000+ protesters destroyed a famous statue of Joseph Stalin, leaving only his giant boots. A monument to these empty boots now stands in the Memento Statue Park in Budapest as a reminder of Soviet occupation. In Paraguay, a statue of Alfredo Stroessner, whose vicious reign of terror lasted from 1954 to 1989, has been crushed into a huge block, face and hands visible, in the place where the original once stood as a reminder of the crimes he committed. Additional remedies include moving statues to museums and including protest signs, images, and videos for display in an exhibition. 

Such measures, however, may not feel sufficient for those outraged by extrajudicial killing, police brutality, and systemic racism against Black people. What is the destruction of stone when compared to destruction of life? The removal of a statue may appear to be the only act that does justice to the severity of the situation. 

There are also those not part of the movement who have chosen to remove statues preemptively. Violating Alabama state law intended to protect memorials, the cities of Mobile and Birmingham have taken down Confederate monuments. The University of Alabama has removed plaques honoring students who served in the Confederate Army and released a statement saying they “will be placed at a more appropriate historical setting”. In Virginia, the removal of a slave auction block and the infamous Robert E. Lee in Richmond is underway. 

Other policy-makers have chosen not to make ad-hoc decisions and opted for research and consultations on how to deal with contentious monuments. We applaud Mayor Sadiq Khan in London and the authorities in England, Scotland, and Wales who decided to form commissions to appraise monuments in their cities or regions. A consultative process with a clear mandate that includes representatives from aggrieved groups can contribute to greater social cohesiveness.

In the long-term, the question remains: what does the removal or erasure of a statue or monument accomplish? It does not alleviate the underlying grievances dividing a society. Without structural changes in justice, policing, social, and educational systems, removal will be a Pyrrhic victory, a purely symbolic act. When the statue is gone, how will we remind the public of past injustices and the connected, pervasive issues that remain? In contrast to the statues that were partially removed, there is nothing to remind people who visit the University of Cape Town of the issues raised by the #RhodesMustFall movement. Whenever a statue is removed, the question should be asked, what should be put in its place? 

There are more than 80 cases in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas of contested histories related to the legacy of colonialism, imperialism, slavery, and racism and an equal number that deal with the legacies of fascism, communism, genocide, human rights violations, sectarian violence, and authoritarian regimes.

Those who suffered from egregious wrongs and their descendants are calling for restorative justice. When their voices remain unheard, they will protest and direct their pain towards the symbolic representations of their trauma – the figures we have placed on pedestals. The fact that these protesters were joined by allies outside their communities this week, gives hope that more sustainable change can be achieved.

Educators, civil society activists, and community leaders each have a responsibility to raise awareness and facilitate open discussion and public debate about contested historical legacies. We, as educators, know that history is not confined to classrooms. Current events provide us with a valuable opportunity to show our students that history and the way we choose to remember it is not about memorizing dates and names, rather it is an evolving process that impacts our lives in ways that truly matter. Failing to teach the past in a multiperspective and inclusive manner will contribute to the silencing of invaluable voices, foment unrest, and leave marginalized members of the public feeling their only recourse is to remove tangible manifestations of whitewashed history. We cannot continue on in this way. 

 

About the authors

Marie-Louise Ryback Jansen, Director, Contested Histories Project, Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation 

Steven Stegers, Executive Director of EuroClio, the European Association of History Educators

 

Acknowledgements

This piece was written with contributions of the staff (Andreas Holtberget, Alice Modena, and Catherine Savitsky) and the team working on the Contested Histories project (Lorraine Besnier, Catalina Gaete, Grace Sahota and Katria Tomko).

Photo credit: Tony Webster (CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Copyright free images that may be useful:


The headless statue of Josephine Bonaparte in Fort-de-France, Martinique. (Terrazo, CC BY 2.0)


Stalin’s boots in Memento Park, Budapest Hungary (Ben, CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

 

 

Monuments Matter: A comment on Bristol

Marie-Louise Jansen Articles ,

Yesterday, protestors in the English port city of Bristol toppled a statue of an 18th Century slave- trader, dragged the life-size bronze through the streets, and heaved it over a stone embankment into the Bristol harbour. Hundreds of Bristol residents looked on and cheered. (See appended link). The statue’s unauthorized removal and disposal appeared to resolve a decades-long debate over Edward Colston, a slave trader and local benefactor, whose name and image are honored throughout the city, including by a statue on central square. "Well that put an end to the debate (unless someone tries to put it back up),” someone observed on Twitter Sunday afternoon. “Slave trader Edward Colston statue taken down in #Bristol #BlackLivesMattters".

The Colston statue “removal” is the most dramatic turn in a series of incidents that have found statues at the center of mass protests over the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by police in Minnesota. Last Saturday, protesters placed a noose around the neck of a statue of a Confederate general and toppled it from its plinth in a park in Richmond, Virginia. A few days earlier, a statue of Philadelphia’s former mayor and police chief, Frank Rizzo, an avowed racist, was removed by the city when the statue became the focus of mass protests, as reported on this blog.

As one of Bristol’s leading slave traders and most generous benefactors, Edward Colston is omnipresent in this southwestern port city. Statues, schools, parks, streets and even pastries bear his name. The main cathedral has a large stained-glass window commemorating Colston, and each year November 13 is celebrated as “Colston Day.” At Colston's Girls' School, the pupils wear “Colston's flower” (chrysanthemum), and during the school ceremony read passages of his will while hearing a sermon on the good Samaritan. They were never told about the 85,000 people enslaved on Royal African Company ships while he was involved with the company.

Bristol’s confrontation with the Edward Colston legacy dates to 1921 when a biography written by Rev Wilkes questioned Bristol’s “cult of Colston”, detailing Colston’s involvement in slavery. It took another 70 years for the controversy to come to broader public attention. In 1998 an activist scrawled the words 'Slave Trader' on the statue's base, and the protest movement became more vocal. In 2015, a new civil society campaign, Countering Colston, was formed, carrying out historical research, cataloguing the various Colston memorializations in the city and publicizing findings in the local press. Countering Colston also lobbied to have the name erased from Colston Hall, the city’s primary music venue, and Colston Primary School.

In 2007 when Nelson Mandela was invited to Bristol to commemorate the bicentennial of the act abolishing the slave trade in Bristol, local activists wrote to the South African president cautioning him that “Bristol is not quite the liberal, multi-racial place it pretends to be”. Mandela declined the invitation. That same year, the BBC reported that the popular Bristol rock band, Massive Attack refused to perform at Colston Hall, where stars like The Beatles, David Bowie, Bob Dylan and others have performed.

Marti Burgess, a Countering Colston activist, and a former trustee of Colston Hall, was instrumental in persuading the board to change the name of the Hall. In April 2017, the trustees voted to rename the venue as part of the refurbishment for its 150th anniversary in 2020. Two petitions circulated opposing the renaming, each gathering circa 5000 names. Dr Joanna Burch-Brown from the University of Bristol, an active member of Countering Colston, analyzed the social media responses, as well as the hundreds of letters submitted to the local press. “Letter-writers argued that removing Colston’s name from Colston Hall amounted to erasing history,” Burch-Brown wrote, summarizing a wide range of arguments, “sanitizing the past, destroying heritage, doing injustice to a great Bristolian, pandering to a politically correct minority, removing decisions about Bristolian heritage from Bristolian hands, ignoring the fact that white people too have been exploited and enslaved, indulging a ‘snowflake’ victim mentality, ignoring more important contemporary issues like ‘modern day slavery’ and FGM, and unfairly blaming British people for slavery when it was Africans who enslaved fellow Africans in the first place.” Burch-Brown cites letter-writers who called the renaming Colston Hall ‘a fascist, Stalinesque and Orwellian rewriting of history.’” 1

The movement was also successful in bringing name change to Colston’s Primary School, which, over a three-month period, held an awareness-raising campaign with the school community, after which they voted to rename the school. Unlike the response to the renaming of Colston Hall, the press reported little negative reaction, due perhaps to the consultative process undertaken by the school administrators. In spring 2018, the new lord mayor of Bristol, Cleo Lake, an activist with Countering Colston, ordered Colston’s portrait removed from her office. “I won’t be comfortable sharing it with the portrait of Colston,” Lake told the press. “As part of my role in campaigning with the Countering Colston team, I also think it’s fitting that I don’t share this office with the portrait.”

Deliberations were also underway for the disposition of the Colston statue until last Sunday when Bristol residents took matters into the their own hands. The city must now decide whether to leave Colston at the bottom of the river, fish the statue out and find it a new home, or “put it back up,” as the Sunday tweet observed, and let the debate go on.

1 Joanna Burch-Brown, “Is it Wrong to Topple Statues& Rename Schools? Journal of Political Theory and Philosophy, 2017 Vol 1: 72-73.

Photo credit: Gwydion M. Williams (CC BY 2.0)

Marie-Louise Jansen
Director
Project on Contested Histories in Public Spaces

 

Interested in further exploring the topic of contested monuments? EuroClio has published a source collection that offers various examples from across Europe of controversial monuments and of monuments that represent/commemorate controversial history.