A Reverse on Buller: how a Council rescinded its decision for relocation of a statue

Oliver Anthony Articles

There is a strange irony in Exeter City Council’s recent reversal of their decision to relocate a statue of nineteenth-century military leader, General Sir Redvers Buller; the man who had already earned himself the nickname ‘Reverse Buller’ for his garish military tactics and organisational failings. On January 12th, 2021, it was initially determined that the statue would be relocated, following a council-led Equality Impact Review which assessed its “continued appropriateness” in the city, particularly given the monument’s prominent position in front of Exeter College. Yet, on February 9th, less than a month after Exeter’s Executive Councillors voted in favour of re-locating the statue, councillors unanimously voted to withdraw from any further proposals that sought to remove the Buller statue. Why then, has the statue of Redvers Buller been the focus of controversy in the city? And what are the reasons for Exeter City Council’s recent abandonment of attempts to relocate the statue, otherwise dubbed a ‘Reverse on Buller’? It is these questions that I look to answer herein.

The equestrian statue of General Sir Redvers Buller, situated on the junction of Hele Road and New North Road in Exeter, was erected and paid for by local residents in the military leader’s honour on 6 September 1905[1]. Sometimes interpreted as a deliberate political act, the fifteen-feet statue stands on a large plinth and is engraved with ‘He Saved Natal’ alongside a list of countries that Buller served in. The fact the statue elicited such strong support amongst Devonians is indicative of a regional pride in Buller’s actions, who was widely perceived as “one of the county’s greatest heroes”[2], particularly while on another front he was facing criticism and disrepute from political and military bodies alike[3].

In recent years, the statue of Redvers Buller has become divisive on three levels. First, as it valorises a form of aggressive colonialist-imperialist expansionism from which Buller is so inseparably intertwined, particularly given his role in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and the Second Boer War in 1899. It was during this War in South Africa that Buller led British soldiers against Dutch-speaking Boers in Transvaal and Orange State over control of gold mines, and where he also had acquaintance with the likes of Cecil Rhodes[4]. Second, his possible connection to, or support of, concentration camps in South Africa which were erected following victory in the war, and which subsequently led to the deaths of thousands of local Boers and Black Africans. And third, because of the disunion created today between those in support of the statue and those against, recently highlighted during the Black Lives Matter movement whereby the statue of Buller featured on crowd-sourced website ToppletheRacists.org, while on the flipside, Exeter City Council’s review of the statue was shunned by some as “ridiculous” and a form of “historical wokery”[5].

Figure 1: Extracts from The Express and Echo, a
newspaper for Exeter and surrounding area
(includes issues of February 4th and 11th, 2021)

Following heavy media-coverage of Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020, and after a banner was draped on the statue saying “Wanted for war crimes”[6], the true repercussions of protests directed at the statue of Buller were ultimately in their re-invigoration of council-led discussions.

To begin with, the Council’s Scrutiny Task and Finish Group was asked to investigate the appropriateness of the statue. The Group met on four occasions and took written and oral submissions from a range of stakeholders[7]. The result of this was made clear on January 12th, 2021, when Exeter’s Executive Council was presented with a ‘Review of the General Buller Statue’, carried out by Director Jon-Paul Hedge. The Review cited the statue as “the most conspicuous by way of location and controversy”[8] and concluded with the suggestion that there exist four strands of “significant strength of feeling” within Exeter’s communities. In no particular order, these favoured each of the following: removal of the statue all together, relocation as a form of cultural reference, redefinition it by way of narrative (such as adding a sign), and leaving it, instead focusing on education and inequality around the city.

Exeter’s Executive Councillors voted in favour of the Task Group’s findings, which ultimately opted for re-location as the best course of action, primarily due to the Army General’s connection to the British Empire[9]. Given that this vote was exclusive to Exeter’s Executive councillors, certain steps remained in place before a date and location could be set for its relocation, including seeking formal Listed Building consent to move the Grade II monument, a public consultation, and a final vote made by the city’s full council.

Figure 2: Snapshots from a petition on change.org that sought
to ‘Save Exeter’s Statue of Sir Redvers Buller’ (from
change.org, February 19th, 2021)

This initial decision received heavy criticism, with a petition on change.org seeking to appeal the decision receiving over 9,000 votes in just under a month, in part citing the £25,000 cost associated with its removal, but otherwise standing against the “erasure” of history (see Figure 3[10]). Elsewhere, more conservative views took to slamming the decision as a form of “historical wokery”, with the Daily Mail choosing to single out the verdict that, “[the statue] impacts anybody who does not define themselves in binary gender terms”[11].

After facing backlash against the decision to relocate the statue of Redvers Buller, the final nail in the coffin for the Council’s decision followed a statement by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who proclaimed that applications for the removal of statues were unlikely to be successful[12]. This proposition was made in reference to the UK Government’s recently revealed plans for a new law on cultural and historic heritage which seeks to ‘retain and explain’ as opposed to remove or relocate[13]. The repercussions of this are likely to have nationwide consequences but for the most part, its effect has been strongly felt in Exeter, where following a meeting on February 9th, Councillor Phil Bialyk of Exeter City Council released a statement which said: “In light of the comments by the Secretary of State, we will not be submitting a planning application to relocate the Buller state”[14].

And so, in a swift U-turn, the decision to relocate the statue of Redvers Buller has been completely rescinded. The Council in Exeter has reaffirmed its position on fulfilling the rest of the recommendations outlined in the Task Group’s findings. These include the creation of a working group to develop an anti-racism strategy for the council, as well an arts-based engagement programme project with residents in the city. The Council has also not dismissed erecting temporary information boards near the statue of Redvers Buller, nor the possibility of removing ‘He Saved Natal’ from the plinth on which Buller’s sits[15]. What these boards will say, and to what extent such actions address the statue’s divisive legacy is unclear, but one thing is certain, Redvers Buller has once again been at the receiving end of yet another heavily contested and politically replete reversal. Where Exeter’s decision-makers now turn in order to fulfil their obligations for equality and impact in the city will make for an interesting case to follow.

Main image ‘Statue of Redvers Buller’ taken by Ollie Anthony, January 29th, 2021.

[1] Donaldson, Peter. Remembering the South African War: Britain and the Memory of the Anglo-Boer War, from 1899 to the present (Liverpool: University Press, 2013), p.115.

[2] Hedge, Jon-Paul, ‘Review of the General Buller Statue’, Report to Executive, July 7th, 2020, https://committees.exeter.gov.uk/documents/s74633/Report%20-%20General%20Buller%20Statue.pdf (PDF 19)

[3] Malvern, Jack. ‘General Sir Redvers Buller sees off his foes in Exeter statue battle’, The Times, February 03, 2021.

[4] Thomas, Roy. Two Generals: Buller and Botha in the Boer War. (Bloomington: Authorhouse), pp.33

[5] Mail Online. ‘Council is slammed for ‘ridiculous and historical wokery’ over plans to remove a statue of a British war hero – with official report claiming it ‘impacts anybody who does not define themselves in binary gender terms’, Daily Mail, January 11, 2021 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9135913/Council-slammed-historical-wokery-plans-remove-statue-British-war-hero.html (PDF15)

[6] Malvern, Jack. ‘General Sir Redvers Buller sees off his foes in Exeter statue battle’, The Times, February 03, 2021.

[7] Exeter City Council. ‘Councillors to discuss the future of Exeter’s Buller statue’, Exeter City Council, January 05, 2021.

[8] Hedge, Jon-Paul, ‘Review of the General Buller Statue’, Report to Executive, July 7th 2020, https://committees.exeter.gov.uk/documents/s74633/Report%20-%20General%20Buller%20Statue.pdf (PDF 19)

[9] Crediton Courier, ‘Exeter councillors approve next step towards removal of statue of Crediton-born Buller’, Crediton Courier, January 13th, 2021, https://www.creditoncourier.co.uk/article.cfm?id=145042&headline=Exeter%20councillors%20approve%20next%20step%20towards%20removal%20of%20statue%20of%20Crediton-born%20Buller&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2021&action=validate/ (PDF 18)

[10] Change.org. ‘Save Exeter’s Statue of Sir Redvers Buller’, Change.org, February 1st, 2021, https://www.change.org/p/exeter-city-council-save-exeter-s-statue-of-sir-redvers-buller

[11] Mail Online. ‘Council is slammed for ‘ridiculous and historical wokery’ over plans to remove a statue of a British war hero – with official report claiming it ‘impacts anybody who does not define themselves in binary gender terms’, Daily Mail, January 11, 2021 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9135913/Council-slammed-historical-wokery-plans-remove-statue-British-war-hero.html (PDF15)

[12] Clark, Daniel. ‘Statue to stay but signs will be put near it and wording may change’, The Express and Echo¸ February 11th, 2021.

[13] Clark, Daniel. ‘Statue will stay as council would be unlikely to get permission to move it’, The Express and Echo, February 4th, 2021.

[14] Clark, Daniel. ‘Statue to stay but signs will be put near it and wording may change’, The Express and Echo¸ February 11th, 2021.

[15] Ibid.

What is the goal of History Education? A conversation with Marianne de Soeten, the Best History Teacher of the Year

Rebecca Jackson Articles

“What I actually want to do is use history to show students: where do we come from, who am I, what is my place in the world?” Check out our new interview with Marianne de Soeten, winner of the 2020 History Teacher of the Year award in the Netherlands.

Marianne de Soeten, history teacher at Van Lodenstein College in Barneveld, the Netherlands, won the title of Best History Teacher of the Year 2020 in the Netherlands in autumn of last year. The annual prize is organized by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, in association with the NTR (Dutch public broadcaster) and Nationaal Archief (National Archives).

EuroClio sat down (virtually of course) with Marianne to find out more about her path to history teaching, her experiences as a teacher through a turbulent 2020, and what she believes is the goal of history education for her students.

Marianne had an unconventional route to history teaching. In the Netherlands, secondary teachers are normally educated with a four-year degree, either from a college or a university. Marianne however started off as a primary school teacher.

“After secondary school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I thought maybe teaching. So I went to teacher training college for primary school. At the same time, I started a four-year-course of English that resulted into a teaching degree of English for secondary school.” Along with these studies, Marianne also minored in History and Music. She began as a primary school teacher, and taught English at secondary school as well. Eventually she moved to also teaching history at secondary school level, for the lower grades (ages 12-14) which at the time was allowed in the Netherlands because of her teaching degree and the fact there was a shortage of teachers in secondary schools.

Marianne has had an interest in history from a young age. “History was one of my favourite subjects at secondary school. I’ve always been interested in visiting museums, old castles, places of interest. I think it was also because of the way my parents raised me, it was just part of my growing up. I come from a family where history is quite important, and also storytelling. I just grew up with telling stories. My grandfather and especially also my uncle were quite good at it. I think it gives you a certain way of thinking and imagination.”

It is quite common to have strong second language programs in Dutch schools. “It’s a kind of tradition that every Dutch person speaks some foreign languages.” Marianne explains. “And of course, English has replaced German and French. I also think there is a kind of need in our country. We’re just a very small country. There’s a lot of trade going on, we’re all in commerce, so to survive we have to. Apart from that, there’s also the aspect of internationalisation with effects on education too.”

Marianne’s school offers classes in English, in the CLIL (Content Language Integrated Learning) system. This was done, she says, to both raise the level of English performance within the student body and stand out from other schools for prospective students. “So that means, for instance, that I teach history in English.”

It is Marianne’s proficiency in English that allowed her to keep teaching history, despite not having a history-specific secondary school teaching degree. “The school inspector said that when she is proficient in English that is also necessary for teaching history in English. The inspector therefore granted a temporary dispensation from the normal rule so I could continue teaching history.”

Despite starting out in English, Marianne has since switched her allegiance. “It was just some years ago that I realized that actually my love is for history and that I would regret it if the temporary dispensation would be lifted. I also like English very much, but history appeals more to me, because it has more to do with people and our society and civilisation. The fact that you are busy with the world around us, that you can explain events that are happening now, that they have a relation to the past, it’s very meaningful. It’s more identity forming than English, although that is also a very important subject” she is quick to add.

“But I always said I actually would like to be qualified,” she continues. “I mean, I had the idea that I could teach history but you want to have your degree, not only for yourself but also for your students and for your school.” The busy schedule of a full-time job and additional tasks at school kept Marianne from pursuing the four-year degree necessary to be a ‘fully-certified’ history teacher. Until she found a special part-time course for teachers to top-up their qualifications. “And then I thought well maybe that’s very interesting. I contacted them and I found out I was the first student for history who contacted them about the part-time course”. Two years later, Marianne is almost finished. “Thanks to two lockdowns I’m slightly behind in my program. My original date was December for finishing off everything. Now it’s June. It will be a hard job to finish but I’m just struggling on.”

Going back to school after years of teaching, did she learn anything during her course? “In didactics, it sounds a bit weird, but I didn’t need any training. But this [the course] is very subject specific. And I found out there were really things I didn’t know about. For instance, historical thinking. I was aware of doing that because I did do so [in her lessons]. But I learned a lot more about it, like why do they have to learn that? And I have a better view about it now.” She goes on to describe how it informs her lessons. “Students have to find out that our time is different from the past. It’s only then that they can see that things change but there are also things that continue, so change and continuity. And when you add facts to that, actually you can make so many new connections. So that is something that I’m really interested in, and I actually gave it quite a big place in my lessons.”

The search for the Best History Teacher in the Netherlands starts with nominations. In this case, it was a class of Marianne’s own students, along with the help of a colleague, that put her up for it. “I was totally surprised, it was very special. At first I said, ‘No, no, I don’t want it, I’m not good enough, I don’t want this at all!’, but well you know it happened so I tried to enjoy it.”

Was this title something Marianne had already been aspiring to? “No one ever asked me before, but I’ll tell you honestly, I didn’t even know about the award. I didn’t know it existed. But I really felt very, very honored.” Since winning the title, how has she found it? “Being a kind of ambassador for history and history teachers all over the Netherlands, I find it a great honour and also quite a responsible task to do so. Funny thing is only that some people think that I know everything. A few weeks ago I was phoned by a TV news station and they wanted to hear my ideas about the Dutch elections. But being a history teacher doesn’t mean that you know everything about politics. So I just had to say sorry, I can’t help you with that.”

We asked more about Marianne’s teaching style and lesson planning. She noted three key aspects. Firstly “There are always ways that I try to connect to our present day and age.” For instance, that day Marianne had been looking at the rise of Mussolini with her class and relating the political unrest in interwar Italy to the current unrest in the Netherlands against the institution of a curfew as a COVID-19 measure. “So that’s one important thing. The other thing is I always try to invite a person from history in my classroom. And I sometimes literally do so, I have a big poster of the person on my screen and I say, ‘Good afternoon Mr…’ and then I name the name.” Marianne invites the students to ask questions to their classroom visitor, “and we try to dig into the history and find answers to these questions”.

“On the other hand, I’m also a typical teacher,” she continues. “I really want my students to understand their textbook and the things that I think are important. I find it very important to be clear and to make sure that even weak students get the idea of what is taught. So, there are three factors that are quite important.”

She adds one more to these three. “And of course, the last bit: I would like to make students interested and to see history as a kind of time travelling. I mean, what’s more exciting than time travelling?”

2020 brought in online learning across many countries. The Netherlands did so in spring, and though returned to in-person teaching for some months, since January is currently back to online learning for all secondary school students. “The first time in March, I was really at a total loss.” Marianne describes. “I didn’t know what to do. Talking to a screen, I found it so difficult. I want to see my students, see them in the eyes. I just want to connect with them all the time.”

There are some discoveries though. To provide all resources possible with her students, she now creates her lessons in PowerPoint and shares with the class. “On the other hand, I also see that there are students, especially the ones who have difficulty concentrating, they say that this works for them. Especially because of the PowerPoints I put online. They say, ‘if I’m not sure or I miss something, I can just watch it back or listen to it again’.”

In addition to lockdown learning, this year also saw the murder of history teacher Samuel Paty in France. His death was related to teaching around the controversial cartoon of Muhammad in the Charlie Hebdo attacks. How did Marianne react to this news with her class? “We didn’t really talk about the teacher, although it was a great tragedy, but we talked about using cartoons. What is a cartoon? And it was quite nice, because students are so open, they really understood that a cartoon is subjective. It shows what someone thinks about the topic, gives expression to that way he thinks. And a cartoon is also used to evoke a reaction of other people.”

This led into a special workshop designed by Marianne. “I said ‘Okay we are going to look at some cartoons, I’ll just take some from history, but I’ll also take some that had to do with the cartoon and the killing in France’. I said, ‘Are you okay with that?’. I asked them first, I’ve never done that before, but I did that then. And my students were actually quite eager. They made a kind of checklist: what is the cartoon, why can it be controversial to one group, why could it be okay to another group? And I was very happy with that because I was a bit worried too.”

Marianne reflected on her feelings about it then and how it relates to her status as a teacher. “I’m still struggling with it, thinking about it, but I do think that you should keep in contact with your students. Because if you are silent about it, you agree with everything and as long as somehow it’s discussable, you can talk about it. There is a way to get out. That’s all I can say about it. Although of course we all realize that as a teacher you have quite an impact on teenagers in all sort of ways. So it shows you all the more the importance but also the vulnerability of you as a teacher.”

This workshop approach fits in with Marianne’s philosophy of history in general. She was quoted in another interview: “For me, history is a way of breaking down boundaries between people.” We asked Marianne to expand on that point. “What I actually want to do is use history to show students: where do we come from, who am I, what is my place in the world? But then also to open their interest to other people. These people have a history too, and their way of thinking and their culture also has a story and a past. For instance, most interesting is when you can find that somehow actually our histories are related. And then you can open up their interest and their minds.” This she feels can break down boundaries.

“When we are only interested in each other we don’t look for ‘We’ and ‘They’, we try to see what we have in common, and when we see that we have things similar, it can be such a wonderful starting point for a new future in which we are slightly more tolerant towards each other. Building a better world is not something I can do alone, or you can do alone, we have to do it together.” Marianne de Soeten

To sum up, we asked Marianne what she sees as the goal of history education for her students. “I want them to understand why things in this world are the way they are. It’s very easy to have your arguments ready, but there’s always a story behind. And the way we live now, even your family traditions, are based on history. It’s easy to say other people are wrong, you are right, but there is a story behind it, and I think that we should be much more aware of the stories behind.”

She adds as well, especially in the age of social media, she wants her students to think critically. “We study history but actually history doesn’t exist. Because what is history? History is a reconstruction of things that we think happened on the basis of a number of sources that we think are reliable. We made a reconstruction and we said ‘Yes, this makes sense, probably this is it’. But when we find other sources that we didn’t know before, we sometimes have to adapt and that’s no problem as long as you are sure it’s based on reliable sources.” Through this historical thinking, Marianne hopes to show “actually there is no objectivity, because the way you think is also a part of history, or a culture”.

In closing, she adds, “I also want them just to look at this world. What is this world I live in? Why does this happen? As Theodore Roosevelt said: ‘The more you know about the past the better prepared you are for the future’.”

Written by Rebecca Jackson

Colston in Bristol: School Renaming

Samuel Wall Articles

After a storm comes the calm. When applied to “storms” of popular protest fuelled by contestations over controversial legacies of the past in public spaces – specifically those raised by the Black Lives  Matter Movement concerning colonialism, slavery, and racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing on  25th May 2020 – this proceeding “calm” usually entails a period of reckoning. In the case of Edward  Colston, the most famous son of the dominant port city of South-Western England, this reckoning has  taken the form of revaluation; with the view to act on renaming relevant Bristolian buildings, following  on from the spontaneous toppling of the harbourside life-size bronze dedicated to the eighteenth century slave-trader. As an avid philanthropist, Colston was rewarded, both in his lifetime and  posthumously, with the honour of having his name immortalised in sites ranging from schools, parks, and streets, to even pastries and flowers. Now, Colston’s Girls School has become the latest high-profile  building to trigger reappraisal measures, taking the independent decision to distance itself from the  archaic figure.  

Over the last hundred years, since Rev Wilks’ critical biography was first published, Colston has been  increasingly scrutinised by residents, who themselves have experienced first-hand incidents of racial  unrest. In recent times, not only has Bristol been compelled to grapple with the issues of  contemporary racism exposed by certain flashpoints – namely the 1963 ‘Bus Boycott’ mirroring that  of Montgomery nearly a decade earlier and the infamous 1980s ‘St Pauls Riots’ incited by incessantly discriminatory policing practises – but its citizens have also actively sought to confront the career realities of their city’s chief benefactor.  

Britain’s hub for distilled alcohol and sugar refining production, the coastal Bristol unsurprisingly  played an integral part in the ‘triangular’ network of slavery, with over two thousand voyages,  accounting for transportation of approximately half a million slaves, charted from the Avonmouth by  local merchants throughout the 1700s. Assuming his father’s occupation, Colston established himself  as Deputy Governor of the monopolistic Royal African Company, which was personally culpable for  the murder of nearly a quarter of the estimated 84,000 slaves forcibly shipped from the continent’s  Western seaboard. 

From the 1990s, when the explicit phrase “F-ck off” was graffitied onto the Colston statue’s podium,  a vandalism justified by the sole contemporary black councillor, Ray Sefia, in comparing the  memorial’s appropriateness to an equivalent commemorating Adolf Hitler, a palpable antiracist  sentiment has exploded onto the scene. Since channelled into a concerted lobbying effort for concrete  policy change, both the renowned music venue of Colston Hall and Colston Primary School have  enacted a process of erasure via respective rebranding. Courtesy of the work conducted by  ‘Countering Colston’, despite the acquisition of more than 10,000 petition signatures in opposition to  the move, the former’s board of trustees voted to alter Colston Hall’s name as part of its 150th anniversary refurbishment. True to their word, in September 2020 the steeped arena opened under  the moniker Bristol Beacon. Following suit, in the instance of the latter, Colston Primary School  undertook a three-month consultative procedure that’s awareness drive resulted in the institute’s  rechristening as Cotham Gardens Primary.  

Catalysed by the preceding Summer’s popular protests, the likewise eponymously named Girl School,  that’s 1891 inception had been funded by a Colston financial endowment, announced on 6th November 2020 it would henceforth be known as Montpelier High School. Of the thirteen strong list  for other potential options, the new name, referring to the diverse bohemian vicinity that the school  is situated in, was approved by an overwhelming 62% of students and staff. On one hand, Principal  Kerry McCullagh proclaimed that it would “allow the school to forge a new identity that represents its  diverse and inclusive community”. On the other, Hemlata Pant, the head student delegate on the  deliberation, revealed her “excitement” at the prospect that this “moment” symbolised “the  beginning of something much bigger” than merely “helping to shape the future of the school”. Following removal of their own internal statue of Colston in June, the academy’s ultimately decisive  action represented a reversal of the governing Venture Trust Board’s initial stance, which, as of  November 2017, had resolutely resisted calls for the “no benefit” name change. On this note, the tale  of Colston Girl’s School is testament to the impact of the disposition of the original slave-trading statue.  

That said, whilst the reckoning of renaming has ostensibly played out with regards to all major public  buildings bearing Colston’s title, the ramifications of the storm’s collateral damage still linger. After  council authorities had overseen the statue’s retrieval for restoration in the M Shed museum, Avon  and Somerset Police launched an investigation into the incident. Consequently, on 9th December 2020  it was disclosed that four people – Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Jake Skuse and Sage Willoughby – were to be charged with criminal damage, set to appear in Magistrate’s Court on 25th January 2021.  Pleading innocence, after posting bail amidst protests conducted virtually and in real-life, which led to  four more arrests for breaches of coronavirus legislation, the ‘Colson Four’ exercised their right to trial  by judge and jury; being scheduled a plea hearing on 2nd March in Crown Court, where it is expected  that the full criminal case will not be heard until 2022. 

Hence, the reactionary pushback against citizens taking matters into their own hands has called into  question the ethical legality of direct action in contesting histories of public spaces. The people of  Bristol may have taken down Colston in a figurative sense, but the sheer weight of the city’s historical ties to the slaver’s legacy continue to prove inextricably difficult to legally disentangle.  

Image “Colston’s Girls School” by Chris Bertram via Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sources as a Window to the Past: Revisit Helen Snelson’s Webinar on Using Sources as Evidence in the Digital Classroom

On December 9th, EuroClio ambassador Helen Snelson kicked off the four-part webinar series on mastering the art of developing eLearning Activities on Historiana. By using source material on post-war Europe, Helen was able to create a meaningful and engaging eActivity for her students. In this article you find the tips and tricks on using source materials as evidence that Helen shared, and get ideas on how to use Historiana in your educational practice.

Historiana is an online portal developed by EuroClio, Webtic and UseMedia with Europeana for and with history and citizenship educators from Europe and beyond. On Historiana you can find ready to use learning activities, multiperspective historical content and digital tools that are all free to use, adapt and share.

What can sources teach your students?

The webinar started off with an insight in how using individual sources can instill a ‘sense of period’ with students. This helps them to feel more secure about their understanding of the past and make sense of historical people and events in a broader context. Helen demonstrated this in her eLearning Activity with a 1949 German election poster, generating a sense of the hunger and hardships, but also the future-oriented mindset of the time. Exercises using single sources to this effect can easily be made in Historiana’s eActivity builder using the question, analysing, or highlighting tool. Helen recommended assigning this eActivity as homework to prepare students for your classes, especially when in-class time is limited.



(Click on the image to watch) 7:12- 11:48: In this segment, Helen Snelson demonstrates how to build a ‘sense of period’ of post-war Europe using a 1949 German election poster.

Afterwards, the webinar concentrated further on using different sets of sources. Helen stressed how different sets of sources, such as maps, pictures, or objects, give us different types of evidence. By really engaging students in these different types of sources, they will discover for themselves what type of information these sets can give them on the historical topic at hand. The comparing and discovering tools in the eLearning Activity are especially suited for this end.

“Fascinating as we all are as history teachers – sometimes, students turn off when we talk at them […]. But actually, because they have really engaged with the source material, they are burning with questions which you can then help them to find some answer to, and their curiosity is aroused.” Helen Snelson

(Click on the image to watch) 13:40- 22:41: In this segment, Helen Snelson builds on the previous activity by contrasting the poster with a testimony of a French schoolgirl and demonstrates how to do this as an eActivity in Historiana.

What distinguishes evidence from sources?

When discussing sources in general, Helen pointed out that teachers also need to be very careful about their language, as ‘sources’ and ‘evidence’ are not interchangeable. A source is something a historian can use as evidence to say something specific about the past, but with widely varying degrees of certainty. It is important for teachers to confer the uncertainty inherent to the historical profession, for example by asking students what they can ‘infer’ from a source. When we start using multiple sources, we can show students that one type of source can be corroborated and connected or compared with other sources to create more valid evidence.

To demonstrate the limitations of sources when studying the past, Helen shared the metaphor of sources as ‘a window to the past’. We are all inside, in the present, looking at the outside world, the past, through the window that is available to us: remaining sources. And when looking out of this window, everyone notices different things. We might choose to focus on the other buildings, the trees, or a bird flying by. Helen: “If we looked through that window, we would all notice different things, because we are all built slightly differently and we observe differently.” As educators, we should remind ourselves and our students that sources are not a representative reflection of the past, they are but fragmentary remains. And when students get a handle on this metaphor, they start to avoid  these oversimplifications that a single source would tell them a truth about the past and that’s that.

(Click on the image to watch) 36:25-37:54: How professional historians use source material to establish evidence and how to integrate this way of thinking in the classroom.

How to use sources effectively?

Helen also gave some helpful pointers to make the most effective use of sources in the classroom. By showing a well-selected source or set of sources, for example, you can demonstrate how new source material can overturn the popular view on historical events. She illustrated this by using a source that shows how the first shots in the First World War were fired outside of Europe, to overturn the entrenched image of trench warfare. Whenever possible, Helen advised to show the real source and not just a textual copy. This will train your students to pick up clues from context that otherwise might be lost. She further demonstrated how to use a Layers of Inference Diagram to teach students about deconstructing a source.

(Click on the image to watch) 47:02 - 50:41: How to use a Layers of Inference Diagram to deconstruct sources.

Conclusion: How to translate all of this into an eLearning Activity?

At the closing of the webinar, Helen explained how she combined all of her insights into an eLearning Activity on Historiana called ‘How does a historian use sources as evidence’ that she uses in her classroom. She then concluded with her expectations on the future of sources in history education: “I think what’s really exciting about history and history teaching at the moment is the wide array of sources that has been particularly driven by the young academic historians.” With the support of Historiana, you could train the next generation of young academic historians to engage with sources through your history teaching!

(Click on the image to watch) 55:08-59:30: What the final eLearning Activity using sources on Historiana looks like.


Learn More

Want to learn more about using sources as evidence in the (digital) classroom? Watch the full webinar here: https://youtu.be/s3ThUq1hTDs.

Access the ready to use eLearning Activity here: https://historiana.eu/ea/view/8011aab4-ad66-4ad3-97a3-d9c6812ae24b/text/bb_0

Upcoming events

This article is part of a webinar series, in which teacher educators who are experienced in using Historiana show examples of the eLearning Activities that they created, while also diving into a specific topic and discussing a critical thinking skill to teach students.

These events are scheduled next:

  • On February 17th, Bridget Martin (History Teacher, International School of Paris) will be focusing on the Contributions to WWI and talking about perspective. (register here)
  • On April 21st, Jim Diskant (History Teacher retd.) will be looking at Visual Representation of women (Thinking skill TBA). (register here)
  • On June 16th, Gijs van Gaans (Teacher Trainer, Fontys Tilburg) will be examining Schisms within Christianity and discuss change and continuity. (register here)

This article is written as part of the Europeana DSI4 project co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union. The sole responsibility of this publication lies with the author. The European Union is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

Written by Mechteld Visser.

Historical controversy in disputed regions. The case of South Tyrol

Cecilia Biaggi Articles ,

The beautiful mountains of South Tyrol, an autonomous northern Italian province bordering Austria, are inhabited by three different ethno-linguistic communities: the most numerous German-speaking, the Italians and the Ladins, a tiny minority speaking a Rhaeto-Romance language. Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, South Tyrol was transferred to the Kingdom of Italy at the end of World War 1 and since then, like in many other multinational regions in Europe, the relation between the two main communities has been tense, at times even violent. Consequently, one would expect the teaching of history and especially local history, often intertwined with family history, to be challenging and controversial. However, as Giorgio Mezzalira explains, the situation has greatly improved in the last decades, and South Tyrol can now be considered an example for other regions divided by rising nationalisms and ethnic tensions.

Until his retirement last July, Giorgio Mezzalira taught Italian language, literature and history in a German-language secondary school in Bozen / Bolzano, the capital city of South Tyrol. Traditionally, pupils who spoke German as a first language attended German-language schools and vice versa, with the result that young people had few opportunities to meet their peers from the other community. The history curricula reflected the segregation of the education system: German-language schools taught the history of the German people and local history, while Italian-language schools focused on Italian history. The stress on the local dimension in the German history curriculum, which persists today, was due to the community’s attachment to their Heimat (a term that has no exact equivalent in English, and in this case would be a sort of rural provincial homeland). But history was important for everybody in South Tyrol and thus it was often exploited and manipulated for political aims. For example, those in the German community who wished to have South Tyrol reunited with Austria promoted a historical narrative according to which the cultural persecution of the non-Italians, started with Fascism, continued for decades after the end of the regime, thus implying that Germans could expect no fair treatment from the Italian authorities.

In the last decades, things began to change gradually but steadily thanks to the concerted effort of state and local authorities who worked to leave behind old divisions and create an inclusive society. Today, the school system in the province still envisages monolingual instruction delivered in German- and Italian-language schools, while in Ladin schools all the three languages are taught, but both German and Italian pupils are expected to acquire some competence in the respective second language. The public debate on the history of South Tyrol is finally depoliticised and left in the hands of professional historians from both communities who work together to create new narratives of the past free from partisan interpretations. Public investment in projects of dialogue and co-operation between the two communities has increased significantly, especially in the field of education. For example, a recently implemented scheme offers secondary school students the opportunity to attend one year in a school of the other community. The scheme has been very successful so far because, as Mezzalira says, “young people today are not only more curious about the other community, but also less keen to remain within the boundaries of their own”. According to him, segregation in education is slowly decreasing: in the last years, although most of his students spoke German as a first language, some of them were from multilingual families, and even from Italian families.

The political and socio-cultural evolution of South Tyrol have posed, and is still posing, various challenges to educators. For example, students spending one year in the other community’ schools must be adequately guided and supported to ensure their cultural and linguistic inclusion. In terms of curriculum, it is probably history the subject that has undergone the most radical transformation. All three kinds of school have seen a shift in history instruction from the national to the international dimension, with European and World history featuring prominently in textbooks. Local history too has gained more space in the curriculum, creating opportunities to increase students’ involvement and participation by including family memories into prescribed narratives. In fact, although students’ interest in the subject is not very high generally, they are keen to listen to the stories of their parents and grandparents at home, thus coming in contact with personal narratives of controversial events and periods before they learn about them in school. “Then when they are in the classroom, they either defend the version of the past they learnt at home, or they want to verify it”, says Mezzalira. Thus, it is up to teachers not only to present multiple narratives, but also to contextualise them and explain what purpose they may serve. In other words, teachers should encourage a critical approach to history in order to equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills to ask questions and to find answers independently. Although this can be challenging, history educators in South Tyrol are lucky enough to enjoy the support of local authorities and of the three offices (German, Italian and Ladin) in charge of the administration of education.

Since the province of South Tyrol is one of the richest in Italy, local administrators have taken advantage of their devolved powers to fund education generously. In particular, history education is seen as fundamental to the creation of future citizens thanks to its potential to foster dialogue. In order to equip history teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge to encourage debate and critical thinking in the classroom, the Faculty of Education of the local Free University of Bozen-Bolzano pays particular attention to multiperspectivity and to local history. The latter is generally given more space in German and Ladin schools where history instruction focuses on the relationship between centre and periphery, allowing educators to develop their teaching on the idea that the local dimension is functional to the understanding of national history. In support of this approach to teaching, Mezzalira and a few colleagues, in conjunction with the three offices supervising education in South Tyrol, compiled a multiperspective history textbook: Paesaggi e prospettive: lineamenti di storia locale: L'età contemporanea in Alto Adige/Übergänge und Perspektiven - Grundzüge der Landesgeschichte: Südtirol seit 1919. The textbook narrates the main events of the last 100 years of history of South Tyrol from the points of view of the two communities. Although not many didactic activities have been developed so far to help teachers use the textbook, it remains a major achievement and it has been chosen by several schools.

In conclusion, South Tyrol can be considered an example of good practice in dealing with an ethnically and linguistically divided society. As social scientists highlight in their studies of the devolution of power to South Tyrol, local authorities have made the most of their autonomy from the central government by investing substantial resources not only in the economic but also in the social development of the province. This has gradually limited political interference into the public debate about history and given more space to historians from different backgrounds to collaborate and create the above mentioned textbook. However, as Mezzalira warns, this tool is not an antidote to social divisions: “There are not shortcuts. South Tyrol became ready for such a textbook thanks to the many years in which the two communities slowly started to come together. Then the authorities stepped in to identify and use those experiences of dialogue that were already growing. Feeding such projects created the basis on which new opportunities of encounter and collaboration between the communities could be built, eventually spreading the change”.

A reflection on teaching and learning at the EU level by Joke van der Leeuw-Roord

Joke Van der Leeuw-Roord Articles ,

Common Values and Inclusion with EU Member States

History, heritage and citizenship were regularly breaking news in this year’s summer months. We saw media images of removing historical sensitive statues, demonstrations related to the Black Lives Matter Movement and big outcries due to the murder of history and geography teacher Samuel Paty in France. In the Netherlands, an educator teaching about the freedom of expression had to go into hiding because he was threatened over a cartoon that had been on display in the classroom for five years already. The deep emotions present during these events illustrated the fact that history is not only the past, it permeates the present and even the future. These emotions made us again aware of how pride and pain are strong elements when addressing the past. They also gave evidence that we need inspiring answers on the question of how to address sensitive, inclusive and multiperspective history in classrooms. Finally, these emotional events also demonstrated the need for intercultural dialogue when we experience colliding value systems and extremism. 

On 12 February 2015 the members of the European Council requested action after the wave of violence in France and Denmark. With a Declaration on Promoting Citizenship and the Common Values of Freedom, Tolerance and Non-discrimination through Education the Members of the Council stressed their special duty to ensure that the humanist and civic values we share are safeguarded and passed on to future generations. They stated that they remained united in our efforts to promote freedom of thought and expression, social inclusion and respect for others, as well as to prevent and tackle discrimination in all its forms.  In order to achieve these goals, they called for renewed efforts to reinforce the teaching and acceptance of these common fundamental values and laying the foundations for more inclusive societies through education

The Commissioner for Education created a Working Group within the European Training 2020 framework as a follow up of this declaration. The Working Group Promoting Common Values and Inclusive Education was asked to assess how social, civic and intercultural competences, critical thinking and media literacy, and social inclusion, non-discrimination and active citizenship are or can be applied in topics such as uses and abuses of (modern) media, inclusion of young refugees and migrants through education and also history education. The Lifelong Learning Platform in Brussels asked me to join the group on their behalf.

One of the outcomes of the working group are three thematic orientation documents produced by the members of the ET 2020 Working Group on the above mentioned topics. A fourth text about LGBTI inclusion in education can be expected by the end of the year.

I was made responsible for the theme Building Bridges through Inclusive and Cross-border History Education. It contains an overall sketch on current issues related to the subject required for a sound and innovative approach to history (and citizenship and heritage) education. It further contains recommendations from the Working Group Members and a series of inspiring practices, predominately by Intergovernmental Organisations and Civil Society Associations and organisations. The publication contains a collection of appropriate references and links. More inspirational practice related to this topic will be available through an online Compendium, which will be available by the end of the year. Needless to say is that a good variety of EuroClio projects are included.

The outcomes of the Working Group demonstrate the relevance of the issues discussed, particularly in the light of the emotional events mentioned, so evidently related to history, heritage and citizenship education. In my introductory text (p.6) of the so called fiche, I argue that historical narratives are always hotly debated in societies, and find their reflection in history education. These recent experiences were therefore not unique, they just topically exemplified this reality. The reflections and observations of the participants of the Working Group demonstrate that the members during the working sessions realized which challenges could play in the background of such emotions and hot debates.

In the reflections of the Members we read that it is indeed vital explaining why it is important to be inclusive in history education, as minority communities and migrants are often not included in a country’s history.  They recognize that one could fear for radicalization or extremism if such perspectives are not included. Minority and migrant communities could feel left out if history only focuses on the dominant national community. And finally that it was vital to create a dialogue among and with students

Among the Working Group recommendations for history curricula, we can read that it is essential to ensure a multi-perspective and inclusive approach to history education, including various ethnic, linguistic and religious communities in new history curricula, in order to avoid any undue bias or discrimination, that it is important while teaching national history to recognize its impact on other countries and therefore to widen the perspective beyond the national viewpoint and that history teaching must allow time for discussion, and such debates should allow both positive and negative considerations.    

The recommendations with focus on teachers, state that teachers should be aware of the diversity in their classrooms and recognise that young people from diverse origins bring different memories, values and cultures and that there is a need for high-quality initial teacher education and continuous professional development, supporting teachers’ capacities to address controversial and sensitive issues in the classroom. 

The educational authorities are required in the recommendations that existing teaching aids, providing guidance on addressing controversial issues in the classroom, should be made widely available and that they should find pathways to involve families to make them aware of the different perspectives to key historical events and support a process of developing history culture in the family.

The members of the Working Group also warned of conflicts between different subjects such as history, social studies and civics teachers, all claiming to be the prime actor in value-based education as in fact all such subjects integrate human rights and democracy in their curricula

On 18 November the Working Group had its final-online-session, where I could present the concluding results of its work on history education. It was clear that the challenges, which were identified by the members, were indeed the issues at stake in our societies. I also concluded, however, that identifying these issues would not be enough and that prolonged attention and concerted action is required. 

I therefore added two personal recommendations. I asked the Commission for keeping the topic of value-based inclusive and cross-border history, citizenship and heritage education also as a prominent feature within the next circle of Working Groups. This is, unfortunately, not at all clear. In the Communication on Achieving the European Education Area by 2025, we can find good wordings about fundamental freedoms, tolerance and non-discrimination through education, inclusive education, and active and responsible citizenship. However, in the two out of six focus areas relevant for the history, heritage and citizenship community (inclusion and gender and teachers and trainers), there is a strong emphasis on capacity building addressing deficiencies in skills. The need for bringing a European perspective in education mirrors some of the reflections in the Working Group when it specifies that this topic shall provide learners with an insight in what Europe at large and the Union in particular means in their daily life. This European perspective should be addressed in a dynamic and plural way, encouraging the development of critical thinking (p. 7). But unfortunately these wordings hardly reflect the real challenges in the learning and teaching of history as they were identified by the Working Group.

My second recommendation was for the Members of the meeting of 18 November, representing different national Ministries of Education. I asked them to keep implementing value-based inclusive and cross-border history, citizenship and heritage education in their schools through curricula, teaching resources and adequate professional development of aspiring and practicing teachers. In fact, the inspiring practices on history, heritage and citizenship education, presented during events of the Working Group sessions rarely came from the national ministries of education. Most representatives of these Ministries were nevertheless positively interested, leading to a good working atmosphere. The extent to which the common ideas will be implemented remains an open question, however. Unfortunately, there is no clear tool developed to measure the impact of the Working Groups common work on the policies related to common values and inclusion in individual countries. We can only hope that working together for more than four years increased the awareness of the national educational authorities across Europe.

This final Working Group meeting ended my active involvement in education policies of the European Union. This is a complex system as the Member States keep their individual responsibilities towards education, with common policies only possible via open methods for coordination, such as the kind of policy learning done through Working Groups. I became involved in the early 1990s, when the European Dimension was a key element in policy making. It was easy to make contact with European bureaucrats and discuss possible ideas. Slowly the European Dimension disappeared and project funding became dominant. I was happy to have good EuroClio Secretariat Staff Members, able to obtain projects and later, when it became possible, to obtain operating grants. In my last active EuroClio years I became more and more involved in EU Working Groups and became a member of the Steering Group, later Secretary General, of the Lifelong Learning Platform in Brussels. This last position allowed me to become a real insider in the benefits and downsides of EU policy making. 

I now look back at almost thirty years of European education programmes, always deeply influenced by events or currents in society. I have often participated with some level of frustration, due to its slowness and lack of understanding of what were the real issues at stake. Despite everything, they were nonetheless rewarding years giving many opportunities to the history, heritage and citizenship community. I will miss it, but it is time for me to go.


Joke van der Leeuw-Roord in 2015 at the Europeana Network Association Annual General Meeting in Amsterdam.

Joke van der Leeuw-Roord founded EuroClio in 1992, and since then she has acquired recognition as an international expert on innovative and trans-national history, heritage and citizenship education. Currently, Joke van der Leeuw-Roord is special advisor for EuroClio. She has initiated and coordinated a multitude of national, trans-national capacity building projects for history and citizenship educators and historians in Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Bosnia-in-Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia Turkey and Ukraine.

Quality education for all: Interview with Triantafillia Tatsiopoulou on teaching children with special needs

According to UNICEF, about 50 percent of children with special needs do not participate in education, compared to only 13 percent of their peers without disabilities. At EuroClio, we believe that all children are entitled to quality education, irrespective of their needs or backgrounds. Anna Ivanova, EuroClio trainee and student at The Hague University of Applied Schiences, reached out to Triantafillia Tatsiopoulou, a teacher at the Special High School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Thessaloniki, Greece, to learn about her experience of working in a school for children with special needs. 

Anna: Tell us about yourself and the school you teach in.

Triantafillia: I teach Ancient and Modern Greek, History and Latin at the Special High School for the Deaf of Thessaloniki. Our school is one of the three schools in Greece for students with hearing impairments, and the only one in the north of the country. It is very small: we only have about 30 students, aged between 13 and 20 years old. All of the students have some form of hearing loss, some are profoundly deaf. One or two students have a low form of autism. Apart from that, our students are happy and clever, like all children in all other schools.

Anna: Is your school so small in size because you cannot admit more students or because there are no students that want to join?

Triantafillia: Unfortunately, not that many students want to join our school. There are approximately 200 children with hearing loss in Thessaloniki, ranging from average to profound. Yet, our school only has about 30 pupils.

There are multiple reasons for that. In Greece, when a child has some kind of disability, they are required to undergo a medical examination, where a doctor advises the parents on how to approach the child’s condition. Usually, they are advised to start with speech therapy as soon as possible, which is very basic for everyone with hearing loss. Some doctors recommend them to choose a general school instead of a special one, so the child can stay in a familiar environment. Most parents follow this advice and send their children to a general school, where they are surrounded by other children from the neighbourhood and are not excluded from living a ‘normal’ life. In some general schools, pupils get assistance from school integration departments or special needs support teachers, who help them understand the material better. However, this kind of support is not offered everywhere, so hearing impaired students without it tend to be left behind and struggle with learning. 

Another reason is the stigma surrounding special schools. Some parents find it challenging to accept that their child has a disability, hence they prefer their children to attend a general school. A disability like hearing loss is invisible, so it can be hidden. That is why some parents choose to hide it instead of having to deal with the shame and stigma of a special school. Moreover, many parents are prejudiced against sign language. They forbid their children to use it and meet other deaf pupils who do so, hence they tend to prevent their children from attending a school that supports sign language. 

Furthermore, our school is located in a small village near Thessaloniki, and it is the only one in the north of Greece. For some students, it may be inconvenient to commute far to school, so they choose a general one that is closer to their home. 

Lastly, sometimes, parents of hearing-impaired children simply don’t even know that our school exists. Since doctors generally advise them to attend a general school, there is no way for parents to find out about us, unless they do the research themselves. We try to inform the parents through Deaf Communities, but we find it difficult to reach the parents of such children because we cannot know who they are.

Anna: What is it like to work with these pupils, do you generally have a good relationship with them?

Triantafillia: If you were able to visit us, you would see that our school is not different from the rest. We follow the general curriculum, meaning that the material is the same. Our school has strict rules that all students must follow. This is due to the fact that some of the pupils, despite being very clever, have not developed the language well enough. Because of that, they struggle to express their thoughts or feelings, so in a way, the teacher has to guess what the student actually means. At the same time, some students are less proficient in sign language than others: they lack the full development of a first language, so developing a second language, the Greek language, poses some complications. This, in turn, makes it difficult for them to communicate with others. 

Generally, we have a great relationship with the students, and they enjoy coming to classes and participating in other activities. Our school is very ‘hugging’ - deaf people enjoy physical contact, like hugging and touching. As well as jokes that they have in sign language, it is part of their culture. Our pupils love coming to school. We also have a boarding school which operates with many problems. Normally, we barely have absences. Although it is very different, I really like working with our students. It is a different, more sensitive form of communication, and it brings me joy.

Anna: Are there particular teaching techniques employed at your school?

Triantafillia: Teaching in sign language is part of the school’s tradition, as it is part of the deaf culture. Deaf and hard of hearing pupils have very different backgrounds and are very diverse in their ways of communication and learning. For this reason, our school supports both Greek sign language and Greek oral and written language. We always try to do the best for every child, hence we never force students to use Greek sign language if they are not comfortable with it or don’t know it well enough. If a child wants to learn Greek sign  language, other students help to teach them in everyday life, through informal conversations. 

We always talk to our students when teaching. Some of them are hard of hearing, which means that they are still able to use the language and partly hear. Moreover, all students, including those that are profoundly deaf, automatically read the lips of the teachers. That is why with the current Covid-19 measures in place, teachers use a face shield instead of a mouth mask: students have to see the mouth and the lips. 

As for history teaching, I prefer to take the pupils to the library. Students learn much better when they are able to see the material, so we strive to make the education highly visual. We make great use of smart boards to show visual aid content and videos. When working in class, students are divided into groups, where they can interact and work together on worksheets. The challenge for the teacher is to keep the students’ attention and keep them engaged, either through asking questions or writing something on the board. It is important to motivate them to get them involved in learning about the past.

Anna: What teachers work in your school? What kind of teacher training is required?

Triantafillia: In Greece, all teachers start from a general class in a general school. I had been teaching for about 7 years before I was transferred to work in this school. I liked it a lot, so I decided to stay.

In order to work in a special school, educators are required to have a postgraduate degree in special education. Other than that, knowledge of sign language is obligatory in our school, and most of us know Braille. A lot of people want to work in special education, so all of our teachers have chosen to work here. 

Anna: Do you think that you get more work than teachers in general schools?

Triantafillia: Teachers in general education get more pressure from the Ministry of Education, as they have to stick to the curriculum and follow certain rules. Even though our school follows the general curriculum, we have flexibility due to their special needs. Therefore, our teachers have to be creative, come up with their own lesson plans or develop worksheets. We have to work hard to come up with ideas that will help students understand the material and expand their knowledge. So, I would not say that we have more work, but we definitely have a different kind of work.

Anna: What kind of extracurricular activities does take place in your school?

Triantafillia: Every year, we run multiple programs and projects in our school. One of our best projects is the Sign Choir, which made its first appearance in 2014, introducing a new kind of singing through signs. Collaborating with other choirs or music bands, the Sign Choir is interpreting the lyrics in signs, offering a new perspective and showing that music is a global way of communication. Students really like this project and always enjoy being involved in it.

The year 2013 was dedicated to the 150-year anniversary of Greek poet Konstantinos Kavafis. Two of our students composed poems in sign language, inspired by his poems “An old man” and “Candles”. The students transferred all these ideas in sign language, making the poems visible.

One of the most innovative school activities was the making of a short film, inspired by the silent movies. “The Mess” was the result of collaboration between our school and the local Lyceum of Panorama Thessaloniki, with the help of students of the School of film of the University of Thessaloniki. A reunion of a class gives the chance to one of the classmates to make amends in life, yet an unexpected incident takes place that leads to a big mess.

Lastly, the school has had the chance to work with Signdance Collective, a touring performance company with a culturally diverse team of experienced deaf and disabled artists at the helm. The company directors pioneered the “sign dance theatre”, a fusion of sign theatre, dance, and live original music. In 2009, the Signdance Collective designed a third performance, with the children dancing and singing at the same time, accompanied by live music. Called “Dancing with ….sign”, the theme was a neighborhood, groups of children getting together and the relationships between them. 

The school also has a dance team, The Dream Dancers. Our students have done multiple dance performances, like hip-hop or traditional Greek dances. Last year, they appeared in Reflection of Disability on Art, a festival about people with special needs and their abilities in art.

Students love being involved in these kinds of projects and initiatives. For us, it is important to show that they are in no way different from other children: they are able to do the same things as others. It is important for them to feel that they have the same advantages and even disadvantages as everyone else. We try to achieve that through these programs and activities. Even though there are many obstacles, we try our best.

Annual Conference: Marketplace on Contested Cultural Heritage

Alicia Rijlaarsdam Articles ,

“If you’re going to teach history, teach it all” (Paolo Ceccoli, EuroClio Ambassador)

During the final workshop of our Annual Conference, EuroClio ambassador Paolo Ceccoli shared this powerful quote. The goal of the Marketplace on Contested Cultural Heritage was twofold. On the one hand, participants learned about the research that EuroClio and the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) have been doing to study contested histories in public spaces. On the other hand, the marketplace was an opportunity for participants to reflect and share lessons learned during the Annual Conference.

Drawing on more than 230 case studies from Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas, the Contested Histories project seeks to identify underlying causes for disputes dealing with monuments, memorials, statues, street names and other physical markers of historical legacies in public spaces. The objective is to provide decision-makers, policy planners and educators with a set of case studies, best practices and guidelines for addressing historical contestation in an effective and responsible manner. As director Marie-Louise Jansen mentioned during her presentation: “Understanding root causes [of controversies] necessitates a multi-perspective approach”.

The conference focused on controversy and disagreement in the classroom. At the Marketplace, the different teaching strategies presented throughout the month of November were applied to examples of controversial cultural heritage within the local context of the participants. Cases from across Europe were discussed and compared; the difficulty of addressing colonialism in Spain, the centralised curricular system in Ukraine preventing multi-perspectivity, the tensions and polarisation in Croatian classrooms over identity and narratives of the recent past and the legal difficulties of contextualizing or removing  statues in Slovakia due to property rights are just a handful of examples mentioned by participants during the session. All participants could name an example of a contestation, either directly in their classrooms or in their countries’ public spaces.

While the issues educators face are distinct, the themes are similar. Paolo Ceccoli mentioned: “the more our societies are divided, the more history teaching should teach controversial issues, it’s not easy, ... can even be dangerous, morally or even physically, but it’s absolutely needed”. The importance of contextualization was often emphasised as was the power of comparative studies. Another suggestion was the initial depersonalization of history – shifting personal feelings of guilt or blame that inflame emotions and prevent self-reflection – allowing for multiperspectivity. Another EuroClio expert Benny Christensen put a recommendation very simply: “[When dealing with controversial histories], apply the three D’s: Discuss, Debate, Dialogue”.

Interested in a concrete example of how to teach about controversial cultural heritage? The Rhodes Must Fall Oxford content on Historiana offers a great introduction.

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.

An Interpretation of Powerful Knowledge for History Education

Maayke De Vries Articles

At the moment, I combine teaching with pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Education at University College London which, according to its slogans, encourages innovative and disruptive thinking. One of the ideas that has created quite some attention is the formulation of Powerful Knowledge (PK) by Professor Michael Young. Since the beginning of this century, Professor Young promotes the idea of a re-focus on knowledge in the curriculum and moving away from a curriculum based on 21st century skills or other competencies. Initially, this sounded like a reactionary attitude to me: while there is some recognition for multiple ways of knowing, there are also the conservative voices calling to bring ‘real’ knowledge back into the curriculum. However, the more I started to read about PK and its essential complementary ideas, the more I realized that theoretical knowledge can also be empowering. Encouraging ways of thinking that are specific for a certain community of inquirers will allow for a deeper understanding of reality. For now, this idea is mostly put into practice by geography educators at UCL, however the principles of PK are also very much applicable to history. In this blog post, I would like to explain the essential characteristics of the idea, along with important criticism focussing on social justice. Lastly, I would like to suggest an implementation in history education. 

A curriculum on the basis of PK perceives subjects as specific disciplines with their own procedures and protocols to understand and examine the world. In an article in 2010, Young and Muller elaborated on three possible futures of education: 1) the continuation of the elite system as it exists today; 2) the end of disciplinary knowledge which is replaced with generic outcomes hereby - unintentionally - educating students solely for employability, while also deprofessionalizing teachers and de-specializing research; 3) emphasizing the role of specific knowledge communities in acquiring and producing knowledge, whereby the aim is to supplement the everyday experience with theoretical knowledge. Young and Muller predicted that future 2 will remain most popular because of the (hidden) neoliberal tendencies of this educational system, while future 3 has, according to Young and Muller, more potential to confront contemporary challenges such as the growing inequality, polarization, and misinformation. 

PK is not about dominating, but rather empowering the learner. According to Young, there are two types of power: the kind that wants to dominate, thus exercising power over something or someone; and the emancipatory kind, namely the power to do something or to think something. What makes PK emancipatory, according to Young, is that it provides students with the ability to critique society as it exists. 

Biesta is another proponent of bringing knowledge back into the curriculum, as a way of indicating to students what might be worthwhile paying attention to. Biesta suggested that emancipatory teaching would let students “figure out what they do with what they may encounter there. The judgement, and the burden of the judgement is, in other words, on them [the students]”. Young claims that all students should have access to emancipatory knowledge as it allows for generalizations, imaging the yet unthinkable, conceptual understanding, and embedment within specialized inquiring communities. In contrast, future 2 education will place the focus on everyday experience without complementing it with theoretical knowledge that allows for a more complex understanding. Hence, Young claims, future 2 will only make the achievement gap wider between students, as the theoretical knowledge can act as an equalizer. Young exemplified the difference between everyday knowledge and PK on the basis of geography: everyday knowledge is your knowledge about how the public transport works or where the stores are located, whereas PK is an understanding of how cities are organized and how they might change. 

The idea of PK is based on a social realist perception of knowledge, which can be dismissive of ways of knowing outside western perceptions of ‘knowledge’. A social realist perception of knowledge means that the acquisition and production of information involves systematic concepts and methods within communities of enquirers who search for truth within their distinctive disciplines. Hence, it can be said that a critical attitude towards PK is necessary to understand that knowledge is never neutral and always highly political. 

Therefore constructive criticism of PK has complemented the theory and encouraged the integration of social justice. In 2018, Wrigely expressed his worry that social structures influence knowledge formation and distribution, inevitably creating silences due to dominance of certain voices. Hence, Wrigely argued for the incorporation of a theory of knowledge called critical realism, which would acknowledge that the curriculum is political and never neutral. Students should therefore have the ability to evaluate any knowledge claims because they understand that social structures and conventions play a role in the formation and distribution of this knowledge. Thus, Wrigely suggested that PK should incorporate a critical element by supplementing the everyday experience with a focus on “underlying forces which are at work, that these forces might not always be active or visible, that everyday experience is not always the best guide to understanding the structures that impact on our lives..” (p.12). Therefore, Wrigely suggested “Productive Pedagogies” to complement conceptual thinking with students’ everyday life experience. So PK in a critical realist interpretation would still mean a focus on key concepts and challenging ideas, but would account for the social structures in society that allow for some knowledge to emerge and be distributed more widely. 

Another useful addition to the idea of PK is the concept of Powerful Pedagogies, which encourages enquiry as a way of learning. Roberts wrote in her response to PK that everyday experience is a necessary element in teaching in order for students to make a connection between the theoretical concepts and their own lives. According to Roberts, the everyday experience of students is not just their location but also the media in which they interact or the circles in which students find themselves.  As a result, Roberts argues that subjects, like geography, have powerful ways of understanding this world: ”through the kinds of questions it asks and the ways in which it investigates them” (p.201). Roberts furthermore stresses the political element of knowledge, hence there should always be a reckoning of its origin and context in which it was created. Roberts emphasizes the importance of how the teaching takes place, thus the method of instruction which truly allows for knowledge to become powerful or not. According to Roberts, PK can in other words only become emancipatory when Powerful Pedagogies are used. Roberts summarises Powerful Pedagogies with three characteristics: 1) Enquiry-based; 2) Dialectical Teaching; 3) Critical. Thus, PK alone will not provide students with a complex understanding of the world it needs to co-exist with powerful ways of teaching. 

The powerful element of knowledge is not only in the hands of the teacher. The students themselves need to feel agency in order to act upon the newly acquired insights. Alderson enlists in her response to PK four necessary conditions for knowledge to become truly powerful: 1) The Known; 2) The Knowers; 3) The Social and Cultural Context; 4) The Application. The Known in the case of PK refers to knowledge that is constantly changing and emerging through research and creativity, aiming to move towards reliable truth. According to Alderson, this knowledge can never be powerful if there is no human agency involved (the knowers), thus for knowledge to be powerful there should be an active and creative dialogue between the knowers and the known. This power of this dialogue depends on social and cultural contexts, as this learning is not happening in a vacuum but influenced by real life challenges, which needs to be considered for PK to truly be emancipatory. Lastly, the application of the known by the knowers in particular social and cultural context will determine whether it can influence society. Thus knowledge might claim to promote social justice but this will only be the case if the application of the knowledge is done in such a way. 

To summarize, PK as originally suggested by Young could have indeed promoted a reactionary response to the increasing liberation of marginalized voices, however when PK is informed by a critical realist perception of knowledge this can be averted. Thus, PK has the potential to act emancipatory when it accounts for the political nature of knowledge and thus reveals structures and conventions in society that allow for dominant voices to be (over)heard while marginalized communities are silenced. Furthermore, knowledge can only become powerful when teaching is emancipatory through a focus on enquiry, dialectical teaching, and a critical understanding of the subject. And lastly, knowledge is only powerful when its application indeed promotes social justice. 

Powerful Knowledge in history education

As of now, most of the debate and application of PK took place in the discipline of geography. The critical application of PK can however also suit a subject such as history. In early 2021 a book will be released (and edited by Arthur Chapman) that applies the idea of PK to the subject of history. In another contribution from 2018, Counsell mentioned the potential of PK for the subject history in a blog post. For this sake, Counsell uses substantive knowledge –  content as facts, e.g. Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Fall of the Berlin Wall – and disciplinary knowledge – evidence, causality –, as both a part of historical knowledge. Counsell suggests that this division is a helpful tool when engaging with PK in history education: it is impossible to teach students all the substantive knowledge, therefore discipline knowledge is required. 

To make this a bit more clear, I will try to give an example of PK in history on the basis of the topic women’s suffrage movement in the Netherlands. In 1919, active women’s suffrage was achieved when a bill was approved by the House of Representatives, after more than fifty years of protest. However, it was only in 1937 that women older than 25 years in the Dutch colonies received passive suffrage, which became active suffrage in 1948 after more than a decade of protest movements.

Example substantive knowledge: cult of domesticity;  cult of domesticity; Aletta Jacobs; Rosa Manus; Vrije Vrouwen Vereeniging (Free Women Association); National Exhibition of Women’s Labor 1898; Demonstration 18 June 1916; active suffrage 1919; passive suffrage 1917;  Damanan di Djarason 1937; Clarita da Costa Gomez; Altagracia de Lannoy-Willems 1949 

Example disciplinary knowledge: using evidence from sources to make a claim; indicate change and continuity.

In this case, the PK might be that students are able to assess to what extent the women suffrage bill of 1919 was a change or continuation for women in public life. For this, students use their substantive knowledge about the historical context of the 19th century and the ways in which women were protesting. Students need disciplinary knowledge to be able to critically analyze sources and ‘read against the grain’ when analyzing primary sources to indicate whether women’s role in the public indeed changed or how certain systems continued, especially for women in the colonies. The emancipatory element of this knowledge could be that students understand the historical relationship between gender inequality now and then, while being able to actively search for marginalized voices in public debates. This knowledge can then be used in a very practical way by having students write a commentary on current representations of women in politics, or set up a campaign to encourage political participation of everyone. 

As we currently live in a pandemic during which universities, again, make most cuts on their social science and humanities departments, it would be good if we as educators can be vocal advocates for the importance of our subjects. The idea of PK shows the importance of having different knowledge disciplines, as each discipline brings with it their own ways of knowing and viewing the world. Hence, the subject history can emancipate students by allowing them to understand the present through knowledge of the past, utilizing the historical method for research, and having a healthy sense of suspicion towards any source. It would be great if history educators can be more vocal and explicit about the power that historical knowledge provides to students, to avert authoritarian tendencies in our multicultural democractic nations in Europe. This blog post is merely intended to start a conversation among history educators about the powerful knowledge in our subject and how we can better advocate for our subject and discipline.


Written by Maayke de Vries
History teacher at an international school in The Netherlands & PhD Student UCL Institute of Education


Forthcoming: Arthur Chapman (ed.) Knowing History in Schools. Powerful Knowledge and the Powers of Knowledge UCL Press. Open Access. https://www.uclpress.co.uk/products/130698#

Information about Women Suffrage in the Netherlands: 

“Vrouwen Kiesrecht in Nederland”- Atria https://atria.nl/nieuws-publicaties/vrouwen-in-de-politiek/vrouwenkiesrecht-in-nederland/

“Vrouwenkiesrecht op de voormalige Nederlandse Antillen” - Atria https://atria.nl/nieuws-publicaties/vrouwen-in-de-politiek/vrouwenkiesrecht-op-voormalige-nederlandse-antillen/

Learning to Disagree Offline – An in-person workshop for teacher trainers in Miskolc, Hungary

Djoera Otter Articles, Report

Learning to Disagree Offline – An in-person workshop for teacher trainers in Miskolc, Hungary

Picture: Participants discuss the Lesson Plan in small groups.


Learning to Disagree is slowly but steadily coming to an end. This project was initiated in response to the needs of educators who experience difficulties in addressing sensitive and controversial issues in their classrooms.  The project offers workshops and support materials for teachers to face these controversial topics head-on in their classrooms.

This is of course bittersweet as the team has had a wonderful time working together over the past three years. However, this also means that we can finally share the learning activities with the wider EuroClio community. The sharing of the learning activities often happens during national teacher trainings, which would usually have people meet in person. Unfortunately, COVID-19 and the subsequent restrictions to limit the spread of the disease, have made meeting people in person a little difficult. Nonetheless, we are happy to report that Zsolt Vódli, core member of the Learning to Disagree team and board member of the Hungarian History Teachers’ Association (Törtenelemtana'rok Egylete), managed to organise a national training in person on September 18, 2020.

The workshop was held at the University of Miskolc at the faculty of Arts and Humanities. 19 graduating teacher trainers, most of who majored in history, partook in the workshop that presented the learning activity Leaders in Times of Turmoil, created by Zsolt and Juraj Varga.  This learning activity allows students to work in small groups and discuss provocative statements about decision made by leaders at the most pivotal times in history. Then, according to the Four Corner Teaching Strategy that is incorporated in the learning activity, students must decide whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the statements and come to a shared understanding.

Thus, besides gaining a more in-depth understanding of the historical context in which these decisions were made, students will simultaneously develop a plethora of skills and abilities, such as: substantiating their opinion with relevant (historical) sources, eloquently and respectfully voicing their opinions to others, considering and valuing different viewpoints, critical thinking, and it goes without saying that they learn to disagree. These are all skills and abilities students will be able to enjoy long after leaving secondary education.

During the workshop Zsolt taught the teacher trainers that were present how they could foster and facilitate this process of learning for students, by illustrating and discussing how teachers could directly implement the lesson plan in their own classroom.

The participants found the content of the material very informative, as it provided a wide range of historical background knowledge. This was specifically considered valuable in the Hungarian context in which the workshop took place, as students in secondary schools do not learn much about the events of recent past, and in particular of events from other countries. The four-corner strategy was also received very positively as participants said the statements were provocative and generated interesting discussions and helped to improve critical thinking as well as debate tactics. Some of the participants said the activity could be supplementary material in secondary schools, as it was so well grounded in both history and civic education. We are happy to conclude that the workshop was a great success!

You might now wish you could have joined Zsotl’s workshop. And if you do, we have good news for you! While COVID-19 might prevent us from meeting face-to-face in most situations, it hasn’t stopped us from meeting online. You can join Zsolts’ workshop, which he will host with Juraj, online on November 16, at 16:30 at EuroClio’s Annual Conference! For more information on the workshop and how to register, please click here.

Besides registering for Zsolts’ workshop, do check out the other workshops that are part of EuroClio’s Annual Conference as well. EuroClio’s (first!) Online Annual Conference and Professional Development Training Course: Controversy and Disagreement in the Classroom will present 20 different workshops that will give you hands-on, ready-to- use lesson plans that will help you teach your students to articulate and substantiate their arguments in a debate.

To see the full, ambitious programme of our conference, please click here.

Can’t wait to use the learning activity? Check out the learning activity on Historiana here!