Reformation or reformations: Gijs van Gaans’ webinar on change and continuity in the context of medieval reformers

Giulia Boschini Articles

On June 16, Gijs van Gaans, a member of EuroClio’s Teaching and Learning team, teacher trainer and lecturer at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Tilburg, hosted the last Webinar of our Historiana Webinar Series. During this series, history educators had the chance to discuss various historical topics while exploring Historiana’s teaching and learning tools and debating critical thinking skills. In this webinar, Gijs van Gaans presented the audience with an eLearning activity on early medieval reformers designed to promote students’ understanding of the meta-historical concepts of change and continuity. 

 

How can we teach about change and continuity through the history of medieval reformations? 

Gijs started his presentation by asking two questions to the audience. Namely: “What topics would you discuss when teaching about the reformation? When would your reformation timeline start?”

Most teachers in the audience replied that Martin Luther and its reforms would be central topics of discussion. Normally, their timeline would start in the 16th century, particularly in 1517 with Luther's ninety-five theses. 

However, Gijs decided to focus his webinar on the early reformation, between 1000 and 1517 circa. He then introduced two books, namely Linda Woodhead’s  An Introduction to Christianity and Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 by Carlos M.N. Eire. 

Both Woodhead and Eire view the changes that led to the Protestant reformation as part of a lengthy process that started in the Middle Ages with different religious movements from below found in all other Europe and culminated with Luther’s protestant reformation in the 16th century. 

Following this historical approach to the reformation or reformations, professor van Gaans challenged the audience to rethink the traditional approach of teaching this topic by introducing the concepts of change and continuity

 

The meta-historical concepts of change and continuity

History education researchers Carla van Boxtel and Jannet van Drie included change and continuity among meta-historical concepts necessary for historical reasoning. According to the two scholars: 

 

“Historical reasoning aims at historical understanding. It concerns one of three

things: the evaluation or construction of a description of processes of change

and continuity, an explanation of a historical phenomenon or a comparison

of historical phenomena or periods.”

                                                                                                                -Historical reasoning in the classroom. 

 

As Gijs mentioned, along with historical knowledge, historical reasoning skills are crucial for students to come to their own understanding of history. The concepts of change and continuity are central to understanding long-term historical and societal changes. When framing historical events in terms of change and continuity, students can understand socio-political events considered historical turning points as parts of broader changes, rather than standing alone events. 

However, students and teachers alike face several challenges when working with these complex concepts. For example, Gijs van Gaans stressed the difficulties in understanding change and continuity as interwoven factors, and especially, change as a gradual process rather than a single breaking point with the past.

 To address these difficulties, Gijs suggested different strategies to deal with change and continuity in the classroom. 

  1. Adopting timelines and periodization, in a way that students can make better sense of periods of change and continuity.
  2. Sequencing historical facts in order to construct a narrative.
  3. Asking questions on the nature of change and continuity in a specific period.
  4. A living graph: a timeline where events and historical actors are placed on different levels to visualize how these historical elements relate to each other. 

 

The Living Graph: Historiana eLearning activity

Gijss then challenged the audience to create their own living graph on early medieval reformers with the Historiana’s eLearning activity The Precursors to the Reformation, based on this Historiana source collection. The central question of this eLearning activity is: who was the first medieval reformer? Based on the information given, students have to organize various medieval reformers on a timeline. In the end, the timeline will have different levels, each corresponding to the degree of innovation brought by one or more reformers. This activity allows students to work with the concepts of change and continuity.

 

The eLearning activity sparked a thought-provoking discussion on the nature of historical facts and differing interpretations. For teachers, it is challenging to present students with a coherent historical narrative that recognizes nuances and the variety of historical interpretations. However, history educators should provide their students with the knowledge and historical reasoning skills necessary to formulate their own historical conclusions. Working with a living graph, such as the one presented by Gijs in his Historiana eLearning activity, can help students develop their understanding of history and meta-historical concepts such as change and continuity. 

 

Learn more

Want to learn more about change and continuity in the context of early medieval reformers? Watch the full webinar here!

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. 

On December 9th, EuroClio ambassador Helen Snelson kicked off the webinar series talking about using sources as evidence. She illustrated the eActivity on post-war Europe that she was able to create on Historiana. >> Watch the full event | Read the article to know more.

On February 17th Bridget Martin, History Teacher at the International School of Paris, focussed on contributions to WWI and showed the purposeful eActivity she was able to create by using Historiana’s e-builder. >> Watch the full event | Read the article to know more.

On April 21st, Dr. James Diskant, a member of EuroClio’s History and Learning Team, hosted a Webinar on Women Working in the 19th Century. He used Historiana’s e-builder to demonstrate how different tools have different aims, and how these tools can help students to substantiate a historical argument.  | Read the article to know more.

If you’re not familiar with the platform, we recommend you to watch this helpful video as an Introduction to Historiana’s eActivity Builder. You can also just try out the platform yourself - you’ll see that it is very intuitive and offers you plenty of interesting options.

 

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.

 

Sources

Image: St. Francis preaching before Pope Honorius III, by Giotto, 1292-1296, Upper Church of St Francis, Assisi. Wellcome Collection via Europeana.

 

Boxtel, Carla & Drie, Jannet. “Historical reasoning in the classroom: What does it look like and how can we enhance it?” Teaching History, 150  (2013): 44-52. 

 

“Types and components of historical reasoning and individual and sociocultural resources for historical reasoning.” The framework is discussed in  Van Boxtel, Carla, & Van Drie, Jannet. “Historical reasoning: conceptualizations and educational applications.” In S.A. Metzger & L. McArthur Harris (Eds.). The Wiley International Handbook of History Teaching and Learning . Wiley & Blackwell, 2018. Pp. 149-176.

 

Let’s talk Football History: The social significance of sport across Europe and beyond

On May 28th, Gijsbert Oonk, Kevin Moore & Petra Landers kicked off ‘FC EuroClio’, a webinar series through which we tackled football and social issues to explore how football history and society intertwine. The panel discussion revolved around personal experiences of football pioneers and considerations about football as cultural heritage.

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Football Makes History is a project which aims to promote social inclusion, diversity and non-discrimination. The rich local cultural heritage of football and its shared history covering the turbulent 20th-century history offers direct access to addressing past and present diversity. Gijsbert Oonk, academic advisor of the project, but also founding director of the Sport and Nation research program at Erasmus University Rotterdam, moderated the discussion which saw international footballer Petra Landers and sports historian Dr Kevin Moore as main protagonists. 

The only girl in the field

Coach, mentor, former football player, and contributor to the rise of women’s football. Petra Landers became a member of the first-ever German women’s national football team in 1982.[1]

Petra is an international footballer who also won the European championship, but looking at her, you see a down to earth, yet incredibly determined woman who still has the same passion for football as when she started off as a kid. Petra got an interest in the game in a time when football was a sport only for boys and girls were set to do other kinds of activities. However, she does not shy away from saying “I think football was already inside of me when I was born.” When at the age of 8 she was invited by her cousin to play on the streets, Petra started regularly playing with the boys from the neighbourhood. She was always ready to play, always wearing her football shirt underneath her clothes. Despite being the only girl in the group, she felt welcome and did not have any sort of unpleasant experience. It was only when she joined the women’s team that she started hearing rude comments. “It was very new for me, but it didn’t matter because I truly loved the game.” Women's football was forbidden in Germany (as well as in other countries) until 1970 and Petra clearly remembers that time:

On football pitches you could see only men: women were at home cooking” Petra Landers

Luckily, the fear of discrimination and societal constraints never prevented Petra from trying to enter the footballing world. It was a friend of hers who encouraged her to play for Bergisch Gladbach: when the coach saw her playing, he was amazed by her talent and decided to take her in the team. Nevertheless, it was not an easy game: her boss tried to stop her from representing Germany for the European championship in 1989, but she made clear that she was ready to quit her job to be free to go her own way. In the end, her determination made him change his mind and he eventually supported her decision!

In Support of Women’s Football - from Europe to Africa

After contributing to the rise of women’s football first in Germany and then in Europe, Petra decided to turn to Africa, where she is now training young girls. When she travelled there for the first time in 2014, Africa was obviously new to her, but seeing children playing football in the villages reminded her of her childhood and a strong empathetic feeling grew inside of her. “It was a feeling I got, I can’t describe it, it was amazing”. Watching those kids playing, she could see herself growing up and working hard to become a professional player. Petra is a source of inspiration for those kids: she does not only embody an example to follow, but she also gives them the hope to think that one day, they can become footballers or coaches too.

“You can’t imagine what areas I visited. We are now trying to get those children who can’t go to school. There are so many girls that are working at home, they have to do the household, they have to work, they don’t have the money to go to school. They don’t really have a childhood. We want to give them this chance.” Petra Landers

In 2017, Petra Landers was part of an important awareness programme in which a world record was challenged - the women’s team that played on the highest level on the Kilimanjaro. When asked whether she was willing to join, Petra immediately answered yes. She started to train nearly every day, again after many years. They had to climb and walk a lot, and not always in great conditions “The last night we went up to the mountain, it was -20 degrees, it was so cold. After one hour and a half, our drinks were already frozen, and it was dark and we were walking as fast as snails. The oxygen was getting thinner and thinner. It was hard to breathe, but if you have a goal, you try to give everything until you can.”

“We wanted to empower all the women and girls all over the world. We wanted to give a sign: if you set a goal, you can get everything, you can do everything. It’s true.” Petra Landers

Africa opened up Petra’s eyes to a completely different reality, and after changing the faith of women’s football, she wants to change the life of those African kids. Her next goal is to have her own football school in Ghana. “I want to move to Ghana, but not for talent, I’m not looking for talent. I want to give the children living outside the village a chance. They don’t have the chance to join projects because it’s too far away. They don’t have shoes to walk or run for so long. They are playing barefooted but they are playing with bright eyes. There are so many children who don’t have this chance and I want to give them one.”

Petra’s words opened the doors to a different kind of conversation we should have in current society, where the European situation is rather different: football is often a matter of cups and medals, and football museums end up being places of celebrations rather than an objective look at football history and source of reflection.

Football museums: celebrating heroes or reconnecting with the past?

Kevin Moore, world-respected football historian and founding director of the English National Football Museum, shared with us the reasons why he wanted a National Football Museum for England in the first place. Deeply convinced of the historical significance of football - “there are more nations in FIFA than in the United Nations!”, he observes - he explains:

“The reason why I applied for the job was because I did not want it to be Disneyland football. I wanted it to be an objective look at the history of the game, to treat the subject seriously and with objectivity, not a celebration of football – but an honest look at the game, every aspect, including the negatives such as sexism, racism and homophobia in the game.”  Kevin Moore

Kevin has gladly remarked that whilst setting up the museum, he could freely bring the true history of football into the museum. In club museums the importance of big cups and the heroes they have is indeed too often overvalued. There might be small display elements about WWII, stories about racism, homophobia or other issues, but those are often confined to a corner and those issues always play a minor role. Due to the limited space within the permanent galleries, these issues are more likely to be tackled in temporary exhibitions. For example, the English National Football Museum had in 2003 an exhibition on Arthur Wharton, the world’s first black professional footballer - telling the story of how he came from Ghana to England in 1882 to learn to be a methodist missionary but instead decided to be a footballer and athlete. In 2005, they had the world’s first exhibition on women’s football during the UEFA European Championships in England. As these exhibitions are temporary, they were able to tackle issues like gender or racism more in-depth, and on their website or through learning programmes.

How do we go from creating a hall of fame of heroes to creating a hall of history that engages meaningfully with the history and the local context?

Kevin speaks up about the dangers of club museums being too celebratory, as they see the museum just as a display through which showcasing their victories and their heroes, leaving out other (hi)stories. “Football is about stardom, which is why an inclusive hall of fame, to some extent, is a good idea. We all have our heroes.” However, visiting a museum is and should be an informal learning experience, a way through which people inadvertently learn. The English National Football Museum launched a special session for people with dementia back in 2017, around the 50th anniversary of England winning the World Cup in 1966: their memories were prompted by football and it was a great way for people to connect. In 2018, a similar project was carried out in The Netherlands by the professional football club Willhelm II Tilburg: “Football Memories” brought together people with similar backgrounds to show them old parts of football matches. In both cases, football memories seemed to create an environment where the elderly were able to not only recall memories, but also make new connections that they normally would not be able to make.

Local public museums have an important role, but as not every football club has or can afford to have a museum, it is important to inspire football clubs to engage more socially, for example by running some social reminiscence programs with their fans. Whilst most clubs interested in social responsibility do all kinds of programmes related to physical exercises, healthy diets, etc., they are rarely focussing on making educational programmes on history. To engage socially, clubs should relate more strongly to their fans - as Kevin observes, “the fans carry the history of the club, they are the ones who hold the tradition, the sense of belonging and the identity, and the club doesn’t. The club is whoever owns it now, and is a private entity.” It’s a money issue, but also a matter of ownership.

“Football Makes History has a great role in showing the value of history, learning, engagement with schools, connecting schools and older people and football clubs together and using the social power that football clubs have.” Kevin Moore

A European Football Museum?

Would the idea of setting up a European Football Museum be feasible? Although a world football museum already exists, various and controversial opinions were given on this topic. One of the issues is that the passion that each set of fans has is for either their own club or football in the nation - which is why national football museums are growing in numbers, so these kinds of museums would not work by continent. “Certainly you won’t have a museum that tells the story of European football, because that’s with the individual museums. What you could have is a very interesting museum about the European football competitions and also how football spread around Europe and what that common culture of football across Europe means.” In other words, having a museum that tells the stories of the champions league, the European cup, the development of football in Europe. As European football does not exist and has never existed in isolation, it’s rather a story of migration and connection, it would be interesting to trace the history of football in Europe on maps - and investigate further to what extent football and migration are connected.

“Football is too important just to be in football museums: football and sport should be in every single history museum, local and national. Yes, we should have football museums, too. But football is part of history and therefore football makes history, history makes football.” Kevin Moore

Do you think that Football Makes History? Sign our Petition!

Our football team has developed Policy and Action Recommendations aimed at ministries of education, sports, heritage - and the footballing world. You can now find the Manifesto on the Football Makes History website.

Do you think that football can open doors to conversations we need to have, but also inspire us to take action? Then support us in giving football history and football heritage the attention it deserves!

Written by Giulia Verdini

 

[1] Petra was in fact also part of the team from Bergisch Gladbach representing Germany in the 1981 unofficial World Cup in Taiwan

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Football Makes History in Numbers!

  • 6 partners from 4 countries
  • 30 developers, from 15 countries
  • 100+ life stories published on the website
  • 18 lesson plans published in English on Historiana
  • 12 lesson plans and source collections to be published soon!
  • a toolkit with 30 non-formal activities will be also published soon! >> Do not miss them!

 

European School Radio – On Air, for any school

Adriana Fuertes Articles , ,

Since its invention in the 1890s, radio has been a widespread and fundamental communication and entertainment medium across the world. In the 21st century, the spoken word continues to be popular in outlets such as podcasts and meditation apps. However, few of us can say that we have made use of the radio during our school years. In this article, we highlight European School Radio (ESR), a student-led radio station which brings many benefits to students such as creativity, improving research and oral skills, and becoming familiar with ICT and audio production.

This radio station is useful for all school levels, but is geared especially for primary and secondary schools, and can also be accessed by any school whether public or private. The non-profit radio station was established in 2010 as an initiative of four high school teachers in Greece. Today it has amassed a large network of  more than 160 associated schools and a total of 1987 members among teachers and participants, forming a community inspiring different forms of learning while promoting collaboration between students and educators, as well as the union of schools from different countries and cultures.

The European School Radio is available online at any time. The programs are scheduled in a collaborative calendar, and include both live and pre-recorded shows. In addition, there are programs broadcasted in thematic hours where topics such as the environment, health, science, culture, sports, history and education are addressed, as well as music programs. The goals of this web radio station are geared toward both entertainment and education. Students may enjoy programs with a wide variety of topics, and learn more as well, in particular with programs which promote sensitivity on current affairs, social actions, and artistic initiatives.

In the past years, ESR has organized and delivered many annual Radio School Festivals, where thousands of students and teachers participated. For this year, the Radio and Music Contest has the title of “From I to We”, honoring the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution. In addition, last year the ESR won the European Competition “2020 .eu Web Awards”, the only nominee in the field of education from all over Europe, for its attractive web design and its contribution to youth participation.

 

BENEFITS

Among the benefits that this radio has for teachers are:

  • The possibility to communicate with other educators and students
  • Exchanging ideas
  • Taking part in annual events such as festivals or concerts
  • Learning how to plan and produce a radio program. 

It also brings numerous benefits for students including:

  • Developing creativity, critical thinking of speech and democratic ideals
  • Providing personal and professional development opportunities in the fields of journalism, presenting, and the use of media and technology
  • Learning how to work better in groups
  • Creating a sense of ownership for being involved in the entire development process 
  • Letting students share knowledge or concerns of young people today.

 

CONTENT 

Freedom of expression and communication are fundamental principles of this radio station. However, producers and broadcasters have the obligation to express their views without offending or taking advantage of their status for other purposes.

Those responsible for the broadcast (the teachers) are considered the producers. Their obligation is to supervise that the content is correct before uploading it. The opinions and points of view of the producers do not have to coincide with the radio station itself. Therefore, no school or school network is responsible for the content that is published by others.

 

LIMITATIONS

The clearest limitations of this platform are the following:

- The language. It is important to note that the official language of the radio station is Greek, but it is working to promote multilingual participation. For now, the webpage can be read in English, but some pages are still under construction, and programs in English or other languages are mainly limited to music programs. Nevertheless, the initiative is spreading.

- Resources for teachers and schools. Teachers who lack the knowledge of how to record, edit, and upload audio files may find it difficult to lead the program. To bridge this gap though, registered participants can  enrol in self-paced eLearning which include tutorials on elements such as software for radio productions. Another limitation could be equipment. The schools are responsible for providing their own equipment to create the shows (such as microphones, sound editing software), which may present a barrier to participation. Second hand or cheap recording materials may be found though, and free audio software such as Audacity is available.  

 

HOW TO PARTICIPATE

If you are a teacher from a school and would like to take part in European School Radio, you first need to register with your personal email address and your school. On the website, you can check your “Teacher’s profile”, where you will receive all notifications (courses, forum topics, messages, friend requests…).

Normally at the beginning of the year, the teachers form radio teams or groups together with their students that want to participate. “Parental Approval Sheets” are also collected by the teacher for legal reasons. 

Afterwards, the teacher can record the radio show, which must have music and human speech. Recorded shows can be non-scheduled (short radio messages or short thematic shows) or scheduled ones (long recorded episodes). Using the online platform, teachers can schedule, upload and manage the production of their group. When the show is ready to upload, the teacher does so online in their pre-reserved time slot.

If you are interested in participating, all the information needed can be found in a useful user guide. On the website you can also find useful resources such as the courses and software tutorials to learn how to create both live and recorded radio shows, and examples of good practices from other schools that have designed and applied radio shows in their lessons. 

In short, the ESR is a space for participation, creativity and self-expression that provides a positive environment for students with possibilities in both intra- and extra-curriculum contexts. Several skills are developed thanks to this opportunity, in the oral, written, research and technical level. In addition, it is a change to network between different schools which leads to an increase in tolerance to different cultures and countries.

Today, ESR is a network of hundreds of schools whose production is created on the basis of volunteerism. The ESR shows the ideas, creations and concerns of the school community, and is a way of answering questions in a more direct and dynamic way, taking into account that new technologies are here to stay. Looking to the future, the radio station hopes to expand with an open invitation to schools, teachers and pupils to participate.

As the journalist Peggy Noonan said, “TV gives everyone an image, but radio gives birth to a million images in a million brains”. Radio is a diverse, democratic and inclusive platform in which all voices can be expressed, represented and heard.

 

SOURCE

(Cover image) European School Radio website: European School Radio is one of the winners at the "2020.eu Web Awards"!  http://europeanschoolradio.eu/archives/110827.

 

‘Teaching Literature in Times of Crisis’, Turning Students into Historical Actors – an Interview with Sofia Ahlberg

Giulia Verdini Articles ,

“Whatever overwhelming change we might be going through needs to be part of the classroom. We used to think of the classroom as a space that was somehow removed from the world: I think that’s a losing game.

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Teaching Literature in Times of Crisis looks at the range of different crises currently affecting students and at the way teachers can respond to new challenges which require immediate action and a renewed approach. Sofia Ahlberg shared with EuroClio her reflections on these unprecedented times, her tips on effective teaching practices and her personal take on history as something that is lived and shaped by people each and every day.  

Let’s make it clear, Sofia Ahlberg’s teaching practices were not disrupted by the pandemic. Before teaching at Uppsala University, she had worked for over twenty years in Australia, where online teaching is very common. 

As a result of this, she did not start writing this book because of the pandemic, on the contrary, she had already started a couple of months before the pandemic hit. “I noticed that my teacher training students were responding to their education in a different way from what I was used to and it might have been because of the activism of Greta in Sweden. Obviously, she had a huge impact on my students. But all of a sudden they started asking the kinds of questions that had less to do with literary studies as such and more to do with activism, relevance, societal problems, climate change, inequality. It became apparent to me that I had to change the way I was teaching and I took it upon myself to write this book in order to show other teachers how to make reading literature relevant in a world of change.”

The book is certainly intended for teachers: secondary school and university teachers as well as teacher training students. “The reason why my focus is so much on teacher training education is because they need to have the skills. Crisis is not something that's going to go away, and we need to equip our teacher trainees with these kinds of skills so that they can engage and inspire their students.

Learning how to engage with a world of change

Despite - but at the same time in line with -  the title of her work, Sofia speaks of a world of change and not of one undergoing a catastrophe by reclaiming the original meaning of the word ‘crisis’: “In ancient Greek the word has a different meaning to what we think of it now. Now, we think of crisis as synonymous with disaster, calamity, something that is totally beyond our control. But actually, if you look at the original ancient Greek word ‘κρίσις’, it means something different: it generally refers to “a decisive stage where change must occur”, and it could also mean a turning point. But either way, it seemed to me that it was something that our students and ourselves as human beings could engage with rather than just be passive.

Sofia goes on explaining her personal approach to crisis, and the perspective she embraces in her book: “Crisis is an ongoing process, crisis is not an interruption of normality. If we think about the pandemic now, I often hear amongst my colleagues and friends, “soon we will get back to normality” - but what if we could ask ourselves instead “what kind of new post-pandemic world do we want to make?

Sofia has noticed the negative connotations that not only the word ‘crisis’ has, but also the bad experience that is associated with it, especially in the way that people face it. This is transferable and applicable to the classroom environment. “I’ve noticed that the way we talk about crises or historical events that are tragic is often in a way that leaves our students with a sense of deep grief, actually, and anxiety, and anger and depression.” For this reason, she highlights the role and the responsibility that teachers have in this regard: “rather than making students passive, we need to give them the skills to become actors. Rather than be subject to crisis, we can engage with it.

Empowering students with local roles to play

When asked about the role of literature, she immediately explains that for her neither literature nor the act of reading represent an escape from reality. “The literature we engage with is always a response to crisis. Crisis affects us as individuals, in very minute detailed ways, but it also affects the historical events, the evolution of our societies, of ourselves as human beings. Crisis seems so difficult to comprehend, but literature has so much to teach us about the scale. It’s about that narrative rhythm, it’s about overcoming that problem, and having a resolution.” And that is exactly where the power of literature lies: “Literature is a safe space, a place where you can respond to very serious and often quite overwhelming events that most of the times are fictional - but the way you respond to them as a reader is something that you can then apply to real life events - the way you learn to how to respond to characters for instance, how to respond to plot, to narrative, is something you can apply to real life.

Sofia depicts literature as something that can empower students as global citizens with local roles to play, where reading practices correspond to transferable skills. Readers are not just readers of a book, but readers of the world: “the moment when we read and reflect, we respond, that’s when we’re turning our students into historical actors rather than just simply being subject to historical events: we are showing that even in a very small way they can be active participants. Seeing something happening on the street and being able to read and judge and evaluate in an ethical way, and knowing something about how to respond to it - how to think about it, how to evaluate it - that is where literature and global events are connected. Reading is translated into some sort of behavioral change.” Books and literature can also change the course of history. “‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ for instance, a book about slavery that completely changed the way people thought about slavery in America at the time.

Sofia insists on literature’s response to crisis and on the fact that teachers must engage with events and the challenges that those events may bring. “Whatever overwhelming change we might be going through needs to be part of the classroom. We used to think of the classroom as a space that was somehow removed from the world: I think that’s a losing game. For me, in the Swedish learning climate, that’s not possible. My students will get very frustrated if they can’t refer to real events, whatever they’re doing.”

Weathering the crisis together: fostering collaboration in the classroom

What are then the kinds of exercises that can help students face a world in constant change? “A lot of the exercises in the book are about participatory problem solving exercises. They include the ability to learn from others, to understand, to respect their needs, their perspectives, their actions - kind of empathetic leadership on the whole to overcome the fear of uncertainty and overcome the fear of looking stupid, of saying the wrong thing. The reading practices that I show have to do with ‘collaborative competence’. One of the first things we have to teach our students is that crisis is not something you can weather alone, you have to collaborate with others.

Sofia is trying to achieve this by using exercises that develop participatory problem solving skills. “This means that rather than asking your student to write one essay, written for one person, I’m asking my students to write together with others, to do collaborative writing. Students are randomly put together and [with the multi-ethnic and multi-racial student cohorts that are increasingly common] this fosters that kind of collaboration that is at the heart of fighting systemic racism as well.” Another technique is using imaginative exercises that are still very much connected with reality as students can confront and respond to what is happening in the world. The book contains reading practices that are about making an intervention, almost in an activist sense, in real-life events and thereby shaping the future. I have this exercise where we as a class discuss: ‘what do we actually want to preserve from the past? What do we need and what do we want to do differently?’ It gives the students the power to imagine themselves as being able to choose and therefore impact the future.”

When she is asked whether reading practices can help decolonize history, Sofia has no hesitation. She immediately recognizes that the attempt to decolonize history is specifically tied to language choice: “this is how it can change - through the way we refer to something. I speak of systemic racism in my book, but I’ll give you one environmental example: if we look at the various activist movements for environmentalism, we have “Greenpeace”, that was founded in 1971 - just the word “green peace” speaks volumes, it says something about people’s attitude at the time. If you compare it to “Extinction Rebellion”, which was founded in 2018, there’s an enormous difference. In the literature classroom, we are training our students to be able to detect this kind of nuance to language, to … cultural and linguistic coding. We need to be more alert to how we speak about others.”

She also provides another brilliant example, a very powerful exercise she has thought of, that she has used in the classroom with outstanding results. “I give the students a paragraph from literally anything - it could be from any text that any teacher is teaching: I ask them to use those words in the paragraph and repurpose them and turn them either into a love letter or a breakup letter. It’s really fascinating for students, they are not allowed to add other words, but they are allowed to shift them around and turn them into different messages. With this exercise, I’m showing that you can use words for a specific purpose, that you can bring another kind of intentionality to them.

How can historians benefit from this book? How can history teachers use literature in the classroom?

The book is specifically addressing reading practices that might be particularly helpful in a literature classroom, but nonetheless relevant for history teachers as well. Sofia admits: “I want so much for history teachers to be able to benefit from reading the book. I think we have everything to gain from an interdisciplinary approach to education. My book does offer a perspective on history, but it offers a perspective on history in the making, not history in a retrospective way, but as something which still hasn’t settled yet. And it’s possible that that’s how history is taught - but I have a feeling that this can be the specific contribution of literary studies."

I believe that history has always been punctuated by crisis and it is the role of historians to connect the dots leading up to crisis so as to understand how to prevent the crisis from happening again. By practicing your reading skills, you can be more selective about what you take with you into the future.Sofia Ahlberg

Sofia has also tips to share on how to use literature in the classroom. Her first recommendation is mixing genres - for example, putting in dialogue an older novel with new genres or something set in the future for history teachers to be able to bring in the perspective. “It’s not necessary to take a whole novel. For instance, bringing in just a page of sci-fi (speculative fiction). Imagine teaching the witch trials from a historical point of view, and putting that in dialogue with ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, which is another kind of witch hunt. Magic happens.” Her second tip would be taking a historical text, but playing around with narrative voices. “I can imagine, from a historical point of view, it would be incredibly fascinating to try to insert a narrative voice even where we think there is no narrative voice.

Sofia Ahlberg is smiling from the camera of her laptop: “What I hope and what I believe that I have shown in the book is something that’s transferable first of all. These are transferable skills that can be applied in the classroom, in any classroom - I would say.

Written by Giulia Verdini

About the author

Sofia Ahlberg is Vice Dean at the Faculty of Languages for education and collaboration and Associate Professor at Uppsala University’s Department of English:I grew up in African and the Middle East and lived in the Southern Hemisphere which helps me to bring a global perspective to my research interests in energy humanities, pedagogy and ecofiction. I'm convinced that literary studies has an urgent role to play in the design of alternative social frameworks. For this reason, I'm committed to classroom practices that can respond to a rapidly changing world.”

Purchase the book!

From June 14th, you can purchase the book Teaching Literature in Times of Crisis.

Decolonizing Cultural Institutions in the Netherlands

Joke Van der Leeuw-Roord Articles , , , ,

Slavery addressed at the Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, well-known for its collection on Dutch 17th Century art, is also the national museum for Dutch History. For the first time in its history, it is now hosting a temporary exhibition on slavery. The exhibition focuses on the personal and real-life stories of enslaved people from different former colonial Dutch regions such as Suriname, the Caribbean, South Africa and Indonesia. The acknowledgment that slavery also existed in the Dutch East Indies is relatively recent; the Dutch colonial context has typically only addressed slavery in Suriname and the Caribbean, making this an important and innovative step.

The Dutch colonial era is spanning approximately 350 years, and slavery has been an integral part of this history. A time when indigenous peoples as well as people were reduced to property, to objects, to items in the accounts. An online Symposium addressing Sources on Slavery and Slave Trade was organised on 23 April and remains available for online viewing. The wide range of the speakers gave global insights into the opportunities and challenges for museum collections and historical archival resources when addressing a topic such as slavery. Traditional collections normally do not contain materials relating to this topic. Consequently, that means finding alternative solutions for creating permanent as well as temporary addressing slavery.

Online exhibition on personal stories

Unfortunately, the physical exhibition in the Rijksmuseum is still closed due to Covid-19, however the museum envisages reopening in early summer. However, the exhibition also offers interesting digital opportunities. Under the title Ten True Stories you can find ten personal stories from people who were involved in slavery in one way or the other. Issues such as different experiences of enslavement, resistance, as well as the role of slave owners are addressed.

Wider efforts at decolonizing the Museum

This exhibition showcases items from Dutch and foreign museums, from archives and from private collections. The curators used typical museum artefacts such as paintings and documents but also oral sources, poems and music. The Rijksmuseum is simultaneously in a process of decolonising its incredibly rich permanent collection. This process is supported by the publication An unfinished guide to Words Choices in the Cultural Sector written in cooperation by several cultural institutes in the Netherlands.

Related to the current exhibition, the museum has started to add extra information labels to objects in its permanent collection, which highlight and explore hidden links to the topic of the temporary exhibition. An English publication on slavery is also available featuring the unique exhibits.

Archives and education

Moreover, the Dutch National Archive in cooperation with Metamorfoze, the Netherlands' national programme for the preservation of paper heritage, has published a digitised collection of almost 2.000.000 documents, originating from important archives on slavery. The original archives are based in the Netherlands, England, Guyana and Suriname.

Education is also in focus. The educational publishing house Thiememeulenhoff and Rijksmuseum have published a magazine with active learning lessons about slavery under the title Slavernij en nu?. The magazine focuses on the age group 10-14 and aims to support teaching about slavery and racism in the classroom. The magazine is freely available for all Dutch and Dutch Caribbean students in this age group.

Let’s hope that the current interest in the topic will not end when the temporary exhibition in the Rijksmuseum closes. Slavery deserves a permanent place in the national Dutch narrative on its colonial history and visible through its public cultural heritage collections.

Written by Joke van der Leeuw-Roord, EuroClio Founder and Special Advisor.

 

Image: Anoniem, Tot slaaf gemaakte mannen graven trenzen, ca. 1850 Rijksmuseum, aankoop met steun van het Johan Huizinga Fonds/Rijksmuseum Fonds, 2013

Creating a Historical Argument: Dr. James Diskant’s Webinar on Women Working in the 19th Century

How can we teach students to create a defensible thesis?

On April 21st, Dr. James Diskant, a member of EuroClio’s History and Learning Team, a historian of modern German history and a retired world history teacher with an emphasis on the 19th century, continued our Historiana Webinar Series. The series is an occasion to explore the platform’s teaching and learning tools and to debate critical thinking skills. By using Historiana’s e-builder, he was able to show how different tools have different aims, and how their use can shape students’ thinking patterns and thus lead to different outcomes.

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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 does it mean to create a valid historical argument?

Dr. James Diskant started off by showing a painting without revealing any additional information. He asked the audience to consider the following questions: “What do you see? What do you think that it is? What does it show about the 19th century?”

The painting, called “The Gleaners”, was painted by Jean-François Millet 1857 shows three French peasant women collecting left-over crops from a farmer’s field after the harvest has been collected. In many European countries, the rural poor had the right to glean the fields to supplement their diet; this painting illustrates in part how peasants lived in a world of scarcity during the early Industrial Revolution. While this painting is an important source that represents a specific moment of history, taking into account different sources allows us to define different historical narratives. It helps us create defensible historical arguments based on different kinds of evidence.

Before diving into Historiana’s platform and the advantages of its eActivity Builder, he defined what we mean by making a historical argument:

“Creating and supporting a historical argument involves your ability to create an argument and support it using relevant historical evidence. This includes identifying and framing a question about the past and then coming up with a claim or argument about that question, usually in the form of a thesis. A good argument requires a defensible thesis, supported by thorough analysis of pertinent and varied historical evidence.” AP World History

He also shared step by step indications on how to approach a source:

  • Closely examine the source
  • Take notes on details - what we think it is (words, images, and/or ideas)
  • Analyze the details and find patterns that emerge
  • Analyze the patterns and establish what the patterns reveal
  • Formulate an argument about it based on a pattern analysis

How can Historiana’s eActivity Builder help students create a defensible thesis?

Dr. James Diskant argued that in order to create a defensible argument, it is best  to choose carefully one’s sources. He selected fourteen images from Historiana’s Source Collection on Visual Representations of Women to provide different insights into women working in the 19th century. He then threw down a challenge to the audience: participants, who were sent into various breakout rooms, were given different images and were asked to reflect on the meaning they conveyed and on their relationships with one another. More specifically, he asked them to reflect on which Historiana’s tools of the eActivity Builder worked best to highlight the relationship between them.

 

Interactive tools for critical thinking

The eActivity Builder offers many different tools. All these tools have been created with historical critical thinking in mind and serve different purposes; each tool is thoroughly explained here. Among others, he decided to focus on four tools in particular, as using these specific tools can help students create a defensible argument. 

 

  • The Analyzing tool was created to analyse one source in detail, using annotation. You can use it to have students suggest the time period at which the source was created, practise really close observation, or make connections between parts of a source and knowledge.

 

  • The Compare & Contrast tool has the aim of comparing different sources.  It works the same as the analyzing tool, but for two or more sources. You can use it to have your students think about similarities and differences between visual sources from the same time period, or identify change/continuity when they belong to different time periods.

 

  • The Sorting tool allows students to categorise sources according to the criteria set by the teacher. You, as the teacher, can decide where to initially place the images and ask the students to arrange them in the way you want to. One can sort chronologically, by theme, or into smaller groups. After adding sources to the tool, you can also set a background: different backgrounds have different aims, for example one can divide sources into categories (positive or negative, thematic headings, relevance to a topic, timeline, and/or sequence of events). This tool allows you as a teacher to create a variety of ways to have your students work, as there are so many ways to organize the activity! In some ways this tool then works the best to emphasize higher level thinking. 

 

  • The Discovering tool allows you to look at different relationships between various images and see the connections and in this way, it allows students to develop their level of thinking. The Discovery Tool is inspired by a mind map, but the idea is that students can discover the connections between different sources. They can reveal the sources one by one, and then see the word that connects them. It was specifically created for students to learn more about sources and the principle of causation because they can discover sources in an order defined by the teachers by simply clicking on the sources.

Allowing different tools you could have in the block, you could allow students to look at things in different ways Dr. James Diskant

In the activity that he created with the eLearning Activity Builder, he asked students: “In what ways did Industrialization change work for women?”. By analyzing 14 images from 19th-century European countries, students can create a defensible historical argument about change and continuity as a result of the First Industrial Revolution. By using the tools differently, you could do sorting activities in various ways! In this specific case about women working in the 19th century, it can help make clearer to students the changes related to industrialization, working conditions, and gender roles.

“The evidence used should be built around the application of one of the other historical thinking skills like comparison, causation, patterns of continuity and change over time, or periodization. Finally, it involves your ability to look at a variety of evidence in concert with each other, identifying contradictions and other relationships among sources to develop and support your argument.” AP World History

Using the eLearning Activity Builder allows you as a teacher to decide how you want to create and organize the entire activity, including the order of images. Historiana’s platform provides reliable (copyright-free!) sources so that evidence can back up student’s arguments and the interactive tools promote their critical thinking, highlighting the connections between the images. In this way, it fosters students’ capability to analyze sources, make historical connections, apply chronological reasoning, and ultimately to create and support a historical argument.

Learn more about Historiana Webinar Series

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. 

On December 9th, EuroClio ambassador Helen Snelson kicked off the webinar series talking about using sources as evidence. She illustrated the eActivity on post-war Europe that she was able to create on Historiana. >> Watch the full event | Read the article to know more.

On February 17th Bridget Martin, History Teacher at the International School of Paris, focussed on contributions to WWI and showed the purposeful eActivity she was able to create by using Historiana’s e-builder. >> Watch the full event | Read the article to know more.

If you’re not familiar with the platform, we recommend you to watch this helpful video as an Introduction to Historiana’s eActivity Builder. You can also just try out the platform yourself - you’ll see that it is very intuitive and offers you plenty of interesting options.

What’s next?

Don’t miss the last webinar of the series! 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 Giulia Verdini

Sources

Main image - Source: Gleaners by Jean-François Millet 1857. Musee D’Orsay, Public Domain.

The Albert Team, “The 5 Most Important Historical Thinking Skills for the AP World History Test”. In AP World History, 2020. Link: https://www.albert.io/blog/5-most-important-historical-thinking-skills-for-the-ap-world-history-test/

Guest Blog: What is Diversify Our Narrative?

Diversify Our Narrative Articles , ,

What is Diversify Our Narrative?

Diversify Our Narrative (DON) is a non-profit, student-run organization advoacting for anti-racist curriculum within K-12 schools across the United States. DON supports over 850 chapters led by student organizers working on the ground in their school districts to create culturally responsive curriculum and racial justice within their schools, primarily through the inclusion of anti-racist and diverse texts taught in high schools. We also utilize social media as a form of education, creating digestible infographics to explain complex social issues and raise awareness for the curriculum resources we create.

 

Curriculum Development

The National Curriculum and Allyship Council is a component within Diversify Our Narrative that focuses specifically on curriculum development and program development. Composed of a diverse group of students and educators, the council is committed to creating anti-racist and liberatory learning spaces throughout the country through our curriculum.

The largest resource we’ve created thus far is our anti-racist intensive workbook, a thirteen day intensive designed to teach teachers how to be active co-conspirators against the systems of oppression that exist inside and outside their  classrooms. The workbook covers seven chapters, ranging from identity and culturally responsive pedagogy to decentering whiteness in curriculum and celebrating the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community.

With regard to history specifically, we have created several resources that focus on the lived experiences of underrepresented voices in history, while remaining true to American education standards. Former council member Keoni Rodriguez (they/them)[1] has created lesson plans for 11-12th graders focused on the discrepancies between the realities that exist in primary sources and their depiction in secondary sources, such as history books. They sought to dismantle the common assumption that history - and the textbooks students read during their time in school - are always an objective truth of past events, rather, that it is often influenced by biases and generalizations established by genre. By learning about the differences between primary and secondary sources at an earlier age, educators can teach students to understand how microhistory fits within larger contexts of history.

Although this lesson plan only examines two specific sources, it can be adapted to show the prevalence of Eurocentrism among secondary sources and encourage discussions surrounding historiography in order to dismantle the systems of privilege that exist in pedagogy. The lesson plan includes discussion questions, and an accompanying interactive presentation that would simulate primary/secondary source development in a palatable format.

Our most recent history focused lesson plans serve a similar purpose. Human Impacts of World War II, created by council member Carlene Sanchez, recognizes the effects of the war on vulnerable and disadvantaged communities and how the roots of colonialism, racism, and white supremacy played a role in the war.

 

Our Goals as Changemakers

In 2019, the Uniform Crime Reporting program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation found that there were a total of 8,812 reported victims of hate crimes in the U.S. that year. Within this staggering statistic, over half of the victims were targeted solely for their race or perceived ethnicity. With modern, worldwide, institutions being built from the ghosts of the Transatlantic slave trade, displacement of Indigenous Peoples, and interests of white colonizers, it is no surprise that institutional racism remains a pervasive force today. The need for movements like Black Lives Matter to bring recognition to racial inequity reflects a world that has been poisoned by white supremacy and racism in all walks of life. This starts in the classroom, as prejudice is a learned behavior. Texts that are centered around whiteness as the norm or promote white saviorhood perpetuate a dangerous complacency in students who do not see diverse perspectives validated in their educations. As conceptualized in the Pyramid of White Supremacy, eurocentric curriculum plays an integral part of larger systems of oppression by denying the immense harm white supremacy has wrought on communities of color and the important stories of BIPOC resistance against this. Therefore, dismantling these false narratives is vital towards creating liberation for communities of color and other folks harmed by white supremacy. By introducing media about the experiences of BIPOC folks (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), having discussions about race in the classroom, and advocating for more equitable school structures that end the school to prison pipeline, DON aims to disrupt white supremacy and racism in schools. We hope that by experiencing diverse perspectives and questioning the norm, students will be enabled to act as agents of change in their communities and in adulthood.

 

Why our work is necessary

In order to build a world where individuals can coexist and care for each other regardless of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., we must first do the work to build understanding. Without holding empathy for those around us, we cannot achieve an equitable global community. Anti-racist education teaches individuals how to be intentional activists, how to unlearn ingrained biases, and how to recognize injustice when it occurs. This is different from simply telling students to not be racist because being an anti-racist is an active effort that recognizes that racism is penetrative and deeply rooted. Anti-racism focuses on identifying and undoing oppressive structures in our society, and it aims to build understanding between people of all backgrounds. Diverse educational resources, anti-racist curricula, and culturally-responsive pedagogy are essential to educating both students and teachers on how to be active anti-racists - tackling institutional injustice in the classroom itself. Through education, Diversify Our Narrative encourages students to be agents of change so that we can become a global community that is not only hyper-aware of discriminatory entities, but also actively works to fight against them.

 

Written by

Anusha Nadkarni (she/her/hers) - Anusha Nadkarni is a sophomore at Bloomington High School in Illinois and a strong advocate for social justice. Through Diversify Our Narrative, Anusha hopes to make communities everywhere more inclusive through equitable, anti-racist education.

 

 

 

Morgan Yen (she/her/hers) - Morgan Yen is a junior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science: International Relations with a double minor in Business and Chinese Studies. As Co-Chair of Diversify Our Narrative’s National Curriculum and Allyship Council, she hopes to promote the placement of human rights at the core of teaching.

 

 

[1]In this post, we use the self–reported gender pronouns Keoni provided, including the gender–neutral pronouns “they/them.” For more information, see the UW–Madison LGBT Campus Center guide to pronouns (https://students.wisc.edu/lgbt/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2016/07/LGBTCC-Gender-pronoun-guide.pdf).

 

Sources:

  1. Workbook Link: https://www.diversifyournarrative.com/don-educator-resources/winter-intensive
  2. Lesson Plan #1: https://www.diversifyournarrative.com/lesson-plans/between-the-world-and-me
  3. Lesson Plan #2: https://www.diversifyournarrative.com/lesson-plans/human-impact-of-wwii
  4. https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2019/topic-pages/victims

Safeguarding a Pluralistic Approach to the Yugoslav Wars through History Education

Learning History that is not yet History II - Blogpost #1

The wars in the Balkans that marked the end of Yugoslavia are ever-present in the collective memory of the countries in the region. The highly sensitive and divisive events left behind their scars and influence societies that both include citizens who have lived the events, as well as the younger generation perceiving the wars as history. This blogpost is the first contribution to a series of blogs, dedicated to our project Learning History that is not yet History II (LHH2). The series will grant an insight into the project and an array of topics related to it, with contributions from the project partners and EuroClio.

Contributing to strengthening stability in the Balkans

The aim of Learning History that is not yet History II is to promote a pluralistic approach to teaching the 1990s Yugoslav wars. No topic is more sensitive or divisive in the Balkans, which makes teaching about this a challenge. We strive to offer a balanced view of the historical events that will lead to mutual understanding in the region, and will ultimately contribute to strengthening stability in the Balkans. However, this is not an overnight process. LHH2 is the embodiment of the special relationship between EuroClio and the region. EuroClio and its members have been working in the Balkans for more than 20 years, strengthening the capacity of the history teachers’ associations, developing workshops with and for local teachers, creating a repository for historical sources and creating resources about common regional history.

The crown on the work of years of trust building

All the results of these past efforts combined will help us create teaching materials which can be used in the classroom and provide teachers the resources to implement the materials as smoothly as possible. Through our previous experience working in the Balkans, and closely collaborating with project members throughout the whole region, trust was established between the people. This allowed us for a strong network to be created, along with the skills in making educational materials. Building this special relationship was crucial in order to tackle the sensitive topic of the 1990s wars. Our strong connections in the region serve as a foundation for the project and the time has arisen to create lessons about the Yugoslav wars. Conclusively, making the LHH2 project the crown on the work of years of trust building in the region.

Follow-up on the award-winning project and broadening the scope

The project is a follow up on the award-winning Learning History that is not yet History (LHH) project. Many steps have been made and successes achieved, and as a crowning of the work the LHH team was awarded the Global Pluralism Award 2019 by the Global Centre for Pluralism (GCP). LHH2 will continue the efforts in the Balkans and with the award money, we were able to get started with making lesson plans about the 1990s wars, developed by local educators from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. With additional support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was possible to bring all 7 countries on board. This considerably broadens the project’s scope to the dissolution of the 1990s. Multiperspectivity is imperative to tackling the 1990s wars and being able to include all 7 countries in the project, provided us the valuable partnership to do so.  

The outputs of the project

Building on the results of its predecessor, the outputs of the projects will be 18 ready-to-use lesson plans. In order to safeguard multiperspectivity, the lesson plans will be made in cross-border teams. The themes of these lesson plans will yet be defined, depending on the needs and expertise of the authors. An additional Teacher’s Guide will similarly be part of the project’s outputs, equipping teachers with the accurate knowledge on how to smoothly implement the lesson plans. Teaching sensitive topics can be confrontational, therefore, themes such as dealing with emotions and controversies will be included in the Guide. Along with the lesson plans and Teacher’s Guide, LHH2 aims to reach as many teachers as possible in the region, to bring about the biggest impact. In order to achieve this, a new redesigned LHH2 website will act as a hub for the project initiative. To further promote the project and the activities in the Balkans, a promotional video will be made to give an insight into the project’s discussions and varying views and experiences of everyone involved in the project. Lastly, to complement this, local partners will launch a communication campaign to reach local stakeholders. This way, the mission of LHH2 to increase mutual understanding and strengthen stability in the Balkans will be broadened.

Decolonising the History Curriculum: Considering National Narratives in History Textbooks from a Global Perspective

Written by Tina van der Vlies

Tina van der Vlies is an assistant professor of history at Erasmus University Rotterdam. In 2019, she successfully defended her PhD dissertation ‘Echoing Events. The Perpetuation of National Narratives in English and Dutch History Textbooks, 1920-2010’. Since her research provided a better understanding of the potential mobilizing power of national narratives in societies, it was awarded with several prizes.

 

Decolonising the history curriculum is a topical issue.[1] Decolonising in this context means a call for what Meera Sabaratnam describes as a "better historical awareness of the contexts in which scholarly knowledge has been produced".[2] Especially since the nineteenth century, knowledge about the English and Dutch nation has been built on colonial and racial structures. Sabaratnam asks us to look at our shared assumptions about how the world is.

One way to achieve this aim is to challenge traditional frames in which history is taught and understood. The most well-known frame in which history has been presented in history textbooks is the national one. This is understandable since history is a compulsory subject in many national curricula. National regulations and public discourses about school history are often connected to debates about citizenship and values, in attempts to attribute specific characteristics to the nation and its inhabitants. However, stories from different countries that emphasize national unique characteristics often share interesting similarities. For instance, various politicians stress ‘national features’ in their speeches, while perpetuating nostalgic and heroic images of the nation as well as implicit colonial world views. Hence, this article considers national narratives in history textbooks from a global perspective in order to shed light on some of these resemblances. Transnational narrative structures are easily overlooked when national contexts and their accompanying stories dominate the history curriculum.

National narratives can share the same underlying interpretation pattern. Memory scholar James Wertsch makes a distinction between specific narratives and schematic narrative templates. Specific narratives are uniquely situated in space and time and deal with specific events, persons and periods. These different stories about the past can – although they vary a lot in their details – look like replicas as they share the same underlying narrative structure. Wertsch describes this shared storyline as a schematic narrative template, as a basic building block of collective memory that connects various specific histories.[3] However, Wertsch warns that these schematic narrative templates are not universal archetypes; he explains that certain narrative templates are part of a specific cultural tradition. For example, the “triumph over alien forces” template dominates Russian collective memory and although this template is available to members of other cultural traditions as well, it is not as prevailing as in Russia. For example, it can also be found in the American tradition but will be outweighed by the dominant American “quest for freedom” template.[4]

During my PhD research, I discovered how national narratives in English and Dutch history textbooks overlapped and interfused, and how certain national frames of references were perpetuated over time. Textbook authors narrated different histories as ‘echoing events’ by interpreting them in the same way and by using the same combinations of historical analogies. They gave meaning to history with these recurring connections.[5] Next to the fact that this mechanism was visible in history textbooks from both countries, my research revealed some transnational narrative structures as well.

A first example is interpreting history as a fight between freedom and tyranny. This interpretation is visible in Dutch history textbooks, but also in English and American history textbooks. This interpretation can dominate sixteenth-century war narratives but also stories about the two world wars. Dichotomies often have a great effect on national narratives: the rhetoric is simple, recognizable, and appealing. Sometimes the dichotomy between freedom and tyranny is related to the contrasts between ‘light’ and ‘dark’, or ‘good’ and ‘evil’. However, in both countries the history textbooks hardly questioned the meaning of freedom and tyranny during the colonial period.

Another similarity is the David-Goliath narrative structure, referring to the Biblical story of the shepherd boy David who courageously fought against the giant warrior Goliath who was twice his size. Although the shepherd boy was armed with nothing more than a few stones and a sling, he defeated the heavily armoured and weaponed giant. It is a classical story about how the underdog can champion over a major power. This structure is present in several national narratives as well. For example, Dutch national narratives are often presented in line with the phrase ‘small but brave’. The Netherlands is a small country and its founding narrative is located in the sixteenth century: the low countries revolted against the mighty Philip II and this resulted in the independence of the Dutch Republic. It is interesting that the same narrative structure is present in the southern low countries, nowadays Belgium. In 1999, ‘the three Belgians’ released a modern musical version of the Belgium national anthem and the phrase ‘small but brave’ plays a key role in this song.[6] More recently, in 2014, the Belgian author Mark De Geest published his book Brave Little Belgium.

In England the same narrative structure is visible, although the exact phrase differs from Belgian and Dutch national narratives. English history textbooks emphasize how England had repeatedly ‘stood alone’ against a superpower, for example against Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars or against Hitler during World War II. The latter interpretation was reinforced by the British prime minister Winston Churchill’s wartime speech on 20 August 1940 in which he stressed: ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’. This myth of ‘standing alone’ has dominated in various English history textbook series. Although the myth is debunked and various new textbook series have been published without the myth, it still appeals to people and continues to play an important role in English collective memory. That is why the well-known expression also surfaced several times in the Brexit debate, which is based on nostalgic images of Britain as a colonial empire: "Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves”.

A third similarity between history textbooks from various countries is the “quest”, such as the quest for freedom, tolerance or progress. The idea of a quest is a well-known storyline of several novels and films, such as Lord of the Rings and Saving Private Ryan. A hero needs to overcome several problems during the journey to reach the ultimate goal in the end. It is certainly not my goal to downplay history textbooks – it is extremely hard to compose a textbook that suits a certain age-population and their interests. Next to contents, textbooks need to be pedagogically in line with the audience and – also important – the text and the assignments need to be read and accomplished in a limited time frame. Moreover, politics and society are demanding as well. What I would like to stress in this paragraph is that the story-form of national narratives can intertwine with ideas about history itself. (National) history can be defined as a process towards freedom, tolerance, or progress. This is also visible in academic historiography: in 1931, Herbert Butterfield published his well-known book The Whig Interpretation of History, in which he criticized historians’ retrospective creation of – especially national – progress.

This article discussed the decolonisation of the history curriculum by showing that ‘unique’ national histories in textbooks from former colonial empires often share remarkable similarities: the stories often include implicit colonial references and images, and contain the same underlying storyline or interpretative structure. It is important that pupils understand how national histories are framed by the selection of specific persons, topics, periods, and sources – while ignoring others – and by the underlying interpretative structure. Although this is a difficult skill, it is necessary to obtain insight in national narratives’ frames in order to genuinely decolonise the history curriculum.

 

References:

[1] I would like to thank the founder and special advisor of EuroClio Joke van der Leeuw-Roord for her valuable comments.

[2] https://www.historyextra.com/period/modern/decolonise-history-curriculum-education-how-meghan-markle-black-study/. May 10, 2021.

[3] James Wertsch, Voices of Collective Remembering, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002; James Wertsch, ‘Specific Narratives and Schematic Narrative Templates,’ in P. Seixas (ed), Theorizing Historical Consciousness, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004, 49-63.

[4] James Wertsch, ‘The Narrative Organization of Collective Memory,’ Ethos, 36 (2008), 120–135, 124.

[5] Tina van der Vlies, ‘Multidirectional war narratives in history textbooks,’ Paedagogica Historica 52, no. 3 (2016), 300-314; Tina van der Vlies, 'Echoing national narratives in English history textbooks,' in M. Carretero. S. Berger & M. Grever (eds.), Palgrave Handbook of Research in Historical Culture and Education, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, 243-258.

[6] De III Belgen, Zwart geel rouge (1999): ‘O dierbaar België, klein maar dapper, van stad tot vlakke land’.

Keynote Lecture by Peter D’Sena: An introduction to Decolonising the Curriculum

Alicia Rijlaarsdam Articles ,

Given the disparity and inequity in education, methods and methodologies, change is not just an educational imperative but a moral one.  Prof. Peter D'Sena

At the start of the lecture, Peter D'Sena asked participants: 'What does decolonising the curriculum mean to you?'. These are the answers.

In 2015, students at the University of Cape Town, South-Africa, called for the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the nineteenth-century British coloniser, to be removed from their campus. Their clarion call, in this quick spreading #RhodesMustFall movement was that for diversity, inclusion and social justice to become a lived reality, the full gamut of educational provision should be challenged, and schools and universities decolonised. 

But before understanding how we can decolonise education and the curriculum, it is crucial to understand our colonial past and coloniality. In EuroClio’s Keynote Lecture of the Decolonising Webinar Series, Prof. Peter D’Sena gave an introduction to decolonising the curriculum by focussing on the historical dimensions of colonialism and coloniality. 

Colonised lands and commodities: the creation of a global economy built on blood and suffering

Prof. D’Sena explained how the colonised world was formed with the help of the Black Atlantic. Slavery was a complex part of the colonial world. The implications for humanity were enormous. A vast number of people died during the middle passage, the forced passage from enslaved Africans across the Atlantic to the New World. Ships were organised to carry people like cargo and people were treated like cattle. While the exact number of people transported remains unknown, estimates surpass 10 million. What we do know is that on the passage people were deprived of their language and liberty and were subjected to brutality. The Black Atlantic displaced so many people that we lost their voice. Once people arrived in ports, they were separated from their families and sold. They were deprived of their cultural identity. Finding the voice of those who were enslaved has proven very problematic, only rescued by a number of historians in the 20th century, most notably by Trinidadian Historian C.L.R James in the Black Jacobins (1938).

World map of the Queen's Dominions, late 19th Century. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Commodities formed an important part of the colonised world. During the Columbian exchange, one of the greatest gifts of the Europeans to the Americas were smallpox, measles, typhus and cholera. Colonies were for and about exploitation. The blood and suffering of slaves and indigenous people fuelled a consumer revolution in Europe. This led to a global economy with ongoing vestiges today. Apart from an exchange of commodities, coloniality also meant the exchange of ideas. Underlined by Rediker & Linebaugh (2000), ships carried ideas of revolution. In Europe this established itself in a dependence on tobacco and coffee, the establishment of cotton fed industrialisation, and an example being how mahogany changed people’s tastes. 

Prof. D’Sena explained how indentured labour has been relatively ignored when talking about coloniality. Indentured labour, a form of labour in which a person works without payment for a set amount of years, has existed throughout history. When Britain abolished slavery in 1807, and in the colonies in 1833-1834, new forms of slavery were introduced. From 1838 to 1920 indentured labour was a system which helped to make the plantations work. Transoceanic movement meant more cultural change and hybridity as well as greater complex identities. Prof. Peter D’Sena drew upon his own heritage explaining how his grandfather had been an indentured labourer, having travelled from Calcutta to Trinidad and Tobago. He subsequently fled, becoming the first East Indian to settle in Barbados (Nakhuda, 2013). 

Colonised bodies and minds: the pseudo-science of race and epistemicide

When talking about colonialism, the pseudo-science of race developed in the 17th and 18th century, is an important aspect to consider. It led to a theory of scientific racism and the dissemination of an ideology of racism which would come to underpin exploitation and supremacy. This pseudo-scientific racism culminated two centuries later – in the late 19th and early 20th century – in the eugenics movement. This led to a classification of human beings, with peoples ranked according to physical features. In European culture it led to an ubiquitous notion of beauty. People of colour were objectified and hypersexualised. Many of the racist stereotypes that emerged in the 17th and 18th century still exist today. This ideology of racism was fuelled by scientific research and by fear and othering, justifying the treatment of people in plantations and beyond. Pseudo-science and the classification of human beings helped underpin the idea of race and colour aiding the establishment of racial hierarchies. In the colonies people would ‘pass’ as white (see also EuroClio’s recent review of Nella Larsen’s “Passing” for more on this subject). 

The systemic marginalisation, as well as the destruction of the knowledge systems of indigenous and colonised peoples, is called epistemicide. At the very least it is the assimilation of those knowledge systems into the dominant knowledge system and values of the colonisers. One vehicle for domination was language and education. The concept of ‘colonial minds’ helps us to understand the key ambition of the colonisation agenda. Colonising the mind refers to colonising peoples’ culture, their being, their belief, and way of thinking. The implications of epistemicide are very present in today’s society. 

Decolonising the Curriculum: a coalescence of old and new conversations

Removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the campus of the University of Cape Town, 9 April 2015. Licensed under CC2.0 via Flickr. Image by Desmond Bowles.

In previously colonised places, globalisation and coloniality are merging to maintain Western dominance. Rather than post-colonialism, Prof. D’Sena described how neo-imperialism remains in place. Thinking of the decolonisation debate presents a number of dilemmas. Are we willing to look past misdemeanours? Reparations? Do we need to press the ‘reset button’? Is it even possible to dismantle the system built upon colonisation? Can decolonisation be seen as a spectrum? What should we think of doing for ourselves, for our society, for our curriculum?

Concerns have long been voiced by both academics and students about curricula dominated by white, capitalist, heterosexist, western worldviews at the expense of the experiences and discourses of those not perceiving themselves as fitting into those mainstream categories. In recent years these discussions have been brought together under the banner of decolonising history. The Rhodes Must Fall Movement meant more than getting rid of a statue and reaches back to movements of Black Power, civil rights, Négritude and many more. The movement came to be quickly connected to the Black Lives Matter Movement which spread across the world. The emerging conversations may have reached the news because protests were disseminated and statues were ‘attacked’ as part of symbolic attacks. The movement is about much more, about ourselves, about our own position, biases, and our own white privilege.

Education is still dominated by the values of scholarly activity determined in the West. Countering epistemicide, is going to be enormously challenging as so much has been drowned by the process of coloniality and colonialism (Sousa Santos, 2018). In our quest to decolonise the curriculum, it is not just our own view that matters but also that of our students. Prof. D’Sena urges educators to think of ways to involve students in the cocreation of knowledge. It is important to talk about the ideology of racism and the complex scheme in which not just our belonging but also our minds and bodies were shaped by coloniality. 

Initiating change

The hardest thing is thinking about our own positions, about our own biases, about our own privileges, if we are to think about decolonising the curriculum in our own practice, we have to think about our own conscious and subconscious biases in both witting and unwitting practices.  Prof. Peter D'Sena

During the lecture, participants took a moment to reflect on their practice and consider ways in which they can be part of the change they would like to see. We would like to invite you to do the same, add your commitments to our collective padlet. You can find it at this link: https://cutt.ly/decolonise-history.

About Prof. Peter D’Sena 

Peter D’Sena is Associate Professor of Learning and Teaching at the University of Hertfordshire and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research. His key contributions to history education are borne from his enduring commitment, over four decades, to equality and inclusion. As a writer of the revised National Curriculum in the late 1990s he championed the introduction of black history; now he continues to lecture and write on decolonising the curriculum. As the HEA’s National Lead for History he organised the revision of the Benchmark Statement and created innovative resources for those ‘New to Teaching’. He is a fellow of the Historical Association, a principal fellow of the HEA and last year he was elected to be the first President of SoTL’s European branch for History. Professor D’Sena is also Vice-President and Chair of the Education Policy Committee at the Royal Historical Association. 

Resources suggested by Prof. Peter D’Sena for exploring ‘decolonising the curriculum’ can be found here

 

Image banner: Removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the campus of the University of Cape Town, 9 April 2015. Licensed under CC2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Image by Desmond Bowles.