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

EuroClio Articles ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the authors

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

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

 

Acknowledgements

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

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

 

Copyright free images that may be useful:


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


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

 

 

 

Monuments Matter: A comment on Bristol

Marie-Louise Jansen Articles ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Monuments Matter: A comment on Philadelphia

Marie-Louise Jansen Articles , ,
Photo: Frank Rizzo Statue at Philadelphia's Municipal Services Building
Credits to Stephen M. Scott

A day after this blog post was originally published, the statue was removed. For details see local news report at NBC Philadelphia

During this past weekend , the city of Philadelphia, like dozens of cities across America, erupted in mass protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed African American, by a police officer. Addressing the rioting that saw Philadelphia’s stores looted and burned, more than 200 people arrested, 13 police officers injured, and 4 police vehicles torched, the city mayor, Mike Kenney, placed one item high on the city’s post-riot agenda—the removal of a 10-foot bronze statue of former mayor and police commissioner, Frank Rizzo.

"I never liked that statue,” Kenney said at a press conference last Sunday. “I don't think it's been deserved in the first place, and I didn’t put it there."; The statue, Kenney promised, would be removed “within weeks.” “We’re going to accelerate its movement,” Kenney said.

Coming amid a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans and left 40 million unemployed, not to mention violence that has blighted Philadelphia’s streets, it might seem an unusual priority, but suggests the prominent role that statues can have in public affairs. The bronze statue of Frank Rizzo, located on a large square in the municipal center, became the target of protests. It was splattered with red paint and smeared with graffiti. A police cordon was formed to shield it from damage.

As Mayor Kenney notes, the statue of Rizzo should perhaps not have been commissioned in the first place, but the 10-foot bronze erected in 1999 assumed a particularly tragic irony following the George Floyd murder. Before his time as mayor of Philadelphia from 1972 to 1980, Rizzo had served as police commissioner. Fashioning himself as a “tough cop” fellow policemen called him “The General”. He once said that when he became commissioner, the department had only “six shotguns.” “Now, we’re equipped to fight a war.” While many white Philadelphians saw Rizzo as a “law and order” official, the African American community saw him differently. During Rizzo’s years as police commissioner from 1967 to 1971, he had a reputation for using excessive force against the Black community. As mayor, he ran on a “Vote White” platform, strongly opposing desegregation.

Although the statue has been a point of contention since it was erected in 1999, plans to relocate the statue from its prominent location near city hall have accelerated in recent years. Mayor Kenney said at his press conference last Sunday that he had considered removing it recently but the high cost, $100,000, compelled him to wait until 2021 when there was a planned renovation of the square. One Black community leader, Faye Anderson, said the statue’s presence exacerbated last weekend’s violence. “Having [the statue] there was like waving a red flag in their face,” Faye said of the protesters. “And they finally combusted.” The mayor was also criticized for the handling of the statue following the riots. The red paint and graffiti were removed during the Sunday morning clean-up, and a police cordon placed around the statue. “We’re using the police force to protect a white icon when there are not police protecting black and brown families in this moment,” Bishop Dwayne Royster observed. “If the mayor wants to be tone-deaf, that was one of the most tone-deaf things the city could have done, is clean up that statue first and make sure they continue to have police around that statue.”

Philadelphia is not the only city to see a statue become the center of public violence, as was demonstrated three years ago with the killing of 32-year-old Heather Heyer during violence over a statue of Civil War general Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017; or the protests over a statue of a colonial-era governor, Cecil Rhodes, in Cape Town, South Africa, two years prior; or street violence over a Soviet-era memorial, ten years earlier, in the Baltic state of Estonia. Monuments matter.

Statues, monuments and other physical representations of historical legacies in public spaces are the most visible and visceral expressions of historical identity of a community. By their very nature—stone, metal, concrete—they have limited capacity to capture the complexity and nuance of history, and even more to change with the times. It is incumbent on elected officials like Mayor Kenney, as well as civil society activists, to understand the evolving nature of public sentiments and values, recognizing a fundamental verity of historical legacies in public spaces: Times change, people change but statues don’t. It is therefore up to those who can make a change to do the right thing at the right time.

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

We have learned “history that is not yet history”

“These are the times that try men's souls”

 “In the past year, we organised workshops with several groups, talking about the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990's. We learned about most of the background information for the showcased images by first participating in the workshop ourselves, and later, we were given insight into some further details on their context. Overall, the experience was as challenging and educational as it was entertaining.” I will start with the words of my student Matija, as I think that they are the best indicator of how successful we’ve been while teaching history that is not yet history.

It has been exactly two months since I last entered a classroom that was full of students. Since the school closed, we were obliged to adapt ourselves to this new situation. We reacted without any delay. 

In the same week, I received a call from the principal of the high school in which I am working who asked me to participate in the project “Learn from home” (“Uči doma“). My answer was “Inform me when we are starting.” A couple of days later, I was once more in my classroom, this time standing in front of the camera. My task was to prepare lessons for high school students, I chose to prepare lessons for the third and the fourth grade.

It was a bit difficult to analyse certain historical topics, without anyone there to ask questions or for explanations. To make a comment about something…anything. I had to change the approach and it was obvious for me what was needed. I needed to include my students somehow!

So, phase two started – ‘Let’s try to do some workshops online.’ It wasn’t easy, I can tell you that. But, it was awesome! We connected ourselves through online platforms and started preparing workshops. One day I posted a question in one of our groups which said: “Are we doing the 90s?” 

Well, this is the answer -  Istorija za IV razred opšte gimnazije - Nestanak Jugoslavije (History for the 4th grade of general high school - The disappearance of Yugoslavia)

We decided to use the materials that were created in cooperation with EuroClio. So, all those projects I was involved in, including “Learning history that is not yet history” and EuroClio's cooperation with the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in researching their archives, finally gained wider audience in my country – the most important audience, I would add! We have shown every fourth grader in Montenegro that we can discuss this sensitive period that many of them believed is not yet history. For the first time in history, we have discussed and presented this topic to hundred-thousands people, and this was broadcasted on the national Montenegro television in prime time. The reactions from the student, colleagues and parents were awesome. I would say that we have fulfilled our main task.

The material we have used the most while preparing this lesson was a War(s) in photos workshop. Pupils used visual sources to explain their perspective of the topic, they tried to elaborate how the common people were affected by the war, what was the role of soldiers and what was the role of politicians. I have to say that this wasn’t the first attempt to discuss these subjects with students in a classroom workshop in the past few months, but it was by far the best and most successful one. I was extremely happy and proud that we were able to promote this topic by using a multi perspective approach, not excluding any of the points of views and sides of the people that participated in the war.

Another student that contributed to this workshop, Mina, stated  “I have had an opportunity to be a part of this workshop more than once and every time it was a new experience. As the topic is quite a taboo, I found presenting the facts about the war fairly challenging. But, when you choose the fear of starting a controversial lecture over education, you compromise people's future abilities to understand and forgive each other. In my opinion, this workshop completely breaks the stereotype of this topic as something upsetting that creates divisions, it is a creative way to overcome the limitations and start to openly speak about a topic that is shaping the generations to come. With putting the effort, you can teach in a way that can be only  prosperous and never harmful or offensive.

As I wrote in a similar article a couple of weeks ago, “These are the times that try men's souls.” But these are also the times when we need to show our responsibility. And I think that this was one of the ways we have done it. I will conclude with the words of my student Anja, which wrote about her experience while doing this topic “As important as it is to shine light on the topic of wars of the 90s as a professor it might be even more important to be thoroughly involved in a serious subject such as this one as a student. I personally felt that it was my responsibility to establish the communication with the other peers because it was a crucial part to them understanding and sharing personal opinions and beliefs on this topic, which in the end I think I did well with the help of my friends.”

 

Written by Igor Radulović, history teacher from Podgorica, Montenegro. As a member of HIPMONT (History teachers association of Montenegro), Igor participated in the project “Learning history that is not history”, which won the Global Pluralism Award for 2019. He is also involved as a trainer in EuroClio's collaboration with the UN 's International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. 

 

Educating through football

How the World's most popular sport can help teaching history and fight discrimination

 

Football enjoys a fan base bigger than that of any other team sport, with millions of people passionately following local, national, and international competitions. Thanks to its accessibility (you only need a ball and two goalposts to play), football is played by professionals but also amateurs of every age, religion and social class; although it still appeals primarily to men, more and more women around the world are getting attracted to it, both as players and viewers. The “Football makes History” project, launched in 2018, wants to capitalise on this sport’s popularity and make football’s history and cultural heritage powerful educational tools for the promotion of equality and social inclusion. Funded by the EU Erasmus+ programme, “Football makes History” sees EuroClio co-operating with various partners from the football, heritage and education worlds, involving history educators and youth workers from across Europe. Different initiatives have already been implemented, such as staff training meetings, while the project’s website has recently been launched. Soon, learning activities for formal education and a toolkit for non-formal education will be made available in response to the needs of educators, assessed through an international survey run in early 2019. According to this survey, European educators, both in formal and non-formal education, have often witnessed cases of discrimination (particularly xenophobia), and they believe that football’s history has the potential to foster tolerance and respect. This is also the opinion of Professor Gijsbert Oonk from the History Department of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Professor Oonk, director of the “Sport and Nation” research programme and holder of the Jean Monnet Chair on Migration, Citizenship and Identity, is the Academic Advisor of “Football makes History”. He will show us how football history can help promoting positive values among the younger generations, and will provide us with tips and examples for formal and non-formal educators.

How to include football history in the curriculum

Football history can offer an alternative approach to the teaching of colonialism. Generally, educators support their instruction with world maps showing countries in different colours according to which European state colonised them. Football may offer a less conventional route into the subject that would allow students to be more actively engaged. For example, students could be asked to look at pictures of national football teams and guess where the players and their parents were born. This approach would be very effective in a country like France, whose national team won the 2018 World Cup and was composed by fourteen players of African origin out of twenty-two, connecting the history of colonialism with the history of migrations. Besides the famous French case, there are plenty of examples of teams whose members were born in different countries from the one they play for, as Professor Oonk explains in his inaugural lecture. Including football history in lesson plans about colonialism would allow educators to discuss relevant issues such as integration and citizenship, thus ensuring that the teaching of a complex past phenomenon does not overlook its current implications and long term consequences.

If in the case of colonialism, football history can provide a starting point for the teaching of the past, in other cases it can enrich existing narratives like, for example, the history of the First World War. A series of episodes known as “Christmas truce” occurred in December 1914 along the Western Front. Hostilities had reached a stalemate and during the Christmas week soldiers from opposite sides came out of the trenches and met in no man’s land, fraternised, exchanged gifts and, in some cases, played football. There are various accounts of matches between British and German troops that, although not always accurate and reliable, have persuaded historians that during these unofficial ceasefires enemy soldiers did meet and play football on a few battlefields in the Flanders. Learning about these episodes can help students familiarise themselves with the geography of the conflict and with the reality of life in the trenches. Moreover, the Christmas truce constitutes an example of humanity in the midst of atrocity, and can contribute to promoting peace and mutual understanding.

Although football history includes various episodes of tolerance and solidarity, sometimes such values did not prevail and this sport became characterised by different forms of discrimination, like racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and sexism. Today, it happens both on the terraces during matches when, for example, fans make monkey gestures, and on social media, where the phenomenon is amplified. Fare Network, one of the partners to the Football Makes History project is working hard to report on and combat such occurrences.

1934 World Champions: Italy

Unfortunately, intolerance has long been present in football, but Professor Oonk argues that it should not be downplayed or ignored. Even the most negative episodes from football history have the potential to spark discussion about various topics, such as nationality and identity, while at the same time expanding and deepening student’s comprehension of complex historical phenomena. For example, history educators could integrate the teaching of Italian fascism with the history of Italian football in the 1930s. The country’s national team winner of the World Cup in 1934 included some players who were born in South America from Italian immigrants; nevertheless, nobody questioned their Italian nationality and right to play for Italy. As anti-Semitism grew and racial laws were implemented in 1938, members of the Italian Jewish community who had become prominent in football, such as Renato Sacerdoti, President of AS Roma and architect of the team’ success in the 1930s, were persecuted and arrested, despite remaining very popular among Roma fans. The case of football during Italian fascism is just one example of how educators can use the history of this sport to explore concepts of nationality, identity and loyalty, and to reflect on the discrimination and exclusion of minority groups.

Conclusion

Football history has a lot of untapped potential to promote inclusivity and tolerance by providing positive examples and role models, and by serving as a basis for discussing current topics. Moreover, including football history in the normal history curriculum can help raise students’ interest in the subject, as Professor Oonk’s experience confirms. This is why EuroClio is currently preparing teaching materials for formal and non-formal education, with useful resources soon to be made available on the project’s website. However, as all educational tools, football history has some limitations. First, its use is limited to the teaching of recent history. Although some forms of football already existed, it is during the twentieth century that this sport became as popular as it is today and that its history started to be documented systematically. Moreover, much like films and video games may also fail to capture some pupils’ attention, football history too does not always improve engagement and participation in the classroom because not all students are interested in the sport in first place. Therefore, students preferences should be taken into account by educators before including football history in the curriculum. Done right, however, football history can be a very useful tool to highlight issues of historical importance that are fit for history curricula.

 

Written by Cecilia Biaggi, postdoctoral trainee at EuroClio and a Marie Sklodowska Curie Researcher in the LEaDing Fellows COFUND program at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Cecilia is particularly interested in minorities and nation-building, political history and education. A special thanks also to Professor Gijsbert Oonk for input to this article.

Didactic Studies and E-Learning

Mare Oja Articles

In Estonia, a lot of attention is paid to the creation and use of digital solutions in all areas of society, including education. The national curriculum envisages the development of students’ digital competence. The professional standard of a teacher requires the teacher to use appropriate ICT tools and opportunities, as well as to design the learning environment and conduct learning activities using online and ICT tools.

Background to online teaching in Estonia

The general education school uses an e-Kool (e-School) to organize teaching, the universities a Moodle environment and an e-Didaktikum, developed specially for the teacher training. The environments for the teaching materials for general education schools are opiq.ee, which contains textbooks from various publishers and an e-Koolikott (e-school bag), which brings together various teaching materials. 

In 2019, the digital study material of all gymnasium courses in the subject area Social subjects was added, as well as the teacher’s guidebook containing methodological guidelines and assessment models

Museum lessons conducted through e-solutions are also included in the study material. Google Drive is more often used for university studies, as well as Google Classroom and other environments. Future teachers need to be aware of all of these.

Examples of Museum Lessons from Vabamu

A new situation emerges

When the COVID-19 virus interrupted contact learning and directed learning to e-environments, more appropriate options had to be sought. A lecture or conversation is possible in different environments. There was more effort to find suitable solutions for learning the practical tasks. 

The didactics course in progress required that students learn about different learning environments and active learning methods. I would like to introduce the form of teaching, where we got to know a museum as a study environment, and used the Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom as an example of that. The seminar lasted five astronomical hours with breaks.

I used Zoom in my teaching. The advantage of Zoom is the possibility to divide participants into groups (the breakout room function). I shared the necessary study materials with students in the Google Drive folder, where I also created a separate subfolder for the students’ individual work during the seminar. In the introductory PowerPoint presentation, I introduced different learning environments, which are also recommended by the national curriculum. Then I gave the floor to Aive, alumni of Tallinn University, who is working as a pedagogue in Vabamu.  Aive gave an overview of museum lessons they have in Vabamu. The presentations were shared on a common screen. Students had the opportunity to ask questions in writing during the presentation or orally at the end of the presentation. 

Then we all went through a museum lesson together, in which everyone could go to the museum lesson page in e-Koolikott (e-School Bag) or move through the common screen together.  Our topic was collaborationism. After the museum lesson, a joint discussion took place about the lesson. Collaboration was shown from different perspectives and situations. Students had to think about the certain story behind the case, behavioral motives and dignity of the human nature.

 

Photo album for the “Collaborationism” Museum Lesson

Then the students went to the museum’s permanent exhibition “Freedom has no borders” via an audio guide. The audio guide was loaded in the Drive and sorted according to topics. The thematic folder also contained photos of the objects presented by the audio guide. The students had the task to create a lesson plan for studying in a museum in pairs. We have previously learned how to draw up a lesson plan. However, the sample was uploaded in Drive as a reminder to use the lesson schedules. In the lesson plan students had to indicate the applied learning outcomes, study activities by different lesson phases, open the methodology used and add study material. Facebook Messenger was used for the pair work. Completed lesson plans were uploaded to the Drive folder. 

After the agreed time, we gathered again in Zoom, where the introduction and analysis of lesson plans began. During the introduction, students had the possibility to follow the lesson plan in the Drive. One pair of students who worked together, was the main analyst for the lesson plan, others could add comments later. It guaranteed that everyone could be an evaluator of the work of others. The discussion worked well.

The seminar ended with a reflection circle where we discussed the pros and cons of a virtual museum lesson. The prevailing opinion remained that a virtual lesson is not equivalent to being in a museum environment, but authentic objects and other sources speak many times more than a short narrative in a textbook. Virtual access to the museum is free of charge and possible also from far and away, which would be impossible due to the distance in the middle of the school day.

Forced work in the e-environment shows what is really valuable among electronic solutions and which activities are more effective in face to face communication. A virtual lesson in a museum, far from school, is definitely a positive opportunity.

Written by EuroClio Ambassador Mare Oja, Lecturer of History Didactics, Tallinn University

Do Monuments Matter?

Marie-Louise Jansen Articles

Earlier this month a statue of a former Soviet general was removed from a municipality in Prague resulting in protests by the Russian minority in the Czech Republic and anger from Moscow. In March 2020, the Virginia legislature voted to allow municipalities the right to remove statues, overturning a previous state law, essentially paving the way for the city of Charlottesville to relocate a statue of the Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, which in 2017 was the focus on violent protests resulting in the death of an anti-protester and two police officers. In Australia, plans to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s landfall in Botany Bay this month originally included erecting a new statue to him, which was met with immediate opposition.

April 18 is the International Day for Monuments and Sites. The day was originally proposed by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) on 18 April 1982 and approved by the General Assembly of UNESCO in 1983. The aim is to promote awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage. Each year there is a theme, and in 2020,  ‘Shared Cultures, Shared Heritage, Shared Responsibility’ , which they say is ‘intentionally provocative’. Certainly monuments can contribute to a sense of shared heritage in societies where a monument reflects their values and understanding of the past. In such cases members of a community have a shared responsibility to maintain and conserve a monument. But what of cases where monuments do not represent those values and, in a case like the Lee statue in Charlottesville, cause great divisiveness within the community? Or in the case of the Cook statue, can one say that this monument represents a shared heritage of the Aboriginal people and those of the settlers that followed Cook’s landing? The monument may symbolize a shared heritage but certainly not in the positive meaning. Where then does the responsibility lie to maintain and conserve?

Monuments are not mere blocks of stone or bronze figures erected to beautify a park or cityscape. They are tangible representations of historical legacies that reveal a great deal about the fabric of the societies in which they stand. They can serve as a trigger for protest and violence or as catalysts for reconciliation and social cohesion.

In the first instance, contestations over monuments are rarely about the object itself but rather about underlying tensions dividing a community, be they based on unaddressed historical grievances, the sense of injustice from marginalised communities, manipulation for partisan political purposes, protests over economic disparities or other grievances. The fall of the Cecil Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town in South Africa in 2015 is a case in point. Students and faculty were frustrated by the university’s slow pace in transforming the curriculum, reforming hiring practices, dealing with racism on campus, and addressing students’ complaints about tuition fees. The statue of the 19th century colonial-era businessman, an unapologetic racist, provided a target for their collective grievances, a symbol of the indelible stain of colonialism’s legacy in South Africa. The Rhodes Must Fall movement sparked similar protests around the world.

In the second instance, monuments can contribute to promoting a sense of inclusivity in pluralistic societies. For example, in the Kazakh city of Petropavlovsk the monument of the Kazakh poet Abai stands side-by-side with the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin symbolising friendship between the Kazakhs and the Russians, the two largest ethnic groups in the region. In 2019 the French city of Bordeaux--the second largest port in France complicit in the transatlantic slave-trade during the 17th to 19th centuries—erected a statue of Modeste Testas, a young woman kidnapped in Africa and sold into slavery by a Bordeaux slave-trader, in recognition of the city’s slavery-era legacy and the Afro-Europeans living in France today. Increasingly, monuments such as this are changing the memory landscape of the cities and communities in which they are situated and contribute to a sense of shared heritage.

Do monuments matter? Yes. But what matters more is how controversies over existing and planned monuments can be addressed in effective and responsible ways. Clearly defined principles, evidence-based research, a transparent process of the steps taken, efforts to engage key stakeholders, clear communication with the broader public, all these factors can contribute to the successful integration of a monument into the evolving nature of communities.

This year the ICOMOS theme of “Shared Cultures, Shared Heritage, Shared Responsibility” recognizes the changing nature of communities in an increasingly globalised and pluralistic world. It  is an agenda well worth pursuing and one that addresses an age-old challenge: times change, people change, monuments remain. It is our responsibility both to preserve and to adapt our heritage landscapes in ways that respect the past while reflecting the nature of our ever-evolving communities.

Written by Marie-Louise Jansen, director, Contested Histories Project

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

The normalization of violence in history textbooks, an interview with Dr. Angela Bermudez

EuroClio had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Angela Bermudez on the subject of her recent study on the normalization of violence in history textbooks. Dr. Bermudez is a researcher at the Center for Applied Ethics at the University of Deusto (Bilbao, Spain) where she investigates how history education in different countries fosters or hinders a critical understanding of political violence. She is the author of several papers on civic and moral education, history education, and memory. Her recent working paper titled “The Normalization of Political Violence in History Textbooks: Ten Narrative Keys” is part of a series sponsored by the Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability, Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, and Dialogues on Historical Justice and Memory.

There lies a great paradox – most textbook content centers around violent experiences and yet very little of this violence is the subject of critical reflection.

Could you please tell us a bit about yourself, your research, and how you got interested in the topic of education and the normalization of violence, in particular? 

I grew up in Bogota, Colombia, and, in many ways, I think that marked the beginning of my interest in issues related to political violence – it is a place that can serve as a lab for all kinds of experiences and reflections on various types of violence. However, I didn’t actually begin to focus on this topic academically until later on. I was studying history education when I received a scholarship to study in Spain for a year and a half. While I was here, I had the good fortune to meet Professor Mario Carretero and some of his doctoral students. They got me hooked on studying the development of cognitive historical thinking skills. We considered questions like “How do young people learn to think in complex ways about something like the past which isn’t tangible and which they cannot experiment on in the classroom?” 

Following graduation, I returned to Colombia where I moved away from history and got more involved with projects that centered around moral development in civic education. I quickly connected this new focus with the experiences of violence in the supposedly oldest democratic state in Latin America. Compared to other Latin American countries, Colombia had a very short and unusual dictatorship. Nevertheless, the country has an extremely violent history. This raises all sorts of questions about the linkages between violence, democracy, and citizenship.

I went on to do my Ph.D. at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where I wrote my dissertation on how young people engage in discussing controversial issues – politics, racism, police brutality, etc. I worked with Facing History in Ourselves, a non-profit that develops educational material on prejudices and injustice in an effort to empower teachers and students to think critically about history and to understand the impact of their choices. This brought me back to my previous interest in education and violence, but more from an ethical and critically thinking perspective. 

When I moved to Spain 8 years ago, I had the opportunity to rethink and redefine my research agenda. I began analyzing how different means of history education contribute to the normalization of violence, or conversely, to the promotion of a critical understanding of violence. The role of history textbooks has captured my attention to the extent that it has because – despite being used in the classroom less and less – what is stated in them is a clear depiction of the dominant historical narratives of a country. Textbooks can reflect the politically official narratives, the counter-narratives in academic debates, and/or public discourse more broadly.

Can you speak about the research you have been conducting on textbooks in Spain, Colombia, and the United States? 

Our analysis focused on how textbook narratives represented the violence intrinsic to nine different episodes of the violent past of these countries. For each topic, we looked at approximately four different textbooks and one or two alternative, non-conventional teaching resources, such as those developed by NGOs or research centers or that have different pedagogical approaches. We found that there is a striking difference between conventional textbooks and other resources and that a persistent pattern of normalizing violence exists across textbooks, topics, and countries. Despite the abundant references to violent events, violence as such is rarely discussed or made the object of explicit analysis. Quite the contrary, violence is normalized through discursive processes that define what is emphasized and what is marginalized, what is connected and disconnected, and what is silenced. We identified ten narrative features that describe interlocking mechanisms by which historical accounts manage to describe violent events and processes while precluding any reflection about its roots, causes, consequences, and alternatives. There lies a great paradox – most textbook content centers around violent experiences and yet very little of this violence is the subject of critical reflection. You talk about violence, but you don’t see its victims, causes, or consequences or the alternatives to it. 

What you encounter in textbooks are stories of violence without pain.

Can you provide an example of violence made invisible in a textbook in a rather striking manner? 

First, let me explain what I mean by ‘normalizing violence’. This is a discursive process. It is a way of turning something that is socially constructed into something that is natural or inevitable – in other words, normal. Something that is normal is something that doesn’t surprise us or deserve our attention. It is not worthy of becoming the object of our critical reflection. Normalizing is a way of talking about something, but presenting it as something that you can or should take for granted.

Now the narrative key example you asked for. Apart from a few exceptional topics, the Holocaust being the most evident example, history textbooks contain very few references to victims in episodes of violence across time. In some instances, a chapter that focuses on a war will mention consequences as human casualties or refer to a demographic loss. You might get a number and maybe a few more details, but there is very rarely a depiction of the experience or perspective of the victims. Of course, if the episode we are talking about is one in which “I am the victim” then there are more references to “we were the victims.” However, even this reference to ourselves as being the victims does not depict the experience of victimization as such. What you encounter in textbooks are stories of violence without pain.   

An artist’s depiction of the Trail of Tears.

Another narrative key that subtly normalizes violence is the concealment or obscuring of human agency. You read descriptions of historical events that involve a lot of violent action, but with little reference to who instigated it. It’s not a matter of assigning blame – which can be complicated – but rather one of understanding that violence is not a natural phenomenon. You have to distinguish between impulsive aggression and political violence. Political violence is systematic and instrumental. There are individuals, collectives, and institutions making decisions to use violence – to use other human beings as means to an end – rather than take an alternate non-violent course of action. You’ll read things like “War broke out.” This needs to be at the heart of ethical reflection. On the topic of the Trail of Tears in the US, you have accounts of how Native Americans marched from one place to another during a cold winter and many died. But who made the decision to have them march at that time of year? Why didn’t they have blankets or minimal medical resources? The same framing is applied when considering any episode of violence. What we witness is an obscuring of agency – it is sent to the back of narrative. This results in stories of violence with no blame and no responsibility.

A narrative key we most consistently see across textbooks, topics, and countries is the near-absolute silence on alternatives to violence and the individuals and movements who supported these alternatives. It is not as if there was a dearth of opposition to violence. In a large number of episodes of the violent past there was active opposition to violence and advocacy for nonviolent solutions to conflict, and yet not much, if anything, is said about them. So how does that play into the normalization of violence? Well, if no one opposed the use of violence, maybe that was the only way the episode could have played out. There were no alternatives. 

One final example of a narrative key that serves to normalize violence is the omission of the benefits derived from violence. Who gains? Of course, you’ll read “We gained independence,” but that’s a social goal. What I mean here is who, in terms of individuals or sectors of society, gains from the industry of war (or other types of violence) at a political or economic level? Omitting these massive industries and contested interests in society makes invisible the way in which violence can be a strategic means to achieve something  and not a natural and inevitable response to conflict.

The issue is not that we are stuck with textbook narratives – we are stuck with social narratives. We are stuck with a social tendency to normalize violence.

If textbooks make violence broadly invisible by trivializing and normalizing it, what can we as history educators do to counter this, especially if the countries we work in are required to follow a prescribed list of topics and textbooks?

Let’s recall two things I mentioned before. Normalizing means taking something out of the area of our reflection. It’s turning an episode of violence into something that is natural and, therefore, unproblematic, so that we don’t reflect on it. We can still follow the prescribed topics and resources, but in order to counter the normalization of violence, we must raise questions that transform what has been normalized into something that demands critical reflection. We must call attention to issues and individuals who have been silenced and call attention, precisely, to the fact that they have been silenced. 

So, okay, we’re reading this textbook account with our students. This narrative relies on ways of telling and silencing that have consequences. So, I want to call the attention of my students to this and ask – Who were the victims? What was their experience? Did anybody oppose what happened to them? Those questions can turn into projects, assignments, or debates. Additionally, the more you tie this to topics of more recent history, the more students can reference things from their own context. Of course, I’m not saying this is easy and isn’t the source of many controversies, but if you have the minimum conditions of safety, even if it’s controversial, for many students this is kind of discussion can serve as an oasis – you’ll create a space for them where these things can be talked about in careful, caring, and reflective manners, rather than in absolutes. At the end of the day, though, the issue is not that we are stuck with certain textbooks. We are not stuck with textbook narratives, we are stuck with social narratives. We are stuck with a social tendency to normalize violence.

In another article, you make a point that museums face different or less pressure than history textbooks authors or curriculum designers when curating. Could you please elaborate on what you mean? Is it a useful tool for history educators to make use of museum exhibitions?

The Tate Modern is one of my institutions that offers thematic programs to school groups, families, and other audiences.

Yes, absolutely. Museums, of course, are also sites of political discourse. Both schools and museums were, in the late nineteenth century, developed precisely to mold the minds of citizens and construct the idea of the nation. Museums do, however, have some general advantages over textbooks. One of the dynamics that restricts and impoverishes historical representations is the rise of standardized, external assessment. Textbooks and teachers can’t go into greater depth and discuss subtle, marginal, or controversial elements of history because they have to cover content for an assessment. Museums are far less regulated in terms of content. There is no mandated curriculum and no examination on your way out. You can have thematic museums and museums that make use of technologies inaccessible in the classroom that appeal more to the experience of emotions and textures of events in the past. A lot of what gets sent to the background of narratives that normalize violence is the texture of the experience of victims and the proponents of non-violence. Of course, you also have a lot of museums that celebrate war and heroic actors that represent the violent past similarly to textbooks, but you also have the emergence of memorial museums and sites of conscience whose mission is to convey a history that has been silenced and develop a critical understanding of the past.

Wouldn’t you say that given the national and international prominence of an episode like the Spanish Civil War, 80 years later it is reasonable to expect a national museum on the event to exist? There is no such thing.

The role of sites of conscience and memorial museums is very interesting. I was hoping you could speak a bit about the Valley of the Fallen and the recent memory laws that were passed. How do you see things developing in Spanish society more broadly?

If you follow the debates around memory and memory laws (passed in 2007) you’ll notice that socially, politically, and culturally there is a very profound silence about the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship. Academic research, literature, and movies aside, socially – as in at the kitchen table, in public spaces – there is very little conversation and discussion about these topics. That silence – imposed during the dictatorship for obvious reasons – was maintained during the democratic transition, in part to not rock the boat at a time when political parties and social organizations were invested in figuring out how to operate together in the new democratic system. Politically, you can understand the pressure, but this “democractic silence” has now lasted even longer than the dictatorship itself. It’s been 40 something years and there’s still very little conversation about these topics. There has been a very vibrant  and very important interdisciplinary initiative involving victims’ families and scholars around the exhumation of bodies from mass graves. This has ushered in a movement to recover memory, but it is still limited in terms of granting the wide public opportunities to engage with history in alternative ways. 

People argue that these conversations are too uncomfortable, but do we ask if silence is comfortable for those who are told to keep quiet?

So do you think it was a mistake not to speak about these episodes of violence during Spain’s democratic transition? 

I do tend to think it was a mistake, but I understand the political context and the need that many felt not to reopen wounds. There are many post-conflict contexts, like Rwanda, where a moratorium has been established. At the same time, I grew up in a country (Colombia) that has experienced ongoing violence and it is not as if we can stop talking about it. We need to be able to address these experiences reflectively. You begin to see other troubling political and ideological implications of silence there. People argue that these conversations are too uncomfortable, but do we ask if silence is comfortable for those who are told to keep quiet? In the case of the Spanish transition, this sort of socio-cultural silence was partly fueled by the idea, the fear, the myth, that if we talk about what happened, it will give rise to another civil war. That fear was later manipulated. This becomes more evident when you consider the fact that there has been no judicial or political process to prosecute any of the people responsible for crimes during the dictatorship and that many of the political and economic bases of the Franco regime continue to exist in the political and economic system today. Then the idea of sustaining that silence and not rocking the boat gains a new dimension. It is no longer simply “That was emotionally difficult. Let’s heal first and then address it.”

Valley of the Fallen

Wouldn’t you say that given the national and international prominence of an episode like the Spanish Civil War, 80 years later it is reasonable to expect a national museum on the event to exist? There is no such thing. There are a small number of regional museums and memorial sites – the Museum of Exile in Catalonia, the Peace Museum of Gernika (on the bombing of Gernika), one for the Battle of Ebro – but there is nothing akin to a general, national museum on this watershed event.

I wanted to touch on one last issue. It’s your other recent research. I understand that you are collecting testimonies from people who were involved with violent organizations like ETA in Spain and the Farc in Colombia. I’m really intrigued by this. Where is this research taking you and how will you continue with it?

That is a brand new project that we’re beginning to work on with an interdisciplinary team at the Center for Applied Ethics. I think it’s a fascinating and necessary initiative. We aim to collect life histories and interviews from people who were involved with groups that espoused the use of violence for political reasons, but later on renounced it. That is, individuals who at different points in their trajectories began to think differently about violence, to question it, and ended up renouncing it. What led them to that change may be very different – the experience of being imprisoned, the implications for their families, spiritual events, or political and ethical transformations. Our question here is how these people establish a relationship with violence, both in connecting with it, justifying it, and espousing it, but also in renouncing the use of it? What are those seed points, experiences, and reflections that transform their understanding and belief in the legitimacy of violence? There are many layers to this analysis, but the ultimate purpose is to develop educational resources for peace education that encourage people to think critically about violence.

Violence can be very seductive. We think it is a good idea to hear from those who were once seduced why they don’t want to be involved with it anymore. This can be a rich resource with which we can rock the boat, shock, and provoke critical thought in young people, but we are only just beginning. 

I look forward to seeing the final results! Best of luck with funding and the study. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. 

 

Can video games improve history education?

Formal history education is mainly based on textbooks and teacher exposition; however, an increasing number of different resources are being used by educators to supplement their teaching. Among the various media employed, novels and films are certainly the most popular among teachers. The Historical Association, the main History Charity in Britain, provides a twenty pages list of historical fiction ranging from medieval sagas to modern day Afghanistan, “to help history teachers to inspire students of all ages in secondary school to read historical fiction for pleasure and also to get better at doing history”. Films too have long been utilised in history education since, according to recent research, movies were screened in classes already in the 1920s (R. Paxton and A. S. Marcus, 2018). Films are especially praised because visual information is more easily retainable than written information and, therefore, screenings can significantly improve students’ learning.

Introducing historical video games
Fiction and films remain the preferred media by history educators around the world, but another kind of resource is rapidly growing in popularity: historical video games. When we talk about historical video games, we refer to “those games that in some way represent the past or relate to discourses about it” (Chapman, 2016), games that start “at a clear point in real world history” and in which history has “a manifest effect on the nature of the game experience” (MacCallum-Stewart and Parsler, 2007). A large number of video games are set at different times and places in history, making them potentially valuable teaching tools. Players have almost unlimited possibilities: they can build the Colosseum in Minecraft, thus learning about Roman architecture as well as raw materials, or they can found, organise and defend a settlement in newly-discovered North America in Banished, or they can liberate Nazi occupied Europe by seemingly stepping in the shoes of an American frontline soldier in Call of Duty.

Although not (yet) as common in history classes as other tools, video games are attracting the attention of educators, particularly among the young generations, and academics too. Teachers who have experience using historical video games in class have started recommending them to their colleagues (see for example, the blog gamingthepast.net, or the youtube channel Histoire en Jeux), while researchers discuss how game playing influences students’ learning. Despite widespread interest and the availability of a wide range of historical games, ignorance and scepticism still characterise the attitude of many history educators towards video games. In this short article, we will address some of the main concerns about historical video games and suggest how they can benefit history learning with the help of Pieter van den Heede. Pieter, once a teacher in Belgian high schools, is now a lecturer at the History Department of Erasmus University Rotterdam, and his doctoral project focuses on the representation and simulation of war history in digital games.

Practical issues
First of all, let’s consider practical issues that may discourage teachers from using video games. Games have technological requirements that make their utilisation in class more complicated than that of, for example, movies. Schools may be unable to afford computers with sufficient hardware requirements (such as graphics cards, central processing unit, and memory) necessary to play modern video games. Although a service called Google Stadia has been developed specifically to allow users to stream games to any device, regardless of their technical specifications, it has not been very successful until now. Moreover, options of games can be limited to console/system compatibility, with some games exclusive to specific consoles. Managers are often reluctant to spend part of their limited school budget on the purchase of expensive equipment for game playing. Such reluctance may not only be due to financial constraints, but also to criticism towards the use of video games from the managers themselves, from teachers and parents and, surprisingly, from students, who are generally sceptical about the ability of games to improve their learning experience. Finally yet importantly, time constraint is also an issue. Teachers, who already struggle to keep pace with the strict timeline of curriculum implementation, find it challenging to allocate enough time for their students, who may be unfamiliar with the designated game, to learn how to play.

How video games can benefit history teaching
Regardless of the practical difficulties of their utilisation and their negative reputation, research shows that video games can significantly improve students’ learning experience. It is certainly easy to appreciate how they can teach a lot about material culture. Some games, which can be described as having a realist approach to the past, rigorously represent physical objects and environments, while also being consistent with broad historical narratives. Famous examples include the Assassin’s Creed series, featuring a variety of historical periods and situations such as, for example, Ancient Greece, feudal Japan, the Spanish Inquisition and the American Revolution, and allowing players to learn the functioning of a musket or to see the view from the trenches during World War I. This series centres on a fictional core narrative (about a clash between two secret societies, the Assassin’s and the Templars) that is set in accurately portrayed historical time periods. But according to Pieter van den Heede, the real added value of video games lies in the fact that they allow players to, for example, experience a sense of historical contingency and the path-dependency deriving from it. For example, in the Civilization series, the player will manage to build an empire only if he acquires and applies knowledge about, among other things, how geographic conditions affect the foundation and development of a city in ancient times. This approach can effectively convey the necessities, connections and general conditions that influenced past outcomes by creating an authentic “practice field” for solving problems and using real-world contexts and tools, thus helping students understand why historical figures made certain choices.

The shortcomings of video games and practical advice
Despite his passion for gaming, Pieter admits that, while historical video games have a considerable educational potential, they also have relevant shortcomings. For example, games are generally inadequate to teach social and cultural history. Since most players are interested in heroic roles and adventures, they prefer to play characters whose decisional power can significantly influence the game’s outcomes. Conscious of this, most companies produce games whose protagonists are kings, explorers and generals, rather than peasants or nuns. This inevitably leaves out of the picture the majority of members of past societies, preventing students from learning about their lives and role in history. For example, while it is possible to play female combatants in recent World War II games such as Battlefield V, it is not possible to learn about women’s experience of the conflict in more ordinary and common situations, such as replacing men in factories. It is possible that, as Pieter wishes, these experiences will be included in future games.

Another problem with video games is that they generally struggle to convey values alternative to those of modern western societies, and indiscriminately apply our mind-sets to different realities. This implies that players’ choices may influence the narrative of the game in ways that may be incompatible with historical evidence, and in the end, the outcome may differ significantly from real events. It is, therefore, important that students realise that they play a fictional character in a fictional role, and that they may make choices that the real protagonists of the events represented in the game did not or could not make. Moreover, Pieter recommends that students are given the opportunity to discuss their experiences during and after playing in order to compare their outcomes, debate the games’ historical accuracy and overall representational strategies as well as the intentions of its developers. In other words, the shortcomings of historical video games can be as valuable as their qualities for instruction, especially if students are made aware of how the games they play contribute to learning outcomes.

Ultimately, whatever the advantages and disadvantages of video games may be, teachers play a central role in unlocking their potential as educational tools, and it is thus essential to empower them. After all, teachers are those ultimately in charge of delivering instruction. They should be given the freedom, the time and, when the school budget allows it, the means to incorporate games in their lesson design if they so wish. But, as Pieter stresses, video games are just one of many tools available, and teachers should also feel free not to use them.

Written by Cecilia Biaggi, postdoctoral trainee at EuroClio and a Marie Sklodowska Curie Researcher in the LEaDing Fellows COFUND program at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Cecilia is particularly interested in minorities and nation-building, political history and education.

Five tips for online history teaching

Currently hundreds of million of children are not attending school due to COVID-19 that is holding Europe and large parts of the world in its grip. More and more countries decided to close their schools and take their learning online. There are many possibilities in teaching online, if students have access to the internet and a device to use for their school activities. Unfortunately not all students have the same access to these vital resources, which is something that educators are struggling with all over the world. The presented tips in this blog post are written under the presumption that students have internet access and a device to use for their learning. This article briefly explains the different modes of online learning and provides five free resources useful for history educators in particular. 

Synchronous versus Asynchronous

There are two ways in which online education can take place: Synchronous and Asynchronous. The former means that students are engaging with a learning moment at the same time, while the latter means that students learn the same but not at different times. Thus synchronous learning takes place when the students are at the same time active and online, while an asynchronous learning activity can be done over a period of time. The International Baccalaureate (an international educational foundation with thousands of schools world wide) published a guide to support educators in teaching their courses in online environments. The following chart is taken from the guide to indicate the different activities that are possible based on the prefered learning mode. 

Some schools have their own learning management platforms. If your school does, then the following websites can offer an addition to what you already work with. If you are working at a school without an online learning platform, these apps can be helpful. 

#1 Sutori (Asynchronous learning) 

Sutori is a great way to easily share materials with students, as you can decide what framework you want to use to present your information. For history educators, the timeline option will most likely be the easiest one. Students can collaborate with each other, respond to the teacher, and retrieve information from there. Teachers can insert youtube videos, images, and other files. Students can respond to the assignments set by the teacher and also work together on assignments by inserting things into the timeline. Therefore, this tool is an excellent way to provide students with a clear overview of the topic and opportunities to collaborate. 

#2 Online forum (Asynchronous learning)

One online method that is especially beneficial for history educators is a forum on which 

students respond to a question or statement posed by the teacher. One of the characteristics of history education are of course the debates. By creating an online forum, the debate still takes place but online. Bonus: this is an excellent opportunity for students to develop their digital citizenship skills.

#3 Collaborative Writing (Synchronous and Asynchronous learning)

Another thing that history educators are teaching their students is formulating an argument and supporting that argument with a well-written essay. A way to have students practice their writing skills, while working either synchronously or asynchronously, is through a collaborative essay. There are several tools one can use, for example Google Docs, which you can easily share with the students who then collaborate on a question or thesis. As a member of the document, you can easily keep track of changes and see what work different students are producing. 

#4 Nearpod (synchronous learning)

This fabulous free platform lets you create presentations that students see on their own device. Thus students join your presentation by filling out a code on their screen and then see your presentation. This app is ideally used for live lessons, because it does not allow for voice sharing. Thus students see the information on their screen and the activities that you planned for them, as you can incorporate multiple choice questions, open questions, and collaborative assignments. However, it only works when a presentation is live, thus this only works as a synchronous learning activity; everyone has to be online and looking at the presentation at the same time. 

#5 Padlet (Synchronous and Asynchronous learning)

This is another free platform that makes it really easy to have students collaborate and show their learning progress by adding on to an online board. You can decide the design of the board, e.g. in the example shown here the design was four different columns (see image below). Students can post their response to a question in the form of text, picture, or video. Besides, students can comment on each others’ answers or give a thumbs up if they agree. 

Twitter

Another way to get online teaching ideas is by following some threads on Twitter. For example, one teacher elaborated on the idea of having students keep a diary during the period of self-isolation; for history teachers the keeping of a diary can conceptually be linked to the diary of Anne Frank. Other hashtags with tons of teaching ideas from other educators in similar situations all over the world are #teachingremotely,  #teachingonline, #elearning, or #distancelearning. Educators are sharing best-practices for online learning in the form of infographics, pictures, or Google Slides

Conclusion

Of course, there are many more possibilities and opportunities. However, these five seem to have a good connection with history education, easy access, and limited challenges regarding data protection like some apps that work with video calling. For teachers working in Europe, the GDPR rules is something to keep in mind, especially when working with minors and an account needs to be created to access a certain tool. For all the online learning facilities described in this article (except for Kialo), no accounts need to be made by students and the basic features are for free. Besides, Twitter is offering many great insights into the ways teachers globally are taking up the challenge of remotely teaching. Hopefully students will be able to attend their regular schooling soon and these digital features can be used to support face to face teaching. 

 

Written by Maayke de Vries, History teacher at International School Almere & PhD Student University College London

www.mizsdafreeze.com