What happened in wartime, stays in the archive?

Jonathan Even-Zohar Association, EUROCLIO

New national pilot in The Netherlands explores the digitisation of the judicial archive of the post-war persecution of collaborators.

On Friday 13th September over 100 Dutch archivists, historians and other researchers gathered in Amsterdam at the Trippenhuis, seat of the Royal Academy of Science for a very interesting conference “Connect the Dots”. EUROCLIO asked me to attend as an Ambassador, in particular to see which relevance the content may have for education. Well, in short, not much. Not yet, at least. I did however take plenty of notes and am happy to share these with you if you have a further interest. In this report I’ll illustrate some of the fundamental issues which were presented and debated during a very interesting day.

What is it all about?

The TRIADO project essentially seeks to make one very specific archive more accessible. The Centraal Archief Bijzondere Rechtspleging is the archive of the post-war legal instrument employed to persecute Dutch collaborators and war criminals who supported the Nazi occupation, volunteered in the Nazi war machine, ‘hunted’ the Jews and cracked down on the anti-occupation resistance. This archive of over 14 kilometers of jurisprudence and legal documentation is available at the National Archives, but only by researchers and historians who apply and obtain special approval to see them. In 2025 this legal restriction will expire.

  • Short series of interviews about the project can be viewed here (Dutch)
  • Detailed technical implementation report here (English)

Essentially, the TRIADO project, is a pilot to see what possibilities exist to digitise this special archive and make it more accessible. Big questions arise from this opportunity:

  • Should a digital archive which is that sensitive be available online?
  • What about privacy and information of individuals?
  • How can members of the public, if they are given more access, be supported in responsibly interpreting this archive?

Generally, the meeting was illustrative on a wide variety of challenges and opportunities of The Netherlands Dealing with the Past of collaboration and persecution in the process of the digitisation and the opening up of the special Tribunal archives.

What were some of the interesting issues?

A National 5-Year Documentary

To mark and document this process, the Dutch National Broascaster NOS has dedicated reporter Mr Lex Runderkamp, to follow the developments of this process between 2020 and 2025. As a war correspondent, most recently in Syria, he had always asked himself if he had done enough to raise awareness in the world on the importance of not looking away from crimes against humanity and genocide. A notion he illustrated with the post-war expression in the Netherlands “we did not know”. I found it quite special that the Dutch broadcaster has engaged in a project of five years to see where this will lead to. In particular in 2019-2020, we can see a lot of special attention given to the 75 years anniversary of the end of World War Two. This project puts a focus on war crime, strife and collaboration which is otherwise missing in the public eye.

Fear of the Data

Researchers during this day expressed a general excitement that this archive would be become searchable digitally on full-text level, and were somewhat taken by the presented prototypes which also stimulate them to ask new questions about the nature of collaboration in The Netherlands, for example about average age, types of families, environmental factors, and much more. But eminent sociologist Abram De Swaan expressed his concerns regarding the promise of Big Data in historical and sociological research. One example which he gave was that even if we would have all the wartime diaries digitised, the essential controversy about the big questions (did the citizens know of the Nazi regime horrors? Did they willingly participate, or could they have done more to resist, etc.), would have still been the same. He also pointed to various forms of bias in the sources which are obtained in the process of a trial, where actors act out of social desirability.

Privacy, Memory and History

The current archive is said to be the most consulted physical archive in the country. Ancestors are looking for very personal answers. Who betrayed my grandmother? What crimes was my uncle responsible for? Because of this, the archive carries large emotional loads. During the conference matters around anonymity came up a lot. At the same time a creeping desire to ‘get over it’ and ensure youth today are able to learn from this collection and part of history emerged. It seems to me that this archive tiptoes along the thin line that divides memory and history. Enabling full-text access to his, at the same time, including the opportunities for linked data, was recognised during the conversations as a big risk. One can only imagine a linked open data sort of ‘collaboration heat map’, or worse.

Digital humanities, Design and Diction

The project is coordinated by a network organisation called Netwerk Oorlogsbronnen, which in itself seeks to connect the worlds of research, heritage and technology. A particular presentation about the technical development of this pilot by the Director of the Royal Academy of Science Humanities cluster showed in great details the levels normally not considered by users of technological innovations. It was also very interesting to hear the important European and international infrastructures in digital humanities (such as Clariah, Clarin, Dariah, Cessda, Time Machine, Europeana, Dbpedia and more),on which such a pilot can flourish. It amazed me how much of our language in such projects has become tuned to technological design and development tongue, and can only hope researchers benefit from such projects and the cross-disciplinary learning it offers.

So?

Ultimately, this day took existing questions into a new arena. Researchers affirmed that critical source analysis is important, especially with such a sensitive and somewhat chaotic and technical archive as the War Tribunals one. The desire to provide better service to the "history-hungry” public is worth-while, but each steps should be considered very carefully. The issue of privacy kept coming back. The digital age and the long life of content online presents a special risk in the context of living memories of war which spark emotions of sadness and shame. I will seek to keep following this process over the coming years as well, and one particular issue remained open: what about education?

Jonathan Even Zohar-Zohar (Evenzo Consultancy) is the former Executive Director of EUROCLIO. He continues to represent EUROCLIO as an Ambassador. 

Photo credits: Zoeken door CABR-dossiers | Fotoalbum 'Centraal Archievendepot Justitie' | Archief Ministerie van Justitie

Introducing our New Executive Director – How to make EUROCLIO future proof? 

Agustin De Julio Association, EUROCLIO

During the board meeting in Gdansk this April, the EUROCLIO Board signed a Management Agreement with Steven Stegers, appointing him as Executive Director, with a mandate until 2021. What does this mean for our organization? I talked to Steven about his proudest moment at EUROCLIO, and how he aims to make our organization future-proof, as was asked by the Board in the vacancy.

Having been involved with EUROCLIO since 2006, Steven has witnessed our organization change over the years. ‘The scope of EUROCLIOs work has changed significantly over the years’ he explains: ‘When I started to work at EUROCLIO, we worked mostly on a national and regional level. There were less projects, but the projects that we did have were big and lasted multiple years. They focused on network and capacity building where history educators worked on joint publications. Now, most projects are European projects, with less educators from one country, but more countries overall.’ Also the language of the publications changed: ‘Now most educational resource are made in English, whereas most of the earlier publications were made in local languages’. ‘Of course, ideally you want both’.

Of the dozens of projects and countries he was involved with, I ask Steven which one he is most proud of. ‘That is a really hard choice,’ he initially counters my question. But when forced to choose, he mentions the Crossroads of Cultures publication as one of the highlights of his career. It was the first project he was involved with from start to finish (for 4 years). He worked with more than a hundred people from over twenty countries on this publication, which shows that it is possible to overcome differences, also in countries who have a shared difficult past.

For the future, Steven wants to make EUROCLIO a global community of history education professionals, where they can find inspiration and support, and share ideas, research and practices. ‘Meeting the needs and wishes of those educators who are actually teaching history needs to be the main focus of EUROCLIOs work.’ As a first step EUROCLIO started to organize webinars. Fees from individual members will be used to offer more and more value for the professional community of history educators.

To decide how to best meet your needs, we are interested in the issues and topics our members want to have addressed. Please share your views, ideas and suggestions for future projects and educational resources or strategies, and let us know via secretariat@euroclio.eu!

Jilt Jorritsma

General Assembly 2019: new board composition and new members

Agustin De Julio Association, EUROCLIO

On 6 April the 2019 General Assembly took place in Gdansk, Poland. The EUROCLIO General Assembly votes on the election of board members, Full and Associated Membership, internal rules and statutes changes. This year resulted in a new board composition, 2 new associated members and 1 new full member being voted in.

The General Assembly voted for a new board composition. After finishing his second and final term, Board President Mire Mladenovski finished his board membership. Paolo Ceccoli has taken over the role of President. Board Secretary Sinéad Fitzsimons decided not to stand for re-election after her first term and also finished her board membership this Assembly. Two new board members were voted in: Denis Detling from Croatia will take on the role of Secretary, and Lars Peter Visti Hansen from Denmark was also voted in as new board member.

This year two new organisations have been voted in as Associate Members: National Institute Parri – Milano: History institutes on Resistance and Contemporary epoch network from Italy, and History NGO Forum for Peace in East Asia from South Korea. One Full Member was voted in: The Association for the Development of Sports and Sports Culture Footura from Bulgaria. According to the EUROCLIO governance structure, Associate Members play a role in network consultations to help set priorities for project fundraising and for the development of educational materials, but do not vote in General Assemblies. Full Members have the same participatory rights and responsibilities as Associate Members, and are allowed to vote during the General Assembly.

How can we truly bring history to life? Reflections and takeaways from the Annual Conference 2019



Some of the ideas developed during the discussion tables

History educators like learning history and want to know more. They also believe that history education is key to become responsible and active citizens. These are, at the end of the day, some of the main reasons that pushed them to pursue a career in history (and citizenship) education. Students, on the other hand, often do not choose to learn history. The majority of them follows history as a compulsory school subject, failing to understand its relevance and often finding it boring or, in some extreme cases, useless.

How can we better engage students in history? How can we make history teaching meaningful for them? It is with this questions in mind that the participants to the 26th EUROCLIO Annual Conference approached the Discussion Tables on Friday 05 April.

The tables, led by 5 EUROCLIO Ambassadors and Friends, dived into five different aspects of how to make history teaching meaningful for all students. They were characterised by exchanges, discussions, and proposed a series of concrete solutions and approaches to history in the classroom.

How to approach (European) history in an innovative manner?

How to depart from the classical frontal lesson or group work, to better grasp students’ attention? Focusing on this question, participants agreed that they would like to depart from political history, which is often considered boring by pupils. Many alternatives were suggested, including:

  • Social history and everyday life
  • The history of concepts (such as racism, civilisation, or diversity)
  • Oral and generations’ history

In this way, participants argued, students would be able to feel the history taught in the classroom as theirs, and will feel more engaged.

Participants also agreed that there are, in students’ everyday life, special hooks that can be used to connect to history. For example, students might be interested in fashion or in sport. Referring to the history of a specific trend, or to the life stories of some players, could create the opening teachers were looking for to tackle historical events.

How to make the most of artefacts’ use in the classroom?

The use of historical artefacts in the classroom was identified by participants as one of the many possible approaches to make history education more innovative. However, it is not a straightforward approach: it is not enough to bring an object in the classroom and ask students to reflect on it. The interpretation of an artefacts’ meaning requires a particular skillset.

For this reason, a proper use of artefacts is subject to cooperation between students, teachers, and museum curators. Each one, in fact, brings a different approach to the object, thus making the analysis more complete.

The use of artefacts is particularly suited to touch upon the topic of the history of ordinary people, which has been frequently referred to during the Annual Conference.

The uncapped potential of popular history

Popular history, an approach to history that appeals to the wider public by means of media, games, and literature, has an untapped potential to bring history to life. Participants listed a series of popular history means that can be used in the classroom. This list includes:

  • Movies
  • Board Games
  • Comics
  • Theatre plays
  • Video Games

If all these means could help engage students in history education, at the same time it is important to equip pupils with the knowledge and skills necessary to fully comprehend the topic at hand. For this reason, it is important to treat the material as resources, that have to be objectively analysed and contextualised. This can be done, participants argued, by promoting an interdisciplinary approach to the game or visual at hand, asking for example art teachers to participate.

Where were ordinary people? How did they react?

Where there ordinary people in the middle ages? How did the Solidarity Movement influence the life of 16-year-old students in Gdansk? These and other questions are of high relevance for students during history classes. Starting from these questions, it is possible to grasp students’ attention and not only introduce historical events, but also develop skills such as historical empathy.

The life of ordinary people can be brought to the classroom in many ways. For example, by means of the analysis of primary sources such as letters or diaries, when available. Another technique warmly recommended during this session was the use of interview, in which students are tasked to ask each other, a parent, or other possible interviewees, about the five events that had the biggest impact on their lives.

Finally, it was also suggested to reverse the question and ask students: how did ordinary people impact on big events?

How to react to history in the making?

Building on the panel on history in the making, teachers also discussed how history can best be linked to current affairs. To do so, they proposed a straightforward approach to the matter. First, they said, you should list all the current events that qualify as history in the making. Then, you can build parallels between these and past events. This parallel, participants proved with a brainstorming, is easy to draw, and connects current events to parts of the history curriculum.

For example, participants listed as cases of history in the making:

  • Global Warming, connected with the history of industrialization and with the protest generations in the 60s;
  • The migration crisis and the history of asylum seeking during the Second World War;
  • Brexit and the upcoming European elections connected with history of the European Union.

At the same time, participants across all the tables agreed that, to carry out the approaches mentioned, they would have needed more time to prepare the lessons, and a certain degree of freedom in choosing their own curriculum. They also underlined the importance of interdisciplinary approaches, that can further help students to develop historical and critical thinking skills.

The discussions originated in the discussion tables became recurrent throughout the conference. Topics were touched upon again during workshops, and additional concrete answers were proposed and agreed upon.



EUROCLIO’s 26th Annual Conference: Introducing New Perspectives and Encouraging Powerful Exchange

The 26th EUROCLIO Annual Conference took place from 4 to 7 April. More than 140 history and citizenship educators from 39 different countries met in the beautiful city of Gdansk, Poland. They immersed in the topic Bringing History to Life: making history education meaningful for all students.

The conference saw the debut of three new programme elements: a critical movie screening, a plenary workshop, and a Historiana feedback session. To dive into the conference theme participants had the opportunity to attend the screening of the documentary film “The Warsaw Uprising” before the official opening of the event. This movie is composed of original footage recorded during the 1944 Uprising, colored in a laboratory and pieced together in a fictional story. Introduced by Dr. Mazur, head of the education department at the Warsaw Uprising Museum, the movie sparked lively discussions on the concepts of history in the making, historical truth, and on the use of movies in the classroom.

During the four-day training, participants took part to workshops, discussion tables, panel discussions, school visits, and on-site learning activities, all aiming at exploring the reasons for and the ways to make history meaningful and engaging for students. With a collection of 23 different workshops, visits to 4 different schools, and in-depth discussions on the educational programmes of the European Solidarity Centre and the World War 2 Museum, participants went home with brand new and practical ideas on how to bring history to life in their classroom.

The closing day of the conference was characterized by two additional new elements. In the morning, more than 50 attendants took part to the first ever Historiana feedback session. They were introduced to new features in Historiana’s eLearning Environment that are being developed, These “building blocks” will provide more options for teachers who would like to create their own learning resources using Historiana. The feedback collected from participants will directly influence the design, user experience and functionalities of the tools.

Finally, Jacek Staniszewski and Richard Kennett delivered the very first plenary workshop in the history of EUROCLIO Annual Conferences. They discussed the theme “Why teaching history is more important than ever before”, and introduced participants to a variety of activities that can be carried out in the classroom to help students understand the complexity of historical figures and events and to encourage them to take a multiperspective view on the Second World War.

It has been an intensive conference, characterized by debates and discussions on what makes history learning meaningful. How to react to history in the making? How to help teachers in preparing students to challenge historical interpretations? Moreover, it has been a unique exchange opportunity, in which new friendships were created and networks were strengthened. Over the course of the coming weeks, we will share several in-depth articles highlighting aspects of the programme, for those who could not attend the conference, but of course also for participants who would like to refresh their memory!

“The Warsaw Uprising”: a critical movie screening

As part of the optional conference programme, participants had the possibility to take part to the critical movie screening of “The Warsaw Uprising”. The movie, introduced by Dr. Karol Mazur, Head of the Educational Department of the Warsaw Uprising Museum, sparked an interesting debate on the use of original footage in the classroom.

“The Warsaw Uprising” is the world’s first non-fiction movie on the Warsaw Uprising” – Dr. Karol Mazur

The movie was created following an initiative from the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which aims at drawing youngsters’ attention using so-called “pop-culture”. It consists of two layers:

  1. Original footage, colorized and selected by a team of 14 professionals;
  2. A fictional screenplay, based on primary sources such as diaries or letters.

“It is astonishing how much film material is there”

The screenplay follows two brothers, cameramen of the Bureau of Information and Propaganda of the Polish Underground Army Headquarters (BIP), who are sent to witness the uprising and the fighting. It uses authentic footage, sometimes with added sound, including original conversations reconstructed based on lip reading.

Would you use the movie in your classroom practice?

The purpose of the movie screening was to address the theme of “Bringing History to Life” from the very beginning of the conference. Steven Stegers, moderating the Q&A session after the screening, opened the discussion by posing the following question to participants: Would you use “The Warsaw Uprising” in your classroom practice?

The answers to the question were naturally mixed. Some participants argued that screening the movie would offer a very particular ability to depict everyday reality during the uprising. However, others argued that raw, unedited footage offers a more unbiased, realistic view of the events. Someone mentioned that he would screen the documentary in a classroom, accompanied by the question of why students think such a documentary would be developed and screened in 2019, evoking a discussion about rising nationalism.

“It really showed the chaos that a civilian felt”

It is safe to argue that this critical movie screening fulfilled its purpose: participants entered into discussions about what kind of methods are out there to bring history to life in the classroom, and what methods should be reconsidered. Although the screening was attended by a small group of early arrivals, it sparked debate, and therefore left an impression, throughout the conference.

Reflecting World War One Remembrance: lessons learnt

EUROCLIO Association

By Jonathan Even-Zohar, originally published on the House of European History website 

On 27th November 2018 the House of European History organised a debate around the significance, relevance and impact of the centenary of the First World War. The museum invited speakers representing different fields of public history and remembrance who were actively engaged with the centenary.

This event offered an open and rich reflection on the achievements and challenges that have been seen during the WWI centenary in 2014-2018. More broadly, it helped thinking processes at work around those key moments and themes which in effect mobilise people and organisations working with history. The discussion was an incentive to assess how to best provide institutional frameworks which connect Europeans, support research as well as public engagement and create civic space to balance national, and European, remembrance agendas, through initiatives such as the European Remembranceprogramme run by the European Commission, or the House of European History, a project under the auspices of the European Parliament.

John Horne, historian at University of Dublin, discussed the relationship between memory and history, and how that memory event (term coined by Jay Winter) can be analysed in his perspective.

Chantal Kesteloot, a public historian at Cegesoma, discussed the role of public authority and society-at-large in investing, or in fact yearning for remembrance. Virginia Crompton, a journalist-turned-cultural entrepreneur at Big Ideas, shared some of the inclusive community engagement efforts she has led in making an otherwise abstract centenary more meaningful to citizens and children. Kieran Burns, curator at the House of European History, elaborated on the museum’s exhibit on the First World War, which tells a transnational story that contributes to the search for a European narrative.

This brief report highlights a number of significant themes and insights the speakers and participants shared during the discussion I moderated.
 

Centenary supports new historical research

In Belgium, but this may hold valid across Europe, the centenary helped shift further research focus from WWII to WWI, and stimulated new approaches to WWI history. For example, looking at war aftermaths, or reconsidering a too deterministic approach to the 1920s. Structurally, more financial means were offered to a new generation of young researchers. Yet there is also a sense of missed opportunities to go deeper into entangled, global and difficult histories relating to colonial dimensions. The debate on whether WWI is to be seen as a “European” war, which sucked the world into it though the linkages of European Empires, has been developed and surely will continue as historians seek more and more to illustrate global interdependencies and structures. On the other hand, however, cultural, social and personal histories have found their way to the forefront of popular research, in particular though the lens of marginalised groups, such as the labour corps in the Big Ideas project The Unremembered, forming valuable connections between history and memory. Still more perspectives are to be appreciated, for example for the impact of the war on the Ottoman Empire and the wider region, or the rise of fascism itself. Or the colonial experiences and the history (and memory) of disabilities of the war-wounded. In summary, it seems as though the centenary has merely scratched the surface of future research fields.
 

Supporting public participation – and is a transnational civic remembrance next?

When thinking about commemoration, the first thing that comes to mind is some kind of official parade produced with television in mind, with the laying of flowers and solemn reflective speeches by Heads of State. And yes, this happened at the current centenary as well, both on the national as well as international arenas. Yet this time around, the public stepped up to a greater extent, and took part in many activities., Europeana’s collection roadshow is a good example – in which ordinary people were invited to have their war-time items and the related stories be forever included in Europe’s digital collections. Or #playforpeace, where musicians around the world co-recorded a commemorative tribute to the armistice. Who then actually owns remembrance? Is it still a prerogative of the State to mark key moments in its lifetime, or is it becoming increasingly democratised? And if it is, is the way in which this process unfolds inclusive enough to all members of society? Innovative engagement ideas have been developed in the context of the centenary and their effects should be studied and shared more. Keep in mind that the First World War centenary was unique for it was still a commemoration with a “living touch” i.e. personal significance for living generations through their recent family history.
 

The centenary put museums in an international and local space of memory

The House of European History collection and exhibition development which happened exactly during the commemorations, benefited from the widespread interest for the topic. Local and national museums in Rovereto, Budapest, Ypres, and others, who lent objects, showed a huge interest for the transnational narrative being built by the House of European History. New museums presented local experiences, or novel museum approaches, such as the “In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres which provided  a beautiful example of a post-national museum. This put new emphasis on the front as a multicultural space, going beyond the idea of ‘our dead’.  One debate which continues is the role of tourism and other forms of popular visits to sites. The consumerist side of remembrance may be an element which requires further discussion.
 

Laying bare current political realities

While researchers, educators and practitioners brought new civic and/or an international sense to reflecting the horrors of the WWI, it is not clear what steps were taken politically in this context. On the one hand we have seen joint commemorations as a tool of cultural diplomacy. Liberal leaders have sought to publically value the progress the Europe of today has made from the violence of the past, or even set aside the negative side of nationalism, as President Macron did in his speech in November 2018. But there are other developments as well. A Central Eastern European memory framework differs greatly from a Western European one, which seems to have dominated the overall European agenda. In fact, one might argue many centenaries are just about to take shape as countries in Central and Eastern Europe, which will be looking to commemorate their interwar independencies. Then comes the question if so much history being done in and around commemorative dates, does that signal a wider lack of political visions or ideals today?

Europe has a European Remembrance programme run by the European Commission, which in effect mobilises people and organisations working with history toward certain key moments and themes. As the outline of the future of this programme post-2020 is bound to emerge in the coming year, it may be wise to reflect on the achievements and challenges that have been seen during the WWI centenary in 2014-2018. Based on this we can assess how to best provide an institutional framework which connects Europeans, supports research as well as public engagement and creates civic space to balance national, and European, remembrance agendas.

Training trainers: the successful experience of boosting up history education in Lebanon

Catalina Gaete Association ,

For those working in history education, the difficulties of bringing history at the foreground of public debate are not new. History does not seem to be a priority for wider portions of society, and therefore, those who work in the field are forced to be more fervent and passionate to advocate for it. This is the story of one of those advocators, whose answer to inertia is never lethargy but rather action. Nayla Hamadeh, from the Lebanese Association for History (LAH), shares with us their efforts to promote a significant reform in Lebanese history education, which first step is to train… the trainers.

How to bring up history at the forefront of educational concerns and reforms? This is the question that the Lebanese Association for History (LAH) has being trying to answer since 2013. Founded by a group of educators, history teachers, and activists, LAH advocates for historical scientific enquiry, continuous learning, and critical thinking. Within these aims, the professional development of Lebanese historians has been among their main goals, especially due to the curricular deadlock that came during the post war period.

Nayla Khodr Hamadeh is the current president of the Lebanese Association for History. Involved long before in professional development, even as a trainer herself at the International College (IC) in Beirut, Nayla has explored Lebanese history education from within, achieving great understanding of its most urgent problems and concerns. “After several trials in the post war period, successive governments have failed to issue a new curriculum intended to ‘unify the Lebanese’ around a common narrative.  This has resulted in the marginalization of history as a subject. History teachers were hardly receiving any training in the last three decades”, Nayla says.

Due to this grim panorama, where the needs for professional development of public schools’ history teachers were almost unknown, in 2018 LAH started working with the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD), the body in charge of public training in Lebanon. “In an effort to start preparing the grounds for a new curriculum, the CERD had already appointed a number of history teachers to act as trainers of history teachers”, Nayla said, describing the emergence of an opportunity to get involved. In this scenario, LAH proposed an innovative programme aimed at providing training to their team of trainers, pointing at the need of well-prepared professionals for the new curriculum to be issued.

“To map their needs, we conducted an online survey to which 116 teachers responded. The majority of public schools’ teachers indicated that they had not received any form of training and that they are interested in introducing new ways to their teaching”, Nayla describes. With this imperative task in mind, LAH and CERD started to work together in a training programme involving three workshops and mentoring sessions. The activities aimed at addressing pedagogy strategies, curriculum design, needs assessment and building learning communities. “It culminates in the design of a training program for all teachers”, Nayla says, pointing at the final goal of this initiative, which is to form “a team of trainers equipped with skills and knowledge needed to design and manage an impactful training program for all teachers leading to change in history classrooms. This, of course, is a long process. LAH’s initiative aims at starting this process”.

The first phase of this joined effort will end up in January 2019, to then open up the second phase, where the ‘trainees’ will implement their own training sessions. “The challenge is to ensure that the teachers start implementing this in their classrooms”, Nayla said, describing the difficulties of intervening working cultures that are resistant to change. Finally, Nayla explained that the work developed by LAH is an ongoing and permanently open process, because the main goal it’s not only introduce learning strategies, but also “build historical thinking, openness and respect of others”.

If you want to follow up the work developed by LAH in Lebanon, and learn from their experience training history teachers’ trainers, you can check out their website (in English and Arabic) https://lahlebanon.org/

“We” is Defined by Where We’re Heading, not Where We Have Been

Jonathan Even-Zohar Association

The original article was written by EUROCLIO Ambassador Jonathan Even-Zohar on his website.

Talking Future of Madurodam – The small city of the smile

In 1952 a park was built in The Netherlands which aimed to reinforce a Dutch collective identity and a sense of positivity toward the future. Named after war hero George Maduro, a miniature park called Madurodam was created.
Today the place has a great calling for tourists for having many famous Dutch landmarks collected in one place. The park is visibly built with much care and attention for detail, drawing also a crowd of enthusiasts. But the largest group to visit the park is parents with young children, fitting perfectly to the foundational mission to help kids smile and have fun.

I remember very well the first time my grandfather took me there. I must have been 10 years old and very excited to ask him for some coin to put in the machines which would make the part come alive. Nothing spectacular according to current standards, but making the miniature world come alive for half a minute was actually quite thrilling back then, and probably still is to most kids. Nothing wrong with this.

But in the last few years the park has been re-invigorated, with new attractions being built. Just like with the existing features Madurodam, visitors can expect an interaction. And while the scale has increased and the visitor participation is more rooted in immersive experience, the thing which is really interesting is the coming of the historical narrative and framing to the park.

There are several reasons why this is so interesting:

  1. Building national historical narratives through public institutions, or via public funding is usually a governmental affair. Madurodam is a private foundation and receive no government funding. Its drive to foster collective identity with national historical narratives is rooted in its foundational mission, and is not the result of a public policy.
  2. The delivery of national historical narratives is a serious affair led by cultural and educational institutions. Madurodam, however, seeks first and foremost to entertain, inspire and (positively) energize the visitors. Similar to other popular histories (games, movies), academic validity plays a secondary limited role in the storytelling concepts. History as a feel-good story, in search of future happy endings.
  3. Madurodam is certainly an established name in Dutch households. It even has a real (school going youngster) mayor appointed annually. It financially supports a charity fund aiming for children to be prepared for active citizenship. In the Dutch language, however, it can be used to portray something as small and irrelevant. Being well-known but arguably less significant in the public mind, provides it further independence.

In the coming years, the park will have a large expansion. New attractions and experiences will be built. To reflect on the position of the park toward history, and matters relating to public historical awareness and national narratives, I had the opportunity to speak with Joris van Dijk, Managing Director of Madurodam, and avid reader of history books!

Retelling Dutch History

Go to Madurodam and you will find Dutch history retold. In addition to the many interactive features of the miniature part (such as running dams, sluices, trains, cars, etc), there are now larger attractions that seek to want the visitor to be inspired by episodes in Dutch history.

You can be in the room where 16th century citizens decide to declare themselves independent from the Spanish Empire and sense a feeling of Braveheart-esque yearning for freedom. You can board a 17th century ship sailing to New Amsterdam (before it became New York) and listen to Governor Stuyvesant’s motivational speech. You can help run the 19th century steam-powered pumps to help tame the “waterwolf”, eventually making a large part of land between Amsterdam, Haarlem and Leiden dry and fit for the 20th century building of Schiphol International Airport. And next season, you should be able to board a historical KLM aircraft to take part in a chronological fly-over of the Dutch country, landing in a future sea-based new International Airport.

Responsible History

Is this nation-making, or is it selective ‘slicing’ of history, as Van Dijk put it? Is it possible to take part, even if one is not a public body, in public history without seeking to address wrongs of the past? It would be easy to enter condemnation-mode, and urge Madurodam to turn several pages to include wartime collaboration with the persecution of Jews for example, or the Dutch role in slave trade and enslavement. Addressing issues that have been challenging the post-war and post-colonial Dutch collective identity seem to not fit in a place where that collective identity is grounded in national pride.

It would be too easy however to simply judge Madurodam as a chauvinist place and ignore the context in which Madurodam operates:

  • It attracts tourists and recreational visitors who are not there for learning per se.
  • It seeks to advance a collective sense of optimism.
  • It caters to young kids (mainly until 12 years old)

Moreover, the educational programme developed with ProDemos helps primary school students understand democratic decision making in simulation role play methods. It is in a way telling that there is no history activities offered in the educational packages.

Mr Van Dijk acknowledges that the historical dimension is not the main point of attention in the construction of the story-lines, but has also been very open about the need to work more with historians and generally ensure historical thinking and historical empathy play a role in future attractions.

Putting Inclusive Learning in Leasure?

Admittedly, planning a visit to Madurodam for many parents is all about their children simply having fun. Learning about the country’s landmarks, and to a limited degree its history is facilitated through the distribution of an informative booklet. Mr Van Dijk looks toward new technologies to build a digital environment in which all visitors will be able to engage with the landmarks, Dutch history, and possibly also values related to democratic citizenship.

This drive stems from a very broad view on society and the world today. It is clearly visible in the mission and vision of the Madurodam Children’s Fund which looks to develop children’s empathy, dialogue abilities and empower their participation in society. This means that simply having fun is not enough. It becomes clear that the fund is pursuing this to defend the future of children who live in a society of increasing polarisations and politicising of culture and identity.
The fund does not directly operate necessarily in the park itself, but the transformative values recognised by the park certainly could be instrumental in rethinking the ways in which the park provides historical context and/or motivates the visitors to engage in historical learning.
Going beyond the set pride-generating story-line, which at times might border national myth-making, the park has an opportunity to bring in layers of interpretation and relevance on the individual level.

Our Past and My/Your Future

Mr Van Dijk is motivated in this respect by the European slogan “Unity in Diversity”, or as the American Dollars say “E Pluribus Unum” (out of many one). He would strive for the park to attract visitors who seek to know who we (referring to the Dutch) are, but leaving the park with a sense of who they (referring to the individual) are, and where they would like to go to.
Positioning this ambition in what he sees as “thirst for targeted meaning” amongst visitors, the idea of taking national historical narratives merely as canvas for individual sense-making is very interesting. It fits with the ways in which museums for example seek to deliver authentic experiences to visitors. Mr Van Dijk refers to a high-cultural process, which – as far as I understood – means the ongoing collective creation of shared purpose among the nation. Without being very specific about who belongs and who does not, I understand in this regard that Van Dijk indeed means all the citizens of The Netherlands.
In order to contribute to this process, but not confuse the visitor, some form of mass customisation comes into play. History is so full of stories, but which stories get to be told, which get to be problematized, and which get to be sanctified?

On Message

I never expected to have such great conversations in Madurodam. For all I knew, this park of miniatures was an extension of hobbyists seeking to show their superbly crafted iconic landmarks.
Understanding that people seek an escape from reality, that they seek to have fun, how can Madurodam bring in history – argument-, evidence- and fact-based – without letting the visitors on to a national fairy tale of achievement?
Reversely, how to positive stories of courage and change, get told in such a way that young children, and society at large can find solace and inspiration to avoid the cynicism?
It is interesting to compare Madurodam with its contemporary creation – the Efteling, a fantasy-theme-park. Both, in a sense, seek to instil a sense of wonder, spark the imagination. Is the historical learning that Van Dijk aspires to merely an educational residu of a feel-good park, or should more be done to salvage historical learning?

The title of this article is a (approximate) translation of the line “Wij wordt bepaald door waar we gaan, niet waar we waren” from the song “Van de Regen naar de Zon” by Typhoon

Liberating the Big Data of the Past

EUROCLIO Association

 

The original article was written by EUROCLIO Ambassador Jonathan Even-Zohar on his website

It’s 2025 and you are looking at buying a house. Before you do, you access your timemachine, which puts you in a historical geographic information system. Maybe it’s an Assassins Creed-type immersive experience, or maybe it’s more like a Google Streetview. But whichever it is, you are free to encounter time- and location-specific primary source materials. Not only that. You might also be able to look ‘behind the scenes’ at different interpretations and connections between primary sources across various interpretations in society of said primary source…We are talking annotations, enriched stories, thematic pathways and much more. Before you know it, you have browsed through several centuries of change and continuity in and around your possible house.

This is Timemachine. Born from a desire to radically scale up the Venice Time Machine project (documented very well by the Arte Production “History and Big Data”), the partnership now brings together over 200 institutions from all over Europe. It brings together innovators, networks and users in many fields, including archives,artificial intelligence, data science, gaming, heritage, history and visualisation. One of my favorite organisations, Europeana, is a core supporter as well! What do they want to do, and how?

It’s an exciting time for this initiative as in the coming days the European Union will publish it’s selection results. If positive, the initiative will receive major funding in the years to come!

The initiative website already provides much information about the approach, the vision and the partners – but what would such a time-machine mean for the future of history and history education?

I spoke with Dr Thomas Aigner, Steering Committee member of Timemachine and President of Icarus (International Centre for Archival Research), to find out more about this vision and its implications.

Historians Needed

Timemachine is pitched to bring about a new paradigm for the historical sciences. This involves many new disciplines (AI, robotics, data, physics, etc.), but Aigner holds that the historians’ method of investigation, the philosophy and above all the art of interpreting will make historians more important than ever. No longer will historians be seeking for a needle in a haystack. Instead the masses will be playing around,educating themselves with needles and hay alike. Historians need to foray into designing user experience of interpretations. Much of which resides already in historical pedagogy and cultural heritage education already.

While the project expects to achieve technological breakthroughs in, for example, AI-enabled deciphering of historical scripts and smart translation, it will still be the responsibility of historians in society to assess sources, connect dots critically and tell stories. Only difference will be that they will no longer hold a kind of monopoly to the historical record.

This, one might say, is a process already very much in progress. Public historians seek to further understand their position in an increasingly digitized historical record.

Just as in the 19th century, being overwhelmed by the alleged “experience” of past times in some cases undermines the least distance to the historical subject presented. The borders between the individual-temporal levels become blurred and the observers run the risk of perceiving the representations as mirrors of the past without any reflection. This phenomenon can also be recognized with meticulously investigated Virtual Reality offers which, “in historical terms”, are as exact as possible. (Virtual Time Travels? Public History and Virtual Reality;Public History Weekly)

Trust in Data? Google? Europe?

Aigner talks about the imperative to “liberate the Big Data of the past” and make it accessible for all, in passing also referencing the need for Europe to do this “before Google does it”.This seems a very valid concern! Not only has the Google Books project been a warning shot in terms of figuring out “who owns heritage” (check out the 90 minutes documentary Google and the World Brain if you have a chance), but also in terms of how Google approaches knowledge through AI and algorithms. Playing around for example with “Talk to Books” shows that while it can be easy to find out what books say by asking questions, the perception on the validity of that knowledge, in my view, falls behind the accumulated contextual knowledge of historians, who are trained to cross-reference, as well as “read between the lines”.

Also Google Arts & Culture has featured extensive browsing capabilities of heritage markers.

Be that as it may, how does the noble goal of “liberating data” relate to the cluster of problems around fake news, disinformation campaigns, political echo chambers and polarization in public discourse?

Well, that struggle will go on. Aigner agrees that use and abuse of the past is not something to be resolved with technological breakthroughs. And perhaps Technology is actually part of the problem? But, removing the barriers (access, language, relational, etc) to the historical record will enable all stakeholders to better research, narrate and experience the past.  Timemachine essentially is about the creation of the tools necessary to open to a new world of technology-enabled-history, including “to develop new technologies for the scanning, analyzing, accessing, preserving and communicating of cultural heritage at a massive scale”.

…and Education?

Technologies in virtual/augmented/mixed reality, big data and AI are very promising, and Europe’s thirst for recreational, intellectual, political or simply personal historical experiences, will certainly help in pushing the envelope. Even we can see this as a form of democratisation of the past. Fair enough.

In education, however, the process of learning matters. There are pedagogical concerns and the question of the role of technology in learning still looms in the educational field. Timemachine might eventually offer learners experience which create ‘historical sensations’.It might inspire far more original archival research and even source analysis and critical thinking. But if will still need educators to run the show.

It seems a process which is just starting. While education policy makers orient themselves to the need to address democratic values, skills for the 21st century and so on. “Technology may enhance teaching, but requires good pedagogy and skills”, say the authors of Teaching in the fourth Industrial Revolution. I will need to read more and seek to follow these teachers.

Dots on the Horizon

Every citizen will be able to access rich historical data. The big funding from the EU should facilitate the building of a “massive semantic graph of linked data –probably the largest ever built about the past – unfolding in space and time as part of an historical geographical information system”. Still an overly academic project, hence the large EU science funding in the form of FET-Flagship, one can only hope translations to citizens of all ages through public,and general education, get prioritised as well.

Of course, as a historian, I am thrilled to get my hands on this technology. Already working with the Dutch National Library Delpheronline archive of newspapers has been an amazing experience and inspiring to do more research. But the idea of a massive single linked approach certainly is incredible.

Also I can see much enthusiasm in the field of cultural heritage, where so many different public authorities(museums, municipalities, provinces, etc) and private entities (tourist companies, seek to provide tourists and the public at large with immersive experience, in which the past can be experienced and more.

Exciting times ahead for sure.

But then I imagine. We have reached the new reality. Big Data of the past has been liberated. A plethora of new research emerges. The public is unable to ignore historical perspectives and anew layer to daily life is made possible. And then you look at the house your about to buy, and you see that is was an SS-headquarters during the Nazi occupation. Or, more to the point, you figure out that the house you are about to buy features high on crime. You won’t go there. The house price drops, and social cohesion with it…Perhaps you see the garden was the site of witch burnings.

Metaphorically, people have described history as a vast ocean of inspiration, but also as the monsters under the bed.

And it is at that point that some questions are likely to remain:

  • How will the public-at-large navigate the moral waters of history?
  • Are we at risk of algorithms catering for us to view only the history which is recommended to us? Like with Netflix,Amazon, etc.
  • Who will govern the data to the extent that the user behaviour might render some historical sources more valuable than others?