Podcast review: A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor

Helen Snelson Reviews

What am I suggesting you listen to?

This History of the World in 100 objects starts with the first recorded humans and ranges across time and around the world ending in 2010, the year when the series of 15-minute programmes first aired on BBC Radio 4 over the course of 20 weeks. This is ‘a’ history (of course not ‘the’) history of humanity. A different object from the vast collection of the British Museum is at the centre of each 15 minute programme. With an object in mind, the then director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, sets the object in its context. He is a man with a gift for bringing the past to life, highly intelligent, with the ability to communicate in an authentic, straightforward manner that is never patronising. After he left his role at the British Museum, he was asked to be founding director for Berlin’s new Humboldt Forum.

The 100 episodes are all available to download as podcasts and are a great accompaniment to your morning commute, or to keep you company doing the ironing, or as you walk the dog. They are divided into 20 periods, which were also given theme names, as follows:

  1. Making us human (2,000,000 – 9,000 BC)
  2. After the Ice Age: food and sex (9,000 – 3,000 BC)
  3. The first cities and states (4,000 – 2,000 BC)
  4. The beginning of science and literature (1500 – 700 BC)
  5. Old world, new powers (1100–300 BC)
  6. The world in the age of Confucius (500–300 BC)
  7. Empire builders (300 BC – AD 1)
  8. Ancient pleasures, modern spice (AD 1 – 600)
  9. The rise of world faiths (AD 200 – 600)
  10. The Silk Road and beyond (AD 400 – 700)
  11. Inside the palace: secrets at court (AD 700 – 950)
  12. Pilgrims, raiders and traders (AD 900 – 1300)
  13. Status symbols (AD 1200–1400)
  14. Meeting the gods (AD 1200–1400)
  15. The threshold of the modern world (AD 1375–1550)
  16. The first global economy (AD 1450–1600)
  17. Tolerance and intolerance (AD 1550–1700)
  18. Exploration, exploitation and enlightenment (AD 1680–1820)
  19. Mass production, mass persuasion (AD 1780–1914)
  20. The world of our making (AD 1914–2010)

While the fact that the British Museum has such a wide range of objects is as a result of colonial domination and full of controversy, the ‘history’ itself is most definitely not national, or European, it is world history. In programme one Neil MacGregor sets out his stall: “In these programmes, I'm travelling back in time, and across the globe, to see how we humans over 2 million years have shaped our world and been shaped by it, and I'm going to tell this story exclusively through the things that humans have made: all sorts of things, carefully designed, and then either admired and preserved, or used, broken and thrown away. I've chosen just a hundred objects from different points on our journey, from a cooking pot to a golden galleon, from a Stone Age tool to a credit card.”

A few highlights

The joy of these podcasts is that you can listen to them in any order. I think I have listened to them all. I have certainly listened to some of them many times over the years since they were first produced. I will briefly share three of my highlights:

1) The Vale of York Viking Hoard was buried in the ground not far from where I live in about 927CE. It was found in 2007 and is made up of beautiful silver and goldwork and many coins. We know it was buried around the time England was formed. There are coins of St Peter using the hammer of the Viking God Thor. We have no idea what happened to the Viking who buried this treasure and never returned to claim it. What it does reveal (via the coins) is that, over 1000 years ago, my rather unspectacular home city was part of a vast trade network that connected with Baghdad, Afghanistan and Samarkand.

2) The Akan Drum represents the forced transfer of African people to the Americas. It has been in the British Museum since it opened in 1753. It cannot have been taken to North America by an enslaved African, as they were not allowed to take possessions. Yet, by 1730 this West African wooden drum was in the Americas, probably given as a gift to slavers and then traded on. It represents the forced transfer of millions of Africans and with them African culture, which was to flourish, develop and shape the world, for example as jazz music.

3) A clay tablet from c.3000 BCE comes from what is now southern Iraq. It is one of the earliest examples of writing. Someone has recorded the rations of beer for workers. It’s an early example of a bureaucracy organising public finances. This was the notebook of an administrator. Writing was emerging as a form of social control. I wonder if the beer was good?!

How could this help teach history?

Firstly, listening to these podcasts is a wonderful way for teachers to develop their own knowledge. That might be in relation to a specific topic taught in school. Alternatively, it could be in order to gain new knowledge so that existing knowledge is reframed and transformed and thinking about the past changes. I think that the latter is what makes teaching history so exciting. We are always learning ourselves, always developing our thinking about the past, never finding a final answer as we can never go back there.

You could summarise the stories Neil MacGregor tells to use as starters to intrigue students about a topic you are about to study. Alternatively, you could set listening to a podcast, or reading a summary of a podcast as additional learning to make students aware of what was going on elsewhere, or what the wider cultural milieu was, in a period they are studying. The stories can also be used to bridge those big gaps we have between what we teach in depth in class, because there is just too much of the past to teach.

It would be great to hear what inspires you about these objects and how you can think of using them with students.

 

There is a book of this name, but I would recommend you listen to the podcasts that you can find here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/series/b00nrtf5

New meaningful ways to remember? An approach from the Museum Klok & Peel

Lorraine Besnier Reviews

As part of the commemoration and celebration of the 75th year of freedom of the Netherlands, several events have been organised throughout the country to focus on WWII remembrance. The region of Brabant, through Erfgoed Brabant organised a conference entitled Past: Forward aimed at bringing together young professionals and academics dealing with remembrance. Three main topics were at stake: Reflect, Rethink and Remember. 

The Remember section covered various topics such as the role of sound in memory, the consequences of different narratives in politics, and a best practice on educating children about the Second World War was shared.

The Museum Klok & Peel presented on their education programme in collaboration with schools from the region. As part of the bigger “Death Valley De Peel”, several initiatives are  ongoing such as “Theatertocht Death Valley De Peel” or “Girls from before”.

The Death Valley De Peel project includes several activities aimed at different age groups. One of these, entitled “The youth of today” deals directly with the commemoration of WWII, and raises an important question: How to involve youngsters that have no direct experience with War? While the importance of the second World War is strongly emphasised in school, it is often difficult for children to relate to the people and stories they are taught about. 

The Museum Klok & Peel has developed an activity to bridge that gap by putting children in contact with people with stories about The Peel. The Peelraamstelling was the second defence line of the Netherlands, just behind the Maas line. It was built in 1939 and attacked and conquered on 10 May 1940 by the German forces. The Peel has been the theatre of many tragedies and has witnessed both the invading efforts of the Axis and those of the parachuted Allies. To preserve this heritage, the museum helps children find a survivor with a story to tell about the valley. The children interview that person, reformulate the events shared in their own words, and produce a drawing about the story (see pictures for examples of the drawings). By not only reformulating, but also visualising the events, the children have a better understanding and can better relate to what happened. 

Two pupils were present at the conference to share their experience. While one presented her summary of events, the other shared some reflections and thoughts on the process. It was striking to hear the emotion in the voice of the young girl who read her reformulated interview. “Martien says: if it had been quiet in the hospital I would not have had a leg anymore.”1

The second young girl who was reflecting on her experience mentioned that: “Interviewing someone who has gone through a hard time needs to be done with great care. While asking your questions you had to not only think about your school assignment but also be aware of their emotions that could come back, that they perhaps had tried to suppress. Some things are better left untouched and were not spoken of during the interview.”Interestingly, and despite the sensitivity of the topic, the “man and woman we interviewed opened up about their experiences and were happy to help us and some were even relieved that children our age would even show interest in the war”. 

Projects like these help the generations that have not witnessed war directly. Further than the knowledge of events, young people are given ways to relate to the emotions and experience of those who witnessed the war. Such insights enrich and transform the outlook of these students not only on the Second World War, but on other conflicts. As they put it: “the most important thing is that we should all remember what happened in the past and give a message to the next generation; Together we must prevent another war and make sure that this can never happen again”

EUROCLIO is also working to innovate on education and remembrance practices, for instance through the RETHINK project, by sparking the interest of young people and thus ensuring a continuity of the lessons learned from the past. For a generation that increasingly knows online interactions, human contact and wisdom are exceedingly valuable.

1 - The quote refers to a story wherein a child had a shard lodged in his leg following an attack, and was transported to the hospital. His leg was to be amputated. However, since he was not the most critical case in that hospital, the amputating was delayed to the next day. Miraculously, the leg recovered better than expected and need not be amputated anymore.

The 1619 Project: a very European history

Maayke De Vries Reviews

August 2019 marked the 400th anniversary of the first arrival of enslaved Africans on the shores of nowadays United States (US). In order to shed light on the immense importance of this occurrence, the New York Times (NYT) produced an issue of their magazine about the event and its aftermath, the 1619 Project. The magazine consisted of more than 100 pages and was accompanied with a podcast, curriculum and live events. The 1619 Project received a lot of attention from politicians, educators, and opinion makers. They all underlined the importance of this issue, as it acknowledged the horrifying past of slavery and the continuing consequences for African Americans in 2019. While the US examines its past of racism, segregation, and white supremacy, Europe seems to ignore this history and continue to embrace their empire building endeavors. In this blog post, the 1619 Project will be reviewed to inspire and encourage European history educators to teach about the transatlantic slave trade and its lasting impact. Hence, this blog will emphasize Europe’s role in the transatlantic slavery and include a call to decolonize ourselves.

The first essay of the 100-page magazine elaborates on the history behind the kidnapped Africans who arrived in the Virginia Colony in August 1619. It were 20 captured Africans who arrived in a port near Jamestown in the English colony Virginia (Elliot and Hughes). They were initially on a Portuguese slave ship enroute to the Spanish colony, nowadays known as, Mexico. However, the ship was seized by two English pirate ships. The ships eventually stranded in the Virginia Colony. The English captain possessed a letter of marque from the Dutch prince Maurits, which gave private armed ships legal authorization from a government to attack a ship from a country that they were at war with. The Dutch Republic was at war with the Portuguese at that moment, due to conflicting interests in the global trade routes. It was a Portuguese slave ship that brought enslaved Africans to a Spanish colony because of an agreement issued by the Roman Catholic Church. The Treaty of Tordesillas granted Spain access to all the land 1,185 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands, while Portugal was free to exploit the land east of that line. This meant that enslaved people were forcibly transported to the Spanish colonies through an Asiento; a contract that ensured the supply of enslaved people to the Spanish colonies. Other European countries, like Denmark, the Netherlands, France, and England, wanted to secure the Asiento for their own profits (Elliot and Hughes). The introductory essay already mentioned seven European countries which were one way or another involved in the arrival of abducted Africans on the shores of the Virginia Colony in 1619. Thus, this is not only an American or British history, this is a very European story as many European countries “fought to control the resources of the emerging transatlantic world and worked together to facilitate the dislocation of the indigenous peoples of Africa and Americas” (Guasco).

The NYT attempted to cover 400 years US history with its impressive and visually attractive 1619 Project. The essays are chronologically ordered: it starts with the Virginia Colony, then goes on to cover the reality of plantation slavery, along with an explanation of the attempts to scientifically proof white supremacy, and an examination of political investments in keeping the southern states included in the Union at the expense of the enslaved. However, the essays do not stop with the abolition of slavery in 1865. More essays follow to indicate how the history of slavery determines much of the furture. A good example of this is the essay by Bryan Stevenson about the undeniably continuation of exploitation of black people through the privatization of prisons. Another one is the essay from Nikita Steward that mentioned a widespread slavery illiteracy among students, as textbooks dedicate a minimal amount of pages on the history of slavery. Along with the publication of he magazine, therefore, is also a curriculum for teachers to teach the history of slavery adequately. The Pulitzer Center offers ready-made lessons plans based on the material offered by the NYT, with guiding questions and additional student-centered activities. Besides, there is now a podcast called 1619 to dive deeper into certain topics.

As outlined in the introduction, August 1619 is not -at all- solely a 400th anniversary for the US, but also something to commemorate in European countries. The history of the transatlantic slavery left deep scares in the US society, because the plantations existed on its soil. European countries, on the other hand, built plantations overseas. This is often used as a reason why supposedly racism is more present in the US than in Europe. However, Jensen refuted this idea altogether by claiming that physical possessions of overseas territories is not even required in constructing racist notions about non-white people. Thus white supremacy thinking, that allowed for black people to be exploited as slaves, is present in the US and Europe as well. Furthermore, many European countries deal with the same issue as the US: a racial wealth gap (OECD). Education is supposed to be a force for social mobility but it seems to reproduce and reinforce existing social divisions (OECD 17). School can be a traumatic experience for students of color, as their cultural heritage and practices are not acknowledged rather ridiculed (De Vries; Akala). The 1619 Project attempted to fill in gaps in the national curriculum regarding the history of slavery and its legacy in the US. It provided teachers with material to educate themselves, along with ideas for classroom discussions on current-day racism.

Nevertheless, there is also criticism on the material as it focuses on 1619 as the magic year in which slavery entered the Americas, while enslaved black people arrived on the shores of the Americas before, for instance in the West Indies. Another criticism is the focus on the victimization of black people, rather than celebrating accomplishments that were achieved despite this horrifying history.

Thus the lesson for European educators is to see the transatlantic slavery as European history which still has a profound effect on our society today. Thus, the 1619 project gives European educators ideas and content that they can use in the classroom to teach about this sensitive issue in our history. When teaching the transatlantic slave trade, however, we need to make sure that the focus is not solely on the suffering of black people but also celebrates their accomplishments.

An example of a lesson that celebrates black success while acknowledging the past is this lesson based on the music video Apesh*t  from Beyonce Knowles and Jay-Z. Zinn Education Project is a good resource for educational material about sensitive topics in history, for example how racism became embedded in US laws. Additionally, the Twitter initiative of Val Brown named #cleartheair is also a great resource for thought-provoking readings and conversations about race and equity.

Maayke de Vries
History teacher at International School Almere
PhD Student UCL Institute of Education
www.mizsdafreeze.com

 

SOURCES

Akala. Natives. Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire. London: Two Roads, 2018.

Elliot, Mary, and Jazmine Hughes. “Four hundred years after enslaved Africans were first brought to Virginia, most Americans still don’t know the full story of slavery” The New York Times Magazine, 14 Augusts, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/19/magazine/history-slavery-smithsonian.html.

Guasco, Micheal. “The Fallacy of 1619: Rethinking the History of Africans in Early America”, Black Perspectives, 4 September 2017, https://www.aaihs.org/the-fallacy-of-1619-rethinking-the-history-of-africans-in-early-america/

De Vries, Maayke. “A Narrative Inquiry: The Lived School Experiences of Racially Marginalized Students at a Middle School in Norway”. Utrecht University: Master Thesis. DOI:10.13140/RG.2.2.25308.54405

Jensen, L. “Provincalising Scandinavia”. Kult, vol. 7, 2010, p. 7-21.

OECD. “Understanding the Socio-Economic divide in Europe” Centre for Opportunity and Equality, 2017, https://www.oecd.org/els/soc/cope-divide-europe-2017-background-report.pdf

Visibility Matters: Queer History

Maayke De Vries Reviews

Teaching Tolerance (2018 - 2019). Queer America”. In partnership with University of Wisconsin Press. Hosted by Leila Rupp and John D’Emilio. Available on Spotify, Google Music, Apple Podcasts. 

Podcasts are a great way to engage with new thoughts and insights, as they are entertaining yet highly informative and always available. All of the above is applicable to the podcasts series produced by Teaching Tolerance named Queer America. Teaching Tolerance is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups in the United States of America and promotes social justice in education. Teaching Tolerance provides teachers with classroom resources and professional development to promote anti-bias education. In this article the podcast series will be reviewed by firstly assessing the need for such a resource, thereafter providing a short summary of the topics discussed, along with some ideas and example lessons inspired by the podcast series. 

Why Teach Queer History?  

In a report conducted by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2013, the alarm was raised. It gave a shockingly negative account of the experiences of LGBTQ students in Europe. One of the concerns was the lack of factual information about sexuality and gender diversity to counteract stereotypes and biased information. The United Nations explicitly endorsed to teach respecting and appreciating diversity in their framework for Global Citizenship Education. EUROCLIO as well signifies inclusion as one of their main focus areas. In reality, however, LGBTQ history is rarely discussed in the media, museums, research, let alone in public education. Last year, Scotland was one of the first nations in the world to make LGBTQ history a mandatory part of the curriculum. The podcast Queer America tries to fill this void by helping educators in finding ways to incorporate LGBTQ history in the curriclum.

The Gist of the Podcast 

As of now, the series exists out of thirteen episodes of about an hour. Each episode has its own distinct theme which can be historical or pedagogical. The podcast is hosted by Leila Rupp, a professor in feminism, and John D’Emilio, a professor in women’s and gender studies, who receive guests to talk about a certain topic. The first three episodes discuss how educators can go about engaging students with the histories of queer people. In these episodes many references are made to the guide created by Teaching Tolerance, which gives practical advice on creating a community of trust and respect for everyone (for example by creating a classroom contract, as mentioned in this blog). 

In other episodes topics in queer history are explored. The podcast is produced in the United States of America (US), thus it is US-focussed. Nevertheless, World War II is an event that allows for an investigation on the contrasting impact of war on various groups. In episode seven, historian Susan Freeman suggests to delve into the concept of freedom in relation to World War II, because whose freedom mattered during the war? The queer community experienced a lot of scrutiny and policing during that time. However, it also brought a lot of young men together during moments of vulnerability, hence a carpe diem mentality arose and gay men sought each other’s company despite repercussions. Other historical moments discussed are the “Lavender Scare” during the Cold War, protests in the 1960s, the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, and same-sex romantic friendships in the 19th century. All these events take place in the US, nonetheless they provide educators with hints about what stories are waiting for us to be unburied and examined in our classrooms. 

Ideas

By listening to different experts explaining their approach to teaching queer history, a wide variety of possibilities are demonstrated. One example is addressing during every unit the question: “ Who is included and whose voices are we missing?”. Besides acknowledging that certain voices are missing, it also encourages educators to address the question why this is the case. Thus, this means to consider the way in which history is written and why some stories are revealed while others forgotten. Hereby cultural norms, societal expectations, and power structures are exposed. Researching historical figures who were gay or transgender is another way of incorporating queer history into the curriculum. It is possible to find such a person for every time period. Teaching Tolerance included a list of historical figures in their guide. The example given in episode thirteen is a research into the life of Lorraine Hansberry, which allows for a discussion on intersecting identities like sexual orientation, race, and class. In an European context, such investigation can be done into the life of April Ashley or Josephine Baker

Examples 

In the podcast, the guide for the subject social science, created by the Californian State Board of Education in 2016, is often used as an example of how to incorporate seamlessly queer history into a standardized curriculum. In this framework there is a critical approach towards all topics in the standard US curriculum, starting with an examination of something basic and important as family. This is a great opportunity to make students familiar with diverse families. An example is a lesson for grade 6 based on the question: “What makes a family?”. Firstly, students create a drawing of what they think a family looks like, thereafter they look at photos of diverse families (blended families, multigenerational families, families from different religious background, gay parents and their childeren, etc.). Students analyse the photos by describing what they see on them. After a class discussion, students answer the central question again and indicate their change in thinking. Another way to incorporate a discussion about gender binary is discussing masculinity, which the podcast does by highlighting the New Deal period. Teachers can do a similar inquiry about masculinity in Europe, which created unequal expectations for men and women based on their sexes. Any attempts are a beginning, as the most important message of the podcast is to start the discussion about queer history in your classrooms.

Conclusion

The podcast accomplishes to inspire educators to teach about the histories of gay, lesbian, and transgender people. The hosts interview experts on different topics, thereby focussing on historical and pedagogical topics. The podcast aims to encourage teachers to have these - sometimes - controversial conversations in the classroom. One point of criticism is the assumption of the producers that educators have a willingness to take this step, as it does not delve into the need for actions from teachers. Furthermore, the podcast is created in the US, therefore this is also their focus. Nevertheless, European educators can take lessons from the podcast and incorporate the framework and ideas in their own curriculum. Perhaps this can encourage educators in Europe to demand the inclusion of LGBTQ history in all curricula, making Scotland the example and not the exception. 

Maayke de Vries
History teacher at International School Almere
PhD Student UCL Institute of Education
www.mizsdafreeze.com 

Sui Generis’ Pequeñas Anécdotas sobre las Instituciones: Art and youth culture under censorship

Agustin De Julio Reviews

Charly Garcia, Argentinean musician and larger-than-life figure, was arrested for indecent exposure after a concert in the province of Mendoza. Minutes before, an agent knocked on the door of his dressing room, announcing himself: ‘Open up, I’m a policeman’. Garcia, silver tongued as ever, responded: ‘It’s not my fault you didn’t study enough.’

Though there is disagreement about if this anecdote happened during the bloody Argentinean dictatorship of 1976-1983 or after, it still paints an eloquent picture of Sui Generis’ songwriter and the general disrespect for authority of a great part of an Argentinean generation, a tradition lovingly passed on to younger generations.

The record was initially conceptualised as an oeuvre with one track dedicated to each pertinent institution of Argentina under the several dictatorships of the ‘70s and the María Estela de Peron government. Las Increíbles Aventuras del Señor Tijeras (The incredible adventures of Mr Scissors), targeted directly the government censorship body, depicted the censor as a tormented, perverted bureaucrat taking disproportionate pleasure in cutting and discarding sections of film rolls. Música de Fondo para Cualquier Fiesta Animada (Background music for any given lively party) charges fiercely at the judiciary for their defective moral compass and general inaction in the face of injustice. Botas Locas (Crazy Boots), mocks the army, through Garcia’s own experience of being drafted: ‘If they are the Fatherland, then I’m a foreigner.’ Unsurprisingly, this track did not make the final cut, under political pressure to drop it from the final pressing. Censorship is the factor that ended up giving the record its identity and form. From the initial idea, a loose concept album developed, with lyrics carefully adjusted to bypass censorship. The euphemisms and lively images painted by the duo ended up marking a whole generation of Argentines: the message, censored as it was, was universal enough to be understood by whoever was willing to listen.

Argentina, during the times of Sui Generis, was in a state of extreme political turbulence. After the democratically elected General Peron’s death in 1974, his last wife and running mate, Maria Estela, took the role of acting president. De Peron struggled to profile herself as legitimate, and faced relentless pressure from both left-wing armed insurrection and right-wing factions of the military opposed to her rule. Her political alliance with the Argentinean Anti-Communist Alliance, a military backed, right-wing death squad which persecuted political opponents and established an intricate censorship apparatus, meant that the press, artists, and intellectuals were constantly under scrutiny.

Instituciones marked the end of the road for Sui Generis. The duo, once famous for their beautifully crafted folk ballads, left their niche to embrace modern instruments and venture into political satire, a move not particularly valued by the public or the press. Both went on to become successful solo artists, with Garcia penning several generational anthems about the dark times of the Argentinian military dictatorship.

Why should you not listen to this album?

Instituciones, a conceptual work recorded under strict surveillance and state censorship, does not explicitly give away details of the inner workings of the late María Estela de Perón government, nor directly comments on the impending coup d’etat. Instead, it delivers social commentary under extreme external pressure. It does not lend itself for zingers or direct quotations ready to include in the classroom. Musically, the duo’s incursion into progressive rock and synthesisers might be alienating for the casual listener.

How can history, citizenship and heritage education benefit?

Instituciones is a paramount showcase of popular culture intersecting with momentous historical trends. It is a reminder to educators to look beyond the classics, and not to forget the importance of popular movements throughout history. This example also encourages history educators to employ multidisciplinary approaches in the classroom that go beyond the textbook.

Baez will always feature in Vietnam War lessons. Dylan is central to the Civil Rights Movement. In the same fashion, Sui Generis is paramount to Argentine youth culture under authoritarianism. Such responses to authoritarianism and censorship can be found in most cases throughout the past century and are worthy of attention in the classroom, given the enormous potential for resonance among students of the topic of youth resistance. EUROCLIO’s project Silencing Citizens through Censorship developed educational resources on a number of European cases of state censorship, such as Vichy France, Franco’s Spain and post-1945 Hungary, which are excellent to treat this sensitive topic. This review is, ultimately, also a reminder of the importance of inculcating students with a deep respect for free speech, especially in times when it cannot be taken for granted.

Author Sui Generis
Original title Pequeñas Anécdotas sobre las Instituciones
Original language Spanish
Available in Spanish
Publication year 1974
Length 40'26''
Genre Folk rock, progressive rock

‘The German War’, a book that sometimes makes you hold your breath

Joke Van der Leeuw-Roord Reviews

This book review was written by Joke van der Leeuw-Roord, EUROCLIO Founder and Special Advisor.

Interest in the Second World War has been part of my life, as I was born in the shadow of this war and I was made aware of it through many stories of my parents’ family and friends and by its physical legacy in my surroundings. This was similar to most of Dutch people of my generation, however at one point it was very different: I had an uncle living in Germany. He had been a forced laborer, had fallen seriously ill and was nursed back into life by a woman; he subsequently fell in love with. My family met them on a more or less regular basis, and as soon as my mother and aunt were together, they started to quarrel about their level of War victimhood. As a Dutch child I of course had no compassion with my German aunt, and for long I time experienced stories about the German suffering merely as propagandistic, to release the burden of a dark past. However eventually my professional curiosity got the better hand and in the last five years I have been intensely engaged to get a better understanding of what the war and its legacy meant for the Germans themselves. I consider The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 written by the Oxford historian Nicholas Stargardt as a great read for developing such insights.

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 offers wide insights into the German experience from the view point of soldiers and civilians in the late Thirties and during the war time, using a wide range of source materials, among them many letters and diaries. Stargardt follows several of their authors over a longer period of time. Through this approach, the reader is able to follow the whereabouts and patters of thinking of several individuals and couples. Through these documents it becomes clear that much more was known, written or said about issues, that people outside Germany considered always highly secret in the Third Reich. Censorship of the letters from the soldiers was surprisingly minor; the fate of the Jews was therefore common knowledge. When the bombing of German cities in 1943 becomes very intense, he demonstrates that the general attitude of the public is to understand that these bombing are retaliation for what the Germans have done to the Jews.  This argument comes back, when after a break, the heavy bombing is resumed in the summer of 1944. Stargardt refutes the mantra Wir haben es nicht gewuest (we did not know about it) with ample evidence.

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 looks in a manifold of aspects of German society, paying special attention to the position of women, ideological placed in the family and the kitchen but in fact a massive (voluntary) workforce and minorities, with of course a special focus on the Jews. But also the treatment and killing on the German disabled, psychiatric patients and socially deprived is breathtakingly described in the chapter Extreme Measures. In this horrible episode the German churches play a somewhat more human role, but in general is Stargardts’ judgement about their role during and directly after the war rather harsh: the Churches did not show the Christian compassion they should have stand for. Or even worse sometimes: several of their high placed members of the clergy gave full support to the Nazis.

A chilly red thread in the book is the role of Nazi brainwashing and the brilliant but disgusting manipulations of the Goebbles’ propaganda machine. It shows how important this instrument was in influencing the mind and hearts of the people in Germany. The radio and written press were pivotal for its success but also culture and art were addressed. Goebbles spend not less than 25% of his budget on culture and theater performances to make sure that critical citizens had an outlet for their possible controversial thoughts. However, even with all propaganda tools, not each programme was successful. The intended building of a national community, which was voluntary willing to sacrifice all for the fatherland, failed due to traditional localism and regionalism and massive inner migration. People kept complaining about their fate and kept accusing each other of misusing benefits.

Why should you not read this book?

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 is a big book of about 700 pages, giving a dramatic and worrisome picture of how a highly civilized nation, which in a relative short time disintegrated into chaos, violence and terror. It leaves you with little hope for humanity when it encounters exceptional circumstances. So many lack moral qualities. willing to realize the consequences of what they heard and perceived.

Why should you read this book?

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 shows history in its full complexity, with blur lines between perpetrators, bystanders and victims. A quote in the first weeks after the liberation written in the diary of Victor Klemperer, the German academic of Jewish origin, pictures this very well when he wrote Curious conflict within me: I rejoice in God’s vengeance on the Henchmen of the Third Reich  .. and yet I find it dreadful now to see the victors and avengers racing through the city which they have so hellishly wrecked (Dresden). With this and many other quotes from eyewitnesses we are able to have an in depth insight of dreams, expectations, feelings and behavior of many German civilians and soldiers. It leads to an adverse picture of a divided society, where many, but not all, were willing to fight until the very last moment and subsequently were unwilling to face the post war situation.

How can history, citizenship and heritage education benefit?

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 offers ample opportunities to discuss about the way we talk about the blame for crimes against humanity and war crimes. It might be worth to explore this issue with examples given by Stargardt. He proves how massive the German military in Central and Eastern Europe was involved in such crimes, and how many of them looked away, despite even anti-Nazi convictions. However he also shows the lethal impact of the aerial Allied bombing on cities, and its citizens and the violence used by the liberators of the Red Army. As the book gives a wide picture of many propaganda campaigns it also offers the opportunity of deeper thinking about the use and impact of (war) propaganda.

Author Nicholas Stargardt
Original title The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945
Original language English
Available in Already published or in preparation in Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish.
Publication year 2015
No. of pages 700
Genre History

Veendammer Wind: at the crossroads of history, football, and music

Agustin De Julio Reviews

Veendammer Wind: A football opera, 28-30 June & 4-5 July 2019

The rise and fall of a club and the importance of community

Just outside the city centre of Veendam stands the Langeleegte stadium imposingly, six years after the official bankruptcy and closure of the SC Veendam. The 29th of June 2019, the Langeleegte opened its doors once again for a festive occasion, Veendammer Wind, an opera celebrating the rich history of the club, the tireless engagement of the local community, and their great achievements. Inextricably, it also tells the story of the decline of the Sportclub Veendam, pride of the east of Groningen.

It is impossible though, to reflect on the decline of the club, without considering the social reality of the Veenkoloniën, the area of the east of Groningen of which Veendam serves as unofficial capital. This region is also one of the poorest in the Netherlands. Historically, the Veenkoloniën were hit by adverse economic shocks they could never fully recover from. The decline of the peat industry, and the mechanisation of agriculture left great amounts of manual workers unemployed. Aided by globalisation, industrial production departed to areas with cheaper labour during the last century. The structural damage done to homes and historical buildings in the Veenkoloniën due to gas extraction is the latest in a long list of adverse circumstances for the area. Culturally, this region has seen a marked disconnection with the rich west of the country, and has had revolutionary tendencies well into the 20th century. It is in this context - that of the beleaguered community standing up for what is theirs - that the story of a family trying to save their local club unfolds. The attempts to revive the club through national campaigning and the recruitment of cultural ambassadors is lovingly told, with an emphasis on local stories, and interesting insights on the role of women in traditionally male dominated sports, culminating in an organised women’s team becoming more prominent than the men’s.

Despite some minor pitfalls, this opera reveals the spirit of the east of Groningen. One leaves the Langeleegte with a handful of lessons learnt. Firstly, the opera communicates well that in difficult times, community and solidarity matter. Hard times in this case show the potential for local, community solutions that can bring an entire region together. Secondly, it showcases that despite the many noxious examples of identity being used for divisive and exclusive narratives, it can also be a virtuous thing: young and old, Groningers and not, came together to celebrate a club that bound them to each other. The prominence of the Gronings dialect, both sung and spoken, is a clear indication of the intimate relationship between culture and sport. Stunning performances from the main cast, supporting actors and the Veenkoloniaal Symfonieorkest were worthy of this touching local story.

What does this performance mean for history, citizenship and heritage education?

The Football Makes History[1] project led by EUROCLIO and its partner organisations aims to tackle social exclusion and discrimination of any type via the use of football history. The rationale behind the project lies on the conviction that football, through its wide appeal, can bring people together and exact great positive societal change. Veendammer Wind shows the richness, breadth and potential of football as a source of inspiration to address these societal problems. Everywhere one looks, there are local histories that could teach valuable lessons, both in the classroom and on the pitch. It also showcases the virtues of multidisciplinarity, and encourages educators not to be afraid to innovate by mixing history with other topics, much like this performance mixes opera with football and history. The past is interwoven with everything around us, and performances like these further make the case for the use of engaging and moving local histories to teach citizenship values and raise awareness of shared heritage amongst Europe’s youth.

Original title Veendammer Wind
Original language Dutch and Gronings
Genre Opera

[1] Project implemented with the financial support of the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union as part of the initiative “Football History for Inclusion – Innovative collaborations of school education and youth through the prism of local football history for social inclusion and diversity”

Written by Agustín De Julio, EUROCLIO trainee

A Study into International Law Development that Reads as a Detective

Introduction

Lviv in Ukraine is one of the gems in Eastern Europe. I visited this town for the first time in 1997 and was immediately taken by its beauty, despite the often dilapidated status of many of its monuments. My colleagues introduced me into its complex history. The city has been part of many historical kingdoms, republics and empires: Poland, Austria-Hungary, Imperial Russia, West Ukrainian People's Republic, Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and finally, since 1991 of independent Ukraine. The name of the city changed several over times too: Lvov, Lemberg and Lviv. The city was before World War II one of the most important centers for Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish culture. Many monuments testify of this rich history. After the Second World War the situation for totally changed: the Jewish population was decimated due to the Shoah and the Polish citizens fled or were deported. Lviv (at that time called Lvov) had become a Ukrainian speaking Soviet City.

In East West Street, On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity, Philippe Sands, is able to combine the very serious topic of finding a legal concept for the atrocities committed by the Nazis with family stories, which all relate to the city of Lviv. A request for a lecture in Lviv triggered this publication, which addresses his Jewish family story and those of three key figures involved in the Nuremberg trials: Hans Frank, chief of the occupied "General Government" Polish territory, in that position responsible for the extermination of the Jewish population of Lviv. Hersch Lauterpacht, professor of international law and already an advocate of human rights in the 1920s and 1930s, who coined the term crimes against humanity. And finally Raphael Lemkin, a significant Polish prosecutor. He introduced the term genocide. The last two, both of Jewish decent, studied both at the law faculty of Lwów, the name of the city after the First World War. Both came from the same county around Lviv as Sands’s own maternal Buchholz family, where East West Street was the name of a street in Zolkiev, near Lviv, where both Sands grandfather as Lauterpacht had lived.

The Nuremberg war crimes trials were the beginning of the modern system of international justice. Many layers were involved in the trials, but the two academics from Lviv played a determining role. Lauterpacht had left Polish Lvov for Vienna in 1919 as it was impossible for him as a Jew to take the law exams in his hometown. He later travelled to England and did his PhD at the London School of Economics. His thesis laid out the basis his thinking that about international responsibilities for individuals against the power the state. A thinking that ultimately developed into the international law concept crimes against humanity, which was used during the Nuremberg trials. Hans Frank was during the Nuremberg Trials, found guilty, amongst others, based on this crime and has been afterwards executed. Raphael Lemkin stayed longer in Poland, working as a private layer and prosecutor in Warsaw. In 1939 he escaped Nazi occupied Poland and traveled through Lithuania to Sweden. In 1941 he went to the USA. During the Second World War he gathered a wide collection of Nazi documents as evidence for their planning of a total destruction of the (Jewish) people. Based on these documents he developed the international law concept of genocide, which was also, but more reluctantly, used during the Nuremberg trials.

In East West Street, On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity, Philippe Sands combines his search into the lives and their thinking about international law with a search into the lives and whereabouts of his own family, which always had been held in silence. It is amazing how his quest leads to very detailed results.

Why should you read this book? Philippe Sands’ East West Street, On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity combines big and small history, and makes the reading about the development of international law a page turner, also for those, who have no background in (international) law. The book uses a wide array of evidence and clever and creative research and almost reads as a detective, and to tell the stories of the different people in the book. It is intellectual and family history embedded in the biggest disaster of the Twentieth Century, the annihilation of the majority of Jewish citizens in Europe and the prosecution of its perpetrators afterwards.

How can history, citizenship and heritage education benefit?

Philippe Sands’ East West Street, On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity makes the reader aware that current talks about international law and human rights are relative young fundamentals in our thinking about the relation between individuals and state law. It gives ample examples how the two concepts genocide and crimes against humanity were developed and the various lobby actions necessary to have them accepted in mainstream law. It supports readers’ thinking about the benefits and drawbacks for using these concepts, in society as well during. What are now considered the benchmarks of democracy, were not seen as such before World War II. Neither by the Nazis nor by countries with vast colonial territories. Really good materials to make students reflect upon.

In the book we are also made acquainted with Hans Frank’s son, Niklas, and with Horst, the son of Otto Von Wächter, governor of Galicia, the man who was personally in charge of the final solution in Lemberg, Lvov or Lviv. How to combine love for a father with the knowledge about his wrongdoings is a big question for both of them. The difference in their handling of their respective fathers past is an excellent model to make students think about the complexity of addressing a recent controversial and even brutal family past. This book is an absolute must read, and should figure on many Christmas wish lists of history educators

 

Title: East West Street, On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity
Author: Philippe Sands
Publication year: 2016
Original language: English
Language read: English
Translations: French (Retour a Lemberg), Spanish (Calle Este Oeste), Italian (Strade Verso Est) and Ukrainian (East West Street, Old Lion). From 2018 it will be out also in German (Ruckfahr Nach Lemberg), Polish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish + about 10 more languages
No. of pages: 470
Genre: History

Big history reflected in City History, Haifa Before & After 1948 – Narratives of a Mixed City

The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation commits itself to promoting reconciliation, tolerance and understanding in historically divided communities. It looks at unresolved historical claims, which can, when misunderstood or manipulated, create and reaffirm prejudice and hatred among populations, thus fuelling ethnic and nationalistic violence and conflict. It has brought together historians from various communities to research and write about conflicting narratives of the past.

Haifa Before & After 1948 - Narratives of a Mixed City edited by Mahmoud Yazbak and Yfaat Weiss is a good example of their work. 14 scholars and experts from Jewish as well as Arabic decent have looked through various articles at the history of Haifa before and after the 1948 from cultural, political and social angles. The war of 1948, which changed the demographic picture of the city, as it lost almost its total Arabic population, is not directly addressed, but in each individual article the impact of the dramatic events is visible. The publication shows how by researching the past through a micro lens of city history, the reader is made to understand how big history of modernisation, industrialisation, persecution, colonization and war influenced the lives of each individual citizens in Haifa. The books tells stories about the vast growth of the city in the early Twentieth Century, the life during the British Mandate period, the inter-ethnic competition in the oil and soap industries, the Arab-Jewish inter-communal relations and gender interactions in the Twenties and the Thirties.

The articles in Haifa Before & After 1948 are of various quality and a more rigorous editing would have certainly have supported a bit more consistent publication. The downside of writing such micro history is the absence of a bigger context.  These stories lack a comparative attitude, which inevitably leads to an emphasis on uniqueness, which had been probable less if it had been embedded in a bigger question. Despite these imperfections the book is very much worthwhile reading. One article stands absolutely out and addresses fully what the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation stands for. “Eraser” and “Anti-Eraser” – Commemoration and Marginalization on the Main Street of the German Colony: The Haifa City Museum and Café Fattush written by Salman Natour and Avner Giladi gives a deep insight in the highly politicized memory policy related to the city’s historical narrative as presented in street (re)naming and by the Haifa City Museum. This museum is housed in the Community Building of the German Colony. The German Colony was the first of seven 19th century colonises of the Templars, a branch of the German Evangelical Church. The way the history of this community is interwoven into the narrative of the Museum is fascinating. The way Haifa’s history is presented, (mis)using and leaving out elements of its Arabic, Jewish and German history, is really mind boggling. This article should be compulsory for each student or colleague who is interested in the politics of memory.

Joke van der Leeuw-Roord

 

A Complex Story of an English Female Benefactor

Introduction

In the early years of EUROCLIO we organized two conferences in Glasgow together with Strathclyde University about competence based learning in history. The onsite learning programme brought the participants to New Lanark, the big factory complex owned by Robert Owen.  It was at that time not long ago that I left teaching myself, and I had still vivid memories about teaching about Owen and his social experimentations. I was thrilled to finally visit the spot where it all happened and had a real historical sensation (Huizinga) when I was allowed to hold in my hand the first edition of Owen’s biography with his signature. The beautiful natural location and the good preservation of New Lanark were constantly in my mind while reading David Sekers’ A Lady of Cotton: Hannah Greg, Mistress of Quarry Bank Mill. His description of the location of the Quarry Bank factory in the neighborhood of Manchester made me aware that it must have been a very similar situation to that of Owen’s New Lanark.

A Lady of Cotton: Hannah Greg, Mistress of Quarry Bank Mill is an interesting publication, which intertwines gender, religious and moral history all closely related to the vast industrial development of England, and particularly the expansion of Liverpool and Manchester. It tells the story of Hannah Greg, a well-educated and intelligent young woman of Dissenter background. She married Samuel Greg one of the first cotton industrialists. She bore him thirteen children, who almost all lived long lives.

The book gives insight in the opportunities Hannah had in the world of Dissenters to have a good education.  Among these Protestant Christians, who were separated from the Church of England, was a substantial group of the new factory owners in the Midlands. They build new churches and created intellectual societies, which were sometimes also open for women. Hannah’s parents gave her the opportunity to become well educated, however when she married she entered into a man's world. Her husband expected her to be a good and dutiful wife. Initially she had difficulties with this position but eventually she accepted her fate and used her knowledge and skills to make sure her many children received modern and high quality education. She and her husband had a pleasing relation, although it was hard for Hannah to accept that her husband owned a  property in the West Indies based on slavery.

As wife of a factory owner of growing importance she turned her attention to the well-being of the young people (from 6 years old!) who worked in her husband’s cotton mill. She worked to improve the education, health as well as the welfare of the pauper apprentices. She used her knowledge and experience to publish a great number of books and could therefore widely influence her community and many who came into contact with her.

Why should you not read this book?

David Sekers becomes regularly a bit repetitive. It might be that this is the result of the limited amount of resources he could use, but it is slightly irritating to read a few times the same information. A better editor would have saved him for such repetitions.

Why should you read this book?

A Lady of Cotton: Hannah Greg, Mistress of Quarry Bank Mill demonstrates flawlessly the discrepancy between high minded philosophy and religious conviction and the reality of everyday reality. The dissenters had lofty ideas about education and equality but if it came to the mills’ workforce they did not (fully) apply to the pauper apprentices. These very young children were necessary for the production, and there was little questioning if such young people should be working instead of going to school. They received education at Quarry Bank, which was indeed exceptional for that time, but it was to become good and well behaved workers. These young workers should not challenge or change their societal position. Hannah’s silence about her slave owning husband also shows how she lived with a double standard and how complex it was to match ideology and practice. The current debate on the role of the Bristol philanthropist and slave trader Edward Colston is another example of such double standard attitude.

How can history, citizenship and heritage education benefit?

A Lady of Cotton: Hannah Greg, Mistress of Quarry Bank Mill allows educators to discuss political and religious tolerance, especially in times of war. The book gives insights into the political situation of the Dissenters around 1800. They were already before the Napoleonic Wars observed with suspicion by the leading political powers. However, when they openly showed understanding for the ideals of the French Revolution, the position of Dissenters became really difficult.

The book sheds light on the opportunities and limitations around the turn of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century for intelligent women like Hannah Greg. It shows that women had more opportunities in that time to become educated than normally is assumed, but as soon as they married their freedom was restricted.

David Sekers’ preface to the book contains a short but helpful introduction into the source problem he encountered, when he decided to write about Hannah Greg. He was lucky to be able to use the Greg family archive, but was well aware how one sided that might be. His text helps students to think about the relation of building a narrative, based on truthful facts and still not being able to write a true story. In a time where we are caught in a big debate about facts and opinions, it is good to remind us all that history in the end always will be able to partially disclose the full picture.