Podcast review: Lies my teacher told me

Cecilia Biaggi Reviews

Lies my teacher told me - a podcast series from Historian Priya Atwal

The first episode of this podcast series starts with Dr Priya Atwal making it clear that she is not accusing teachers of lying to their students, but that she is going to investigate how and why national history is still written and taught via textbooks in the classroom, despite growing globalisation and availability of digital resources. Dr Atwal, a young Teaching Fellow in Modern South Asian History at King’s College in London, explains that she borrowed the title for this podcast series, released in January 2020, from a 1995 book, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by sociologist James Loewen, who briefly intervenes during the first episode. Although catchy, such title is certainly a bit misleading even for those who are familiar with Loewen’s work: in fact, despite Dr Atwal’ stated intention to focus on textbooks, a variety of aspects of history teaching receive major attention.

''Lebanese teachers tell that the national history curriculum ignores the civil war that raged across the country from the mid-seventies until 1990, in an attempt to keep out of the classroom the divisions and tensions that still persist within society''

In order to create legitimate expectations, it would be more honest and accurate to say that these podcasts give an overview of the main problems associated with history teaching in various national contexts, spanning from the political role of the subject to the practicalities of delivering instruction. Rather accessible from a content point of view, these five podcasts of fourteen minutes each will certainly be of interest to history teachers and educators: not only will they learn about their peers’ experience in other countries, but they will also find reflections on common challenges, and useful tips.

The episode called All is Revision serves as a sort of introduction to the series, and it is, unfortunately, the most difficult to follow, also because no transcripts of the podcasts are provided. The English is clear, but the host speaks rather fast. Moreover, during the episode, several school teachers and academics intervene to answer Dr Atwal’s questions, to talk about their personal experience or to generally comment on various aspects of history teaching: too many people talking and too many topics involved for a fourteen minutes podcast. The good news is that it is not strictly necessary to understand everything that is being said in the first episode to access and enjoy the content of the following four podcasts, which centre on history teaching in Lebanon, India and Pakistan, Japan, and Northern Ireland.

Across the four episodes, different examples of teaching strategies and tools are offered after an explanation of the state of history instruction in the country. For example, Lebanese teachers tell that the national history curriculum ignores the civil war that raged across the country from the mid-seventies until 1990, in an attempt to keep out of the classroom the divisions and tensions that still persist within society. However, this undermines pupils’ ability to understand the present situation, and fails to engage them in the subject. Thus, some teachers add to the official narrative by designing their own units on the civil war based on various sources, and even by inviting to their classes representatives of different ethnicities and sectors of society. Even without the support of educational authorities, teachers may find ways to present a multiperspective and inclusive historical narrative to their students.

Although the realities described in the four podcasts may seem very distant to people in countries that have not recently been affected by partition, civil war and aggressive nationalism, each of these episodes offers food for thought to history teachers worldwide, who will certainly find at least some of the described situations relatable. For example, not only India but also several western countries tend to prioritise the study of mathematics and science over humanities, while Northern Ireland can offer an example to all divided societies of how history can promote reconciliation and common values.

In conclusion, the real value of these podcasts lies not simply in the stories told, but also in the questions that they prompt: what purpose does history serve in today’s world? Should controversy be ignored, or is history teaching instrumental to foster peace within societies and between neighbouring communities? How can we include the voices of groups overlooked in school textbooks and make history truly representative of our communities? These and similar questions will encourage history teachers to think critically about their and their subject’s role, making them more aware of their power and responsibility in all societies.

Lies my teacher told me - a podcast series from Historian Priya Atwal

Video Game Review: Valiant Hearts, The Great War

Elias Stouraitis Reviews , , ,

The content of the game

“Valiant Hearts, The Great War” was constructed by Ubisoft in 2014 as a remembrance of 100 years since the beginning of the First World War. The game team received several data from that period, such as letters written by enlisted soldiers or first-hand accounts of the war to create a historically accurate game. The game designers narrate the story of four individuals through the First World War (1914 – 1918). It is a combination between an adventure and puzzle game through which participants solve problems and act in that period. You play as if you are the four different characters of the game and you follow their journey. Players enjoy playing each character for approximately 90 minutes. There is only one singular experience and you cannot replay it in order to win or collect more items. 

Even if the game has comic-style art and characters, Valiant Hearts deals with some serious subjects, such as soldiers’ reactions the surviving during the war. The game aims to provide different perspectives derived from the four game persons. Karl is a German farmer who lives with a French wife, Marie, and their young son. He gets deported from France to fight for Germany. Emile is Karl’s father-in-law and he takes care of his daughter and his grandson while Karl is at war, but he is drafted to fight for France. Freddie is an American who joins France in the fight against Germany as a revenge towards the death of his wife. Anna is a Belgian student who sets off to the frontlines of war to find her father and she becomes a war nurse. Additionally, there is another character, Walt, the obedient dog who joins each of the characters in the game and it helps the characters. The gameplay seems simple due to the fact that there are puzzles that help you to move or to get things. On the other hand, some part of the games contains battlefields where you have to react as if you were in the war. Each game scene involves narrators’ explanation, information about the historical period and various historical items laying around.

Cognitive dimension

“Valiant Heart” adopts the historical theme of World War I with a critical approach through the presentation of the different perspectives of four personalities. The most interesting thing in this game is that players come in touch not only with personalities on the battlefield but with the societies and they feel and survive during war. The game generates empathy with civilians and soldiers and at the same time emotions to players, such as cruelty and anguish. The game shows the position of all sides of World War I and contextualizes the historical dimension. The game shows as well professional soldiers and civilians who were forced to go to war. On the other hand, people stay at home and find solutions to survive or go to war to learn more about their relatives. There are stereotypes in the game such as the female nurses, but these are not at the stake. The cartoon aesthetic may create several questions about the people of that time and the environment because it seems like a comic rather than real people. The game creators decided to leverage 2D representations so as to be more friendly for gamers and there is no cruelty from that point. As such, the war is represented by a critical stance and there are not the well-known conflicts in this kind of games. Gamers understand the different parties during this war and portray civilian characters and victims.

Significance for history educators

The game can be used by history educators in secondary education due to the fact that the game presents the World War I from comic perspective and there are emotions that students have to handle with their teachers. The good thing is that there are no cruelty scenes that would create negative sentiments to students. The approach of the war is critical, and this helps teachers to discuss the different perspectives and parties of the war. The most important thing is that the game does not emphasize on the idea of the battlefields and this means that students will manage to play and feel like people who experience this war and around it. For sure, students will be able to enhance critical thinking (survival of victims, refugees, families and so on). The cartoon aesthetic portrays the horrors of war less crudely, but teachers should discuss this sort of representation at the beginning and at the end of the game. Students understand through their immersion to the game characters that war, and human suffering is not a game. It is a priority for teachers to have PCs in the schools because it would be easier to use it. Students will not find it difficult playing it as there is a guidance at the beginning of the game and during gameplay and additionally, they must answer specific challenges. Teachers may leverage it so as each student play each character and, in the end,, they will discuss their conclusions. Additionally, teacher may separate students to different teams and each one plays a different character and then they will discuss the different perspectives.

 

Written by Elias Stouraitis

Elias Stouraitis is currently a PhD Candidate in Digital History at the Faculty of Historical Survey, History Didactics and New Technologies, Department of History and Informatics, Ionian University in Greece. He completed his undergraduate studies in History and Archaeology at the University of Athens in Greece and undertook a master’s degree in modern Greek History at the University of Athens. He teaches History and Greek Language at private education in Greece. He has worked as a Research Project Manager regarding Digital Technology in Education, Social Inclusion, History and Culture. He has been awarded a grant from the Japanese Nippon Foundation SYLFF (Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund) for his innovative and strategic abilities in research leadership and an award by Common Ground Community ‘The Learner’ for his experienced skills in Education. His main research interests are Digital History, Historical Culture, Digital Games, Design of Educational Software. He is passionate about new Creative Projects and specialized in Digital Tools and Methods.

 

Title: Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Author: Ubisoft
Year of publication: 2014
Language: English
System Requirements:  PC
Average Play Time: 6 hours
Cost: € 14.99

One-day free offer: Assassin’s Creed Discovery Tour

Fani Partsafyllidou Reviews

Can Assassin's Creed be used in History Education? Some of you might ask:

-Assassin's Creed? A game full of blood, weapons, and beheadings?

-What is Assassin's Creed?

An action-adventure game, Assassin's Creed, was released in 2007. Having gained remarkable popularity, as it now counts 95 million players and it is one of the most successful games of all time, it kept improving its virtual world making it more and more detailed and sophisticated. Ubisoft, the developer company, decided to recreate entire ancient cities, street by street, to offer a fascinating world to the players, and hired a team of historians to do so.

The final product was so captivating and informative that raised the question: How can this 3D, interactive depiction of ancient cities help education? Then, the discovery tour was created: a version of the game in which you can explore the cities, statues, and customs shown in the game without the gameplay.

Your character can walk, ride a horse, or fly on an eagle to see the city. Each time she reaches a station of the tour, you can listen to a short narration of a historical fact and you can view a relevant artefact. There is an abundance of information to unravel. The Ancient Egypt tour includes 75 tours, of various epochs, locations, and topics.

The methodology behind this massive effort deserves its own article. However, it could be summarised in the following way. The game is accurate in instances that we have historical knowledge over what happened. In instances where the historical accounts are incomplete or contrasting, the mythological or artistic element takes over. The tour acknowledges this fact, and explains which parts of the game are historical fiction, and which parts are accurate.

The good news is that just for today, until May 21st 2020, Ubisoft offers the Discovery Tours of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece for free! This is not a trial, so you will get to keep the game as long as you want. Just make sure that your PC can handle it, as it requires a lot of free space and a high vRAM. Give it a go, and if you use it in the classroom send us feedback with your experience at secretariat@euroclio.eu

Video Game Review: Crusader Kings II

Following our in-depth article Can video games improve history education?, EuroClio will publish reviews of games that can be of use in the classroom. First up, Crusader Kings II!

Setting the Scene

It is August 7th, anno domini 936. You are Dirk of the House of Gerulfing, Duke of West Frisia. Despite your venerable age of 69 years, you remain sharp-witted and fit. You are doted on by your much younger second wife, the 21-year old Gerberga. Together you raise your 16-year old son (also named Dirk), who is growing into a well-mannered, if shy and overweight, young man. Your ruler, the ambitious Otto I, King of the Germans, gives little thought to your backwater lands. All the better, you think, as you are much more interested in promoting local trade instead of war. But dark clouds are on the horizon, as once again the kings of Europe prepare to fight over the legacy of Charlemagne’s empire.

The Game

The story of Dirk Gerulfing is just one of possible millions in the grand strategy game Crusader Kings II, developed by Stockholm-based developer Paradox Interactive. First released to modest sales and critical reception in 2012, it has since become one of the most successful historical strategy games of all time, selling one million copies by 2014, and continuing to perform strongly in the years since thanks to support from its developers.

The secret to Crusader Kings II’s success is likely the uniqueness of the game itself. There is no shortage of games set in the Medieval Ages, but whereas the overwhelming majority focus on putting the player in the role of a knight swinging swords or a general leading armies, Crusader Kings II instead takes a much more human approach. It has no written plot, no set objectives, and even the player character has no “chosen one” status. Crusader Kings II aims to be a holistic representation of medieval life, and its exactly this flexibility which can make the game valuable to educators.

How is it Played?

At its heart, Crusader Kings is a dynastic simulator – the player takes control of a single individual, usually a nobleman or noblewoman. and guides them through life. They do this by reacting to events, as well as the actions of other, computer-controlled individuals in the world around them. There is no way to “win” the game outside of a player’s own goals, and the player can only “lose” if their character lacks an heir or their last piece of land is taken.

Both the fun and the potential for learning come from how the player chooses to interact with the world around them. For example, a player in the position of Duke of Burgundy decides he wants to become the King of France. To do this, the player arranges a marriage between his son and the King’s daughter, only for the player’s son to declare that he is becoming a monk and breaking off the marriage. The player then is left with other options – does he fabricate a claim to the throne and have other nobles push for it to be recognized? Does he start a secret plot to arrange a rebellion? Or does he instead try to become good friends with the King, hoping the friendship is repaid later?

Historical Context

The gameplay of Crusader Kings II has been described with terms like “sandbox” or “emergent storytelling,” but both are ultimately grounded in the game’s representation of the medieval world. The standard game covers a time period stretching from 936 to 1453, while expansions can push the start date back to 769. Geographically, the map includes not only all of Europe, but also Northern and Eastern Africa, the Middle East, India, and Central Asia.

For this reason, students using the game in an educational context are not given a strictly Eurocentric perspective – a player can be part of the Islamic world, pagan Lithuania, or Buddhist Sri Lanka with almost as much detail as that given to Catholic Europe. Furthermore, the social and cultural elements driving the game also means the interactions with these cultures are not just warfare. For example, players and computers alike are rewarded if they follow Christian virtues if they are Catholic, or if they go on hajj as Muslims, among many other options. Through this, the game naturally weaves learning about cultures and religions into its gameplay, instead of simply presenting the information on the page of a textbook.

Nevertheless, the game does have its limitations in representation. It is impossible to play in the role of a peasant, or even lesser notables like a town merchant or baron. The game’s focus on the upper nobility limits playable characters to the ranks of “count” and above, with equivalents in other cultures. Players and educators should be aware of this bias as while the game provides a unique social-cultural angle unseen in other titles, it is largely limited to the elite.

In the Classroom

An obvious concern when it comes to using video games as an educational tool is the feasibility of running the game in the first place. Fortunately, Crusader Kings II, is neither technically demanding nor very expensive. Now being almost eight years old, the game should have little trouble running on almost any computer built in the past decade. Furthermore, the developers are aware of the game’s popularity among history educators and have implemented a policy through which it can be provided for free or very discounted to schools that contact them.

Another concern is the game’s suitability for students in terms of its content. Though Crusader Kings II has a PEGI rating of 12+, the game discusses mature subjects which may not be suitable for younger students. Though it does not feature graphic violence or sexual content, it is discussed indirectly through text. For this reason, Crusader Kings II is best fit for, at minimum, students in secondary school. Given similarities in subject matter, students who are expected to read Shakespeare’s Macbeth would likely have the maturity and skills to enjoy Crusader Kings II as a supplemental educational tool.

Crusader Kings II provides a unique experience not only among other video games, but also as an interactive tool with which to provide greater context for students about the medieval world. The word “context” is key – the game does not provide a retelling of exact historical events, but rather creates a system in which medieval life is shown to the player through the people, geography, faiths, and cultures of the medieval world. This is both a limitation and one of the game’s greatest strengths, as it provides a fun and intuitive way of teaching students about the underlying factors which influenced medieval history across the globe.

As for a practical example of how to implement a game like Crusader Kings II in a classroom, Paradox Interactive provides an example from one of their other titles. In 2010, the University of California began using the Second World War simulator Hearts of Iron II to help undergraduate students understand the geopolitics in an interactive manner. The program received good reviews from both students and teachers, crucially engaging even students who otherwise do not play video games.

Conclusion

As the modern classroom integrates more multimedia approaches to complement teaching, video games provide a clear avenue of expansion for enhancing student engagement and interest in the material being taught. Those interested in teaching medieval history will find a great tool in Crusader Kings II not only for its attention to historical detail and wide scope of covered topics, but also its easy accessibility both technically and financially through collaboration with its developers.

 

Adrian Piecyk is a graduate of the University of Toronto, holding a Masters degree in Eastern European and Russian Affairs and a Bachelors of History. Though his research interests primarily cover Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, his fascination with medieval life has made him a long-time fan of Crusader Kings II, and he hopes this review may inspire you to try the game for yourself. Adrian can be reached directly through email (adrian.piecyk@outlook.com), or over LinkedIn. 

GetBadNews: an online game on Fake News

Fani Partsafyllidou Reviews ,

GetBadNews is a small and fun online game in which you try to gain as many followers you can by spreading FakeNews on Twitter.

Developed by researchers at Cambridge University and DROG, a Netherlands-based platform against disinformation, GetBadNews has an important educational value. Not only does it raise awareness on the Fake News topic, it also demonstrates the most common practices.

The player dives into the basics of Fake news, one could say 'Fake News 101'. According to GetBadNews, these are: impersonation, emotion, polarization, conspiracy, discredit, and trolling.

It is an overall small game, as it takes approximately 20 mins to complete it. This means that it cannot be used as a main resource, but it is an excellent warm-up to open the discussion in the classroom. You can give it a try here.

Find more information on the concept and the methodology here 

Have you used GetBadNews in your lessons? Share your lesson plan with us.

Podcast review: History Behind the Headlines

Helen Snelson Reviews ,

History Behind the Headlines - a podcast series from journalist David Keys

David Keys is a journalist based in London who works extensively with historical topics. He has researched the context to more than 70 conflicts and crises around the world. He aims to be as objective and comprehensive as possible in his portrayal of the past and is producing a rolling series of podcasts that may be very useful for history and civics teacher in the EuroClio network. They may also be useful to older / higher attaining students studying specific topics in class. David argues that the conflicts and crises of today have political, cultural and psychological roots that go back into the past. It therefore follows that we can get a better global and political understanding of current conflicts and crises via learning about how they have evolved.

At the time of writing, there are four episodes available. Each is 15 minutes long, making them perfect for busy teachers to listen to while doing the washing up, walking the dog, commuting to school. They are also the right length to engage older students, without them feeling overwhelmed. The topics covered so far range across four continents and are about: Israel and Palestine, Mexico's drug war, Kashmir and Scotland. They are in a lecture style and although the English is very clear, it is fair to say you need to listen carefully as the subject matter is complex and covered in some depth, even in a short time. It is very helpful that transcripts are provided. If using these with students the transcipts could be used for highlighting key concepts, people, organisations and events that are needed to understand the topic. Students could be asked to construct a timeline of events and changes to help them to process all the information.

These podcasts are, of course, an interpretation of past events. David Keys has chosen to cover a large sweep of time in his 15 minute recordings. This means that there is a lot of factual information, making them excellent for overview work and for identifying areas for future study. David Keys is not concerned with evaluating different opinions and interpretations of key events and it could be that teachers and/or students could take one part of a recording and then focus on the different debates that surround an event. For example, students could investigate what is meant by the term: "Europeanisation of Scottish culture, education and law."

Even though the key purpose is to give a grand sweep of factual information, there are points where a clear opinion is given. For example, at the start of the episode on Kashmir: "India's continued abrogation of normal human rights in Kashmir - the only Muslim-majority region in India – is compromising the world's biggest democracy's relationship with several other key geopolitical players – including Turkey, China, Malaysia and potentially the European Union." An activity for students could be to identify the places in a podcast where there is a firm opinion given.

Further discussion that could be had with students about interpreting the past, can be done by using the fact that a 15 minute podcast covering content over a sweep of time has, by definition, to involve some tough choices about what to leave out, and that those choices shape the interpretation that emerges. For example, in the episode on Israel and Palestine he gives a short quote from the Balfour Declaration of 1917: "establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. This is short due to time constraints, and it is interesting to note how this has shaped the interpretation as the longer quote from the Balfour Declaration is: "His Majesty's government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." The lengthier quote, which has to be selected out of a short podcast, does lead to a rather different perspective on the controversial Balfour Declaration. It is useful to bring students' attention to this aspect of the creation of interpretations. Intrepretations are made by deliberate choice, but sometimes that choice is driven by very practical concerns (what fits into a coherent 15 mins, in this case), rather than any thought of political manipulation. It can help students to understand that all history is interpretation, as it is, by definition, a selection from a vast past.

The podcast series is available on a number of streaming services, including Listennotes and Apple.

Written by Helen Snelson, EuroClio Ambassador 

Rights for everyone!

Agustin De Julio Reviews , ,

Meindert Talma’s De Domela Passie: Dutch revolutionary history in a pop format

On the night of the 24th of January, I tread into the pop temple of the city of Groningen: Vera at the Oosterstraat. This local theatre has gained its reputation thanks to a number of legendary concerts in the 80s and 90s, such as the live performances of Nirvana, Joy Division, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, among others. To this date, it remains the cool centre for underground culture in the Northern capital. Tonight, though, the audience looks different. The usual young, hip concertgoers are mixed with old socialists, history aficionados, and regionalists. Meindert Talma, Frisian historian and cult musician is presenting his concept album De Domela Passie, inspired by the 100th anniversary of the death of Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, mythical figure of Dutch socialism.

Every reformist walks down a via dolorosa

Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis (1846-1919) followed on his father’s footsteps and became a protestant pastor early in life in the Frisian city of Harlingen. As an Evangelical Lutheran, Domela was allowed to marry, and did so on four occasions: every single time with women called Johanna. Three of these marriages ended in tragedy, as his first three wives died during childbirth. The horror of losing three partners and four children caused Domela to steer away from God, and to focus his time on relieving the earthly suffering of his fellow women and men. Somewhere along the way, the first prominent Dutch socialist was born. Domela began to tour the North of the Netherlands, appearing at crowded halls to give impassioned, yet stern speeches about the ideas of Marx and Proudhon.

Domela wrote extensively against the five Ks: Kerk, Koning, Kapitaal, Kazerne en Kroeg (church, king, the capital, barracks and the pub). There are accounts of people traveling on bicycles and horses for hours to catch a glimpse of the man who fought for the underclass of the North. Much like photographs of Mao and Stalin, countless Northern households had a portrait of Domela hanging in their living rooms.

During his political career, Domela formed part of the early days of the Alliance for Universal Suffrage and was the first socialist to be elected to Dutch parliament. He fought for the 8-hour work day, the introduction of the minimum wage, free and universal education, amongst other causes. Most of his proposals were rejected by Parliament, which resulted in him growing increasingly resentful of the parliamentary system, to the point in which he finally lost faith in socialism and democracy altogether, and converted to anarchism.

A cross between a pop opera and a Wikipedia page

Journalist Jan Vollaard described De Domela Passie with these harsh, but not completely untrue words. Talma plays his Passion perfectly chronologically, and sings mostly in the first person. Metaphors are scarce, and he seems to shy away from any kind of judgment on the life, times and actions of Domela. For him, the facts about his life speak loudly enough. The twenty-piece chorus on stage gives the material life and sonic depth, and lovely emotional moments are reached on pieces like Rights for Everyone and Buried in the Heart of the Proletariat.

Why should you not attend this performance/listen to this record?

Talma’s performance and recording is of more historical rather than musical value: Talma himself is a storyteller rather than a consummate performer. Lyrically, some pieces are quite literal, and fail to evoke the sense of epic storytelling Talma aims to. Naturally, as a pop record, De Domela Passie falls short of being an extensive account of Domela and his times, but it works as an excellent introduction to the character, an as an invitation to the casual listener to learn more about the subject matter.

Why should you attend this performance? 

Talma’s choral arrangements are clever and the strings add a layer of complexity that could have not been reached with his usual four-piece rock group. Fact remains that the music is not the focal point of the performance. It is the occasion, and it is the myth and unlikely story of the preacher turned agitator. Even Talma’s sometimes stiff and restrained performance seems to skillfully exemplify the Domela credo of Nothern sobriety.

How can history, citizenship and heritage education benefit?

De Domela Passie is a reminder to educators and students of history that histories that might seem remote or even long dead, can be found in contemporary manifestations, even decades after they originally took place. The EuroClio/IHJR project Contested Histories has identified statues, memorials, street names and other representations in public spaces of disputed historical legacies. De Domela Passie is an example of such a manifestation, but organically appearing in popular culture. This record encourages pupil and teacher to stay observant and curious, as representations and iterations of the topics discussed in class can be found virtually anywhere.

The performance is available on streaming on Spotify. Tickets for live shows: meinderttalma.nl.

Review by Agustín De Julio, former EuroClio trainee currently based in Groningen, Netherlands

Author Meindert Talma
Original title De Domela Passie
Original language Dutch
Available in Dutch
Publication year 2020
Length 56'
Genre Pop/historica

Review of Natives written by Akala

Maayke De Vries Reviews

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

 

During this winter break, I finished reading Natives. Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire written by the British all-rounder Akala (Kingslee James McLean Daley). The book is a great read for educators, although it concludes with some worrisome prophecies for 2020.

Written from a first person narrative, the author tells his coming-of-age story as a mixed race boy in the city of London, hereby showing how his upbringing was influenced by the way Great Britain remembers their colonial past. This review will first introduce Akala, secondly discuss the general structure of the book, thereafter it will pose some questions about the future. Finally, a concluding remark will be made.

 

Introducing Akala

Akala is a well-known figure in the UK, as rapper, social entrepreneur and public speaker. He is an outspoken critic on (the growing) inequality in the UK, focusing on the oppressive features of class and race. This concern stems from his own experience as a mixed-race boy growing up in poverty in London in the 1990s. Akala’s mother has a Scottish heritage and his father a Jamaican background, however the father left the family before Akala was born. Akala therefore was educated by the wider black community which taught him about his black heritage, for example by attending a  . However, the knowledge and confidence that Akala gained by attending a pan-African school would become something that got him in trouble at the public school.

 

Teachers’ Biases

Chapter three, four, and five discusses the discrepancies between education at the pan-African school and at the regular public school, which created a grotesque dislike for school. Akala describes different scenes in primary school as well as secondary school in which show a clash between white female teachers and his own perception of the curriculum and academic behaviour. An example is the moment that Akala was placed in a separate group, intended for students who needed some extra guidance. When his mother heard of this incident, she immediately requested a meeting with the teacher as there was no reason for him to be placed in such a group other than the colour of his skin. Akala combines his personal experience with academic studies. Namely, a study conducted by Bristol University showed that when teachers knew a student was black, they assessed them almost twice as low compared to work that was graded blind. This is a good example of how the book is structured; personal accounts from Akala supported with data from research. Thus, Akala is showing that his experiences are not incidental, but are structural and systematic as the cited research is showing.

 

The danger of a master narrative

The influence of a one-sided master narrative is explored in chapter five, which Akala explains by focusing on William Wilberforce. Great-Britain was one of the main slave trading nations and colonized many regions in the world with detrimental consequences. However, the narrative that the UK likes to propagate is that they were the first to abolish the slave trade and subsequently slavery. Akala eloquently debunks this narrative by indicating the importance of the slave revolts in the Caribbean. In a lecture given at Oxford Union, Akala challenged the master narrative by showing how history is a distortion of the past dependent on power. The lecture concluded by a plea of Akala for a more revolutionary inclusive people-centred global teaching of history. This would allow for children like Akala to feel a part of the curriculum, rather than an after-thought.

 

Europe and Race

In the subsequent chapters, Akala dives deeper into the consequences of an uncritical retelling of the European colonial past. This starts by explaining the difference between ethnicity and race, while highlighting the European origins of the concepts. The acclaimed-author Ta-Nahisi Coates described some years earlier how race was and still is a mechanism to hierarchically divide people:

“But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy.”

Akala shows in chapter seven that racial hierarchy was clearly noticeable for him while growing up as a black boy in a struggling neighbourhood. Akala describes the first time he was stopped and searched by the police, while he was walking from the youth club at his school to his home around 7 pm. The significance of this event is indicated: “What racialized stop and search is about, in London at least, is letting young black boys and men know their place in British society, letting them know who holds the power and showing that their day can be held up [...] in a way that will never happen to their white friends”.

More about racialized and classist distortions of (British) history writing is discussed in chapter eight and nine. I would like to highlight here especially the fascinating comparing and contrasting between the way that Western nations wrote their historical narratives about two freedom fighters: Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro. After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela was depicted as saint by Western media and within that narrative the violent struggle to achieve racial equality in South Africa was dismissed. Fidel Castro was the only non-African leader to send support to Angola and Namibia against the invading racist regime from South-Africa. While Mandela named Castro a hero, he is depicted as a villain in the West. With the comparison, Akala wants to show how race and class influence the way history is written and that erasure of class was perceived more of a threat than racial equality.

 

And now?

Akala poses some questions to examine the role of history in the creation of a more equal society. He asks: is it possible to critically and honestly reflect on Britain’s history in an attempt to build a more ethical future? And this is a relevant question for more European countries. Akala attempts to answer this question in the last chapter, by explaining current-day events, like the Brexit havoc, as a reaction to the threat of continued reduction in white privilege. According to Akala the situation will not show any improvement if the white ruling classes are able to continue to “demonising the undeserving ethnic or other with whom poor white have more materially in common.”

 

Final Thoughts

The book can be perceived as a personal narrative woven into a historical account of the British Empire along the lines of race and class. Akala provides the reader with a long list of references, but no footnotes are included which would make it easier for the curious reader to consult sources. Besides, the structure of the book is not per se chronological and therefore difficult to divide in particular themes. Overall, Akala’s book is especially for (history) educators insightful, as it shows how an uncritical curriculum is glorifying some groups in society while neglecting or irritating others. The main message of the book, how race and class are constructed categories benefitting the ruling elite, is something that needs attention in not only Great Britain but in other European countries as well.

 

To conclude, a great read for the May break.

 

 

Maayke de Vries

History teacher at International School Almere

PhD Student University College London

www.mizsdafreeze.com

 

 

Suggested Readings:

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. First edition. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015.

Hirsch, Afua. Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging. London: Penguin Random House, 2018.

Mishra, Pankaj. From the Ruins of Empire. The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia. London: Penguin Books, 2012.

 

 

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

Written by Helen Snelson, EuroClio Ambassador 

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.