Call for Papers: Culture Wars – Statues, Flags, Streets and Squares by WPCC

Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture (WPCC) has announced a call for papers in which it welcomes submissions that cover the role of the media in all forms (from public service broadcasting to social media, feature films to advertising) exploring contested representations of symbols and their remediation. 

Flags, emblems, monuments, street names, statues are some of the means by which nations and states promote themselves, both to their own citizens and to the world at large; the public face of our imagined communities. But as they seek to unify, such symbols have often been the occasion for contestation, disagreement, violence even. Empires, systems, regimes rise and fall. Societies change, and with such change comes a reassessment of societies’ symbolic life, as yesterday’s heroes become today’s villains, past triumphs a present embarrassment. The past is continually raked over, re-examined and reinterpreted, with each re-examination argued over. 

  • Deadline for abstracts: 28 June 2021 
  • Deadline for full papers: 30 August 2021

For more information, please check their website: https://www.westminsterpapers.org/news/14/.

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

Giulia Verdini Articles ,

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

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

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

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

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

Learning how to engage with a world of change

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

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

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

Empowering students with local roles to play

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

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

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

Weathering the crisis together: fostering collaboration in the classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Giulia Verdini

About the author

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

Purchase the book!

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

Exhibition Review: “Nazipropaganda voor de jeugd, 1933-1945” – Nationaal Onderwijsmuseum

The Nationaal Onderwijsmuseum (Dutch National Education Museum), located in Dordrecht, organized a compelling exhibition on Nazi propaganda targeted to the youth, set to last until the 31st of October 2021. The “Nazipropaganda voor de jeugd, 1933-1945” exhibition gives an insight into the daily lives of children in Nazi Germany, warning the visitors of the dangers of subtle propaganda. For pupils and history educators alike, it offers multiple points of reflection during and beyond the exhibition. The visitor is confronted with visually appealing historical pieces of propaganda that nevertheless evoke a sense of discomfort. 

 

The context of the exhibition

In 2012, the Dutch journalist and professor Gerard Groeneveld (b. 1956) suggested that the Onderwijsmuseum should organize an exhibition featuring his extensive collection of Nazi propaganda material. In 2020, the Netherlands celebrated its 75th year of freedom, and the idea for such an exhibition resurfaced. Groeneveld’s latest book, Hitler’s Youngest Hope, Nazi propaganda for the Youth (Vantilt, 2019), forms the basis of the exhibition.

The curators managed to select varied historical materials from different collections, which are best suited to illustrate the exhibition's topic. As a history teacher, you might want to challenge your students by asking them to select the best collection for a historical exposition. Check out this Historiana e-Learning activity for inspiration.

 

A world of propaganda

The indoctrination of German society during the Nazi regime was a multi-level phenomenon that included censorship, propaganda, fear, the promise of a better future and one-dimensional education. It was vital to win the hearts and minds of children who were bombarded by messages of propaganda from a young age. 

The visitor immediately notices how colourful and visually appealing some of the displayed items are. However, it is clear that the underlying theme of the displayed items, all targeted at children, is warfare. The aesthetic aspect of the propaganda material is not accidental, as Nazi authorities were aware of the importance of the visual impact, with the aim to seduce children through subtle propaganda. For a history teacher and his classroom, it could be interesting to visit the exhibition and learn about the mechanisms exploited by the Nazi regime to indoctrinate German children. To which extent are they different in today’s context and can similar tactics be seen in contemporary regimes? 

The exhibition is organized around three thematic areas: the house, the street and the classroom. If you would like to learn more about this subject,  the unit Silencing Citizens through Censorship, on Historiana, could provide you with historical context to the theme of censorship and propaganda in totalitarian regimes.

 

At home

As soon as National Socialism came to power in 1933, the propaganda machine started to work, and the Nazification of Germany began. By December 1933, German families were hanging Christmas balls decorated with swastikas on their Christmas trees, and the children received their first Nazi board games, such as the Wehr-Schach (defence chess, featuring symbols of the armed forces, developed later on in 1938). 

The objects on display communicate a sense of control of the domestic space, invaded by comic books filled with soldiers and war scenes. Nothing was left to chance: even seemingly innocent images of children playing depicted symbols of the regime. On display, there are also several original items from the military equipment of the Nazi youth organizations, such as daggers and medals. 

Another interesting object on display is the collection can for the so-called Winterhilfe, or Winter Aid. Children were encouraged to collect money, and in exchange, donors would receive propaganda memorabilia, such as books about Hitler and Heroes of the Wehrmacht. 

 

 In the streets 

As part of the public sphere, the street proliferated with messages of propaganda. The subtle messages of propaganda learned from games and books at home were perpetuated and reinforced everywhere on the streets. 

In the exhibition, visitors can see several photographs, including one depicting soldiers and children marching together. The picture may appear spontaneous, but soldiers were encouraged to pose with children. Once again, it is striking how German children were exposed to military life from a young age. 

Swastikas could be found everywhere, on flags, billboards, along with propaganda  posters. In one of the original pictures on display at the Onderwijsmuseum, a young woman is shown posing next to an Anti-Semitic poster. 

 

In the classroom

One-dimensional education was a key component of the indoctrination, and the exhibition presents the classroom archetype of the regime. This section is particularly rich in historical material.

The items displayed include school books on German war heroes, such as Manfred von Richthofen, posters depicting a Nazified version of the Sleeping Beauty, antisemitic material, and falsified historical sources. This vast array of educational material could foster a conversation in the classroom around the importance of reliable sources in education. 

In youth propaganda, Hitler was presented as a friendly father figure. This image, however, was eventually shattered by reality. The last part of the exhibition is devoted to the regime’s aftermath. It was a rude awakening for the nation, as people became aware and were confronted with the horrors hidden behind the Nazi propaganda. Emblematic is the famous photograph of  Hans-Georg Henke, a child soldier, caught in tears and shock in April 1945 by an American war photographer in Huttenberg-Rechtenbach, a village north of Frankfurt am Main.

If you are interested in learning more about the representation of Hitler in propaganda and visual culture, check out this source collection on the Historiana website.

 

Beyond the exhibition: Beeld en Boodschap

The exhibition continues beyond the Nationaal Onderwijsmuseum, as it is designed to have a larger impact on students through the educational programme Beeld en Boodschap (Image and Message). The workshops are targeted to students in primary education ( primair onderwijs), secondary education (het voortgezet onderwijs) and secondary and higher professional education ( middelbaar en hoger beroepsonderwijs). The workshops are meant to educate students on media literacy and citizenship, with the aid of historical sources of Nazi propaganda. 

From a young age, children are exposed to all kinds of imagery. However, they are not often trained to question the (explicit and implicit) meaning and reliability of visual material. The Beeld en Boodschap workshop provides students with the ability to read images critically, for example by distinguishing advertisement from propaganda. The goal is to demonstrate how seemingly innocuous images can hide a propaganda message. 

From a history educator’s perspective, the workshop is particularly valuable. Students are learning about one of the most significant events in modern history and are learning how to read visual sources. The workshop promotes historical skills, such as critical thinking and source analyses. 


When learning about the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, propaganda is one of the main points of discussion. However, students do not often learn about propaganda targeted to the youth, as it is a subject usually absent from the history textbooks. The “Nazipropaganda voor de jeugd, 1933-1945” exhibition could offer history teachers a chance to start a conversation about this topic. 

The exhibition is informative, captivating and it presents an insightful overview of an overlooked aspect of Nazism.  Students will feel fascinated by the objects on display, their history, and their meaning. What kind of propaganda messages can they spot in the children's comic books? What is the overall feeling conveyed by the exhibition? What are the differences and similarities between the textbooks from the Third Reich and their modern counterparts? Many questions may arise upon a visit to the “Nazipropaganda voor de jeugd, 1933-1945” exhibition and all of them are worth answering in the history classroom.  

Upon visiting the “Nazipropaganda voor de jeugd, 1933-1945,” you might want to explore further the theme of propaganda with your students. On Historiana, you will find a variety of original quality content focussing on this topic, including learning activities such as How does propaganda work? and Everyday inclusion and exclusion in Nazi society.

 

Sources

Main image - STUDIO&lotte “Nazi propaganda voor de Jeugd 1933-1945” (2021). Photograph by Studio Indruk. 

“Wehr Schach” from Schulmuseum Collection , Bremen.  Photograph by Jozef Rutte - Wehrschach was a military board game, based on the rules of chess. The German army introduced this board game in 1938. The underlying aim of Wehrschach was to develop tactical and strategic insight in boys. 

“Soldiers marching with children” from the Gerard Groeneveld Collection- Soldiers became part of daily street life after 1933. Whenever a military exercise took place on the outskirts of the town or village, German boys would stand on the sideline watching curiously. The soldiers were ordered by higher military authorities to involve them in the exercises, rather than send them away. 

“Sleeping beauty tale” from Forschungsstelle Historische Bildmedien Collection, Universität Würzburg - This wall chart from 1936 depicts a Nazified version of the well-known fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. At first sight, it seems as if the classic story is being told. The prince, however, does not kiss Sleeping Beauty awake, but wakes her up with the Hitler salute: "Sieg Heil!" The manual for this wall chart states that this fairy tale represents the "national powerlessness and national awakening" of the German people. 

“School book propaganda” Das Jahr voller Freude (1934) from the Gerard Groeneveld Collection – Textbook for primary reading education.  In this image Hitler is depicted as a smiling children's friend.

 

Written by Giulia Boschini, project management trainee at EuroClio from April 2021. She assists with the development of Historiana, and she is also involved in Europeana’s related projects. 

 

Another Family’s Starting Over: The Resourceful Glass Family of Paris and New York

James Diskant Reviews ,

Too often history classes only focus on the horrors of the Holocaust and of Nazi rule; there is, however, an increasingly growing iterature that details the ways in which people resisted, helped one another,  and successfully managed to survive.

This book by Freeman is one example that will help educators rethink the ways that they teach this period or supplement what they already do and know. Freeman’s book not only details her family’s history to show how some of her relatives coped with life in France in the 1930s and 1940s, but also to allow students to grapple with the difficult questions about survival in this period when the odds were against Jewish survival. By looking at one family, one can unravel the advantages, limits, and/or shortcomings of different approaches. The book can be superb background for educators, as well as the basis for an interesting Socratic Seminar about the concepts — assimilation, passivity, defiance, and emigration — that she discusses and for students to probe into each of them in detail.  After all it would be great if one could learn from the past, wouldn’t it? 

When I was perusing a bookshelf about World War II in a bookstore a few weeks ago, I came across a fascinating book: Hadley Freeman, House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family (London: Fourth Estate, 2020). Since this family has some parallels to my own in terms of an emigration pattern (see Post #1: Planned Escape(s)), I thought that I would share my impressions of it, along with my recommendation of it, here. Freeman, through the use of family memoirs, artifacts, and pictures, interviews with family members, and official documents, was able to put together a riveting account of how her Jewish relatives, that is her grandmother and two of her three grand uncles, managed to survive the horrors of World War II in the United States and in France respectively. It is remarkable how well she is able to document these personal histories and to situate them in time and in historical interpretation. The book – which is part memoir, part history, part commentary, and part family discovery –is a gripping, empathetic account of not only these three people, but also of others who were essential parts of their stories.

Typically, I first read any opening quotation (if there is one), the introduction, and the acknowledgments. And in this case after reading the opening quotation from Arthur Miller (excerpted from Broken Glass, 1994), I was hooked:

‘Getting this hysterical about [anti-Semitism] on the

other side of the world is sane?’

When she talks about it, it’s not on the other side

Of the world, it’s on the next block.’

‘An that’s sane?

‘I don’t know what it is! I just get the feeling some-

times that she KNOWS something, something that

… It’s like she’s connected to some … some wire

that goes half around the world, some truth that other

people are blind to.’

While I have not seen or read this Miller play – which takes place in 1938 – when a Jewish couple in New York reacts to the horrors of the Night of the Broken Glass in Germany, the quotation pulled me into this family story. Of course, given her family’s last name of Glass, Freeman’s use of the quotation intrigued me. Afterwards I skimmed the introduction, and acknowledgements, and I was curious to learn about the Glass family.

Wow, I was not disappointed; I read the book originally in two sittings and just re-read it!! Freeman was able not only to find fascinating details about her grandmother and her great uncles, but also wrote a touching memoir about surviving, coping, and changing. In so doing she argues that these people may represent ” prototypes”, that is different ways of coping and coming to terms with their past. The book is an inspiring journey into uncovering family secrets, unraveling different ways of moving forward (or not, I suppose), and the horrors of experiencing antisemitism in Poland and in France, and yet the importance of staying true to one’s values and beliefs.

In the book – which had originally started as a memoir of Freeman’s grandmother – one’s learns much more – about Sara (aka Sala) who was able (almost reluctantly) to escape France during the war by moving to the United States and by marrying an American. In June 1937 she started over in New York with a man whom she barely knew; it was apparently her key to survival and yet she returned to France multiple times in the 1930s and ultimately found her niche as wife and mother in New York without losing the French identity that has been so important to her. We also learn about her brother Henri (aka Jehuda) who assimilated well into Parisian culture and along with his wife Sonia, were part of the Resistance, about Alex (aka Sander), who not excelled well into that same culture and also was part of the Resistance, and about Jacques (aka Jakob), who sadly did not survive and was murdered in Auschwitz.

The story begins with Freeman sharing the contents of a shoebox of her grandmother’s memorabilia, which included papers and photos, some of which were indeed puzzling. Together they encouraged Freeman to research and to write about her family. Then with her great uncle’s Alex’s memoir, family letters, official documents and statistics, she was able to write a thought-provoking account of how in the 1920s the Glasses were transformed from the Glahses from Chrzanow, a Polish village, part of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as their lives beyond this initial emigration. In some ways she writes a typical story of immigration and how some members of the family found this to be easier than others and yet her careful prose shows the complexities that were involved in these decisions and changes.

Her careful use of these various sources gives life to these both “ordinary and extraordinary” people. One may argue with her “one word” characterizations of individuals as “passive” for her grand uncle Jacques, “defiant” for her grand uncle Alex, “assimilated” for her grand uncle Henri, and “emigrant” for her grandmother. Still they mirror sociological descriptions of different ways in which people respond to crises and relate to an extensive literature of migration stories. There may be truth to these characterizations, which helps us understand how people are influenced by their personal assumptions and niches. Not only does Freeman write about how these three siblings survived the war, but she is also able to share their intertwining stories in the years after the war – from the “ordinary and the “extraordinary” as puts it … Henri and Sara in the first category and Alex in the second – and in so doing share fascinating insights into gender, migration, and much more. These three siblings are able to continue their lives – family, children, work, travel – and in Freeman’s account we learn how these stories are connected to one another.

In different ways the three survivors assimilated into their respective culture(s) and societies; they managed to live normal lives as best as they could, which suggest that there may be lessons for the present and future from the way in which people respond to the past. Starting over is not uncomplicated – as I know from my own family history and my life – and yet Freeman shows with detail and empathy how her grandmother and her grand uncles managed to do so. She provides a nuanced and empathetic portrayal of how they all managed to survive. The book raises essential questions for all of us to ponder about the complexities relating to assimilation, starting over, Jewish identities, gender roles, unjust governments, and assumptions during a challenging period of history — the world of World War II and its aftermath in the United States and in France. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in these questions.

 

Written by James Diskant

This book review was originally published on James Diskant's blog: "Chronicles from Berlin: Anecdotes About Starting Over, Coming Out, and History Teaching", where, among other things, Dr. James Diskant also provides reflections on lessons from many years as an educator in history education.

Decolonizing Cultural Institutions in the Netherlands

Joke Van der Leeuw-Roord Articles , , , ,

Slavery addressed at the Rijksmuseum

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

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

Online exhibition on personal stories

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

Wider efforts at decolonizing the Museum

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

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

Archives and education

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

How can we teach students to create a defensible thesis?

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

Historiana is an online portal developed by EuroClio, Webtic and UseMedia with Europeana for and with history and citizenship educators from Europe and beyond. On Historiana you can find ready to use learning activities, multiperspective historical content and digital tools that are all free to use, adapt and share.  

What does it mean to create a valid historical argument?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Interactive tools for critical thinking

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Historiana Webinar Series

This article is part of a webinar series, in which teacher educators who are experienced in using Historiana show examples of the eLearning Activities that they created, while also diving into a specific topic and discussing a critical thinking skill to teach students. 

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

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

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

What’s next?

Don’t miss the last webinar of the series! On June 16th, Gijs van Gaans (Teacher Trainer, Fontys Tilburg) will be examining Schisms within Christianity and discuss change and continuity: register here!

 

This article is written as part of the Europeana DSI4 project co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union. The sole responsibility of this publication lies with the author. The European Union is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

Written by Giulia Verdini

Sources

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

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

Safeguarding a Pluralistic Approach to the Yugoslav Wars through History Education

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

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

Contributing to strengthening stability in the Balkans

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

The crown on the work of years of trust building

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

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

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

The outputs of the project

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

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

Written by Tina van der Vlies

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call for teaching practices: Heritage and history education

EuroClio is looking for teaching practices that enable students to attain historical competences through the lens of heritage. The practice collection is part of the project Critical History, led by the University of Tallinn in partnership with three other European universities. Current discussions on heritage, and what we as a society choose to remember, cherish or commemorate, does not only help students learn about the past, it also forces them to think about the present and the kind of society we wish to live in. Identifying teaching practices in this field will be an important step in  inspiring colleagues from across Europe and beyond to include heritage in their own history teaching and we hope you can help us!

Do you have a practice to share related to heritage in history education? Perhaps widening the learning environment outside of the classroom? Examples include teaching practices that aim to ‘bring history alive’ offering possibilities for students to experience and connect with history through tangible representations of the past, such as statues, monuments or artwork in the public space. 

We are looking for practices that are low-cost and easy to replicate. Please contact Nathan Receveur (secretariat@euroclio.eu) with a short description of your teaching practice and we will reach out to you to set up a brief interview. 

The collected practices will be made available on the EuroClio website in a blog format, with a selected number also included in a study guide published at the end of our project. Due credit will always be given to the interviewee. The overall aim of the Critical History project is to prepare future history teachers for a critical history education more attuned to the realities of 21st century societies.  Identifying good teaching practices will be crucial for the success of our project and we thank you in advance for sharing your ideas with us.

Contested Histories: ‘Muralling’ and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland

On city walls, political contestation and artistic expression intertwine as hundreds of murals provide a stark representation of the anger, fear and hope felt by the communities which paint them. This case study examines the role of public art in the conflict and peace process in Northern Ireland. First, the context of conflict in Northern Ireland is explored. Second, the history of ‘muralling’ as a practice of ungoverned expression is traced. Third, contemporary contestations surrounding murals are discussed, with emphasis on exploring how engagement between new and old murals may be facilitated. Lastly, the case concludes that the practice of muralling is inseparable from discourse and responses of wider communities, from opposition, and that negotiating this line between controversy and freedom of artistic expression serves as an opportunity to work through tensions and convey solidarity with broader themes of oppression.

Read the full case study here.