This Podcast is the first of four within the framework of the “Contested Histories Onsite” project which aims to place Europeans in discussions and debates on multiple historical perspectives and to activate citizens in public involvement of memory-constructions. As part of the EU’s Europe for Citizens programme, the project’s aspiration is rooted in a shared conviction that raising critical questions about the past is fundamental for citizens to develop a critical attitude towards the narratives that are competing with each other in contemporary politics.
Joris Van Doorsselaere has been a history teacher since 2011 and he is doing a doctoral dissertation at the University of Ghent investigating how cultural heritage relates to history education in Flanders, developing a didactical framework and good practices. Last April, he tried the following teaching practice as a first attempt to bring the concept of heritage, and as it surrounds students in their everyday life, more explicitly into his classroom.
As heritage is conceptualised rather implicitly in the curriculum framework, this activity seeks to introduce the concept to students and make them understand the difference between heritage and history. With it, not only history is addressed, but also the value of the past and the emotions that different monuments or figures provoke.
“Heritage is not an important part of the curriculum explicitly, but there are certainly opportunities for it. I think it can make the curriculum more relevant for students. That is the reason why I wanted to find a way to introduce the concept of heritage to children.”
To exemplify this teaching practice, he introduced us to the case of Gravensteen Castle, in Ghent.
Joris used this example in his class in the wake of a controversy over the Council's intention to adapt the castle. The aim was to add a tourist office and an elevator to make the entrance more accessible. Given this proposal, an important social debate was instigated about whether ancient monuments should be adapted to modern needs.
Although the castle is located about 25km from where most of the students live, they indicated in advance they had no strong connection with it. However, debates about heritage in the present can help students understand why other people attribute meaning to certain aspects of the past. Therefore, the students were introduced to comments on social media that citizens of Ghent made regarding the plans to adapt the castle. These remarks were quite fierce, thus making the students aware that, for other people, the building is more than just a meaningless remnant of the past.
The method used is as follows: First, the case was introduced to the students and acted as a concluding part of a lesson series about the middle ages, where the students ought to reflect on the relationship between past, present and future. It began by investigating the context of the monument and some historical questions were raised, while the students were provided with clear instructions, and an online database wherein pictures could be found that prove that the monument was previously used for different purposes, and in fact, is not exactly a medieval building as it underwent different adaptations after the middle ages. Then, the students made a timeline - from the construction and the adaptations it has gone through - to the current situation.
Besides the assignment considering this historical dimension, the situation in the present was investigated. The students were provided with recent news articles from which different perspectives on the renovation could be filtered. The Articles were read - with arguments for and against - and the different opposing voices, such as architects, civil movements, the City Council or historians, are placed on a continuum. Subsequently, they made a one minute video (pitch) explaining their opinion individually. Finally, the students also placed themselves in these debates to see the different opinions that they and their classmates have.
This teaching practice is:
- Easy to transfer to other cases and cities. It can be a castle, a new purpose for a church, a reconversion of a factory site, or monuments that can be found in any European city.
- Easy to transfer to other teachers. This could be done through a shared database with other teachers on a national level or even a wider scope.
- Low cost, as it does not require investment, and it can be done without leaving the classroom itself (avoiding transport costs).
- It does not require advanced technological equipment.
- It can be done both online and offline.
- It can be a complex activity in classes with many students.
- It requires having one computer per group so that students can access the database.
- In some cases, it is difficult for students to know how to use a database or find the information / images they need.
- Make the search for information interesting and attractive: The collection of newspaper articles on social debate may seem difficult to understand or unattractive to students. A solution could be to adapt the articles so that the vocabulary is simpler and more appealing.
“Most of the time, heritage is approached as contested but I also want to approach it as something that unites, using local or small-scale traces of the past that students feel connected with.”
Ultimately, this activity aims for the student to understand what “heritage” means and how it differs from the concept of history, as well as to be aware of the transformations that these remnants have undergone over time.
Source image: Gravensteen Castle (Ghent). Image by Marc Ryckaert (MJJR) - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29026605
Helen Snelson, the Curriculum Leader for History Teacher Training at the University of York and a teacher of 11-18-year-olds with 20 years experience, sat down with us to discuss her role in the development of the Sharing European Histories project and the inspiration behind her strategy – Using stories of the past to teach students about its complexity.
I was very excited when I first heard about the Sharing European Histories project. For me, the project is an example of history education at its best. It is focused clearly on supporting real teachers, in real schools, teaching real children about history and the past. At the same time, it is a project that is not afraid to acknowledge that the past is a very large ‘place’ and that history is messy and complex.
You will hear a lot of people say that we need to look back at the past in order to understand where we have come from, and in order to learn how different people interpret the past to construct historical identities. I agree! But it makes history a hard subject to teach well in schools. Thankfully, it also makes it a rich and endlessly fascinating subject when it is taught well. In addition, young people who know about the past, and about how history is created, are able to join in contemporary debates and discussions with informed perspectives of their own.
At the heart of the strategy of stories of the past is the idea of focusing on people. These people might have lived through the same time period in Europe, but they all responded to the events and other people around them in different ways. Allowing this similarity and difference to be centre stage in the study of the past is a good way to avoid ahistorical over-simplifications about groups of people, how they thought and how they acted. At the same time, personal stories of real people are relatable and concrete. They enable students to engage with stories of the past in order to draw out bigger ideas and meanings.
Each story from the past tells the story of a different person relating to, or during, a specific event or time period. A set of stories has the event or time period as a common focus. However, a successful set draws on stories of people of different ages, gender/sex, backgrounds, locations and perspectives. That is, a diverse group of people. By engaging with a range of personal stories, students are able to identify similarities and differences between their thoughts and experiences. They are able to see that lives and responses are often full of complexity and nuance. They are better able to understand the context of actions taken and views held. They are also able to read about people whose voices may not usually be heard, and about the ordinariness of past life that may not be dramatic enough to warrant a history textbook chapter.
Stories of the past can help students to gain a sense of what a period was like. This then supports learning about major events that may be specified learning for assessment. They can also gain a richer understanding of these major events by reading about the nature and scale of the impact they had on people at the time. And it is possible to consider the stories as source material in the form of oral histories, particularly if teachers choose to engage students in adding to a set of stories of the past by interviewing friends and relatives about their memories of the time period being studied.
For the collection of stories from the past for the Sharing European Histories project I chose to focus on the topic of ‘After the Cold War: how do different people remember the years 1989-2000?’ The EuroClio network made it possible to contact people across the continent who were willing to share their stories. I would recommend working on developing a set to any colleague as a wonderful way to get to meet other people. However, it is also possible to use ready-made sets of stories from the past, for example, stories from 1945-49 are available on historiana.eu.
Students were asked to read the stories and to compare the similarities and differences between them. They were then asked to think about how easy or difficult life seemed for people, how much change was happening in people’s lives, and how much people were focused on wider events in the world. Having become very familiar with the stories, students were then able to suggest the impact of location, personal factors, and other factors on people’s experiences and memories. Using that discussion they could then make more general suggestions about life for people in the period 1989-2000.
The stories of the past strategy provides an accessible way to teach about complex ideas. It makes a virtue of the plethora of perspectives and experiences that humans have, in order to develop a richer knowledge and understanding of events and changes.
Helen’s strategy – Using stories of the past to teach students about its complexity – is part of a five-part teaching strategy series designed and tested by teachers for teachers. The aim of Sharing European Histories is to help young people understand the complexity, multiplicity, and transnational character of European history and recognise how history can engage everyone in understanding Europe. For more information, go to sharingeuropeanhistories.eu.
Organised in partnership with EuroClio for our joint Critical History project, the University of Tallinn invites to a three-day online seminar on heritage in history education. The seminar is open to the general public and target students at teacher trainer colleges, practicing teachers and other educators interested in using heritage as part of history education. The seminar will be organised on Zoom with morning and afternoon sessions and is free of charge benefiting from funding from the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.
Thursday 8 July
09:30-11:30 CEST - Public History & Heritage Education by Joanna Wojdon, Associate Professor at the Department of Methodology of Teaching History and Civic Education, Institute of History, University of Wrocław
14:00-15:30 CEST - Things are more than just dead things. Using heritage to enhance historical thinking by Dr. Maria Grever, professor em. Theory and Methodology of History and founding director of the Center for Historical Culture at Erasmus School of History, Culture & Communication (ESHCC).
Friday 9 July
09:30-11:30 CEST - Integrating digital cultural heritage by José Ramón González Quelle & Rafael Montero
14:00-16:00 CEST - Bringing local history to life (presenting project Meetup-Meierijstad) by Hellen Janssen, History teacher and Board Member VGN Kleio
Saturday 10 July
09:30-11:30 CEST - Introducing Emotion Networking (Case: Food as heritage) by Jonathan Even-Zohar, Reinwardt Academy
14:00-16:00 CEST - Everyday life as a part of heritage on the example of food culture by Dr. Anu Kannike, Estonian National Museum
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/.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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."
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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/