Quality education for all: Interview with Triantafillia Tatsiopoulou on teaching children with special needs

According to UNICEF, about 50 percent of children with special needs do not participate in education, compared to only 13 percent of their peers without disabilities. At EuroClio, we believe that all children are entitled to quality education, irrespective of their needs or backgrounds. Anna Ivanova, EuroClio trainee and student at The Hague University of Applied Schiences, reached out to Triantafillia Tatsiopoulou, a teacher at the Special High School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Thessaloniki, Greece, to learn about her experience of working in a school for children with special needs. 

Anna: Tell us about yourself and the school you teach in.

Triantafillia: I teach Ancient and Modern Greek, History and Latin at the Special High School for the Deaf of Thessaloniki. Our school is one of the three schools in Greece for students with hearing impairments, and the only one in the north of the country. It is very small: we only have about 30 students, aged between 13 and 20 years old. All of the students have some form of hearing loss, some are profoundly deaf. One or two students have a low form of autism. Apart from that, our students are happy and clever, like all children in all other schools.

Anna: Is your school so small in size because you cannot admit more students or because there are no students that want to join?

Triantafillia: Unfortunately, not that many students want to join our school. There are approximately 200 children with hearing loss in Thessaloniki, ranging from average to profound. Yet, our school only has about 30 pupils.

There are multiple reasons for that. In Greece, when a child has some kind of disability, they are required to undergo a medical examination, where a doctor advises the parents on how to approach the child’s condition. Usually, they are advised to start with speech therapy as soon as possible, which is very basic for everyone with hearing loss. Some doctors recommend them to choose a general school instead of a special one, so the child can stay in a familiar environment. Most parents follow this advice and send their children to a general school, where they are surrounded by other children from the neighbourhood and are not excluded from living a ‘normal’ life. In some general schools, pupils get assistance from school integration departments or special needs support teachers, who help them understand the material better. However, this kind of support is not offered everywhere, so hearing impaired students without it tend to be left behind and struggle with learning. 

Another reason is the stigma surrounding special schools. Some parents find it challenging to accept that their child has a disability, hence they prefer their children to attend a general school. A disability like hearing loss is invisible, so it can be hidden. That is why some parents choose to hide it instead of having to deal with the shame and stigma of a special school. Moreover, many parents are prejudiced against sign language. They forbid their children to use it and meet other deaf pupils who do so, hence they tend to prevent their children from attending a school that supports sign language. 

Furthermore, our school is located in a small village near Thessaloniki, and it is the only one in the north of Greece. For some students, it may be inconvenient to commute far to school, so they choose a general one that is closer to their home. 

Lastly, sometimes, parents of hearing-impaired children simply don’t even know that our school exists. Since doctors generally advise them to attend a general school, there is no way for parents to find out about us, unless they do the research themselves. We try to inform the parents through Deaf Communities, but we find it difficult to reach the parents of such children because we cannot know who they are.

Anna: What is it like to work with these pupils, do you generally have a good relationship with them?

Triantafillia: If you were able to visit us, you would see that our school is not different from the rest. We follow the general curriculum, meaning that the material is the same. Our school has strict rules that all students must follow. This is due to the fact that some of the pupils, despite being very clever, have not developed the language well enough. Because of that, they struggle to express their thoughts or feelings, so in a way, the teacher has to guess what the student actually means. At the same time, some students are less proficient in sign language than others: they lack the full development of a first language, so developing a second language, the Greek language, poses some complications. This, in turn, makes it difficult for them to communicate with others. 

Generally, we have a great relationship with the students, and they enjoy coming to classes and participating in other activities. Our school is very ‘hugging’ - deaf people enjoy physical contact, like hugging and touching. As well as jokes that they have in sign language, it is part of their culture. Our pupils love coming to school. We also have a boarding school which operates with many problems. Normally, we barely have absences. Although it is very different, I really like working with our students. It is a different, more sensitive form of communication, and it brings me joy.

Anna: Are there particular teaching techniques employed at your school?

Triantafillia: Teaching in sign language is part of the school’s tradition, as it is part of the deaf culture. Deaf and hard of hearing pupils have very different backgrounds and are very diverse in their ways of communication and learning. For this reason, our school supports both Greek sign language and Greek oral and written language. We always try to do the best for every child, hence we never force students to use Greek sign language if they are not comfortable with it or don’t know it well enough. If a child wants to learn Greek sign  language, other students help to teach them in everyday life, through informal conversations. 

We always talk to our students when teaching. Some of them are hard of hearing, which means that they are still able to use the language and partly hear. Moreover, all students, including those that are profoundly deaf, automatically read the lips of the teachers. That is why with the current Covid-19 measures in place, teachers use a face shield instead of a mouth mask: students have to see the mouth and the lips. 

As for history teaching, I prefer to take the pupils to the library. Students learn much better when they are able to see the material, so we strive to make the education highly visual. We make great use of smart boards to show visual aid content and videos. When working in class, students are divided into groups, where they can interact and work together on worksheets. The challenge for the teacher is to keep the students’ attention and keep them engaged, either through asking questions or writing something on the board. It is important to motivate them to get them involved in learning about the past.

Anna: What teachers work in your school? What kind of teacher training is required?

Triantafillia: In Greece, all teachers start from a general class in a general school. I had been teaching for about 7 years before I was transferred to work in this school. I liked it a lot, so I decided to stay.

In order to work in a special school, educators are required to have a postgraduate degree in special education. Other than that, knowledge of sign language is obligatory in our school, and most of us know Braille. A lot of people want to work in special education, so all of our teachers have chosen to work here. 

Anna: Do you think that you get more work than teachers in general schools?

Triantafillia: Teachers in general education get more pressure from the Ministry of Education, as they have to stick to the curriculum and follow certain rules. Even though our school follows the general curriculum, we have flexibility due to their special needs. Therefore, our teachers have to be creative, come up with their own lesson plans or develop worksheets. We have to work hard to come up with ideas that will help students understand the material and expand their knowledge. So, I would not say that we have more work, but we definitely have a different kind of work.

Anna: What kind of extracurricular activities does take place in your school?

Triantafillia: Every year, we run multiple programs and projects in our school. One of our best projects is the Sign Choir, which made its first appearance in 2014, introducing a new kind of singing through signs. Collaborating with other choirs or music bands, the Sign Choir is interpreting the lyrics in signs, offering a new perspective and showing that music is a global way of communication. Students really like this project and always enjoy being involved in it.

The year 2013 was dedicated to the 150-year anniversary of Greek poet Konstantinos Kavafis. Two of our students composed poems in sign language, inspired by his poems “An old man” and “Candles”. The students transferred all these ideas in sign language, making the poems visible.

One of the most innovative school activities was the making of a short film, inspired by the silent movies. “The Mess” was the result of collaboration between our school and the local Lyceum of Panorama Thessaloniki, with the help of students of the School of film of the University of Thessaloniki. A reunion of a class gives the chance to one of the classmates to make amends in life, yet an unexpected incident takes place that leads to a big mess.

Lastly, the school has had the chance to work with Signdance Collective, a touring performance company with a culturally diverse team of experienced deaf and disabled artists at the helm. The company directors pioneered the “sign dance theatre”, a fusion of sign theatre, dance, and live original music. In 2009, the Signdance Collective designed a third performance, with the children dancing and singing at the same time, accompanied by live music. Called “Dancing with ….sign”, the theme was a neighborhood, groups of children getting together and the relationships between them. 

The school also has a dance team, The Dream Dancers. Our students have done multiple dance performances, like hip-hop or traditional Greek dances. Last year, they appeared in Reflection of Disability on Art, a festival about people with special needs and their abilities in art.

Students love being involved in these kinds of projects and initiatives. For us, it is important to show that they are in no way different from other children: they are able to do the same things as others. It is important for them to feel that they have the same advantages and even disadvantages as everyone else. We try to achieve that through these programs and activities. Even though there are many obstacles, we try our best.

An Interpretation of Powerful Knowledge for History Education

Maayke De Vries Articles

At the moment, I combine teaching with pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Education at University College London which, according to its slogans, encourages innovative and disruptive thinking. One of the ideas that has created quite some attention is the formulation of Powerful Knowledge (PK) by Professor Michael Young. Since the beginning of this century, Professor Young promotes the idea of a re-focus on knowledge in the curriculum and moving away from a curriculum based on 21st century skills or other competencies. Initially, this sounded like a reactionary attitude to me: while there is some recognition for multiple ways of knowing, there are also the conservative voices calling to bring ‘real’ knowledge back into the curriculum. However, the more I started to read about PK and its essential complementary ideas, the more I realized that theoretical knowledge can also be empowering. Encouraging ways of thinking that are specific for a certain community of inquirers will allow for a deeper understanding of reality. For now, this idea is mostly put into practice by geography educators at UCL, however the principles of PK are also very much applicable to history. In this blog post, I would like to explain the essential characteristics of the idea, along with important criticism focussing on social justice. Lastly, I would like to suggest an implementation in history education. 

A curriculum on the basis of PK perceives subjects as specific disciplines with their own procedures and protocols to understand and examine the world. In an article in 2010, Young and Muller elaborated on three possible futures of education: 1) the continuation of the elite system as it exists today; 2) the end of disciplinary knowledge which is replaced with generic outcomes hereby - unintentionally - educating students solely for employability, while also deprofessionalizing teachers and de-specializing research; 3) emphasizing the role of specific knowledge communities in acquiring and producing knowledge, whereby the aim is to supplement the everyday experience with theoretical knowledge. Young and Muller predicted that future 2 will remain most popular because of the (hidden) neoliberal tendencies of this educational system, while future 3 has, according to Young and Muller, more potential to confront contemporary challenges such as the growing inequality, polarization, and misinformation. 

PK is not about dominating, but rather empowering the learner. According to Young, there are two types of power: the kind that wants to dominate, thus exercising power over something or someone; and the emancipatory kind, namely the power to do something or to think something. What makes PK emancipatory, according to Young, is that it provides students with the ability to critique society as it exists. 

Biesta is another proponent of bringing knowledge back into the curriculum, as a way of indicating to students what might be worthwhile paying attention to. Biesta suggested that emancipatory teaching would let students “figure out what they do with what they may encounter there. The judgement, and the burden of the judgement is, in other words, on them [the students]”. Young claims that all students should have access to emancipatory knowledge as it allows for generalizations, imaging the yet unthinkable, conceptual understanding, and embedment within specialized inquiring communities. In contrast, future 2 education will place the focus on everyday experience without complementing it with theoretical knowledge that allows for a more complex understanding. Hence, Young claims, future 2 will only make the achievement gap wider between students, as the theoretical knowledge can act as an equalizer. Young exemplified the difference between everyday knowledge and PK on the basis of geography: everyday knowledge is your knowledge about how the public transport works or where the stores are located, whereas PK is an understanding of how cities are organized and how they might change. 

The idea of PK is based on a social realist perception of knowledge, which can be dismissive of ways of knowing outside western perceptions of ‘knowledge’. A social realist perception of knowledge means that the acquisition and production of information involves systematic concepts and methods within communities of enquirers who search for truth within their distinctive disciplines. Hence, it can be said that a critical attitude towards PK is necessary to understand that knowledge is never neutral and always highly political. 

Therefore constructive criticism of PK has complemented the theory and encouraged the integration of social justice. In 2018, Wrigely expressed his worry that social structures influence knowledge formation and distribution, inevitably creating silences due to dominance of certain voices. Hence, Wrigely argued for the incorporation of a theory of knowledge called critical realism, which would acknowledge that the curriculum is political and never neutral. Students should therefore have the ability to evaluate any knowledge claims because they understand that social structures and conventions play a role in the formation and distribution of this knowledge. Thus, Wrigely suggested that PK should incorporate a critical element by supplementing the everyday experience with a focus on “underlying forces which are at work, that these forces might not always be active or visible, that everyday experience is not always the best guide to understanding the structures that impact on our lives..” (p.12). Therefore, Wrigely suggested “Productive Pedagogies” to complement conceptual thinking with students’ everyday life experience. So PK in a critical realist interpretation would still mean a focus on key concepts and challenging ideas, but would account for the social structures in society that allow for some knowledge to emerge and be distributed more widely. 

Another useful addition to the idea of PK is the concept of Powerful Pedagogies, which encourages enquiry as a way of learning. Roberts wrote in her response to PK that everyday experience is a necessary element in teaching in order for students to make a connection between the theoretical concepts and their own lives. According to Roberts, the everyday experience of students is not just their location but also the media in which they interact or the circles in which students find themselves.  As a result, Roberts argues that subjects, like geography, have powerful ways of understanding this world: ”through the kinds of questions it asks and the ways in which it investigates them” (p.201). Roberts furthermore stresses the political element of knowledge, hence there should always be a reckoning of its origin and context in which it was created. Roberts emphasizes the importance of how the teaching takes place, thus the method of instruction which truly allows for knowledge to become powerful or not. According to Roberts, PK can in other words only become emancipatory when Powerful Pedagogies are used. Roberts summarises Powerful Pedagogies with three characteristics: 1) Enquiry-based; 2) Dialectical Teaching; 3) Critical. Thus, PK alone will not provide students with a complex understanding of the world it needs to co-exist with powerful ways of teaching. 

The powerful element of knowledge is not only in the hands of the teacher. The students themselves need to feel agency in order to act upon the newly acquired insights. Alderson enlists in her response to PK four necessary conditions for knowledge to become truly powerful: 1) The Known; 2) The Knowers; 3) The Social and Cultural Context; 4) The Application. The Known in the case of PK refers to knowledge that is constantly changing and emerging through research and creativity, aiming to move towards reliable truth. According to Alderson, this knowledge can never be powerful if there is no human agency involved (the knowers), thus for knowledge to be powerful there should be an active and creative dialogue between the knowers and the known. This power of this dialogue depends on social and cultural contexts, as this learning is not happening in a vacuum but influenced by real life challenges, which needs to be considered for PK to truly be emancipatory. Lastly, the application of the known by the knowers in particular social and cultural context will determine whether it can influence society. Thus knowledge might claim to promote social justice but this will only be the case if the application of the knowledge is done in such a way. 

To summarize, PK as originally suggested by Young could have indeed promoted a reactionary response to the increasing liberation of marginalized voices, however when PK is informed by a critical realist perception of knowledge this can be averted. Thus, PK has the potential to act emancipatory when it accounts for the political nature of knowledge and thus reveals structures and conventions in society that allow for dominant voices to be (over)heard while marginalized communities are silenced. Furthermore, knowledge can only become powerful when teaching is emancipatory through a focus on enquiry, dialectical teaching, and a critical understanding of the subject. And lastly, knowledge is only powerful when its application indeed promotes social justice. 

Powerful Knowledge in history education

As of now, most of the debate and application of PK took place in the discipline of geography. The critical application of PK can however also suit a subject such as history. In early 2021 a book will be released (and edited by Arthur Chapman) that applies the idea of PK to the subject of history. In another contribution from 2018, Counsell mentioned the potential of PK for the subject history in a blog post. For this sake, Counsell uses substantive knowledge –  content as facts, e.g. Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Fall of the Berlin Wall – and disciplinary knowledge – evidence, causality –, as both a part of historical knowledge. Counsell suggests that this division is a helpful tool when engaging with PK in history education: it is impossible to teach students all the substantive knowledge, therefore discipline knowledge is required. 

To make this a bit more clear, I will try to give an example of PK in history on the basis of the topic women’s suffrage movement in the Netherlands. In 1919, active women’s suffrage was achieved when a bill was approved by the House of Representatives, after more than fifty years of protest. However, it was only in 1937 that women older than 25 years in the Dutch colonies received passive suffrage, which became active suffrage in 1948 after more than a decade of protest movements.

Example substantive knowledge: cult of domesticity;  cult of domesticity; Aletta Jacobs; Rosa Manus; Vrije Vrouwen Vereeniging (Free Women Association); National Exhibition of Women’s Labor 1898; Demonstration 18 June 1916; active suffrage 1919; passive suffrage 1917;  Damanan di Djarason 1937; Clarita da Costa Gomez; Altagracia de Lannoy-Willems 1949 

Example disciplinary knowledge: using evidence from sources to make a claim; indicate change and continuity.

In this case, the PK might be that students are able to assess to what extent the women suffrage bill of 1919 was a change or continuation for women in public life. For this, students use their substantive knowledge about the historical context of the 19th century and the ways in which women were protesting. Students need disciplinary knowledge to be able to critically analyze sources and ‘read against the grain’ when analyzing primary sources to indicate whether women’s role in the public indeed changed or how certain systems continued, especially for women in the colonies. The emancipatory element of this knowledge could be that students understand the historical relationship between gender inequality now and then, while being able to actively search for marginalized voices in public debates. This knowledge can then be used in a very practical way by having students write a commentary on current representations of women in politics, or set up a campaign to encourage political participation of everyone. 

As we currently live in a pandemic during which universities, again, make most cuts on their social science and humanities departments, it would be good if we as educators can be vocal advocates for the importance of our subjects. The idea of PK shows the importance of having different knowledge disciplines, as each discipline brings with it their own ways of knowing and viewing the world. Hence, the subject history can emancipate students by allowing them to understand the present through knowledge of the past, utilizing the historical method for research, and having a healthy sense of suspicion towards any source. It would be great if history educators can be more vocal and explicit about the power that historical knowledge provides to students, to avert authoritarian tendencies in our multicultural democractic nations in Europe. This blog post is merely intended to start a conversation among history educators about the powerful knowledge in our subject and how we can better advocate for our subject and discipline.

 

Written by Maayke de Vries
History teacher at an international school in The Netherlands & PhD Student UCL Institute of Education
www.mizsdafreeze.com


Sources:

Forthcoming: Arthur Chapman (ed.) Knowing History in Schools. Powerful Knowledge and the Powers of Knowledge UCL Press. Open Access. https://www.uclpress.co.uk/products/130698#

Information about Women Suffrage in the Netherlands: 

“Vrouwen Kiesrecht in Nederland”- Atria https://atria.nl/nieuws-publicaties/vrouwen-in-de-politiek/vrouwenkiesrecht-in-nederland/

“Vrouwenkiesrecht op de voormalige Nederlandse Antillen” - Atria https://atria.nl/nieuws-publicaties/vrouwen-in-de-politiek/vrouwenkiesrecht-op-voormalige-nederlandse-antillen/

MOOC Teaching the Holocaust: Innovative Approaches to the Challenges We Face

Anna Ivanova Opportunities ,

UCL Centre for Holocaust Education and Yad Vashem are delighted share this unique MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that offers educators innovative approaches to the challenges presented when teaching about the Holocaust.

Starting on 26th October, over three weeks you will explore the history, delve into pedagogical challenges revealed by research, and find practical solutions for teaching about the Holocaust.

For a brief film outlining the MOOC please click here.

Join for free and learn more here.

In Europe Schools: Join in November!

Have you missed the start of In Europe Schools in October? No worries! You still have time to register for a start in November.

Register here, and choose one out of four Education Kits: Difficult History, Migration, Climate Change and Gender Equality. We will match you to another school in Europe and you and your students will be ready to work on their research and documentaries.

Curious how the documentaries look like? Have a look at the In Europe Schools YouTube Channel.

For a full overview of the project, please visit: www.vprobroadcast.com/ineuropeschools or contact us via secretariat@euroclio.eu. See you soon! 

The Contested Histories Project: A response to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities’ open letter on symbols in public spaces

A statue of King Leopold II of Belgium was set alight and covered in red paint. Antwerp, 4 June 2020.

Whether in the context of the West reckoning with its colonial past or former Soviet states reconciling antagonistic historical narratives to recover or reaffirm their own distinct identities, over the past three decades, contested histories have increasingly served as a flashpoint for conflict. 

Last Friday, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities issued a letter on symbols in public spaces to Ambassadors of 57 OSCE Participating States that underscores the importance of respecting the ways individuals relate themselves to history when attempting to resolve contestations around historical legacies. The institution of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities is an instrument of conflict prevention at the earliest possible stage. Its mandate involves containing and de-escalating tensions involving national minorities by providing early warning and early action where a situation has the potential to turn into a conflict.

The Grandstand, Budapest. A replica of the tribune serves as the pedestal for the 8-meter-tall bronze statue of Soviet party secretary, head of state, and general Stalin. A crowd revolting against the communist regime sawed the statue at its knees and pulled it down. The General’s boots remain as a reminder.

In this letter, the High Commissioner highlighted his own experience engaging with groups throughout the OSCE region where opposing perceptions of history and their tangible, public representations have led to instability. It is understood that differing interpretations of historical legacies can exacerbate internal tensions and that the exploitation of memory can have geopolitical implications, spurring the involvement of kin-states in domestic issues of sovereign states. To contribute to greater societal cohesiveness and transnational security, the HCNM supports the establishment of consultative processes with clear mandates that include representatives from aggrieved groups.

The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation’s Contested Histories project understands that, in almost all cases, calls for the removal of statues, renaming of streets, and reframing of school or university curricula, are symptomatic of deeper divisions within societies. Confronted with public protests and social media campaigns, decision-makers often respond in haste, out of panic, and without the benefit of established principles, processes, or best practices. This results in inadequate, ineffective, or arbitrary remedies with unintended long-term consequences, including but not limited to ‘whitewashing’, i.e., purposeful public forgetting of traumatic events and contentious figures, through erasure (destruction or removal). This failure to engage society in critical discourse about historical traumas can fuel further conflict. 

In recent articles published by EuroClio, Le Monde, and Novoye Vremya, the Contested Histories team presented possible solutions for such contestations over monuments, among them remedies that facilitate important educational discussions and contribute to raising awareness of historical wrongdoings. Placarding, additive elements, and counter monuments are just a few examples of remedies that can serve to contextualize historical legacies and foster debate and discussion. Removal and destruction are underscored as tools of last resort reserved for extreme cases. The CH team stands firmly behind the idea that erasure of scars on a community’s landscape alone cannot conceal or heal the influence of ones on the public’s psyche.

Read the full text of the High Commissioner’s Open letter on symbols in public spaces here.

 

 

A statue of Edward Colston thrown into Bristol Harbor, UK. 7 June 2020.

About the Contested Histories project

The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation is a research center at EuroClio that works in cooperation with a range of public, private, and independent institutions.

The Contested Histories project seeks to identify, document, and examine cases of contestation around the world with the goal of identifying a set of principles, processes, and best practices that inform decision making. To this end, the IHJR has identified and conducted research on more than a hundred cases in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. At present, an interactive web platform that will host a digital map and related database is under construction and will soon be accessible to a wide range of stakeholders. Although each case is unique and underlying causes are context-specific, the CH team is confident that the aggregated materials will (a) provide insights that facilitate better-informed decision making in response to future contestations and (b) serve as a resource for educators interested in examining multi-perspective approaches to history education.

Follow the work of the Contested Histories project here

Monuments Matter: A comment on Philadelphia

Marie-Louise Jansen Articles , ,
Photo: Frank Rizzo Statue at Philadelphia's Municipal Services Building
Credits to Stephen M. Scott

A day after this blog post was originally published, the statue was removed. For details see local news report at NBC Philadelphia

During this past weekend , the city of Philadelphia, like dozens of cities across America, erupted in mass protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed African American, by a police officer. Addressing the rioting that saw Philadelphia’s stores looted and burned, more than 200 people arrested, 13 police officers injured, and 4 police vehicles torched, the city mayor, Mike Kenney, placed one item high on the city’s post-riot agenda—the removal of a 10-foot bronze statue of former mayor and police commissioner, Frank Rizzo.

"I never liked that statue,” Kenney said at a press conference last Sunday. “I don't think it's been deserved in the first place, and I didn’t put it there."; The statue, Kenney promised, would be removed “within weeks.” “We’re going to accelerate its movement,” Kenney said.

Coming amid a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans and left 40 million unemployed, not to mention violence that has blighted Philadelphia’s streets, it might seem an unusual priority, but suggests the prominent role that statues can have in public affairs. The bronze statue of Frank Rizzo, located on a large square in the municipal center, became the target of protests. It was splattered with red paint and smeared with graffiti. A police cordon was formed to shield it from damage.

As Mayor Kenney notes, the statue of Rizzo should perhaps not have been commissioned in the first place, but the 10-foot bronze erected in 1999 assumed a particularly tragic irony following the George Floyd murder. Before his time as mayor of Philadelphia from 1972 to 1980, Rizzo had served as police commissioner. Fashioning himself as a “tough cop” fellow policemen called him “The General”. He once said that when he became commissioner, the department had only “six shotguns.” “Now, we’re equipped to fight a war.” While many white Philadelphians saw Rizzo as a “law and order” official, the African American community saw him differently. During Rizzo’s years as police commissioner from 1967 to 1971, he had a reputation for using excessive force against the Black community. As mayor, he ran on a “Vote White” platform, strongly opposing desegregation.

Although the statue has been a point of contention since it was erected in 1999, plans to relocate the statue from its prominent location near city hall have accelerated in recent years. Mayor Kenney said at his press conference last Sunday that he had considered removing it recently but the high cost, $100,000, compelled him to wait until 2021 when there was a planned renovation of the square. One Black community leader, Faye Anderson, said the statue’s presence exacerbated last weekend’s violence. “Having [the statue] there was like waving a red flag in their face,” Faye said of the protesters. “And they finally combusted.” The mayor was also criticized for the handling of the statue following the riots. The red paint and graffiti were removed during the Sunday morning clean-up, and a police cordon placed around the statue. “We’re using the police force to protect a white icon when there are not police protecting black and brown families in this moment,” Bishop Dwayne Royster observed. “If the mayor wants to be tone-deaf, that was one of the most tone-deaf things the city could have done, is clean up that statue first and make sure they continue to have police around that statue.”

Philadelphia is not the only city to see a statue become the center of public violence, as was demonstrated three years ago with the killing of 32-year-old Heather Heyer during violence over a statue of Civil War general Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017; or the protests over a statue of a colonial-era governor, Cecil Rhodes, in Cape Town, South Africa, two years prior; or street violence over a Soviet-era memorial, ten years earlier, in the Baltic state of Estonia. Monuments matter.

Statues, monuments and other physical representations of historical legacies in public spaces are the most visible and visceral expressions of historical identity of a community. By their very nature—stone, metal, concrete—they have limited capacity to capture the complexity and nuance of history, and even more to change with the times. It is incumbent on elected officials like Mayor Kenney, as well as civil society activists, to understand the evolving nature of public sentiments and values, recognizing a fundamental verity of historical legacies in public spaces: Times change, people change but statues don’t. It is therefore up to those who can make a change to do the right thing at the right time.

Marie-Louise Jansen
Director
Project on Contested Histories in Public Spaces

Educating through football

How the World's most popular sport can help teaching history and fight discrimination

 

Football enjoys a fan base bigger than that of any other team sport, with millions of people passionately following local, national, and international competitions. Thanks to its accessibility (you only need a ball and two goalposts to play), football is played by professionals but also amateurs of every age, religion and social class; although it still appeals primarily to men, more and more women around the world are getting attracted to it, both as players and viewers. The “Football makes History” project, launched in 2018, wants to capitalise on this sport’s popularity and make football’s history and cultural heritage powerful educational tools for the promotion of equality and social inclusion. Funded by the EU Erasmus+ programme, “Football makes History” sees EuroClio co-operating with various partners from the football, heritage and education worlds, involving history educators and youth workers from across Europe. Different initiatives have already been implemented, such as staff training meetings, while the project’s website has recently been launched. Soon, learning activities for formal education and a toolkit for non-formal education will be made available in response to the needs of educators, assessed through an international survey run in early 2019. According to this survey, European educators, both in formal and non-formal education, have often witnessed cases of discrimination (particularly xenophobia), and they believe that football’s history has the potential to foster tolerance and respect. This is also the opinion of Professor Gijsbert Oonk from the History Department of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Professor Oonk, director of the “Sport and Nation” research programme and holder of the Jean Monnet Chair on Migration, Citizenship and Identity, is the Academic Advisor of “Football makes History”. He will show us how football history can help promoting positive values among the younger generations, and will provide us with tips and examples for formal and non-formal educators.

How to include football history in the curriculum

Football history can offer an alternative approach to the teaching of colonialism. Generally, educators support their instruction with world maps showing countries in different colours according to which European state colonised them. Football may offer a less conventional route into the subject that would allow students to be more actively engaged. For example, students could be asked to look at pictures of national football teams and guess where the players and their parents were born. This approach would be very effective in a country like France, whose national team won the 2018 World Cup and was composed by fourteen players of African origin out of twenty-two, connecting the history of colonialism with the history of migrations. Besides the famous French case, there are plenty of examples of teams whose members were born in different countries from the one they play for, as Professor Oonk explains in his inaugural lecture. Including football history in lesson plans about colonialism would allow educators to discuss relevant issues such as integration and citizenship, thus ensuring that the teaching of a complex past phenomenon does not overlook its current implications and long term consequences.

If in the case of colonialism, football history can provide a starting point for the teaching of the past, in other cases it can enrich existing narratives like, for example, the history of the First World War. A series of episodes known as “Christmas truce” occurred in December 1914 along the Western Front. Hostilities had reached a stalemate and during the Christmas week soldiers from opposite sides came out of the trenches and met in no man’s land, fraternised, exchanged gifts and, in some cases, played football. There are various accounts of matches between British and German troops that, although not always accurate and reliable, have persuaded historians that during these unofficial ceasefires enemy soldiers did meet and play football on a few battlefields in the Flanders. Learning about these episodes can help students familiarise themselves with the geography of the conflict and with the reality of life in the trenches. Moreover, the Christmas truce constitutes an example of humanity in the midst of atrocity, and can contribute to promoting peace and mutual understanding.

Although football history includes various episodes of tolerance and solidarity, sometimes such values did not prevail and this sport became characterised by different forms of discrimination, like racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and sexism. Today, it happens both on the terraces during matches when, for example, fans make monkey gestures, and on social media, where the phenomenon is amplified. Fare Network, one of the partners to the Football Makes History project is working hard to report on and combat such occurrences.

1934 World Champions: Italy

Unfortunately, intolerance has long been present in football, but Professor Oonk argues that it should not be downplayed or ignored. Even the most negative episodes from football history have the potential to spark discussion about various topics, such as nationality and identity, while at the same time expanding and deepening student’s comprehension of complex historical phenomena. For example, history educators could integrate the teaching of Italian fascism with the history of Italian football in the 1930s. The country’s national team winner of the World Cup in 1934 included some players who were born in South America from Italian immigrants; nevertheless, nobody questioned their Italian nationality and right to play for Italy. As anti-Semitism grew and racial laws were implemented in 1938, members of the Italian Jewish community who had become prominent in football, such as Renato Sacerdoti, President of AS Roma and architect of the team’ success in the 1930s, were persecuted and arrested, despite remaining very popular among Roma fans. The case of football during Italian fascism is just one example of how educators can use the history of this sport to explore concepts of nationality, identity and loyalty, and to reflect on the discrimination and exclusion of minority groups.

Conclusion

Football history has a lot of untapped potential to promote inclusivity and tolerance by providing positive examples and role models, and by serving as a basis for discussing current topics. Moreover, including football history in the normal history curriculum can help raise students’ interest in the subject, as Professor Oonk’s experience confirms. This is why EuroClio is currently preparing teaching materials for formal and non-formal education, with useful resources soon to be made available on the project’s website. However, as all educational tools, football history has some limitations. First, its use is limited to the teaching of recent history. Although some forms of football already existed, it is during the twentieth century that this sport became as popular as it is today and that its history started to be documented systematically. Moreover, much like films and video games may also fail to capture some pupils’ attention, football history too does not always improve engagement and participation in the classroom because not all students are interested in the sport in first place. Therefore, students preferences should be taken into account by educators before including football history in the curriculum. Done right, however, football history can be a very useful tool to highlight issues of historical importance that are fit for history curricula.

 

Written by Cecilia Biaggi, postdoctoral trainee at EuroClio and a Marie Sklodowska Curie Researcher in the LEaDing Fellows COFUND program at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Cecilia is particularly interested in minorities and nation-building, political history and education. A special thanks also to Professor Gijsbert Oonk for input to this article.

The normalization of violence in history textbooks, an interview with Dr. Angela Bermudez

EuroClio had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Angela Bermudez on the subject of her recent study on the normalization of violence in history textbooks. Dr. Bermudez is a researcher at the Center for Applied Ethics at the University of Deusto (Bilbao, Spain) where she investigates how history education in different countries fosters or hinders a critical understanding of political violence. She is the author of several papers on civic and moral education, history education, and memory. Her recent working paper titled “The Normalization of Political Violence in History Textbooks: Ten Narrative Keys” is part of a series sponsored by the Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability, Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, and Dialogues on Historical Justice and Memory.

There lies a great paradox – most textbook content centers around violent experiences and yet very little of this violence is the subject of critical reflection.

Could you please tell us a bit about yourself, your research, and how you got interested in the topic of education and the normalization of violence, in particular? 

I grew up in Bogota, Colombia, and, in many ways, I think that marked the beginning of my interest in issues related to political violence – it is a place that can serve as a lab for all kinds of experiences and reflections on various types of violence. However, I didn’t actually begin to focus on this topic academically until later on. I was studying history education when I received a scholarship to study in Spain for a year and a half. While I was here, I had the good fortune to meet Professor Mario Carretero and some of his doctoral students. They got me hooked on studying the development of cognitive historical thinking skills. We considered questions like “How do young people learn to think in complex ways about something like the past which isn’t tangible and which they cannot experiment on in the classroom?” 

Following graduation, I returned to Colombia where I moved away from history and got more involved with projects that centered around moral development in civic education. I quickly connected this new focus with the experiences of violence in the supposedly oldest democratic state in Latin America. Compared to other Latin American countries, Colombia had a very short and unusual dictatorship. Nevertheless, the country has an extremely violent history. This raises all sorts of questions about the linkages between violence, democracy, and citizenship.

I went on to do my Ph.D. at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where I wrote my dissertation on how young people engage in discussing controversial issues – politics, racism, police brutality, etc. I worked with Facing History in Ourselves, a non-profit that develops educational material on prejudices and injustice in an effort to empower teachers and students to think critically about history and to understand the impact of their choices. This brought me back to my previous interest in education and violence, but more from an ethical and critically thinking perspective. 

When I moved to Spain 8 years ago, I had the opportunity to rethink and redefine my research agenda. I began analyzing how different means of history education contribute to the normalization of violence, or conversely, to the promotion of a critical understanding of violence. The role of history textbooks has captured my attention to the extent that it has because – despite being used in the classroom less and less – what is stated in them is a clear depiction of the dominant historical narratives of a country. Textbooks can reflect the politically official narratives, the counter-narratives in academic debates, and/or public discourse more broadly.

Can you speak about the research you have been conducting on textbooks in Spain, Colombia, and the United States? 

Our analysis focused on how textbook narratives represented the violence intrinsic to nine different episodes of the violent past of these countries. For each topic, we looked at approximately four different textbooks and one or two alternative, non-conventional teaching resources, such as those developed by NGOs or research centers or that have different pedagogical approaches. We found that there is a striking difference between conventional textbooks and other resources and that a persistent pattern of normalizing violence exists across textbooks, topics, and countries. Despite the abundant references to violent events, violence as such is rarely discussed or made the object of explicit analysis. Quite the contrary, violence is normalized through discursive processes that define what is emphasized and what is marginalized, what is connected and disconnected, and what is silenced. We identified ten narrative features that describe interlocking mechanisms by which historical accounts manage to describe violent events and processes while precluding any reflection about its roots, causes, consequences, and alternatives. There lies a great paradox – most textbook content centers around violent experiences and yet very little of this violence is the subject of critical reflection. You talk about violence, but you don’t see its victims, causes, or consequences or the alternatives to it. 

What you encounter in textbooks are stories of violence without pain.

Can you provide an example of violence made invisible in a textbook in a rather striking manner? 

First, let me explain what I mean by ‘normalizing violence’. This is a discursive process. It is a way of turning something that is socially constructed into something that is natural or inevitable – in other words, normal. Something that is normal is something that doesn’t surprise us or deserve our attention. It is not worthy of becoming the object of our critical reflection. Normalizing is a way of talking about something, but presenting it as something that you can or should take for granted.

Now the narrative key example you asked for. Apart from a few exceptional topics, the Holocaust being the most evident example, history textbooks contain very few references to victims in episodes of violence across time. In some instances, a chapter that focuses on a war will mention consequences as human casualties or refer to a demographic loss. You might get a number and maybe a few more details, but there is very rarely a depiction of the experience or perspective of the victims. Of course, if the episode we are talking about is one in which “I am the victim” then there are more references to “we were the victims.” However, even this reference to ourselves as being the victims does not depict the experience of victimization as such. What you encounter in textbooks are stories of violence without pain.   

An artist’s depiction of the Trail of Tears.

Another narrative key that subtly normalizes violence is the concealment or obscuring of human agency. You read descriptions of historical events that involve a lot of violent action, but with little reference to who instigated it. It’s not a matter of assigning blame – which can be complicated – but rather one of understanding that violence is not a natural phenomenon. You have to distinguish between impulsive aggression and political violence. Political violence is systematic and instrumental. There are individuals, collectives, and institutions making decisions to use violence – to use other human beings as means to an end – rather than take an alternate non-violent course of action. You’ll read things like “War broke out.” This needs to be at the heart of ethical reflection. On the topic of the Trail of Tears in the US, you have accounts of how Native Americans marched from one place to another during a cold winter and many died. But who made the decision to have them march at that time of year? Why didn’t they have blankets or minimal medical resources? The same framing is applied when considering any episode of violence. What we witness is an obscuring of agency – it is sent to the back of narrative. This results in stories of violence with no blame and no responsibility.

A narrative key we most consistently see across textbooks, topics, and countries is the near-absolute silence on alternatives to violence and the individuals and movements who supported these alternatives. It is not as if there was a dearth of opposition to violence. In a large number of episodes of the violent past there was active opposition to violence and advocacy for nonviolent solutions to conflict, and yet not much, if anything, is said about them. So how does that play into the normalization of violence? Well, if no one opposed the use of violence, maybe that was the only way the episode could have played out. There were no alternatives. 

One final example of a narrative key that serves to normalize violence is the omission of the benefits derived from violence. Who gains? Of course, you’ll read “We gained independence,” but that’s a social goal. What I mean here is who, in terms of individuals or sectors of society, gains from the industry of war (or other types of violence) at a political or economic level? Omitting these massive industries and contested interests in society makes invisible the way in which violence can be a strategic means to achieve something  and not a natural and inevitable response to conflict.

The issue is not that we are stuck with textbook narratives – we are stuck with social narratives. We are stuck with a social tendency to normalize violence.

If textbooks make violence broadly invisible by trivializing and normalizing it, what can we as history educators do to counter this, especially if the countries we work in are required to follow a prescribed list of topics and textbooks?

Let’s recall two things I mentioned before. Normalizing means taking something out of the area of our reflection. It’s turning an episode of violence into something that is natural and, therefore, unproblematic, so that we don’t reflect on it. We can still follow the prescribed topics and resources, but in order to counter the normalization of violence, we must raise questions that transform what has been normalized into something that demands critical reflection. We must call attention to issues and individuals who have been silenced and call attention, precisely, to the fact that they have been silenced. 

So, okay, we’re reading this textbook account with our students. This narrative relies on ways of telling and silencing that have consequences. So, I want to call the attention of my students to this and ask – Who were the victims? What was their experience? Did anybody oppose what happened to them? Those questions can turn into projects, assignments, or debates. Additionally, the more you tie this to topics of more recent history, the more students can reference things from their own context. Of course, I’m not saying this is easy and isn’t the source of many controversies, but if you have the minimum conditions of safety, even if it’s controversial, for many students this is kind of discussion can serve as an oasis – you’ll create a space for them where these things can be talked about in careful, caring, and reflective manners, rather than in absolutes. At the end of the day, though, the issue is not that we are stuck with certain textbooks. We are not stuck with textbook narratives, we are stuck with social narratives. We are stuck with a social tendency to normalize violence.

In another article, you make a point that museums face different or less pressure than history textbooks authors or curriculum designers when curating. Could you please elaborate on what you mean? Is it a useful tool for history educators to make use of museum exhibitions?

The Tate Modern is one of my institutions that offers thematic programs to school groups, families, and other audiences.

Yes, absolutely. Museums, of course, are also sites of political discourse. Both schools and museums were, in the late nineteenth century, developed precisely to mold the minds of citizens and construct the idea of the nation. Museums do, however, have some general advantages over textbooks. One of the dynamics that restricts and impoverishes historical representations is the rise of standardized, external assessment. Textbooks and teachers can’t go into greater depth and discuss subtle, marginal, or controversial elements of history because they have to cover content for an assessment. Museums are far less regulated in terms of content. There is no mandated curriculum and no examination on your way out. You can have thematic museums and museums that make use of technologies inaccessible in the classroom that appeal more to the experience of emotions and textures of events in the past. A lot of what gets sent to the background of narratives that normalize violence is the texture of the experience of victims and the proponents of non-violence. Of course, you also have a lot of museums that celebrate war and heroic actors that represent the violent past similarly to textbooks, but you also have the emergence of memorial museums and sites of conscience whose mission is to convey a history that has been silenced and develop a critical understanding of the past.

Wouldn’t you say that given the national and international prominence of an episode like the Spanish Civil War, 80 years later it is reasonable to expect a national museum on the event to exist? There is no such thing.

The role of sites of conscience and memorial museums is very interesting. I was hoping you could speak a bit about the Valley of the Fallen and the recent memory laws that were passed. How do you see things developing in Spanish society more broadly?

If you follow the debates around memory and memory laws (passed in 2007) you’ll notice that socially, politically, and culturally there is a very profound silence about the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship. Academic research, literature, and movies aside, socially – as in at the kitchen table, in public spaces – there is very little conversation and discussion about these topics. That silence – imposed during the dictatorship for obvious reasons – was maintained during the democratic transition, in part to not rock the boat at a time when political parties and social organizations were invested in figuring out how to operate together in the new democratic system. Politically, you can understand the pressure, but this “democractic silence” has now lasted even longer than the dictatorship itself. It’s been 40 something years and there’s still very little conversation about these topics. There has been a very vibrant  and very important interdisciplinary initiative involving victims’ families and scholars around the exhumation of bodies from mass graves. This has ushered in a movement to recover memory, but it is still limited in terms of granting the wide public opportunities to engage with history in alternative ways. 

People argue that these conversations are too uncomfortable, but do we ask if silence is comfortable for those who are told to keep quiet?

So do you think it was a mistake not to speak about these episodes of violence during Spain’s democratic transition? 

I do tend to think it was a mistake, but I understand the political context and the need that many felt not to reopen wounds. There are many post-conflict contexts, like Rwanda, where a moratorium has been established. At the same time, I grew up in a country (Colombia) that has experienced ongoing violence and it is not as if we can stop talking about it. We need to be able to address these experiences reflectively. You begin to see other troubling political and ideological implications of silence there. People argue that these conversations are too uncomfortable, but do we ask if silence is comfortable for those who are told to keep quiet? In the case of the Spanish transition, this sort of socio-cultural silence was partly fueled by the idea, the fear, the myth, that if we talk about what happened, it will give rise to another civil war. That fear was later manipulated. This becomes more evident when you consider the fact that there has been no judicial or political process to prosecute any of the people responsible for crimes during the dictatorship and that many of the political and economic bases of the Franco regime continue to exist in the political and economic system today. Then the idea of sustaining that silence and not rocking the boat gains a new dimension. It is no longer simply “That was emotionally difficult. Let’s heal first and then address it.”

Valley of the Fallen

Wouldn’t you say that given the national and international prominence of an episode like the Spanish Civil War, 80 years later it is reasonable to expect a national museum on the event to exist? There is no such thing. There are a small number of regional museums and memorial sites – the Museum of Exile in Catalonia, the Peace Museum of Gernika (on the bombing of Gernika), one for the Battle of Ebro – but there is nothing akin to a general, national museum on this watershed event.

I wanted to touch on one last issue. It’s your other recent research. I understand that you are collecting testimonies from people who were involved with violent organizations like ETA in Spain and the Farc in Colombia. I’m really intrigued by this. Where is this research taking you and how will you continue with it?

That is a brand new project that we’re beginning to work on with an interdisciplinary team at the Center for Applied Ethics. I think it’s a fascinating and necessary initiative. We aim to collect life histories and interviews from people who were involved with groups that espoused the use of violence for political reasons, but later on renounced it. That is, individuals who at different points in their trajectories began to think differently about violence, to question it, and ended up renouncing it. What led them to that change may be very different – the experience of being imprisoned, the implications for their families, spiritual events, or political and ethical transformations. Our question here is how these people establish a relationship with violence, both in connecting with it, justifying it, and espousing it, but also in renouncing the use of it? What are those seed points, experiences, and reflections that transform their understanding and belief in the legitimacy of violence? There are many layers to this analysis, but the ultimate purpose is to develop educational resources for peace education that encourage people to think critically about violence.

Violence can be very seductive. We think it is a good idea to hear from those who were once seduced why they don’t want to be involved with it anymore. This can be a rich resource with which we can rock the boat, shock, and provoke critical thought in young people, but we are only just beginning. 

I look forward to seeing the final results! Best of luck with funding and the study. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. 

 

Football Makes History – Needs Assessment

This needs assessment is produced as part of the Football Makes History project.  The overall aim of the Football Makes History project is to contribute to the reduction of the number of people at risk of social exclusion across Europe. The project aims to builds on the rich local cultural heritage of football and its shared history that offers direct access to addressing past and present diversity. In addition, it aims to promote shared values, equality, non-discrimination and social inclusion with an integrated perspective, encompassing and innovating formal and non-formal learning, as well as youth work.

This Needs Assessment visualises the needs and challenges of football history as an educational tool for social inclusion based on an EU-wide survey and on three piloting projects. It identifies working elements that can be used when producing a toolkit and exemplary lessons within the course of this project. In addition, it examines educational programmes that make use of football history, assessing their working elements and identifying improvements needed, as well as potential areas for innovation.

Read the full needs assessment here.

How can historians contribute to conflict prevention and resolution?

Erkki Tuomioja Articles ,

2015 was the centenary of the events in the Ottoman Empire that led to the death of 1.5 million Armenians. Historians from various backgrounds generally agree on the interpretation of those events, whereas present-day Turkey and Armenia continue to clash over whether this episode of their common history constitute a genocide or not. Although this disagreement is highly unlikely to lead to any kind of armed conflict between the two countries, it does prevent their rapprochement and the normalisation of their relations. Furthermore, since other countries have taken a stand on the issue (through parliamentary resolutions, government statements and even legislation), the problem has affected international relations more broadly. This is merely one example of how different views and interpretations of history continue to play a role in creating and fostering conflicts, and in hampering efforts for conflict resolution. Even when conflicts are resolved with peace agreements, controversial historical issues can reemerge to renew disagreement and compromise a settlement reached with great difficulty.

Peace processes often entail writing the history of the recent conflict in a way that meets the approval of all parties. We can well imagine how challenging it is to, for example, write a common history for Cyprus. Although some in our profession have willingly lent their names and work to instigating and amplifying conflicts, they are a small minority, and we are more likely to encounter cases where politicians and demagogues have misused the work of historians without their consent for questionable purposes. But what should be the proper role of politics and politicians vis-a-vis history? It might be easier to begin answering this question by laying down what it should not be.

Historical truths and interpretations of history should not be made into legislative issues. This is equally true concerning the many resolutions that various parliaments have passed on the 1915 events in the Ottoman Empire, as it is concerning the legislation passed or pending on how to write history in countries like Poland, Russia or Ukraine. Politicians should provide historians with unlimited and open access to all historical archives, documents and other sources. Notwithstanding the proliferation of international agreements and regulations on various topics, there are no binding regulations on the access to archives and their use.

The concept of the Politics of History has its roots in Germany. The study of the Politics of History investigates history debates and everything that comes under the concept of vergangenheitsbewältigung, which means addressing one’s own history with an open mind and coming to terms with it. In this respect Germany provides the best model for dealing openly with the most challenging and awful periods of its own history. Few countries have achieved anything close to this frankness with their own history, whereas in some cases in which efforts were made they were rejected. A positive example is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-Apartheid South Africa.

While authoritarian regimes need to be critically examined, it is important to remember that not all countries regarded as liberal democracies pass scrutiny without remarks. This can be said of the United Kingdom, France and former colonial powers in general, which still have difficulties in openly addressing the dark corners of their colonial wars in Algeria, Vietnam, Kenya and elsewhere. Even in Germany, despite the praise it has earned for its vergangenheitsbewältigung, it took much longer for the country to recognise the atrocities committed in its South-West African colony. However, this has not lead to restrictions on revisionist and critical historiography of the kind affecting states actively engaged in history denial.

In my own country, Finland, History also has had a central role in constructing our national awareness and state institutions in the 19th century. When Finnish nationalism and Russian Pan-Slavism gained ground, they inevitably came into conflict regarding the history interpretation. Following independence in 1917, the Civil War in Finland left deep wounds in our society. Like all civil wars, it was brutal and caused 40,000 casualties, only a minority which were killed in battle, while most deaths resulted from summary executions and squalor in the prison camps where the losing Reds were confined. The wounds left by the War were kept unhealed by the way the events were commemorated by the opposed parties. Neither did historians always contribute to the healing, often actually exacerbating the situation. But when commemorating the Civil War last year, we finally found a dignified and constructive way to address this past. It was now possible to view the events of the Civil War as a tragic catastrophe, without linking different interpretations and opinions in any meaningful way to issues concerning and/or dividing Finns today. What happened in Finland in 1918 was not unique in the world, neither at the time nor today. Fortunately, we have been able to gradually establish and strengthen a mind-set emphasizing shared responsibility, and to intervene to prevent human rights violations and war crimes. We established an International Criminal Court to ensure that nobody responsible for war crimes goes unpunished because of the inability or unwillingness of the courts in any country to bring them to justice.

Today, as we follow news from Rwanda, Srebrenica, Chechnya, Syria or Darfur, and take a stand on these events, as responsible members of the international community, we cannot fail to see the similarities with what took place in Finland a hundred years ago. Finland is one of the few countries in the world that has not undergone any sudden or violent regime changes during our one hundred years of independence. But when regimes change, this almost inevitably leads to purges and rewriting of history. When dictators and dictatorships fall, it is understandable and, to some extent also necessary, that the statues and monuments erected in their honour also fall. All regime changes entail a close scrutiny of the individual responsibility that supporters and officials of the previous regime had for the crimes committed. Lustration has been done in very different ways, from summary executions and show-trials to long drawn-out legal processes and truth commissions. Communist and Fascist takeovers have usually been followed by summary executions; democratic changes have tried to do better. But many still ongoing processes and recurring crisis situations in East and Central Europe or Latin America well demonstrate the many difficulties and challenges this entails.

Post regime-change situations will always entail a demand for the work of historians. While they should be ready to make their knowledge, experience and research results available to those directly engaged in these processes, they should not allow themselves to become institutional parts of them or take any role resembling that of a judge. “Let history – and historians – judge” is a good and correct slogan, but the judgments passed by history and historians should not have any direct links to or dependence on formal judicial processes. A regime change, whatever the viciousness of the former regime, should not entail the erasing of history or the eradication of all the very concrete marks and monuments the previous regime has left. A cultured approach to historical monuments should leave an environment where traces of all history, the more unpalatable and unsavoury parts of it included, can be seen and, as times passes, can be regarded as historical relicts that need not unduly bother future generations, but that will serve as focal points in understanding the past. Nobody would demand the demolition of the ruins of the Colosseum in Rome because people were tortured and killed in gladiator games there. This respect and comprehension is even more needed when relics still arouse contradictory memories, feelings and passions among different groups of the population. Memorials to those who have lost their lives in wars and conflicts should be and usually are respected regardless of the nationality of the victims.

As a historian and former Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have in both capacities been frustrated by the frequent misuse of history. This has lead me to ask, what can historians do to prevent the misuse of their work and actively engage in conflict prevention and resolution? Discussions with historians and diplomats engaged in mediation convinced me to found the NGO “Historians without Borders” in Finland in June 2015. Our membership today includes most of the history professors in Finnish universities and hundreds of others working in one way or another with historical issues and conflicts. Our founding meeting was addressed by the Finnish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari. We then arranged the International Conference on the Use and Abuse of History in Conflicts at the University of Helsinki in May 2016. The Conference ended with 300 participants agreeing on a declaration creating the network of Historians without Borders.

In this declaration, the signatories agreed to work together in order to:

- deepen general and comprehensive knowledge and understanding of history;

- promote open and free access to historical material and archives;

- encourage interactive dialogue between different views and interpretations of history to assist in the process of mutual understanding;

- support efforts to identify the abuse of history in fostering and sustaining conflicts;

- help defuse conflicts and contribute to conflict-resolution processes;

- promote the teaching of history in the spirit of this declaration;

- incorporate an understanding of the role of women and gender perspectives in efforts to build peace and resolve conflicts.

We invite all professional historians, as well as all those working in this field and in that of international relations, who wish to improve the understanding of history and to prevent its misuse to create and foster conflicts, to join our network. The invitation is open to all members of EuroClio. Joining Historians without Borders is easily done by accessing our website, www.historianswithoutborders.fi, and sign the Declaration. More information on our activities is also available.

In the numerous meeting with historians we have had in Europe, North America, Asia and Africa, both before and after the conference, our initiative has been greeted overwhelmingly positively. This of course puts pressure on us to able to live up to the expectations that our network has aroused. We will do our best to be able to deliver. While we are confident that we have the human and professional resources of the community of historians at our disposal, we also need the financial resources to be able to make the most of them. Our work aims at bringing together historians dealing with conflicts, making their knowledge, experience and expertise available to international organisations and other bodies engaged in mediation efforts, as well as at initiating research on issues that can contribute on the fulfilment of our aims.

One concrete example of our work is the process we initiated in January 2017, when we brought together a group of Ukrainian and Russian historians to discuss common issues of 20th century historiography in the two countries. Unsurprisingly, the participants had some very different views of this time period, but they nevertheless asked us to continue facilitating their dialogue. This we did in September 2017, when a larger group of Ukrainian and Russian historians, and also Finnish and German historians, met in Helsinki. Another initiative brought together Nordic and Belarusian historians at the University of Lund to discuss how to deal with difficult issues in Belarusian history, and the country’s relations with its neighbouring countries. Finally, in March 2019, we brought together historians from Europe and Africa to discuss the writing of the history of colonialism. This is the kind of work we hope we can bring export to, for example, the Western Balkans.

We have also been in contact with many international organisations under the UN umbrella, as well as with the OSCE, the Council of Europe and others to discuss how Historians without Borders could contribute to conflict resolution with experts, commission members and/or advisers. For example, we could provide a list of expert historians who are available to take on such work.

We live in increasingly ahistorical times, when people’s awareness and understanding of how we arrived where we are today is diminishing rather than increasing. This ignorance makes it more difficult to see into the future and shape it, fostering what is sometimes described as postmodern here-and-now short-termism. An additional challenge is the proliferation of so-called “alternative facts” as part of the new wave of politics and journalism where facts, if at all acknowledged, are treated as opinions with no concern for establishing what actually has happened in history, or respect for and commitment to the methods of scientific research. The statement that “those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it” may or may not be true, but ignorance will always increase the risk of becoming unconscious prisoners of history and prey to the machinations of politicians seeking to exploit this beautiful subject for their own ends. As historians, we must actively contribute to removing history from the instruments fostering conflicts and hampering efforts at conflict resolution, and we must try to use it as a means for promoting mutual understanding and conflict prevention.

 

Erkki Tuomioja, MP, PhD, is the Founder and Chairman of Historians without Borders (HWB), a Helsinki based organisation that aims to further public discussion about history and to promote the use of historical knowledge for peace-building and conflict-resolution. He is a member of the Finnish Parliament.