Sharing European Histories through stories of the past

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.

Partner Project (Re)Viewing European Stories Publishes Learning Activities

European histories are most prone to conflicting interpretations in places where national borders shifted repeatedly and local communities were uprooted or new communities settled in. To integrate these border dialogues in the classroom, EuroClio’s Sharing European Histories project supported efforts by the EUscreen Foundation to develop learning activities about borders and their significance in European history. The resulting educational  project (Re)Viewing European Stories has now published three ready-to-use innovative learning activities, which make creative use of audiovisual content from the EUscreen and Europeana archives. The activities encourage students to widen their perspectives and provide better context to many events in twentieth century European history, making them useful for any national curriculum. Additionally, the activities put personal stories at the center of students’ engagement, promote critical historical thinking, develop media literacy skills, and give students and teachers the flexibility they need to adapt them to their own learning goals. 

About the project

(Re)Viewing European Stories kicked off in October 2019, when a team of archival practitioners, historians and educators, as well as external experts convened in Warsaw to come up with ideas for engaging and interactive learning activities provoking critical thinking, while also using digital source materials and enhancing media literacy. The team settled on exploring the themes of migration and movement around three short films made by The European Network for Remembrance and Solidarity, one of the contributors, in their 2017 In Between project. The films investigated the dynamics of history and remembrance in three European borderlands, which suffered from big changes and upheavals in the twentieth century. By displaying oral history research in the chosen regions, the films allow students to engage with local and personal stories, before connecting them to the bigger historical context. The depicted borderlands include the Polish-Lithuanian border, where different groups of people have lived together for centuries while the borders drastically changed during 20th century,  the Bosnian town of Mostar, which found itself at the crossroads of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, and the Catalan cross-border region, where many Spaniards attempted to flee the Franco regime at the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War. 

This image showcases how the films correspond to wider historical themes

The Learning Activities

In December 2020, the team finished their work and the completed activities are now freely available for teachers to use in their classrooms. All learning activities come with a premade package of learning materials, including information packs, step-by-step activity plans, and stimulating visuals. The intended age of students varies between 11 and 18 years old. The activities are initially designed for two lessons of forty-five minutes each, but can be adapted to suit any teacher’s needs.

Download the Learning Activities

The project’s learning activities have been published here under EuroClio’s educational materials or can be downloaded directly from the EUscreen Blog: 

        

More information

Visit the EUscreen blog for more information on the development of (Re)Viewing European Stories:

The Project Page: http://blog.euscreen.eu/reviewing-european-stories/ 

The History of the project: http://blog.euscreen.eu/2019/12/reviewing-european-stories-co-creation-workshop/ 

Contributors

(Re)Viewing European Stories is coordinated by the EUscreen Foundation, funded by the Evens Foundation and supported by EuroClio as part of the Sharing European Histories project. The project brought together archival practitioners, historians and educators, as well as external experts from a number of European countries: Documenta – center for dealing with the past (Croatia), Borderland Foundation (Poland), European Observatory on Memories (Spain), European Network Remembrance and Solidarity (Poland and others), National Film Archive – Audiovisual Institute (Poland), Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (Netherlands), with Jacek Staniszewski (Poland), a history teacher and EuroClio ambassador, serving as an independent education lead.

Teaching and Learning about Life in 20th century Border Regions with Audiovisual Content

This set of learning activities has been developed as a part of ‘(Re)Viewing European Stories’, a project by EUscreen, in partnership with EuroClio and funded by the Evens Foundation. The project aimed to promote historical critical thinking among high school students and teachers by developing new interactive learning activities based largely on audiovisual archival content coming from the EUscreen and Europeana collections. 

The learning activities are intended to widen students’ perspectives on European history and provide better context and explanations of the events covered in many curricula. The activities are based on three short films produced as part of the ‘In Between’ project, a European initiative created and coordinated by the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity, investigating the history and dynamics of European borderlands where remembrance is linked to a difficult past and the political and social changes that have resulted from the dramatic historical processes of the 20th century. They incorporate local narratives as well as visual and audio documentation of research conducted in various European locations using the oral history method. The films focus on three border regions in Europe: the Polish-Lithuanian border, where different groups of people have lived together for centuries while the borders drastically changed during the 20th century,  the Bosnian town of Mostar, which found itself at the crossroads of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, and the Catalan cross-border region, where many Spaniards attempted to flee the Franco regime at the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War. 

The learning activities have been specifically developed to include relevant topics for the national curricula, put personal stories at the center of students’ engagement, promote critical historical thinking, develop media literacy skills, and give students and teachers the flexibility they need to adapt them to their own learning goals. 

All learning activities come with a premade package of learning materials, including information packs, step-by-step activity plans, and stimulating visuals. The intended age of students varies between 11 and 18 years old. The activities are initially designed for two lessons of forty-five minutes each, but can be adapted to suit any teacher’s needs. 

Contributors

(Re)Viewing European Stories is an educational pilot project that ran between October 2019 and September 2020. Co-ordinated by the EUscreen Foundation, funded by the Evens Foundation, and supported by EuroClio, the project brought together archival practitioners, historians and educators, as well as external experts from a number of European countries: Documenta – center for dealing with the past (Croatia), Borderland Foundation (Poland), European Observatory on Memories (Spain), European Network Remembrance and Solidarity (Poland and others), National Film Archive – Audiovisual Institute (Poland), Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (Netherlands), with Jacek Staniszewski (Poland), a history teacher and EuroClio ambassador, serving as an independent education lead.

Part of the Project:

Sharing European Histories

(Re)viewing European Stories (EUscreen)

Funded by:

Members involved:

Learning Activities

The project’s learning activities can be downloaded directly from the EUscreen Blog:

Call for trainers to give national trainings in Sharing European Histories

Veronika Budaiová Opportunities

Call for trainers to give national trainings in Sharing European Histories

Do you believe it is important to teach history that goes beyond national narratives?

Do you enjoy sharing experiences with colleagues from your country and giving workshops?

Do you want to come to EuroClio’s Annual Conference in Serbia?

Then we are looking for you!

The Evens Foundation and EuroClio will support six enthusiastic history educators to give a training based on the teaching strategies in the Sharing European Histories project.

The project

With the Sharing European Histories initiative, the Evens Foundation and EuroClio are seeking to support and disseminate innovative projects and pioneering teaching strategies that help young people (and by extension the general public) to understand the complexity and multiplicity of European history, and recognize how history can engage everyone in understanding Europe and their part within it.

The past is often a source of conflicting interpretations rather than easy consensus. Still, historical identity is central to relations between states and people in the here and now.
We believe that opening up a space to engage with the dissonant and often conflictual nature of European history is the first step in discovering common positions or overcoming divisions while acknowledging existing differences.

In response to our call for applications, we received a wide range of ideas and project proposals from all over Europe. In close consultation with an international expert group we selected and invited five individual contributors and two projects to further develop their ideas and projects.

The individual contributors are currently in the process of finalizing the teaching strategies they proposed to engage with European history, making them accessible and user-friendly for history educators across Europe. These strategies will be presented during the next EuroClio conference.

There are strategies that

  • Use object biographies to foster curiosity and underline the complexity of the past
  • Compare different representations of the same historical figures to put their historical significance in perspective.
  • Use personal life stories to demonstrate that people experience historical events or developments in different ways.
  • Analyse commemorative practices to understand the constructed nature of history.
  • Trace the roots of an idea to learn about the cause and consequence.

Who are we looking for?

We are looking for history educators (teachers, teacher trainers, educators involved in the work of National History Teachers’ Associations) who:

  • have a genuine interest in teaching history that is transnational and multiperspective;
  • believe that there is, or should be a place for shared European histories in their national curricula;
  • have experience in training their peers in using new teaching strategies;
  • can participate to a train the trainer in April 2020;
  • are able to organise a training on the topic in their own country/region.

What do we offer?

We offer:

  • Participation to the train the trainer event on Thursday 2 April 2020 and the EuroClio Annual Conference Friday 3 and Saturday 4 April. These events will take place in Belgrade, Serbia.
  • accommodation for these nights.
  • coverage of the travel to and from Belgrade, Serbia, which is where the events will take place.
  • mentoring by a team of international and experienced trainers, who have been involved in the editing and development of the teaching strategies;
  • exclusive preview of the developed teaching strategies and training on their application by the developers themselves;
  • the opportunity to gain experience and organise a 1-day training event in your own country;
  • financial support up to 500 euro, to cover the costs this training event.

How to apply?

To apply, please send a CV and a Motivation Letter to katria@euroclio.eu. We will accept applications until Wednesday 5 February 2020.

Applicants can expect to hear from us by Friday 14 February 2020. Six applicants will be selected.

Selection process and criteria

The selection will be based on:

  • availability to join the train the trainer event;
  • relevant experience in teaching European histories;
  • working level of English;
  • ability to organise a training in the home country.

In addition, motivation, experience, geographical balance, gender balance will be taken into account.

Registrations are open for applicants from all Council of Europe member states. 

For additional information, please contact us at veronika@euroclio.eu.

To apply, please fill in the form that you can find below. Applications are open until Friday 31 January 2020.

Sharing European Histories meets in The Hague

Veronika Budaiová Project Updates

In today’s diverse society, everyone has its own understanding or interpretation of historical events. The opening up of a space to engage with the dissonant and often conflictual nature of European history is the first step in discovering common positions or overcoming divisions while acknowledging these existing differences.

The Sharing European Histories project core goal is to develop innovative teaching strategies for educators across Europe, designed to help young people better understand the different perspectives and the complexities of our shared European past.

At this 2nd Meeting of the Sharing European Histories project, EuroClio director Steven Stegers emphasised the need to create educational resources and tools which that in fact will be used by teachers. The purpose of the meeting was three-fold: peer-review of the strategies, agreement on a plan of action in completing the strategies, and the peer-review of a new Historiana tool.

During the meeting all contributors had the opportunity to share their strategies with their peers and receive suggestions for the future development. Among the contributors were Helen Snelson (UK), Joanna Wojdon (Poland), Elisabete Pereira (Portugal), and Gentian Dejda (Albania). Helen Snelson introduced her strategy focusing on using life stories which teaches students about the complexity of the past. The strategy, addressing the period 1989-2000, incorporates an intergenerational dialogue that deconstructs the idea of what it means to be an eyewitness to the past. It encourages students to talk to people they know that have a story about the past and to take ownership of what they are learning by bringing together the lived past and what is talked about or what we are told is important. Her strategy relates these memories to maps and timelines to interrogate which parts are actually remembered.

The second strategy, designed by Joanna Wojdon, focuses on public history in wider society. It follows the historical path of Wroclaw by looking at historical plaques to see how changes and ethnic groups are represented; who is or is not represented? From which point of view are turning points memorialised? Where did the plaques come from and who put them up? Why are they where they are and for what purpose?

This strategy stimulates an awareness in students of the constructed nature of history and teaches them how to deconstruct the contemporary message. An element could be to find other commemorative elements (i.e. monuments or street names) in a city or town, or to assign students the task to construct their own plaques.

The third strategy proposed by Elisabete Pereira uses object biographies to foster curiosity for the complexity of the past. In this strategy, students looks at science and history. Scientists do not think in terms of nationalism or politics, but in terms of innovation and how this took place across borders. The last strategy proposed by Gentian Dedja looks at medieval figures that surpass ethic borders. The aim of the strategy is to critically analyse chosen historical figures and deconstruct historical narratives of “national heroes” claimed by different groups

The challenge for all the developers for the next step in the project is to make sure that their strategies can be easily adapted and applied across Europe and in different historical contexts.

The final item on the agenda for the meeting was to offer a feedback on the new Historiana tool. The purpose of the tool is to deconstruct historical sources by gradually revealing information. EuroClio’s Steven Stegers explained three ways for which the tool can be used: analysing images, tracing the history of objects, tracing the spread of ideas.

The team finally decided on the further course of action which will include finalisation of forms for stages 1-2 and preparation of a peer-review workshop where contributors will individually teach their strategies. The workshops will be a part of the 2020 EuroClio Annual Conference in Serbia.

 

“Sharing European Histories” Kicks-Off in Gdansk

From April 5-7, the Kick-off meeting for the Sharing European Histories Project was held in parallel to the Annual Conference in Gdansk. EuroClio partnered with the Evens Foundation on this project because both organizations believe that opening up a space to engage with the dissonant and often conflicting nature of European history is the first step in discovering common positions or overcoming divisions while acknowledging existing differences. On behalf of the Evens Foundation, Chairwoman Monique Canto-Sperber welcomed participants to the conference during the opening cermony, introducing the Sharing European Histories project.

The Sharing European Histories Project aims to inspire and support history educators across Europe since we find that history educators are uniquely positioned to engage young people in confronting the dominant national narratives of history to overcome the divisions between nations and cultures.Back in September 2018 EuroClio and Evens Foundation put out a call for applicants; from over 70 applications received, two project partner organizations and five individual contributors were selected to join the Sharing European Histories project team. Rounding out the project team are two teacher trainers, Richard Kennett and Iryna Kostyuk, who will work with the individual contributors to help them develop their projects.

During the kick-off meeting all the team members had an opportunity to introduce their project ideas. Individual contributor, Helen Snelson, from the UK, shared her proposal for an oral history collection on how people around Europe experienced the end of cold war. Gentian Dedja, from Albania, proposed a practice that explores local historical heroes in cross border contexts to demonstrate how historical figures can surpass national prejudices. Elisabete Pereira, from Portugal, proposed a study of the hidden history of objects that explores the life cycle of their development and circulation around Europe and the globe. Presented in workshop at the Annual Conference, Juan Carlos Ocana, from Spain shared his proposal for actives that help history and citizenship educators confront the complex issues of Jihadist terrorism and the rise of the radical right in Europe in their classroom. In another workshop Joanna Wojdon, from Poland, demonstrated her proposed resource which explores how the historical thinking concept of continuity and change in historical events and processes changes perception depending on different perspectives.

Our project partners also shared their proposed projects with conference members during the Marketplace of Ideas. Sonja de Leeuw from EUscreen in partnership with Maja Drabczyk from National Film Archive-Audio Visual Institute, Poland (FINA) and Karolina Dziełak from the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity (ENRS), shared their project proposal to develop interactive learning activates which explore migration in Europe using EUscreen’s large collection of digitized audio-visual sources. From the Croatian History Teacher’s Association (HUNP), Vedran Ristic shared the proposal for a project to investigate local material heritage and the personal stories connected to these materials from a contemporary global perspective.

The team decided that the individual contributors will spend the next year working with the teacher trainers to create a set of unified teaching strategies that form the basis of their proposed projects. These strategies will be peer-reviews and published on Historiana so teachers from across the globe can use them to teach history in a way that respects diversity, counters nationalist narratives, and promotes a critical enquiry about the past. Additionally, the individual contributors and project partners will be sharing the outcome of their proposed projects next year at the EuroClio Annual Conference 2020 in Serbia. Keep an eye out for further updates on this exciting project!