Book review: White Privilege: The myth of a post-racial society

Alicia Rijlaarsdam Reviews , ,

‘If we believe that education is a right and not a privilege then every individual, regardless of their race, gender or socio-economic background, has a right to a quality education’

White Privilege: the myth of a post-racial society explores how race operates as a form of disadvantage in modern-day society. Kalwant Bhopal argues that individuals from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds, by virtue of their racial identity, are positioned as outsiders in a society that values whiteness and ‘white privilege’. Neo-liberal policymaking in its attempt to be inclusive, has portrayed an image of a post-racial society. However, in reality the vast inequalities between white and black and minority communities continue to exist. Bhopal argues that policy making has worsened inequalities which result from processes of racism, exclusion and marginalisation rather than addressed them.

How does whiteness manifest itself in the classroom? How are black and minority ethnic groups disadvantaged in their schooling experience? Are there ways to move forward and if so, what can educators do?  

White privilege and intersectionality

‘Whiteness and white privilege dominate all aspects of society and suggest that those from non-white backgrounds, because of their identity, are positioned as inferior to whites in a society in which white identities predominate’.

Bhopal argues that the identity of whiteness is the first determinant of how groups are positioned, followed by other markers such as class, gender, religion, age and sexuality, among others. In the US, the historical dimensions and understanding of whiteness stem from the history of slavery and the dominant construction of whiteness as the norm. This has resulted in the manifestation of positioning the black identity as inferior and the white as superior. In the UK, understandings of whiteness stem from processes of structural racism working to disadvantage blacks and advantage whites. 

To examine the hierarchical structure of whiteness, Bhopal demonstrates how despite having white ethnicity, Gypsies and Travellers continue to be victims of discrimination because of their outsider status.  She argues that the social stigma attached to belonging to this group is due in part to an ‘unacceptable’ shade of whiteness leading to their needs rarely being addressed or recognised. 

Class and gender also play a key role in the positioning of black and minority ethnic men and women and stereotypes operate to marginalise minority ethnic groups. Within higher education this is illustrated as universities ‘play the diversity card’, while  in practice changing little as white privilege continues to dominate.

Whiteness in education

‘Education is a space in which the norms of whiteness are reinforced and reproduced’ 

Drawing on case studies and interviews, Bhopal argues that the school's space is used to maintain and privilege whiteness while asserting dominance over black and minority ethnic groups. Whiteness works to perpetuate and reinforce white racial superiority. When discussing the failures of the education system to meet the needs of black and minority ethnic students it is often replaced by a rhetoric that blames the ‘other’. Bhopal argues that there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that white teachers are not fully equipped to understand the experiences of black and minority ethnic students in the classroom. Many teachers from white backgrounds fail to recognise their own whiteness and their own privilege and how this affects their teaching in the classroom. 

In higher education the number of students from ethnic minorities have steadily increased in the last decade. However, inequalities in higher education continue to persist. Universities are key spaces in which whiteness and white identities predominate. Not just in the representation of white groups occupying decision making senior roles, also evidenced in the curriculum and approaches to diversity, inclusion and social justice. Universities remain spaces reserved for the privileged few.

Moving forward

‘How can we move forward in a society that continues to reinforce inequality based on skin colour?’

Significant changes are needed in order to address and challenge racial inequalities. Bhopal argues that while racism may never be eradicated it doesn’t mean we cannot actively challenge white groups occupying positions of power who use white privilege as a means of protecting their positions. Complaining about racism often results in victims becoming labelled as villains. Schools, colleges and universities are required to demonstrate inclusion, meaning that social justice and equity are being taken seriously rather than continuing the myth of a post-racial society. 

While Bhopal focuses mainly on the UK context and to a lesser extent on the US, the book is an excellent investigation into white privilege in contemporary society. While confronting at times, Bhopal clearly and concisely examines the empirical evidence about the recently popularised term, ‘white privilege’. She concludes her book with a number of suggestions which can help us move forward:

  • Implement policies with concrete outcomes that improve the inclusion of Black and minority ethnic staff and students. Bhopal mentions the Race Equality Charter as a positive move in the right direction but it is too early to tell if it will make a difference for universities addressing racial inequalities. She suggests that the UK government develops a specific policy that addresses inequalities in the application process by introducing name-blind applications for universities. 
  • The Education system should acknowledge institutional racism and white privilege; a failure to acknowledge racism results in a failure to act upon it and to instigate change. 
  • Implement specific institutional frameworks that facilitate changes at both a local and national level; an example can be the clear monitoring of racist incidents which will need to include a clear strategy for how educational institutions should address racism. 
  • Introduce unconscious bias training as mandatory for all (educational) staff. 
  • Greater visibility of black and minority staff in senior positions.
  • Introduce a more diverse curriculum for students.
  • Formal mentoring and training of staff who wish to progress in their careers designed specifically to address the needs of Black and minority ethnic groups. 

Bhopal, Kalwant. White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-racial Society. Bristol, UK; Chicago, IL, USA: Bristol University Press, 2018. doi:10.2307/j.ctt22h6r81.

Kalwant Bhopal is a Professor of Education & Social Justice and Director of the Centre for Research in Race & Education (CRRE) at the University of Birmingham. Her research explores how processes of racism, exclusion and marginalisation operate in predominantly white spaces with a focus on social justice and inclusion.

Book review: Hard Questions – Learning to Teach Controversial Issues

Matej Matkovič Reviews , ,

In this book, Judith L. Pace examines the work of four teacher educators from Northern Ireland, England, and the USA as they show their graduate students’ different approaches to teaching about controversial topics. The author claims that the area of preparing preservice teachers to teach controversial topics is not sufficiently developed. This is why one of the key questions in modern teaching is “How can new teachers learn to teach controversy in the realities of the charged classroom?”

The book also compares how the teaching of controversial issues is interpreted in different national and educational contexts. It demonstrates how risk-taking can be contained, constrained, and supported in a wide variety of classroom and school settings. A limitation pointed out by the author herself is that the research centred on national contexts of countries with less restrictive political systems.

In the beginning, the author highlights the importance of dealing with controversial issues and introducing them in school lessons. Referencing various sources, she points out the lack of adequate preparation of beginner teachers for exploring controversial issues with students. The introduction of conceptual and practical tools that teachers can adopt in the classroom, modelling the use of these tools and creating opportunities to rehearse them are all crucial for preparing to deal with controversial issues.

In the following chapters, the author presents four different teacher educators and their graduate students from Northern Ireland, England, and the USA.

  • Mark Drummond, a teacher educator from Northern Ireland and his Citizenship and History courses. Mark has encouraged his preservice teachers to try different tools such as walking debate and role-play, political murals, and analysis of primary and secondary sources. Student teachers faced various challenges such as students’ reactions to controversy, their own emotions sparked by teaching controversial issues and limited time. But they experimented with various ways to get post primary students to consider different perspectives on history, human rights, and politics. Mark’s preservice teachers learned the most from his example and his principles of practice, such as developing a trusting classroom environment, using evidence to think critically, and using rich resources and dialogic pedagogies.
  • Paula Barstow, a teacher educator from Northern Ireland and her Citizenship course. Paula stresses that potential risks of teaching controversial issues can be contained through careful planning proactive communication, and thorough reflection to keep both students and teachers safe. Teachers need to use inclusive discussion such as a walking debate, deliberation (Structured Academic Controversy), carousel conversation and written conversation that encourage all students to participate. Preservice teachers reported they learned the most from structured small group activities, careful curriculum design, preparation for teaching, and exploration of the teacher’s role. The student teachers’ efforts were constrained by limited time and low status of citizenship, the pressure to cover curriculum and mentor teachers who interfered with their autonomy.
  • Ian Shepherd, a teacher educator from England and his History course. Ian’s approach to preparing preservice teachers to teach controversial issues chose to embed the practice in class sessions rather than addressing it discretely. His idea was that everything in curriculum had the potential to be sensitive or controversial. The overall approach to preparing preservice teachers was to integrate controversial elements in course sessions and assignments. He believed that when preparing to teach controversial issues, preservice teachers first need to develop their subject matter knowledge, be willing to experiment with provocative sources and experimental methods, and to reflect on teaching and learning in their classroom. Preservice teachers learned that teaching controversial issues first demands structuring a progression of conceptual change in which the teacher elicits students’ prior knowledge, gets students to deal with inquiry questions that often are moral, and helps students to arrive at new understandings. Although student teachers were constrained by their timetable, curricular demands, and traditional school culture, they were supported by SoW (scheme of work) assignments, encouragement from peers, mentors, and department heads.
  • Liz Simmons, a teacher educator from the USA and her Social Studies course. Liz believed that teaching controversial issues and teaching difficult history are distinct practices, but both are served by making classroom discussion the central pedagogy and content of a teacher preparation course. Tools that Liz introduced to her students were Structured Academic Controversy, Socratic seminar, Town Hall, and Case Study, as well as curricular programs such as the National Issues Forum and Brown University’s Choices. Liz stressed that preservice teachers need explicit modelling of discussion facilitation, opportunities to practice discussion preparation and facilitation, and feedback as well as self-assessment of their practice. Liz’s students most appreciated practice teaching and discussion of issues in the methods course. They used Structured Academic Controversy and other discussion methods in their teaching, but in one case, teaching controversial issues was constrained by the teacher’s professional learning community and evaluation of first year teachers.

In conclusion, the author emphasises that all four teacher educators, although working in different contexts and school subjects, emphasised three cornerstones for open classroom environment – issues content, pedagogical methods and tools for modelling democratic inquiry and discourse, and creation of a supportive atmosphere. They taught eight strategies to prepare novices for contained risk-taking: cultivation of warm, supportive classroom environments; thorough preparation and planning; reflection on teacher identity and roles; proactive communication with parents, other teachers, and administrators; careful selection, timing and framing of issues; emphasis on creative resources and group activities; steering of discussion and dealing with emotional conflicts. Preservice teachers agreed good preparation of lessons, choosing right pedagogical methods and tools, and creating supportive atmospheres were crucial for addressing controversial issues. The biggest constraints they had were time restrictions, mandated curricula and exams, and lack of support in schools.

Judith L. Pace believes that the book brings new knowledge on how to strengthen practices at all levels of schooling. She believes that addressing controversial issues would be most impactful with students from different communities. Also, her research indicates that more structured university involvement during student teaching could be a vital source of support. Ideally, teacher educators should be working with mentor teachers in the school to jointly support novices.

I agree with most of the conclusions the author wrote in this book. Teaching controversial issues is important for strengthening democracy, especially in a time when manipulation of facts and violation of human rights is done on a daily basis. But it can only be done with well-educated and trained teachers who have support in their schools and communities. A responsible society should do its best to support young teachers. Also, teacher educators should have a bigger role in guiding the teachers not only through their preservice time, but also during the first few years of their career. The research presented in this book shows mainly conclusions derived from the teaching in Northern Ireland, England and the USA, but in many cases, they can be linked to other countries in Europe. In my belief, it is very important to know who you are teaching. However, although controversial issues may vary from country to country, they should all be addressed in a way to strengthen democracy.

Book review: An almost forgotten European War

Joke Van der Leeuw-Roord Reviews ,

This year it is 150 year ago that the German Empire was founded on 18 January 1871 during an improvised and sober proclamation ceremony in Versailles. The authors Hermann Pölking and Linn Sackarnd describe in their book Der Bruderkrieg 1870/71, Deutsche und Franzosen, how reluctant the Prussian King William I was to receive this imperial crown, and that he only, after much discussion, agreed on ‘Emperor of the German Realm’ as title instead of on ‘German Emperor’. They also demonstrate that, despite the military victory of the troops representing the different German States, creating a united German Empire was not a step applauded by all other monarchs, with Ludwig II of Bavaria particularly reluctant. Only after considerable concessions, which are still the basis of the present-day Bavarian exceptionalism, did the King agree that Bavaria would become part of the Empire. Only ten days later an armistice was agreed in the war between Germany and France.

This war began in the summer of 1870, when both Prussia and France had interests in fighting a war against each other and believed that an easy victory would be at hand. The authors demonstrate, contrary to the common myth, that it was certainly not only Bismarck who orchestrated the beginning of the war. Many within the political and military leadership and public opinion leaders from both countries welcomed an aggressive and violent competition. What followed was a savage war, which led to the death of approximately 200.000 soldiers and left many more wounded and deformed. 

This sizable and rich publication goes deep into the political developments during the war. The French Emperor Napoleon III surrendered quite early in the war and became a – well nurtured – prisoner of war, and left France without a legal counterpart for the Germans. The new French Government of National Defence, based in Tours, was not considered as representative for the whole country by the Germans. This fact contributed considerably to the continuation of the war, as did the German demands for Alsace and parts of Lorraine as war booties. 

The many bigger and smaller battles and the sieges of Metz and Strasbourg are described in too much detail for my taste. Unfortunately, such detailed descriptions also rarely go with situation maps, which could certainly have enlightened this poor reader. But what makes the book really interesting –  and useful for school education – are the many ego documents (or personal life story sources) of soldiers and civilians giving insights in the state of warfare in 1870 and their social consequences. While the German High Command found, as high noblemen, suitable headquarters in Versailles, their troops continued fighting and struggled with a lack of appropriate shelter, clean clothing and food. Many quotations from letters make the reader aware of how difficult the situation was for ordinary French and German soldiers and often even for their officers. The French civic population fell victim to the military violence but even more through the food and goods requisitions by both the occupying and defending armies. Despite the suffering of the ordinary people, the French population continued to stand behind their leaders and supported their decision to keep fighting.

A special feature of this war was the fact that the combatants made prisoners of war, basically for the first time. This happened at both sides but most prisoners of war were made among the French troops. Almost 400.000 of them were interned in Germany, often under very difficult circumstances. In the end of the war soldiers fled across the French borders and almost 100.000 were interned in Switzerland and more than 5000 ended up in Belgium. The International Committee of the Red Cross created a special tracing agency for these prisoners of war.

This publication offers a genuine cross-border narrative, despite the fact that both authors are German. It uncovers the story of a war, mostly mentioned as a minor conflict, which was in fact the prologue and final rehearsal for the First World War. For those who read German, a really good read!

Hermann Pölking-Eiken and Linn Sackarnd, Der Bruderkrieg, Deutsche und Franzosen 1870/71 (2020) (686 pages). Available also as a film documentary in three parts by ARTE. 

Hardcopy 38,00 €; eBook (PDF) 29,99 € eBook (EPUB) 29,99 €

Joke van der Leeuw-Roord founded EuroClio in 1992, and since then she has acquired recognition as an international expert on innovative and trans-national history, heritage and citizenship education. Currently, Joke van der Leeuw-Roord is special advisor for EuroClio. 


Big history reflected in City History, Haifa Before & After 1948 – Narratives of a Mixed City

The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation commits itself to promoting reconciliation, tolerance and understanding in historically divided communities. It looks at unresolved historical claims, which can, when misunderstood or manipulated, create and reaffirm prejudice and hatred among populations, thus fuelling ethnic and nationalistic violence and conflict. It has brought together historians from various communities to research and write about conflicting narratives of the past.

Haifa Before & After 1948 - Narratives of a Mixed City edited by Mahmoud Yazbak and Yfaat Weiss is a good example of their work. 14 scholars and experts from Jewish as well as Arabic decent have looked through various articles at the history of Haifa before and after the 1948 from cultural, political and social angles. The war of 1948, which changed the demographic picture of the city, as it lost almost its total Arabic population, is not directly addressed, but in each individual article the impact of the dramatic events is visible. The publication shows how by researching the past through a micro lens of city history, the reader is made to understand how big history of modernisation, industrialisation, persecution, colonization and war influenced the lives of each individual citizens in Haifa. The books tells stories about the vast growth of the city in the early Twentieth Century, the life during the British Mandate period, the inter-ethnic competition in the oil and soap industries, the Arab-Jewish inter-communal relations and gender interactions in the Twenties and the Thirties.

The articles in Haifa Before & After 1948 are of various quality and a more rigorous editing would have certainly have supported a bit more consistent publication. The downside of writing such micro history is the absence of a bigger context.  These stories lack a comparative attitude, which inevitably leads to an emphasis on uniqueness, which had been probable less if it had been embedded in a bigger question. Despite these imperfections the book is very much worthwhile reading. One article stands absolutely out and addresses fully what the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation stands for. “Eraser” and “Anti-Eraser” – Commemoration and Marginalization on the Main Street of the German Colony: The Haifa City Museum and Café Fattush written by Salman Natour and Avner Giladi gives a deep insight in the highly politicized memory policy related to the city’s historical narrative as presented in street (re)naming and by the Haifa City Museum. This museum is housed in the Community Building of the German Colony. The German Colony was the first of seven 19th century colonises of the Templars, a branch of the German Evangelical Church. The way the history of this community is interwoven into the narrative of the Museum is fascinating. The way Haifa’s history is presented, (mis)using and leaving out elements of its Arabic, Jewish and German history, is really mind boggling. This article should be compulsory for each student or colleague who is interested in the politics of memory.

Joke van der Leeuw-Roord


A Complex Story of an English Female Benefactor


In the early years of EuroClio we organized two conferences in Glasgow together with Strathclyde University about competence based learning in history. The onsite learning programme brought the participants to New Lanark, the big factory complex owned by Robert Owen.  It was at that time not long ago that I left teaching myself, and I had still vivid memories about teaching about Owen and his social experimentations. I was thrilled to finally visit the spot where it all happened and had a real historical sensation (Huizinga) when I was allowed to hold in my hand the first edition of Owen’s biography with his signature. The beautiful natural location and the good preservation of New Lanark were constantly in my mind while reading David Sekers’ A Lady of Cotton: Hannah Greg, Mistress of Quarry Bank Mill. His description of the location of the Quarry Bank factory in the neighborhood of Manchester made me aware that it must have been a very similar situation to that of Owen’s New Lanark.

A Lady of Cotton: Hannah Greg, Mistress of Quarry Bank Mill is an interesting publication, which intertwines gender, religious and moral history all closely related to the vast industrial development of England, and particularly the expansion of Liverpool and Manchester. It tells the story of Hannah Greg, a well-educated and intelligent young woman of Dissenter background. She married Samuel Greg one of the first cotton industrialists. She bore him thirteen children, who almost all lived long lives.

The book gives insight in the opportunities Hannah had in the world of Dissenters to have a good education.  Among these Protestant Christians, who were separated from the Church of England, was a substantial group of the new factory owners in the Midlands. They build new churches and created intellectual societies, which were sometimes also open for women. Hannah’s parents gave her the opportunity to become well educated, however when she married she entered into a man's world. Her husband expected her to be a good and dutiful wife. Initially she had difficulties with this position but eventually she accepted her fate and used her knowledge and skills to make sure her many children received modern and high quality education. She and her husband had a pleasing relation, although it was hard for Hannah to accept that her husband owned a  property in the West Indies based on slavery.

As wife of a factory owner of growing importance she turned her attention to the well-being of the young people (from 6 years old!) who worked in her husband’s cotton mill. She worked to improve the education, health as well as the welfare of the pauper apprentices. She used her knowledge and experience to publish a great number of books and could therefore widely influence her community and many who came into contact with her.

Why should you not read this book?

David Sekers becomes regularly a bit repetitive. It might be that this is the result of the limited amount of resources he could use, but it is slightly irritating to read a few times the same information. A better editor would have saved him for such repetitions.

Why should you read this book?

A Lady of Cotton: Hannah Greg, Mistress of Quarry Bank Mill demonstrates flawlessly the discrepancy between high minded philosophy and religious conviction and the reality of everyday reality. The dissenters had lofty ideas about education and equality but if it came to the mills’ workforce they did not (fully) apply to the pauper apprentices. These very young children were necessary for the production, and there was little questioning if such young people should be working instead of going to school. They received education at Quarry Bank, which was indeed exceptional for that time, but it was to become good and well behaved workers. These young workers should not challenge or change their societal position. Hannah’s silence about her slave owning husband also shows how she lived with a double standard and how complex it was to match ideology and practice. The current debate on the role of the Bristol philanthropist and slave trader Edward Colston is another example of such double standard attitude.

How can history, citizenship and heritage education benefit?

A Lady of Cotton: Hannah Greg, Mistress of Quarry Bank Mill allows educators to discuss political and religious tolerance, especially in times of war. The book gives insights into the political situation of the Dissenters around 1800. They were already before the Napoleonic Wars observed with suspicion by the leading political powers. However, when they openly showed understanding for the ideals of the French Revolution, the position of Dissenters became really difficult.

The book sheds light on the opportunities and limitations around the turn of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century for intelligent women like Hannah Greg. It shows that women had more opportunities in that time to become educated than normally is assumed, but as soon as they married their freedom was restricted.

David Sekers’ preface to the book contains a short but helpful introduction into the source problem he encountered, when he decided to write about Hannah Greg. He was lucky to be able to use the Greg family archive, but was well aware how one sided that might be. His text helps students to think about the relation of building a narrative, based on truthful facts and still not being able to write a true story. In a time where we are caught in a big debate about facts and opinions, it is good to remind us all that history in the end always will be able to partially disclose the full picture.

Book Review: Developing a culture of co-operation when teaching and learning history

Paolo Ceccoli Reviews

Book Review by Paolo Ceccoli

Title: Developing a culture of co-operation when teaching and learning history
Author: Council of Europe
Year of publication: 2017
Language: English
Pages: 313


All school systems are coping today with more or less divided societies. All the history teachers have to deal in their classes with social tensions and new cleavages. The more a classroom mirrors the society, the more teachers’ work is challenging. In this situation, teaching history can be detrimental to civil coexistence or can contribute to reinforcing cohesion and mutual understanding. In this article I review an e-book, published in English by the Council of Europe (CoE), in which didactics of history at its best shows how teaching could foster mutual cohesion and understanding. The book is the final result of a multi annual project in which Cypriot teachers belonging to both communities (Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot), guided and supervised by CoE experts, reflected and produced different materials responding to our time educational needs.

From 1974 onwards Cyprus has been divided in two parts. The northern one, Turkish Republic of Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey, and the Republic of Cyprus, recognised by the international community. After many years of division the complex background of the reconciliation process offered a lot of opportunity to think and practice a quality history teaching. Council of Europe and a local association (AHDR) cooperated in order to produce useful material for history teaching in a divided society. The Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR), founded in 2003, whose mission “contributes to the advancement of historical understanding amongst the public and more specifically amongst children, youth, and educators by providing access to learning opportunities for individuals of every ability and every ethnic, religious, cultural, and social background, based on the respect for diversity and the dialogue of ideas” , hosted the final presentation of this material the 10th and 11th of March 2017 in Nicosia.

The e-book Developing a culture of co-operation in teaching and learning history, available at a the moment only in English (, has been intended as a tool for initial and in-service teacher training, with the ambition to be used as a self-training tool as well. The content and teaching methodologies proposed, although inspired by the local situation, have a universal value and may also be of great interest all over the Europe and beyond. As stated in the presentation leaflet, this is a text composed of a "orientation document that exposes the concepts of culture and cooperation" followed by "seven distinct training units" that deal with the following topics:

1. Does differentiation have to mean different?
2. Develop empathy as an historical skill.
3. Gender and inclusivity.
4. Dealing with stereotypes.
5. Societies living together: understanding cultural diversity in teaching and learning history.
6. Using literature, art and film to aid historical understanding.
7. Information communications technology and history teaching.

The content of the e-book includes texts of various types: narratives, quotations, transcripts of interviews, tables, diagrams, photographs and other visual aids, question boxes, teaching units and work schemes. Worksheets and other materials associated with lessons are available on separate pages, so teachers can print and use them separately.
The main theoretical question raised by this book can summarized this way: teaching of history, the traditional way of conveying it as a series of incontrovertible facts that tends to establish a division between "us" and "them", has often been the cause of conflicts created by the ignorance of factors that, instead, nuances what it is necessary to understand multiperspectively. How can one overcome the destructive potential of a victimized or aggressive teaching of history?

An answer seems to consist in giving up political history teaching. Whatever you would substitute, the exclusion or reduction of political history is a double-cut axe. On the one hand, the impact of historical divisional factors could be reduced, in fact teaching the inevitable antagonism of any political-military affair tends to project to the past our own present preferences. In this way we could legitimize them "objectively", by means of one-sided historical interpretation, which can be detrimental to the civil coexistence of states and communities. But, on the other hand, renouncing irenically to confronting conflicts can make students particularly deprived of the conceptual knowledge and argumentative skills needed to defend themselves from manipulation and rhetoric, from simplifying ideologies and from discriminatory responses with no real understanding.

One of the main values of the text presented by the Council of Europe and the AHDR is precisely to call for a balanced, courageous and open-minded political history capable of dealing with controversial and sensitive issues with a critical and multi-perspective, dialectical and at the same time rigorous attitude. Teaching of political history this way can and must be done to overcome or, at least to examine critically "clash of civilizations" theory.

If it’s true that every clash is also a melting of cultures, this is also because culture is an element of cohesion and division, but no culture is a homogeneous set of "free from internal divisions" features in itself. The message in this book is to show how individuals and cultures have the right to express their "identity," and "enjoy their heritage," but it’s impossible to "create separate, hermetically sealed worlds.” For this purpose, history must be taught in such a way as to exclude the idea that they existed in the past, in the midst of conflicts and struggles, "identities and cultures that are permanently antagonistic and mutually exclusive."

Why should you not read this book?

If you are not a history teacher, if you do not care teaching controversial issues, you should not read or use this book. I do not see any other reason not to dig deeply into this book, because I think that it is really great for the purpose that has been made for.

Why should you read this book?

If you are an history teacher eager to deal with controversial and sensitive issues, if you want to train yourself and learn how to improve your history lessons in a particularly difficult field, if you are a young teachers looking for materials updating your knowledge and your student knowledge as well, you have to read, study and use it.

How can history, citizenship and heritage education benefit?

I think that this book shows us how a well-done history teaching can contribute to bolster communities’ cohesion and to foster civil and social relationship, recognising openly the past without burying the head under the sand.

Punishment as driver for Colonialism, Tsarist Siberia

EuroClio Reviews ,

Years ago, during a short Dutch cycling holiday we came in the beautiful old town Zutphen. While walking the town, I found a real bookshop and upon entering the shopkeeper immediately came to me and asked me a little about my reading tastes. He walked away and came back with Sakhalin Island written by Chekhov and originally published in 1893. I liked his theater plays, knew he was a doctor but was fully unaware of this study into the circumstances of people living on this very remote Siberian Island.  The book was an eye-opener, Chekhov had carried out a modern research, asking questions among others about the treatment of the convicts, the food situation, the position of mothers and children. It gave deep insight into the mostly appalling lives of inhabitants of this part of Siberia, the convicted and settlers alike. Much earlier I had also enjoyed reading East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia, written by Benson Bobrick (1992). This impressive book addressed the Russian colonial expansion and exploitation from the first conquests by Cossacks in the 16th century until the late 20th century.

No wonder that I was very interested a new, 2016, publication The House of the Dead, Siberian Exile Under the Tsars, written by the University of London Historian Daniel Beer. A magisterial book, bringing the reader right in the heart of the vast prison without roof, as Siberia was called. Deer was able to research in archives in Moscow, Petersburg, Tobolsk and Irkutsk and has been able to access a wide array of reports, letters and memoires. It pictures the period from 1803 till 1917, focusing on groups of predominantly political exiles, such as the Decembrists, the Polish resurrects of 1830 and 1861 and the growing group of opponents of the Russian Autocracy after 1870. But at the same time we are informed about the voyage to Siberia, the conditions of the prisoners and penal laborers and different approaches to corporal punishment. We learn about the position of women and children and the different ways the Siberian Authorities tried to cope with a system, which was always under resourced.

One of the central persons in the book is famous Russian Author Dostoyevsky, who after a mock execution in Petersburg in 1849 was exiled  10 years in Siberia. He was sent for four years to prison camp, which was followed by six years of compulsory military service. The title of Beers’ book is taken from semi-autobiographic Dostoyevskys’ Notes from The House of the Dead, written in 1860-62, after the author had returned to Petersburg.

The House of the Dead, Siberian Exile Under the Tsars gives ample evidence about the failure of the penal system, which scarcely had a legal basis. Many convicts were exiled often without any juridical procedures and the crimes they had committed gave regularly hardly justification for the harsh punishments they were given. The vast Siberian territory and the lack of guards, due to continuous under resourcing of the system, gave way to extreme violence and savagery, among guards as well as convicts. The fact that penal system was seen as a basis for Siberian colonialism made things worse. The convicts had neither any competencies nor specific qualities for the work they were ordered to carry out, and the results were disastrous. Many prisoners were also undernourished and sickly and had therefore very low productivity. Mine and factory owners were consequently unwilling to use the work of the convicts, and preferred free settlers.

Why should you not read this book?

The House of the Dead, Siberian Exile Under the Tsars is based on a wide collection of written sources, including personal letters, memoires and letters. Inevitably this means that the voice of the upper and middle class prisoners dominates. It is unfortunate that the reader, due this lack of evidence, cannot learn a bit more about these common convicts’ thinking and feelings. This group constituted the after all the overall majority of the penal convicts. The opinions expressed by the more elitist, and political, convicts about these common criminals, show the distance between these two groups of Siberian convicts. The views confirm the stereotypical image of savage people without human feelings.

Why should you read the book?

The House of the Dead, Siberian Exile Under the Tsars helps us to understand the circumstances behind the growing political and revolutionary unrest in Russia. Although from the 1870s’ there was growing resistance against the penal exile system and many reports showed its costly and negative impact, it seemed impossible for the Authorities in St Petersburg to abolish the system. On the contrary, as result of the violent political unrest in Russia in 1905, which was also endemic in Siberia, more political prisoners were transported to Siberia and the penal regime further tightened. This approach only increased the anger and revolutionary attitudes of the prisoners. After the Abdication of Nicolas II in spring 1917, one the first decisions of the Provisional Government was to release the prisoners in Siberia and abolish exile as a punishment. However the Bolshevik revolution and the civil war that followed revived the penal exile system, on an even more brutal scale. Even in Russia today this penal exile is still in place.

How can history, citizenship and heritage education benefit?

The House of the Dead, Siberian Exile Under the Tsars is rich in primary sources, which help to come near to people, who experienced a hard life very different from how they had lived. It might be interesting to explore how it was possible that still many of these convicts were able to endure this total change and eventually were able to return to European Russia and their old lives. There are ample books published about the Gulag. The House of the Dead, is an indispensable book to create understanding of the fundamental value the Russian society contributed to this system of penal exile. The book is therefore important to develop an informed discussion among students about continuity and change of the Russian penal system before and after the Revolution.



Author Daniel Beer
Language read English
Translations Dutch (2016) Translations are forthcoming  in the next year or so in German, Italian, Portuguese, Polish and Chinese
No. of pages 490
Genre History


Two Very Different Jewish Family Histories: Oliviera and Schlesinger

EuroClio Reviews ,

When I was still living at my parents’ home our family doctor was Elsa Jesserum d’Oliviera. One of my best friends was her daughter Suzanne Rodrigues Pereira. I was also –very secretly- in love with her brother Rob. As we were also almost neighbours, I frequented their home regularly. I knew that they, as a Jewish family, had suffered during the war and that family members had been murdered. However, specific details were unknown to me, and I did not dare to ask more than what was voiced. In 2015 the Dutch historian Jaap Cohen wrote his PHD theses The inescapable descent of Eli d'Oliveira, a Portuguese Jewish family history (De onontkoombare afkomst van Eli d’Oliveira, Een Portugees-Joodse familiegeschiedenis). The main focus of the book is the life of Eli d'Oliveira, the grandfather of my friend Suzanne, but it also looks into the wider Jesserum d’Oliviera family, and indeed into the life and fate of her mother, our family doctor. It answered many of my unasked questions. However, above anything all, the book gave insights how Portuguese Jewish families preserved their identity in Dutch Society and by doing so distanced themselves from the Dutch Ashkenazi Jews. The book Their Promised Land. My grandparents in Love and War by Ian Burema, is about the German/English Jewish Schlesinger family. His grandparents Bernard and Winnifred wrote each other many (loving) letters, on which Burema was able to base his family history.  Although this book tells a very different story, also here the manner how the family handled their Jewish identity plays an important role.

Both books are good reads for understanding the predominantly 20th century history of integrated - or perhaps even more, assimilated - Jewish families, where religion was abandoned. They were respected members of the society, and did not apply divergent rites or habits. In the case of the Schlesinger family, the family members even did their utmost to be more British than the British.  However, the families were recognized as Jews by their societies, and certainly the Schlesinger family experienced (vague) anti-Semitism in their everyday life.

The Oliviera family was immediately understood as Jewish by the Nazis after their occupation of the Netherlands. Grandfather Eli Oliviera tried, together with many other Dutch Jews from Portuguese origin, to give evidence that they entered the Netherlands in the 17th Century as Christians and, that they therefore would not qualify as Jews but as members of the Mediterranean race. They also pointed out that their highly cultured community was superior to the culture of the Dutch Ashkenazi Jews. A long legal procedure followed and finally failed, resulting in the deportation and murdering of most members of the community, including grandfather Eli. Mother Elsa escaped this ultimate lot. She was deported to the Dutch concentration camp Westerbork but through an exceptional and almost incredible turn of fate, was able to return during Wartime to Amsterdam. She had fallen in love with Paul Rodrigues Pereira and before the end of the war they even had a baby boy. The couple was among the first couples marrying after the end of the War.

Why should you not read these books?

Cohen follows meticulously and at length the legal approaches explored by Eli Oliviera and other Portuguese Jews to avoid deportation. This is perhaps a little too much for an ordinary reader. But, on the other hand, it shows how, based on racial philosophy thinking of the Nazis, people tried to counter argue their approaches. I presume that few people are aware of this small chapter in the history of the Shoah. Burema has not written a deeply intellectual book. It focuses predominantly on the relationship of the couple writing letters, without going too much in depth into contextual information.

Why should you read these books?

Both books go beyond the Shoah and offer valuable insight in the variety of Jewish life before the Holocaust, showing Jews as actors instead of victims. Their Promised Land. My grandparents in Love and War is a pleasant book about migration, integration, assimilation and emancipation, but also about love between two people who were separated during both wars, when Bernard was doing his duty as medical Orderly. In The inescapable descent of Eli d'Oliveira, a Portuguese Jewish family history the history of the Oliviera family is told in a much longer perspective. It shows the different pathways of family members after they entered the Netherlands in the late 17th Century. We also are made aware that around 1940 the concept of race was still very much accepted in mainstream academic work and measuring race features was common practice in anthropology. Elsa Oliviera herself was involved in a survey measuring members of the Portuguese Jewish Community and Ashkenazi Jews, which lead to the conclusion that the first group could not be considered Jewish.

How can history, citizenship and heritage education benefit?

Both books give evidence of how little people knew, or were able to realize about the position and fate of the Jews. The administration in both countries closed the frontiers for Jewish refugees in the late thirties. When the UK government decided to allow 10.000 children to come to Britain, under the strict condition that their parents were not allowed to accompany them, the Schlesinger family took loving care of ten of those children.  But in their everyday letter conversations during the war, the fate of the Jews in occupied Europe was not a dominant topic. And even the Oliveira family avoided looking further that their goal to avoid deportation, what was beyond was probably unimaginable. The two books also help to develop an understanding for the complexity of identities. Both give evidence that before the Shoah holocaust there was also discrimination and sense of superiority among some Jewish people. The Schlesinger family offered help to German family members and the refugee children, but regularly have comments on their negative habits, which they describe as Jewish. In the case of Eli Oliviera, students may notice that he was even willing to use Nazi ways of thinking, discriminating against Ashkenazi Jews, to avoid deportation. A good teacher can in this case challenge their students to think how to make choices under impossible circumstances. Both books zoom in on the effect of big history events on personal lives, always a good thing for classroom teaching. And last but not least, both authors explain their readers how finding unexpected historical sources enabled them to write their books. Good for students to understand that serendipity often functions as base for historical writing.



Author Jaap Cohen
Original title De onontkoombare afkomst van Eli d’Oliveira, Een Portugees-Joodse familiegeschiedenis
Original language Dutch
Available in Dutch
Genre History




Author Ian Burema
Original title Their Promised Land. My grandparents in Love and War.
Original language English
Available in English, Dutch
Genre History


The German War, a Book That Sometimes Makes You Hold Your Breath

EuroClio Reviews , ,

Interest in the Second World War has been part of my life, as I was born in the shadow of this war and I was made aware of it through many stories of my parents’ family and friends and by its physical legacy in my surroundings. This was similar to most of Dutch people of my generation. However, at one point it was very different: I had an uncle living in Germany. He had been a forced laborer, had fallen seriously ill and was nursed back into life by a woman he subsequently fell in love with. My family met them on a more or less regular basis, and as soon as my mother and aunt were together, they started to quarrel about their level of War victimhood. As a Dutch child I of course had no compassion towards my German aunt, and for a long I time viewed stories about the German suffering merely as propagandistic; to release the burden of a dark past. However; eventually my professional curiosity got the better of me and in the last five years I have been intensely engaged to get a better understanding of what the war and its legacy meant for the Germans themselves. I consider The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 written by the Oxford historian Nicholas Stargardt as a great read for developing such insights.

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 offers wide insights into the German experience from the viewpoint of soldiers and civilians in the late thirties and during the war time, using a wide range of source materials, among them many letters and diaries. Stargardt follows several of their authors over a longer period of time. Through this approach, the reader is able to follow the whereabouts and patters of thinking of several individuals and couples. Moreover, through these documents it becomes clear that much more was known, written and said about issues, which people outside of Germany considered always highly secret in the Third Reich. Censorship of the letters from the soldiers was a surprisingly minor occurrence; the fate of the Jews was therefore common knowledge. When the bombing of German cities in 1943 intensified, Stargardt demonstrates that the general attitude of the public is was to deem these bombing as retaliation for what the Germans were doing to the Jews. This argument re-emerged, when after a break, the heavy bombing resumed in the summer of 1944. Stargardt refutes the mantra of Wir haben es nicht gewuest (we did not know about it) with ample evidence.

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 looks at the many aspects of German society, paying special attention to the position of women, ideologically placed in the family and the kitchen but in fact a large (voluntary) workforce, and minorities, with of course a special focus on the Jews. But also the treatment and killing on the disabled Germans, psychiatric patients and socially deprived is breathtakingly described in the chapter Extreme Measures. In this horrible episode, the German churches play a somewhat more human role, but in general Stargardts’ judgement about their role during and directly after the war is rather harsh: the Churches did not show the Christian compassion they should have represented. Or even worse sometimes: several of their high placed members of the clergy gave full support to the Nazis.

A chilly red thread in the book is the role of Nazi brainwashing and the brilliant but disgusting manipulations of the Goebbles’ propaganda machine. It shows how important this instrument was in influencing the mind and hearts of the people in Germany. The radio and written press were pivotal for its success, but also culture and art were addressed. Goebbles spent no less than 25% of his budget on culture and theater performances to make sure that critical citizens had an outlet for their possible controversial thoughts. However, even with all propaganda tools, not every programme was successful. The intended building of a national community, which was voluntarily willing to sacrifice all for the fatherland, failed due to traditional localism and regionalism and massive inner migration. People kept complaining about their fate and kept accusing each other of misusing benefits.

Why should you not read this book?

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 is a large book consisting of about 700 pages, giving a dramatic and worrisome picture of a highly civilized nation, which in a relative short time disintegrated into chaos, violence and terror. It leaves you with little hope for humanity, when it encounters exceptional circumstances. So many lack moral qualities and are willing to realize the consequences of what they heard and perceived.

Why should you read this book?

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 shows history in its full complexity, with blurry lines between perpetrators, bystanders and victims. A quote in the first weeks after the liberation written in the diary of Victor Klemperer, the German academic of Jewish origin, illustrates this very well when he wrote: Curious conflict within me: I rejoice in God’s vengeance on the Henchmen of the Third Reich... and yet I find it dreadful now to see the victors and avengers racing through the city which they have so hellishly wrecked (Dresden). With this and many other quotes from eyewitnesses we are able to have an in-depth insight of dreams, expectations, feelings and behavior of many German civilians and soldiers. It leads to an adverse picture of a divided society, where many, but not all, were willing to fight until the very last moment and subsequently were unwilling to face the post-war situation.

How can history, citizenship and heritage education benefit?

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 offers ample opportunities to discuss the way we talk about the blame for crimes against humanity and war crimes. It might be worth to explore this issue with examples given by Stargardt. He proves how to a large extent the German military in Central and Eastern Europe was involved in such crimes, and how many of them looked away, despite even anti-Nazi convictions. However he also shows the lethal impact of the aerial Allied bombing on cities, and its citizens and the violence used by the liberators of the Red Army. As the book gives a wide picture of many propaganda campaigns it also offers the opportunity of deeper thinking about the use and impact of (war) propaganda.



Author Nicholas Stargardt
Original title The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945
Original language English
Available in Already published or in preparation in Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish.
No. of pages 700
Genre History


War Allies but Colonial Rivals: Britain, France and the Middle East

Agustin De Julio Reviews

This book review was written by Joke van der Leeuw-Roord, EuroClio Founder and Special Advisor.

On New Year’s Eve 1956, I watched Television for the first time in my life. It was the annual 1956 news overview of the NTS, the Dutch Broadcasting Corporation. It was a shocking experience, the (very small) screen was full of tanks, bombardments and military planes related to the events in Hungary and the Suez Crisis. I went to bed that night asking my parents if the war would soon reach us too. They reassured me that I had nothing to fear. However I believe that my first television experience had a big impact on the rest of my life: I became interested in politics and disgusted about violence and war. Since that day I was aware of the troubles in the Middle East.

A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East is one of those books that really challenge traditional historical narratives. James Barr allows us a close look into the unfolding of the War Zone Middle East, as it unfortunately is still today. The book tells the story of the rivalry between Britain and France from the violent end of the Ottoman Empire to the violent birth of Israel. It is a shocking story of the willingness to defend national and tribal interests to very high material and human costs. The Sykes- Picot agreement from 1916, in the middle of the First World War, was designed to diminish the colonial tensions between the two competing allies. These merely territorial frictions in the Middle East called for a solution, and both diplomats behind the agreement were able to literary draw a line in the sand. The line, from the Mediterranean to the Persian frontier, divided the spoils: North of the stripe was for France; territory south of the line was to go to Britain. Although the divisions along this line were far from generally accepted by the many associates during the rest of the conflict in the Middle East, the pact survived the war. Sykes- Picot agreement became the basis for the post-war division of the region, against the promises made to many of the local allies during the fighting. The negotiations created five mandates: Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq, to be temporary ruled by Britain, and France would temporarily govern Lebanon and Syria. The creation of these mandates made the two powers uneasy neighbors for the following thirty years. The rivalry continued also during the Second World War.

Why should you not read this book?

A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East is not free from the usual national focus. It certainly critical about the British policy towards the region, however it is even more so about the French conduct. Reading the book, I could not escape the impression of a certain British bias. Unfortunately, I am not aware of a similar study carried out by French or other historians, which could have corroborated this interpretation of the events or could have shed some different lights on what transpired. A French translation of the book is foreseen for next year, and it will be interesting to see what sort of reactions the publication will trigger in France.

Why should you read this book?

A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East shows how the First World War was also a war about territorial spoils and therefore also a colonial War. The recent centenaries commemorations of the War depict particularly the atrocities and sacrifices of the military, predominantly related to the most Western areas of the Western Front. Very little attention is paid to other fronts of the Western Allies such as those in Africa, Macedonia and the Middle East, all of these bearing colonial characteristics. Barr wrote an important book helping us transcend from the sometimes still existing simplistic antagonist picture between the immoral Central Powers and the noble Allies. He helps us to get a better understanding that (colonial) spoils of War were in the early Twentieth Century still acceptable outcomes of warfare.

How can history, citizenship and heritage education benefit?

A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East is an indispensable book for all history, social studies and humanities educators who dare to address the current situation in the Middle East in their classrooms. It gives clear insights about the relationship between the Allied colonial rivalry and the current antagonisms between Arabs and the Jews. However it also offers understanding of the origins of various conflicts in the Middle East among Arab peoples such as currently in Iraq and Syria.

Author James Barr
Original title A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East
Original language English
Available in English, the French edition will be published in February 2017
Language read English
No. of pages 450
Genre History