How to bring heritage to the classroom: A teaching practice from Belgium

By Joris Van Doorsselaere

Joris Van Doorsselaere has been a history teacher since 2011 and he is doing a doctoral dissertation at the University of Ghent investigating how cultural heritage relates to history education in Flanders, developing a didactical framework and good practices. Last April, he tried the following teaching practice as a first attempt to bring the concept of heritage, and as it surrounds students in their everyday life, more explicitly into his classroom.

As heritage is conceptualised rather implicitly in the curriculum framework, this activity seeks to introduce the concept to students and make them understand the difference between heritage and history. With it, not only history is addressed, but also the value of the past and the emotions that different monuments or figures provoke.

“Heritage is not an important part of the curriculum explicitly, but there are certainly opportunities for it. I think it can make the curriculum more relevant for students. That is the reason why I wanted to find a way to introduce the concept of heritage to children.”

To exemplify this teaching practice, he introduced us to the case of Gravensteen Castle, in Ghent.

Joris used this example in his class in the wake of a controversy over the Council's intention to adapt the castle. The aim was to add a tourist office and an elevator to make the entrance more accessible. Given this proposal, an important social debate was instigated about whether ancient monuments should be adapted to modern needs.

Although the castle is located about 25km from where most of the students live, they indicated in advance they had no strong connection with it. However, debates about heritage in the present can help students understand why other people attribute meaning to certain aspects of the past. Therefore, the students were introduced to comments on social media that citizens of Ghent made regarding the plans to adapt the castle. These remarks were quite fierce, thus making the students aware that, for other people, the building is more than just a meaningless remnant of the past.

 

The method used is as follows: First, the case was introduced to the students and acted as a concluding part of a lesson series about the middle ages, where the students ought to reflect on the relationship between past, present and future. It began by investigating the context of the monument and some historical questions were raised, while the students were provided with clear instructions, and an online database wherein pictures could be found that prove that the monument was previously used for different purposes, and in fact, is not exactly a medieval building as it underwent different adaptations after the middle ages. Then, the students made a timeline - from the construction and the adaptations it has gone through - to the current situation.

Besides the assignment considering this historical dimension, the situation in the present was investigated. The students were provided with recent news articles from which different perspectives on the renovation could be filtered. The Articles were read - with arguments for and against - and the different opposing voices, such as architects, civil movements, the City Council or historians, are placed on a continuum. Subsequently, they made a one minute video (pitch)  explaining their opinion individually. Finally, the students also placed themselves in these debates to see the different opinions that they and their classmates have.

APPLYING THIS TEACHING PRACTICE:

The students in whom this practice has been tried are between 14 and 15 years old, and have practically no prior notion of the concept of heritage, as the pre-test indicated. For this activity, they are divided in groups – in this case, in a class of 10 students, they were divided into 3 groups.

The duration of this practice is 2 or 3 lessons.  If you consider it necessary, you can also do a previous class to explain the concept of heritage. Otherwise, you can start with a short introduction asking students about “what is heritage”, and then move on to the historical context and use a second class for the present and multiperspective part. Since the case still has some limitations to serve as a good practice, Joris plans to repeat this practice in the coming schoolyears in order to finetune the assignment, because in the Flanders’ curriculum, the concept of multiperspectivity is quite fundamental.

These lessons can be done both online and offline. He has tried it online, and the only necessary equipment would be a computer per group – so the students can enter the database to see the information and images. However, it is also possible to do this activity outside the classroom, taking the students to the monument itself.

ADVANTAGES:

This teaching practice is:

  • Easy to transfer to other cases and cities. It can be a castle, a new purpose for a church,  a reconversion of a  factory site, or monuments that can be found in any European city.
  • Easy to transfer to other teachers. This could be done through a shared database with other teachers on a national level or even a wider scope. 
  • Low cost, as it does not require investment, and it can be done without leaving the classroom itself  (avoiding transport costs).
  • It does not require advanced technological equipment.
  • It can be done both online and offline.

LIMITATIONS:

  • It can be a complex activity in classes with many students.
  • It requires having one computer per group so that students can access the database.
  • In some cases, it is difficult for students to know how to use a database or find the information / images they need. 
  • Make the search for information interesting and attractive: The collection of newspaper articles on social debate may seem difficult to understand or unattractive to students. A solution could be to adapt the articles so that the vocabulary is simpler and more appealing.

“Most of the time, heritage is approached as contested but I also want to approach it as something that unites, using local or small-scale  traces of the past that students feel connected with.”

Ultimately, this activity aims for the student to understand what “heritage” means and how it differs from the concept of history, as well as to be aware of the transformations that these remnants have undergone over time.

* The information presented in this blog post is extracted from an interview between Joris Van Doorsselaere, Andreas Holtberget, and Adriana Fuertes Palomares as part of the Critical History project and the collection of best teaching practices on heritage education, and which took place on July 1, 2021 in an online format.

Source image: Gravensteen Castle (Ghent). Image by Marc Ryckaert (MJJR) - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29026605

 

“Ready to Reach Out”: discussing the digitisation of cultural heritage at the NL EU Presidency in Amsterdam

On 29 June 2016, EuroClio Programme Director Steven Stegers had the opportunity to moderate a subsession during “Ready to reach out: Conference on Digitisation of Cultural Heritage”, a two day-conference that was held for the occasion of the presidency of the Netherlands of the European Union during the first half year of 2016. The conference took place in the building of the Netherlands EU Presidency in Amsterdam.

The conference was attended by 250 international participants from sectors as digitisation, culture and heritage, educators and representatives from the tourism sector, EU institutions and EU member states and was organised by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The central topic of the conference was connecting cultural heritage collections and serving wider audiences.

During the subsession that focused on “Making it Visible within Cultural Education”, Steven posed the central question of what can be done to make more and better use of digital heritage in education. There is a lot of digital material available from an increasing amount of cultural institutes throughout Europe, but the material does not reach the students in the classroom. In his opening remarks, Steven stated that it is crucial that high-quality material is selected and made available for educators. The next step is that tools are made available: tools that are free to use and easily understandable for educators. With this, the potential of students rising above possessing knowledge through acquiring competencies increases.

During the rest of the session, attention was given to the questions how ICT can improve the teaching and learning of history, why archives make students think, how cultural institutions can work together, and how the various archives can be combined in one portal. Practical examples and explanations were given by the various speakers.

For a full report on the conference, have a look at the “Ready to Reach Out” report. All parts of the conference are explained and you can read more about the session about visibility in cultural education in the report. EuroClio would like to thank the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science for offering the opportunity to discuss with such a varied audience the possibilities, shortcomings and challenges of digitisation of cultural heritage.

Europa Nostra Welcomes Discussions on Integrated Approach towards European Cultural Heritage

Just a week after the adoption by the European Parliament of a Resolution calling for the implementation of an integrated approach to cultural heritage for Europe (with over 80% of MEPs voting in favour), cultural heritage was at the heart of discussions of the first ever meeting of the European Parliament Intergroup on European tourism development, cultural heritage and the Way of St James and other cultural routes, held on 16 September 2015 in Brussels.

This meeting gathered over 100 participants from the European Union Institutions, representatives of EU Member States and Regions, European civil society and the private sector.

Co-organised by Europa Nostra and the Co-Chair of the Intergroup, Ana-Claudia Tapardel (S&D, Romania), with the support of the other Co-Chair, Francisco Millan Mon (EPP, Spain), this meeting was dedicated to the presentation of the results of the Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe project. It provided an ideal platform to join forces in support of cultural heritage as a key resource for sustainable development in Europe and also as a vital tool for promoting the much needed inter-cultural dialogue within Europe and also between Europe and the rest of the world.

To read more about about these discussions and Europa Nostra’s involvement therein, click here. For more information about Europa Nostra, please visit their website.