Retelling the Holocaust: Time and the Comic Strip Form in “Maus” by Art Spiegelman

Retelling the Holocaust: Time and the Comic Strip Form in “Maus” by Art Spiegelman

Maus is a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman, serialized from 1980 to 1991 and divided into “My Father Bleeds History” and “And Here My Troubles Began”. As the subtitle indicates, the book is “A Survivor’s Tale”, telling the story of Spiegelman’s father as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor.

Maus is a memoir, the chronicle of a family, a piece of art where writing and visual techniques are deployed to raise awareness, condemn, explain, keep the memory alive. With Maus, Spiegelman debunks the myth that the Holocaust outfaces the artistic imagination and shows us how storytelling and visual arts can teach us remembrance and give us a unique historical perspective.

The medium

Spiegelman addresses the problem around the representation of the Holocaust by choosing to adopt the comic strip form, which turns out to be a key element through which he manages to successfully blend words and pictures, past and present, history and remembrance. More specifically, he decides on a frame tale made up of black-and-white panels, purposely using a rather simple style that clashes against the complexity of its content and the delicate issues it faces.

The choice of the medium is relevant as Nazism itself had its own aesthetic stance: art was the expression of totalitarianism, the rationale behind it, and the medium through which to celebrate perfection in form - a perfection which was embodied by the purity of bloodlines. In order to spread the idea that Jewish people were an inferior race, the Nazis hung posters in the streets that showed the Jews as rats and mice.

As an epilogue to chapter one, Spiegelman includes a quote from Adolf Hitler: “The Jews are undoubtedly a race/ but they are not human” (Spiegelman, 10). And so the author purposely introduces animals, the ‘not human’ to tell the story: Jews are not portrayed as people, but as mice, vermin that must be destroyed for perfection to flourish, for nobler races to prevail. He also portrays the Nazis as cats, the Poles as pigs and the Americans as dogs.

(Spiegelman, 56)

As this picture shows, the Holocaust survivor Vladek, turned into a mouse, says: “I’m not going to die, and I won’t die here! I want to be treated like a human being” (Spiegelman, 56). The character of Vladimir is drawn as an animal to give specific form to stereotypes and yet affirms its humanity and demands to be treated ‘like a human being’.

Telling a story “the way it really happened”

At the very end of chapter one, there is one specific passage that functions as some sort of premise and that makes the reader reflect on the relationship between past and current history, between memories and storytelling:

“I don’t want you should write this in your book.”
“What? Why not?”
“It has nothing to do with Hitler, with the Holocaust!”
“But Pop – it’s great material. It makes everything more real – more human.”
“I want to tell your story, the way it really happened.”
“But this isn’t so proper, so respectful.”
...I can tell you other stories, but such private things, I don’t want you should mention.”

(Spiegelman, 25)


Despite his father’s requests, Spiegelman does not just tell his father’s experience in the concentration camp. The comic also portrays him and his father making conversations, describing what they were doing and talking about. These in-between moments occur frequently: by interrupting the telling of Vladimir’s story, they remind the reader of the temporal distance between the moment of the characters’ conversation and the time his father is talking about. By doing so, they also bring the reader back to his own present, reminding him/her of the temporal distance between the time when the graphic novel was written and the historical moment it is set in.

The Holocaust happened far away in time and no one can tell ‘what really happened’, but it is nonetheless our duty as human beings to remember and to make sure generations bear the memory of it. Spiegelman does not ignore the fact that these historical events happened a long time ago - instead, he sheds light on the fact that memory is not something stable, but rather subject to change: how people remember things might differ from time to time, and so might those feelings, emotions, perceptions attached to it. Including details about his father’s pre-war life, deciding to retell ‘such private things’ is vital to remind the reader of Vladimir’s unique point of view. In this sense, the story’s purpose aligns with its subtitle: Maus can only be the story of a survivor, and it does not even attempt to describe the complete history of the Holocaust, which would necessarily be an unattainable goal.

Spiegelman knows he might fail in the act of retelling the story of his father: he can reach neither an authentic drawing - hence the animals, inhabiting the space of fiction - nor an authentic version of the story, as he did not experience the Holocaust himself. His work cannot do justice to ‘what really happened’. The novel promotes the idea of a “fictional truth”: the survivor’s tale is the truth of him having experienced the Holocaust, but storytelling lies in the realm of fiction. The act of remembering is an ongoing process that constantly pushes the remembering further and further away from the remembered. The comic strip form and the images are the key elements to portray and convey the interruption of time and memory. 

Here are a few examples of how the comic form, drawings and photographs are used in the novel.

The interruption of temporality

(Spiegelman, 47)

In this picture, Artie is lying on the floor, writing in his notebook while talking with his father: at first glance, it seems to be an image of the present within the story. On closer inspection, Artie’s legs are not in the living room but spread into the image of Vladek in the past, in 1939. Artie’s body becomes the connection between past and present, fused as one.

(Spiegelman, 102)

Another fusion between past and present comes in the form of a comic within the comic, the autobiographical “Prisoner on the Hell Planet: A Case History”. It is a comic book drawn by Artie to process the painful loss of his mother, who committed suicide. The comic book has a style of its own: the characters are not drawn as mice but are kept as humans. Spiegelman inserts an old photograph of himself and his mother, but in this case, the drawings seem more realistic. Artie and Vladek look like skeletons: they have dark faces and look extremely thin to highlight the tragic impact that the event had on their life.

The comic strip form allows the author to visually represent multiple temporalities: there is a thumb holding the photograph in the top left corner, but also a thumb holding the comic in the bottom left-hand corner. This is another distancing strategy used by the author: the reader is simultaneously viewing someone else reading the book, and at the same time made aware that he/she is viewing himself/herself. The temporality of the text is visually amplified.

Making a timeline: processing memories

(Spiegelman, 228)

Spiegelman seems to attribute a therapeutic power to comics and storytelling, and to all the arts in general. In the book, Artie drew a comic to deal with the trauma of the loss of his mother, and he is currently drawing another comic to do justice to his father’s experience. Not only can art help to process memories but also overcome those traumatic ones.

In the example above, Artie is trying to make sense of Vladek’s story by making a timeline, determined to make order between events. This idea of making sense is a feeling that comes across quite strongly, and it is the cause of great frustration because reconstructing an exact timeline is not possible. Vladek seems quite pissed at his son, and he remarks: “In Auschwitz we didn’t wear watches”, hinting at the fact that time was somehow suspended in the concentration camps and the only time people could know of was the present, perhaps implying their lack of hope towards a different future.

As a storyteller, Artie is obsessed with giving a logical frame to those events. However, Spiegelman reminds the reader that our memory is fallible and that it is precisely that inexactness that makes storytelling similar to the workings of our memory.

(Spiegelman, 201)

In this case, Spiegelman is interrupting the temporality of the text by picturing a plausible future: he is imagining his book has become a commercial success that has commodified his father’s story. Instead of being drawn as a simple mouse, he is wearing a mouse mask and, talking from the top of a mountain of Jewish dead bodies, he admits he is feeling rather depressed. 

Photographs: documenting history, representing post-memory

(Spiegelman, 165, 294)

In total, the viewer is faced with three photographs. The first photograph is the one of Art and his mother, the second one portrays his brother Richieu, and the third one is of Vladek, inserted only at the very end of the novel. The photographs are used to represent the historical truth, the proof of Vladek’s tale. Maus is a work of fiction, but one of historical fiction, where the drawings and more broadly the comic strip form purposely connect the past to the present. The photographs work towards a glimpse of the history that took place. They represent both historical documents insofar as in them lies the proof of this family’s existence, but they also represent post-memory as Spiegelman has inherited memories that have had a great impact on his life.

Why should it be included in history education?

This graphic novel can be used in the classroom to teach about the Holocaust, remembrance and the concept of post-memory, as it tells a true story and it shows the interconnectedness between past and present.

In need of more inspiration and tips for how to include Maus in your teaching? Have a look at the many existing resources such as the Teacher’s Guide produced by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, the accompanying teacher’s guide by Penguin Random House, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage Curriculum Guide.

Written by Giulia Verdini

Related articles

For history educators who are interested in incorporating novels into their teaching...

-Find out how comics can be used in the classroom.

-Learn how literature and reading practices can turn your students into historical actors.

-Decolonise your teaching practices and foster multiperspectivity with Nella Larsen’s ‘Passing’.

Bibliography and Suggested Readings

Costello, A. Lisa. “History and Memory in a Dialogic of "Performative Memorialization" in Art Spiegelman's "Maus: A Survivor's Tale"”. The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association. Vol. 39, No. 2. Midwest Modern Language Association. 2006. pp. 22-42.

Ewert, Jeanne C. “Reading Visual Narrative: Art Spiegelman's "Maus". Narrative. Vol. 8, No. 1. Ohio State University Press. 2000. pp. 87-103.

Doherty, Thomas. “Art Spiegelman’s Maus: Graphic Art and the Holocaust”. American    Literature. Duke University Press. 1996. pp. 69-84.

Hirsch, Marianne. “Family Pictures: Maus, Mourning, and Post-Memory”. Discourse. Vol.15   No.2. Wayne State University Press. 1992-93. pp. 3-29.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus. London: Penguin Books. 2003.

Let’s talk Football History: The social significance of sport across Europe and beyond

On May 28th, Gijsbert Oonk, Kevin Moore & Petra Landers kicked off ‘FC EuroClio’, a webinar series through which we tackled football and social issues to explore how football history and society intertwine. The panel discussion revolved around personal experiences of football pioneers and considerations about football as cultural heritage.

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Football Makes History is a project which aims to promote social inclusion, diversity and non-discrimination. The rich local cultural heritage of football and its shared history covering the turbulent 20th-century history offers direct access to addressing past and present diversity. Gijsbert Oonk, academic advisor of the project, but also founding director of the Sport and Nation research program at Erasmus University Rotterdam, moderated the discussion which saw international footballer Petra Landers and sports historian Dr Kevin Moore as main protagonists. 

The only girl in the field

Coach, mentor, former football player, and contributor to the rise of women’s football. Petra Landers became a member of the first-ever German women’s national football team in 1982.[1]

Petra is an international footballer who also won the European championship, but looking at her, you see a down to earth, yet incredibly determined woman who still has the same passion for football as when she started off as a kid. Petra got an interest in the game in a time when football was a sport only for boys and girls were set to do other kinds of activities. However, she does not shy away from saying “I think football was already inside of me when I was born.” When at the age of 8 she was invited by her cousin to play on the streets, Petra started regularly playing with the boys from the neighbourhood. She was always ready to play, always wearing her football shirt underneath her clothes. Despite being the only girl in the group, she felt welcome and did not have any sort of unpleasant experience. It was only when she joined the women’s team that she started hearing rude comments. “It was very new for me, but it didn’t matter because I truly loved the game.” Women's football was forbidden in Germany (as well as in other countries) until 1970 and Petra clearly remembers that time:

On football pitches you could see only men: women were at home cooking” Petra Landers

Luckily, the fear of discrimination and societal constraints never prevented Petra from trying to enter the footballing world. It was a friend of hers who encouraged her to play for Bergisch Gladbach: when the coach saw her playing, he was amazed by her talent and decided to take her in the team. Nevertheless, it was not an easy game: her boss tried to stop her from representing Germany for the European championship in 1989, but she made clear that she was ready to quit her job to be free to go her own way. In the end, her determination made him change his mind and he eventually supported her decision!

In Support of Women’s Football - from Europe to Africa

After contributing to the rise of women’s football first in Germany and then in Europe, Petra decided to turn to Africa, where she is now training young girls. When she travelled there for the first time in 2014, Africa was obviously new to her, but seeing children playing football in the villages reminded her of her childhood and a strong empathetic feeling grew inside of her. “It was a feeling I got, I can’t describe it, it was amazing”. Watching those kids playing, she could see herself growing up and working hard to become a professional player. Petra is a source of inspiration for those kids: she does not only embody an example to follow, but she also gives them the hope to think that one day, they can become footballers or coaches too.

“You can’t imagine what areas I visited. We are now trying to get those children who can’t go to school. There are so many girls that are working at home, they have to do the household, they have to work, they don’t have the money to go to school. They don’t really have a childhood. We want to give them this chance.” Petra Landers

In 2017, Petra Landers was part of an important awareness programme in which a world record was challenged - the women’s team that played on the highest level on the Kilimanjaro. When asked whether she was willing to join, Petra immediately answered yes. She started to train nearly every day, again after many years. They had to climb and walk a lot, and not always in great conditions “The last night we went up to the mountain, it was -20 degrees, it was so cold. After one hour and a half, our drinks were already frozen, and it was dark and we were walking as fast as snails. The oxygen was getting thinner and thinner. It was hard to breathe, but if you have a goal, you try to give everything until you can.”

“We wanted to empower all the women and girls all over the world. We wanted to give a sign: if you set a goal, you can get everything, you can do everything. It’s true.” Petra Landers

Africa opened up Petra’s eyes to a completely different reality, and after changing the faith of women’s football, she wants to change the life of those African kids. Her next goal is to have her own football school in Ghana. “I want to move to Ghana, but not for talent, I’m not looking for talent. I want to give the children living outside the village a chance. They don’t have the chance to join projects because it’s too far away. They don’t have shoes to walk or run for so long. They are playing barefooted but they are playing with bright eyes. There are so many children who don’t have this chance and I want to give them one.”

Petra’s words opened the doors to a different kind of conversation we should have in current society, where the European situation is rather different: football is often a matter of cups and medals, and football museums end up being places of celebrations rather than an objective look at football history and source of reflection.

Football museums: celebrating heroes or reconnecting with the past?

Kevin Moore, world-respected football historian and founding director of the English National Football Museum, shared with us the reasons why he wanted a National Football Museum for England in the first place. Deeply convinced of the historical significance of football - “there are more nations in FIFA than in the United Nations!”, he observes - he explains:

“The reason why I applied for the job was because I did not want it to be Disneyland football. I wanted it to be an objective look at the history of the game, to treat the subject seriously and with objectivity, not a celebration of football – but an honest look at the game, every aspect, including the negatives such as sexism, racism and homophobia in the game.”  Kevin Moore

Kevin has gladly remarked that whilst setting up the museum, he could freely bring the true history of football into the museum. In club museums the importance of big cups and the heroes they have is indeed too often overvalued. There might be small display elements about WWII, stories about racism, homophobia or other issues, but those are often confined to a corner and those issues always play a minor role. Due to the limited space within the permanent galleries, these issues are more likely to be tackled in temporary exhibitions. For example, the English National Football Museum had in 2003 an exhibition on Arthur Wharton, the world’s first black professional footballer - telling the story of how he came from Ghana to England in 1882 to learn to be a methodist missionary but instead decided to be a footballer and athlete. In 2005, they had the world’s first exhibition on women’s football during the UEFA European Championships in England. As these exhibitions are temporary, they were able to tackle issues like gender or racism more in-depth, and on their website or through learning programmes.

How do we go from creating a hall of fame of heroes to creating a hall of history that engages meaningfully with the history and the local context?

Kevin speaks up about the dangers of club museums being too celebratory, as they see the museum just as a display through which showcasing their victories and their heroes, leaving out other (hi)stories. “Football is about stardom, which is why an inclusive hall of fame, to some extent, is a good idea. We all have our heroes.” However, visiting a museum is and should be an informal learning experience, a way through which people inadvertently learn. The English National Football Museum launched a special session for people with dementia back in 2017, around the 50th anniversary of England winning the World Cup in 1966: their memories were prompted by football and it was a great way for people to connect. In 2018, a similar project was carried out in The Netherlands by the professional football club Willhelm II Tilburg: “Football Memories” brought together people with similar backgrounds to show them old parts of football matches. In both cases, football memories seemed to create an environment where the elderly were able to not only recall memories, but also make new connections that they normally would not be able to make.

Local public museums have an important role, but as not every football club has or can afford to have a museum, it is important to inspire football clubs to engage more socially, for example by running some social reminiscence programs with their fans. Whilst most clubs interested in social responsibility do all kinds of programmes related to physical exercises, healthy diets, etc., they are rarely focussing on making educational programmes on history. To engage socially, clubs should relate more strongly to their fans - as Kevin observes, “the fans carry the history of the club, they are the ones who hold the tradition, the sense of belonging and the identity, and the club doesn’t. The club is whoever owns it now, and is a private entity.” It’s a money issue, but also a matter of ownership.

“Football Makes History has a great role in showing the value of history, learning, engagement with schools, connecting schools and older people and football clubs together and using the social power that football clubs have.” Kevin Moore

A European Football Museum?

Would the idea of setting up a European Football Museum be feasible? Although a world football museum already exists, various and controversial opinions were given on this topic. One of the issues is that the passion that each set of fans has is for either their own club or football in the nation - which is why national football museums are growing in numbers, so these kinds of museums would not work by continent. “Certainly you won’t have a museum that tells the story of European football, because that’s with the individual museums. What you could have is a very interesting museum about the European football competitions and also how football spread around Europe and what that common culture of football across Europe means.” In other words, having a museum that tells the stories of the champions league, the European cup, the development of football in Europe. As European football does not exist and has never existed in isolation, it’s rather a story of migration and connection, it would be interesting to trace the history of football in Europe on maps - and investigate further to what extent football and migration are connected.

“Football is too important just to be in football museums: football and sport should be in every single history museum, local and national. Yes, we should have football museums, too. But football is part of history and therefore football makes history, history makes football.” Kevin Moore

Do you think that Football Makes History? Sign our Petition!

Our football team has developed Policy and Action Recommendations aimed at ministries of education, sports, heritage - and the footballing world. You can now find the Manifesto on the Football Makes History website.

Do you think that football can open doors to conversations we need to have, but also inspire us to take action? Then support us in giving football history and football heritage the attention it deserves!

Written by Giulia Verdini


[1] Petra was in fact also part of the team from Bergisch Gladbach representing Germany in the 1981 unofficial World Cup in Taiwan

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Football Makes History in Numbers!

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  • a toolkit with 30 non-formal activities will be also published soon! >> Do not miss them!


‘Teaching Literature in Times of Crisis’, Turning Students into Historical Actors – an Interview with Sofia Ahlberg

Giulia Verdini Articles ,

“Whatever overwhelming change we might be going through needs to be part of the classroom. We used to think of the classroom as a space that was somehow removed from the world: I think that’s a losing game.

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Teaching Literature in Times of Crisis looks at the range of different crises currently affecting students and at the way teachers can respond to new challenges which require immediate action and a renewed approach. Sofia Ahlberg shared with EuroClio her reflections on these unprecedented times, her tips on effective teaching practices and her personal take on history as something that is lived and shaped by people each and every day.  

Let’s make it clear, Sofia Ahlberg’s teaching practices were not disrupted by the pandemic. Before teaching at Uppsala University, she had worked for over twenty years in Australia, where online teaching is very common. 

As a result of this, she did not start writing this book because of the pandemic, on the contrary, she had already started a couple of months before the pandemic hit. “I noticed that my teacher training students were responding to their education in a different way from what I was used to and it might have been because of the activism of Greta in Sweden. Obviously, she had a huge impact on my students. But all of a sudden they started asking the kinds of questions that had less to do with literary studies as such and more to do with activism, relevance, societal problems, climate change, inequality. It became apparent to me that I had to change the way I was teaching and I took it upon myself to write this book in order to show other teachers how to make reading literature relevant in a world of change.”

The book is certainly intended for teachers: secondary school and university teachers as well as teacher training students. “The reason why my focus is so much on teacher training education is because they need to have the skills. Crisis is not something that's going to go away, and we need to equip our teacher trainees with these kinds of skills so that they can engage and inspire their students.

Learning how to engage with a world of change

Despite - but at the same time in line with -  the title of her work, Sofia speaks of a world of change and not of one undergoing a catastrophe by reclaiming the original meaning of the word ‘crisis’: “In ancient Greek the word has a different meaning to what we think of it now. Now, we think of crisis as synonymous with disaster, calamity, something that is totally beyond our control. But actually, if you look at the original ancient Greek word ‘κρίσις’, it means something different: it generally refers to “a decisive stage where change must occur”, and it could also mean a turning point. But either way, it seemed to me that it was something that our students and ourselves as human beings could engage with rather than just be passive.

Sofia goes on explaining her personal approach to crisis, and the perspective she embraces in her book: “Crisis is an ongoing process, crisis is not an interruption of normality. If we think about the pandemic now, I often hear amongst my colleagues and friends, “soon we will get back to normality” - but what if we could ask ourselves instead “what kind of new post-pandemic world do we want to make?

Sofia has noticed the negative connotations that not only the word ‘crisis’ has, but also the bad experience that is associated with it, especially in the way that people face it. This is transferable and applicable to the classroom environment. “I’ve noticed that the way we talk about crises or historical events that are tragic is often in a way that leaves our students with a sense of deep grief, actually, and anxiety, and anger and depression.” For this reason, she highlights the role and the responsibility that teachers have in this regard: “rather than making students passive, we need to give them the skills to become actors. Rather than be subject to crisis, we can engage with it.

Empowering students with local roles to play

When asked about the role of literature, she immediately explains that for her neither literature nor the act of reading represent an escape from reality. “The literature we engage with is always a response to crisis. Crisis affects us as individuals, in very minute detailed ways, but it also affects the historical events, the evolution of our societies, of ourselves as human beings. Crisis seems so difficult to comprehend, but literature has so much to teach us about the scale. It’s about that narrative rhythm, it’s about overcoming that problem, and having a resolution.” And that is exactly where the power of literature lies: “Literature is a safe space, a place where you can respond to very serious and often quite overwhelming events that most of the times are fictional - but the way you respond to them as a reader is something that you can then apply to real life events - the way you learn to how to respond to characters for instance, how to respond to plot, to narrative, is something you can apply to real life.

Sofia depicts literature as something that can empower students as global citizens with local roles to play, where reading practices correspond to transferable skills. Readers are not just readers of a book, but readers of the world: “the moment when we read and reflect, we respond, that’s when we’re turning our students into historical actors rather than just simply being subject to historical events: we are showing that even in a very small way they can be active participants. Seeing something happening on the street and being able to read and judge and evaluate in an ethical way, and knowing something about how to respond to it - how to think about it, how to evaluate it - that is where literature and global events are connected. Reading is translated into some sort of behavioral change.” Books and literature can also change the course of history. “‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ for instance, a book about slavery that completely changed the way people thought about slavery in America at the time.

Sofia insists on literature’s response to crisis and on the fact that teachers must engage with events and the challenges that those events may bring. “Whatever overwhelming change we might be going through needs to be part of the classroom. We used to think of the classroom as a space that was somehow removed from the world: I think that’s a losing game. For me, in the Swedish learning climate, that’s not possible. My students will get very frustrated if they can’t refer to real events, whatever they’re doing.”

Weathering the crisis together: fostering collaboration in the classroom

What are then the kinds of exercises that can help students face a world in constant change? “A lot of the exercises in the book are about participatory problem solving exercises. They include the ability to learn from others, to understand, to respect their needs, their perspectives, their actions - kind of empathetic leadership on the whole to overcome the fear of uncertainty and overcome the fear of looking stupid, of saying the wrong thing. The reading practices that I show have to do with ‘collaborative competence’. One of the first things we have to teach our students is that crisis is not something you can weather alone, you have to collaborate with others.

Sofia is trying to achieve this by using exercises that develop participatory problem solving skills. “This means that rather than asking your student to write one essay, written for one person, I’m asking my students to write together with others, to do collaborative writing. Students are randomly put together and [with the multi-ethnic and multi-racial student cohorts that are increasingly common] this fosters that kind of collaboration that is at the heart of fighting systemic racism as well.” Another technique is using imaginative exercises that are still very much connected with reality as students can confront and respond to what is happening in the world. The book contains reading practices that are about making an intervention, almost in an activist sense, in real-life events and thereby shaping the future. I have this exercise where we as a class discuss: ‘what do we actually want to preserve from the past? What do we need and what do we want to do differently?’ It gives the students the power to imagine themselves as being able to choose and therefore impact the future.”

When she is asked whether reading practices can help decolonize history, Sofia has no hesitation. She immediately recognizes that the attempt to decolonize history is specifically tied to language choice: “this is how it can change - through the way we refer to something. I speak of systemic racism in my book, but I’ll give you one environmental example: if we look at the various activist movements for environmentalism, we have “Greenpeace”, that was founded in 1971 - just the word “green peace” speaks volumes, it says something about people’s attitude at the time. If you compare it to “Extinction Rebellion”, which was founded in 2018, there’s an enormous difference. In the literature classroom, we are training our students to be able to detect this kind of nuance to language, to … cultural and linguistic coding. We need to be more alert to how we speak about others.”

She also provides another brilliant example, a very powerful exercise she has thought of, that she has used in the classroom with outstanding results. “I give the students a paragraph from literally anything - it could be from any text that any teacher is teaching: I ask them to use those words in the paragraph and repurpose them and turn them either into a love letter or a breakup letter. It’s really fascinating for students, they are not allowed to add other words, but they are allowed to shift them around and turn them into different messages. With this exercise, I’m showing that you can use words for a specific purpose, that you can bring another kind of intentionality to them.

How can historians benefit from this book? How can history teachers use literature in the classroom?

The book is specifically addressing reading practices that might be particularly helpful in a literature classroom, but nonetheless relevant for history teachers as well. Sofia admits: “I want so much for history teachers to be able to benefit from reading the book. I think we have everything to gain from an interdisciplinary approach to education. My book does offer a perspective on history, but it offers a perspective on history in the making, not history in a retrospective way, but as something which still hasn’t settled yet. And it’s possible that that’s how history is taught - but I have a feeling that this can be the specific contribution of literary studies."

I believe that history has always been punctuated by crisis and it is the role of historians to connect the dots leading up to crisis so as to understand how to prevent the crisis from happening again. By practicing your reading skills, you can be more selective about what you take with you into the future.Sofia Ahlberg

Sofia has also tips to share on how to use literature in the classroom. Her first recommendation is mixing genres - for example, putting in dialogue an older novel with new genres or something set in the future for history teachers to be able to bring in the perspective. “It’s not necessary to take a whole novel. For instance, bringing in just a page of sci-fi (speculative fiction). Imagine teaching the witch trials from a historical point of view, and putting that in dialogue with ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, which is another kind of witch hunt. Magic happens.” Her second tip would be taking a historical text, but playing around with narrative voices. “I can imagine, from a historical point of view, it would be incredibly fascinating to try to insert a narrative voice even where we think there is no narrative voice.

Sofia Ahlberg is smiling from the camera of her laptop: “What I hope and what I believe that I have shown in the book is something that’s transferable first of all. These are transferable skills that can be applied in the classroom, in any classroom - I would say.

Written by Giulia Verdini

About the author

Sofia Ahlberg is Vice Dean at the Faculty of Languages for education and collaboration and Associate Professor at Uppsala University’s Department of English:I grew up in African and the Middle East and lived in the Southern Hemisphere which helps me to bring a global perspective to my research interests in energy humanities, pedagogy and ecofiction. I'm convinced that literary studies has an urgent role to play in the design of alternative social frameworks. For this reason, I'm committed to classroom practices that can respond to a rapidly changing world.”

Purchase the book!

From June 14th, you can purchase the book Teaching Literature in Times of Crisis.

Another Family’s Starting Over: The Resourceful Glass Family of Paris and New York

James Diskant Reviews ,

Too often history classes only focus on the horrors of the Holocaust and of Nazi rule; there is, however, an increasingly growing iterature that details the ways in which people resisted, helped one another,  and successfully managed to survive.

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This book by Freeman is one example that will help educators rethink the ways that they teach this period or supplement what they already do and know. Freeman’s book not only details her family’s history to show how some of her relatives coped with life in France in the 1930s and 1940s, but also to allow students to grapple with the difficult questions about survival in this period when the odds were against Jewish survival. By looking at one family, one can unravel the advantages, limits, and/or shortcomings of different approaches. The book can be superb background for educators, as well as the basis for an interesting Socratic Seminar about the concepts — assimilation, passivity, defiance, and emigration — that she discusses and for students to probe into each of them in detail.  After all it would be great if one could learn from the past, wouldn’t it? 

When I was perusing a bookshelf about World War II in a bookstore a few weeks ago, I came across a fascinating book: Hadley Freeman, House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family (London: Fourth Estate, 2020). Since this family has some parallels to my own in terms of an emigration pattern (see Post #1: Planned Escape(s)), I thought that I would share my impressions of it, along with my recommendation of it, here. Freeman, through the use of family memoirs, artifacts, and pictures, interviews with family members, and official documents, was able to put together a riveting account of how her Jewish relatives, that is her grandmother and two of her three grand uncles, managed to survive the horrors of World War II in the United States and in France respectively. It is remarkable how well she is able to document these personal histories and to situate them in time and in historical interpretation. The book – which is part memoir, part history, part commentary, and part family discovery –is a gripping, empathetic account of not only these three people, but also of others who were essential parts of their stories.

Typically, I first read any opening quotation (if there is one), the introduction, and the acknowledgments. And in this case after reading the opening quotation from Arthur Miller (excerpted from Broken Glass, 1994), I was hooked:

‘Getting this hysterical about [anti-Semitism] on the

other side of the world is sane?’

When she talks about it, it’s not on the other side

Of the world, it’s on the next block.’

‘An that’s sane?

‘I don’t know what it is! I just get the feeling some-

times that she KNOWS something, something that

… It’s like she’s connected to some … some wire

that goes half around the world, some truth that other

people are blind to.’

While I have not seen or read this Miller play – which takes place in 1938 – when a Jewish couple in New York reacts to the horrors of the Night of the Broken Glass in Germany, the quotation pulled me into this family story. Of course, given her family’s last name of Glass, Freeman’s use of the quotation intrigued me. Afterwards I skimmed the introduction, and acknowledgements, and I was curious to learn about the Glass family.

Wow, I was not disappointed; I read the book originally in two sittings and just re-read it!! Freeman was able not only to find fascinating details about her grandmother and her great uncles, but also wrote a touching memoir about surviving, coping, and changing. In so doing she argues that these people may represent ” prototypes”, that is different ways of coping and coming to terms with their past. The book is an inspiring journey into uncovering family secrets, unraveling different ways of moving forward (or not, I suppose), and the horrors of experiencing antisemitism in Poland and in France, and yet the importance of staying true to one’s values and beliefs.

In the book – which had originally started as a memoir of Freeman’s grandmother – one’s learns much more – about Sara (aka Sala) who was able (almost reluctantly) to escape France during the war by moving to the United States and by marrying an American. In June 1937 she started over in New York with a man whom she barely knew; it was apparently her key to survival and yet she returned to France multiple times in the 1930s and ultimately found her niche as wife and mother in New York without losing the French identity that has been so important to her. We also learn about her brother Henri (aka Jehuda) who assimilated well into Parisian culture and along with his wife Sonia, were part of the Resistance, about Alex (aka Sander), who not excelled well into that same culture and also was part of the Resistance, and about Jacques (aka Jakob), who sadly did not survive and was murdered in Auschwitz.

The story begins with Freeman sharing the contents of a shoebox of her grandmother’s memorabilia, which included papers and photos, some of which were indeed puzzling. Together they encouraged Freeman to research and to write about her family. Then with her great uncle’s Alex’s memoir, family letters, official documents and statistics, she was able to write a thought-provoking account of how in the 1920s the Glasses were transformed from the Glahses from Chrzanow, a Polish village, part of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as their lives beyond this initial emigration. In some ways she writes a typical story of immigration and how some members of the family found this to be easier than others and yet her careful prose shows the complexities that were involved in these decisions and changes.

Her careful use of these various sources gives life to these both “ordinary and extraordinary” people. One may argue with her “one word” characterizations of individuals as “passive” for her grand uncle Jacques, “defiant” for her grand uncle Alex, “assimilated” for her grand uncle Henri, and “emigrant” for her grandmother. Still they mirror sociological descriptions of different ways in which people respond to crises and relate to an extensive literature of migration stories. There may be truth to these characterizations, which helps us understand how people are influenced by their personal assumptions and niches. Not only does Freeman write about how these three siblings survived the war, but she is also able to share their intertwining stories in the years after the war – from the “ordinary and the “extraordinary” as puts it … Henri and Sara in the first category and Alex in the second – and in so doing share fascinating insights into gender, migration, and much more. These three siblings are able to continue their lives – family, children, work, travel – and in Freeman’s account we learn how these stories are connected to one another.

In different ways the three survivors assimilated into their respective culture(s) and societies; they managed to live normal lives as best as they could, which suggest that there may be lessons for the present and future from the way in which people respond to the past. Starting over is not uncomplicated – as I know from my own family history and my life – and yet Freeman shows with detail and empathy how her grandmother and her grand uncles managed to do so. She provides a nuanced and empathetic portrayal of how they all managed to survive. The book raises essential questions for all of us to ponder about the complexities relating to assimilation, starting over, Jewish identities, gender roles, unjust governments, and assumptions during a challenging period of history — the world of World War II and its aftermath in the United States and in France. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in these questions.


Written by James Diskant

This book review was originally published on James Diskant's blog: "Chronicles from Berlin: Anecdotes About Starting Over, Coming Out, and History Teaching", where, among other things, Dr. James Diskant also provides reflections on lessons from many years as an educator in history education.

Black-Lives-Matter and the importance of history education: 
a conversation with Professor Maria Grever on how to deal with the past

Looking back at her illustrious career, recently retired Professor Maria Grever can not only be proud of her achievements, but also rest assured that her work is especially relevant today. Emeritus Professor of Historical Culture at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Professor Grever and her team have relentlessly investigated how people deal with the past, including what and why they remember and celebrate. Therefore, she has a lot to say about the current destruction of statues related to the Black-Lives-Matter movement taking place around the world. Interviewed by Erasmus Magazine shortly after the launch of her latest book, Onontkoombaar verleden (Inescapable Past), she warns against the total eradication of monuments and statues that constitute testimonies of past injustice: destroying statues is no medicine against racism! Moreover, without such evidence, modern societies would forget, instead of facing, their mistakes. But, she stresses, we cannot expect monuments alone to tell the whole story. While on-site explanations can help contextualisation, it is crucial to improve history education in schools so that the young generations are equipped to critically approach this material heritage, and to understand the controversies surrounding it.

History education is a topic dear to Professor Grever. Once a high school teacher herself (1980-1984), as an academic she has relentlessly advocated increased co-operation between the two sectors, and also the domain of heritage institutes. In order to further research on this relationship, she founded in 2006 the Center for Historical Culture, and conducted extensive investigation into processes of canonization in the historical discipline and history education. Another research project focused on how history education can benefit from a critical and dynamic approach to heritage related to the Transatlantic slave trade and WWII /Holocaust. Recently, she co-investigated the opportunities and risks of popular representations of modern war heritage as informal ways of history learning. In August, the bilingual Journal for the Study of Education and Development (Infancia & Aprendizaje) will publish a Special Issue edited by Maria Grever and Karel van Nieuwenhuyse on Popular uses of violent pasts in educational settings ( Los usos popularos de pasados violentos en entornos educativos):

Over the years, Maria Grever has been critical of a top-down canon for history education. In her view, such a canon fails to stay up to date with the latest research findings, particularly regarding multiple perspectives on the past. For example, while in the past few decades historiography has grown more and more interested in the history of women and slavery, it has been challenging to incorporate these topics in school curricula. Nevertheless, Professor Grever is quite satisfied with the current situation in the Netherlands, where there is growing interest among academic historians into history instruction and historical culture in general. Young generations of professional historians are now keen to engage with their subject in new ways, confident that their research will have a positive impact on society. But the drafting of the Dutch canon has not only benefited from the contribution of academia: the involvement of local museums and heritage associations has produced a variety of (counter-)canons built on regional particularities, including the history of migrants and colonialism.

While enthusiastic about the co-operation of teachers, historians and museums, Professor Grever rejects the interference of governments and politicians into the contents of history education. These actors tend to promote a single and frozen narrative of past events focusing on the formation of the nation, thus often overlooking world history and excluding the perspectives of minority groups. They fail to grasp the complexity of the subject, overlooking the importance of critical discussion, and expecting students to simply acquire knowledge of facts without engaging in their interpretation. In order to guarantee a high quality of history education practices, it is necessary not only to resist this kind of interference, but also to allow teachers the freedom to deviate from the prescribed canon to organise activities fostering discussion. For example, Professor Grever recalls that once when she was still a teacher, she organised a debate about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It took her a lot of effort and planning as she had to prepare the students in advance, find appropriate material and effectively chair the debate. In the end, it was a very positive experience for her and the students. Hence, she encourages teachers to organise this kind of activities. However, she is well aware of the difficulties that teachers face, such as the constraints of curricula and the inadequacy of textbooks. And it is this awareness that makes Professor Grever a firm supporter of EuroClio.

How to Deal with Colombia’s Violent Past? Part II

This is the second part of a report made by Meena Pankaj Malhotra and Senada Jusic on their study visit to Colombia. It is the eleventh article in a series of blogposts and reports on all study visits made for the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”. In this project civil society actors from different backgrounds, visit schools and institutions in countries that are struggling with a difficult past. For the first part of this report, please click here.

Pedagogy in the MNM

During our visit to Colombia, we learned that there are a number of ways and methodologies that are being used across the country to deal with the violent past. The theme across all methodology is to keep memory alive so that it never happens again. Here museums have a very important role to play to not only institutionalize memory but also to put structures in place that transform individual memories into collective memory.

One of the most important projects of the Centro Nacional de Memoria Historia is the plan to set up a museum.  Land has already been acquired for this purpose and a call for the museums architectural design has been sent out. Catalina Orozco, through her presentation, explained in detail the plans and the pedagogical approach that the museum will use to educate citizens about Colombia’s violent past.

She began the presentation by outlining the objectives of MNM:

  • Pedagogical Function—Sensitization, Historical Analysis, Ethical Reflection
  • Clearing Function—Truth, Responsibility, Consequences, Impacts
  • Communicative Function—Listening, Interpretting, Debating, Inspiring, Motivating
  • Asset function—Cultural and Environmental Collection
  • Memorial function—Recollection, Duel, Ritual, Commemoration

Catalina spoke in great detail about the very interesting project Volver La Mirada/ Look Back. This is a very layered project where the process of dealing with the past happens in an extremely systematic manner. It involves every aspect of society from the individual to the entire community, and also includes the layered approach of several positions: victims, perpetrators, students and so on.

The pedagogical function of the museum promotes the creation of a community that understands the past and seeks to transform the present. It reflects on the conditions that made the Colombian armed conflict possible  and the responsibilities of the actors who promoted it. It criticises the use of violence and sensitizes citizens to issues of violation of human rights while adapting a participatory approach to the defense of life and liberty, democracy, equity, and respect for difference.

One of the most important goals of this project is to educate for non-repetition. This is long term work and the process seeks to understand cultural and intergenerational dimensions from the position of various diverse actors. In order to achieve this long term goal, connections between museum, family, school, organisation, and media is essential. The priority prevent the repetition of violence. Learning for non-repetition is an approach that has two dimensions: emotive and analytical. The emotive approach uses art and the analytical approach uses historical memory. These diferent aproaches then lead to interdisciplinary research.

These conceptual guidelines define the museum content, the languages, the educational programming, the activities, and the principles of interaction.

The pedagogy is transverse and transcends the educational, which is reflected in:

  • Exhibitions
  • The public area
  • The organisation

The exhibitions serve as a social space shared with family, friends, and colleagues, facilitate different approaches towards disseminating information, reach out to different audiences in different ways, taking into account the various ways to build knowledge create intellectual, emotional and sensory experiences, offer the opportunity to engage visitors in everyday life, connect to a variety of sources that allow multiple readings, and offer a moving and mobilizing experience.

However the challenge with exhibitions as a medium of educating about the past is the short duration of interaction. Hence it is important to build motivation before and after activities around the exhibits.

Catalina then shared with us how they plan to counter this challenge and maximise the depth of experience for the exhibition visitors. The plan is to appoint educators and mediators at the museum. These will include victims to sensitize and inspire empathy and local interpreters to translate and establish identities thereby linking the worlds of the exhibits and the visitors as well as artists to bring creativity to the entire process.

Observatorio de Paz

One of the highlights of our study visit was meeting and interacting with Vera Grabe Loewentherz who founded Observatorio de Paz in1996. Vera Grabe Loewentherz was a member of the Guerilla group M19—the only urban guerilla group and one that was formed by highly educated and intellectual people. Here we were interested in listening to two perspectives—the personal and the professional. We requested Vera to narrate her story and the journey of the organization she founded.  In 1990 M19 surrendered arms, and Vera initially was a member of Congress in the parliament. Later she became a part of a group for human rights at the Colombian embassy in Spain. 1996 was the turning point when she began to focus all her energies towards peace building and peace education. Having seen first-hand the breakdown of an ideology she firmly believed and the damage that it left in its wake, she now very passionately believes in promoting and invests all her energies into promoting peace. The journey from ex guerilla to peace builder has not been an easy one, she said. But she has been determined and also thought it was necessary to acquire an education on peace building so she first earned a PhD in the subject before commencing her work in this area.

Observatorio de Paz works with women in the villages and remote rural areas that were deeply affected by the armed conflict by using the powerful medium of the arts to intervene and educate the community on the values of peace. Their approach is very different, Vera says. They look at the entire process through a reverse lens by looking at conflict and violence from the spectrum of peace. She is opposed to teaching conflict and violence. “Teach peace,” she says, and through the teaching of peace, understand the context of conflict and violence.

Very often in memory work we focus too much on the negatives—it is important to focus on all the perspectives.

Observatorio de Paz's runs several projects, most of them with ex guerilla soldiers and victims. The goal is to develop the understanding that although their backgrounds and vantage points are different, they share the same issues and problems particularly pertaining to Colombian society, simply by virtue of being women. This approach helps in building an initial connection within the group. The other important issue they deal with is the circumstantial nature of life and the fact that we all may be compelled by circumstances to play multiple roles. The perpetrator can easily become a victim too! Understanding the fact that conflict and violence affects every single person in the community helps in making an individual’s role more meaningful in the work for peace.

“It empowers you!” Vera believes. “Talking about violence only breaks you. You constantly feel like a victim.”

Observatorio de Paz uses diverse methods and tools in dealing with the subject of violence—different games, role play, and other activities rooted in the powerful medium of theatre.

The well designed and thought out process has several steps: conflict is studied as a scientific phenomenon, the difference between conflict and violence is understood, and the final step is teaching peace. This process is followed up by active engagement in the community.

Role play invokes empathy and helps overcome self stigma. Another important pedagogy is reconstruction. Individuals are asked to reconstruct their lives on a timeline in small groups. This helps in acknowledging other life stories, comparing them with their own, and creating bonds.

Another very important process is the use of Japanese pottery, exploiting the therapeutic powers of working with clay. In groups of 30, women work together to make pottery products which are then exhibited.

The intergenerational approach involves the sharing of life experiences, a cleansing process which is called “Irene” after the Greek Goddess of Peace. The aim here is to overcome prejudices and gain self respect and respect for each other.

Observatorio de Paz runs Peace Schools that are approved by the Ministry of Education and award their students a Bachelor degree in Peace Studies. These schools are very flexible. With their foundation based on peace, they work on preventing violence especially within violent families.

Observatorio de Paz has covered a very wide rural area with their work, but there are challenges. The most important one being funding and impact assessment. Arts intervention is a process that brings about a very deep change in individuals and society, but it is also a process that is slow, takes time, is intangible and hence difficult to assess in short durations. One very tangible outcome is the fact that the women Observatorio de Paz has worked with have become active within their communities helping take the organisations work further. Their active involvement with peace building and peace education is proof of success.

Inspired by their work, we enquired about the possibility of their pedagogy becoming a state policy in the future. Vera is quite cynical about that because she feels the state focuses on signing peace treaties rather than working on transforming attitudes of violent culture in society.Introducing these methodologies through the education system is also difficult because of the decentralized nature of the education policy in Colombia.


This concludes the the report of a study visit to Colombia made by Meena Pankaj Malhotra and Senada Jusic. This study visit has been a part of the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”, supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. For more information on this project, please visit the project page.

How to Deal with Colombia’s Violent Past? Part I

This is the first part of a report made by Meena Pankaj Malhotra and Senada Jusic on their study visit to Colombia. It is the tenth article in a series of blogposts and reports on all study visits made for the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”. In this project civil society actors from different backgrounds, visit schools and institutions in countries that are struggling with a difficult past.

For over five decades Colombia has experienced intense violence associated with multiple unresolved social and political conflict—a violence that has been changing its characteristics over the decades with regards to its agents, motivations, intensity and mechanisms. Hundreds of thousands of fatalities have occurred by massacres and assassinations. Over and above that, innumerable Colombians have become victims of forced disappearance, forced displacement, abduction, extrajudicial executions, unlawful recruitment, torture, abuse, and sexual violence. Resistance to suffering is inherent in human nature. Today in Colombia one sees a strong sense of this resistance—in political will, in civil society, in individuals. Our study visit intends to highlight some of these efforts by individuals, civil society, education institutions and the state.


Our hosts, CNMH, had selected two Colombian schools (one public and one private) as case studies for our research on dealing with difficult pasts in post conflict society. Our first visit was to the public school — Colegio Leonardo Pozada Pedraza followed by a vist to the private school— Colegio Campoalegre. Both the schools have their own approach to confront their difficult violent past along with the reality in which they live. Their approaches and methods are different, but in accordance with the needs and background of students who attend these schools.

Colegio Leonardo Pozada Pedraza uses art, literature, film and theater as a medium to educate and sensitize students about what is happening in society and how peace can be restored. Teachers Adriana Abaunza, Diana Beltrán, and Bibiana Seguro took personal initiative along with a group of students interested in the subject of human rights education to think about how school, literature, and history in Colombia have contributed to the construction of falsehoods and realities regarding human rights in the country. Looking at the concerns of young people together, they intended to propose and carry out an inter institutional forum, which would enable them to investigate and understand students' thoughts not only in the Leonardo Posada Pedraza School but also involve students from other schools and places for an open and frank dialogue in order to unearth diverse voices on the issue of human rights, Colombian literature, and school. Art is one of the most powerful means of expression and also one of the most powerful means of therapy. Engaging students in art and literature helped with dealing with individual internal conflicts, too.

They were convinced that perhaps the only way for their country to find a promising future in which citizens can have a dignified life and develop fully is through education in Human Rights. It would encourage them to relate to their environment and thus reduce intolerance and levels of violence. However, this process of educating in human values must be initiated at home and it must be strengthened in the school if it were to have far reaching consequences. This important realization has made the government and public educational policy makers’ work with greater focus and invited Colegio Leonardo Pozada Pedraza for human rights training .The project has been very successful and the work continues. In 2016 another new project began— Youth Thinking about Peace (Los jovenes se piensan La Paz). The goal of this project was to recontruct the past to develop critical thinking by researching and writing about all the actors of the conflict including the perpetrators, the victims, the para military, and the guerillas. We interacted with the students and found that they welcome this activity and enjoy working on the project. They were extremely interested, curious, articulate, and active during the dialogue session as well.

The other visit to a private school Colegio Campoalegre was a very different experience. In every imaginable way the two schools were different from each other. At Colegio Campoalegre the first impression was that of affluence. Set in an extremely picturesque surrounding with mountains you could touch by simply leaning out of the classroom window, this school simply took our breath away at first glance. The physical difference aside, after interaction with the students, we found the same level of interest and passion in the projects they were involved in as the students of Leonardo Posada.

The project being implemented here is based on the premise of lived experience that brings about a genuine deep change from within. Developed and led by the individual passion of just one teacher, Ana Maria Duran, it involves students travelling to El Salado, a village that was deeply effected by the conflict in 2000 and living there for a period of a week to ten days and interacting and working within the community of survivors. This first hand experience for students coming from privileged backgrounds proves to be a very valuable education.

The group that we interacted with had recently returned from their visit to the town that had been battered with violence. During their visit they helped build four dry toilets on sidewalks that do not have access to water supply. They donated school desks, soccer uniforms, and other useful items. They interacted with members of the community, learning about their traditions and culture, their music, and their very difficult past. The students were received by the locals as if they were old friends and Lucho Torres, icon of the town, personally accompanied them around town, telling them the history of this corregimiento where 1500 people live and are with great resilience building a future on the ashes of their difficult past.

Late February 2000 the town experienced almost two weeks of torture, beheading, and rape of an undetermined number of defenseless peasants, including a six-year-old girl and a woman of 65. Perpetrated by at least 450 men belonging to the paramilitary group that also destroyed the houses and the commerce of the population, this is one of the ugliest massacres in the country's violent past.

Personally coming face to face with a history that they had so far only learned about objectively made the students introspective and encouraged them to actually analyse what they came back with. One of the students who was the daughter of a military member recounted how throughout childhood she felt deprived because her father was always away on work. Her father had eventually been killed due to the conflict, and she carried deep feelings of anger due to this loss. The visit to El Salado, she said to us, made her understand the true meaning of forgiveness. She realised there were hundreds like her who had experienced loss, and who was to judge and decide what justice meant under circumstances of this nature.
This project which is implemeted as part of the Social Responsibility and Social Pedagogical approach of the school has been extremely successful and they plan to continue this with each group of Grade 10 students.


One of the visits on our study trip was to the Ministry of Education in Bogota, Colombia. We spoke with a group of seven people who work directly with the Minister of Education on formulating policy, pedagogy processes, best practice etc.
We began the meeting by explaining the background of our visit and why we chose Colombia. Senada and I come from a background where working with government is really not the easiest of options. Having already been exposed to the workings of civil society and education institutes over the past two days we were extremely curious about the realities in Colombia. Our primary question to the ministry related to the symbiosis between the government and civil society. We enquired about the structures that are in place and interestingly Professor Chaux said he could not think of structures—he preferred thinking about people. He went on to admit that Colombia has achieved a level of cooperation between various stakeholders that surprises the world and is quite admirable. His colleagues in Canada express wonder over the ease with which researchers and the ministry function together. He has been helping the ministry for thirteen years.

We also learned about the autonomous nature of the workings of the Ministry. While this can be a very useful reality, in Colombia this is actually a cause for concern as it is leading to a huge gap between state policy and actual classroom practice. Peace Studies was made mandatory across the country and across all stages of education. However, lack of proper material and lack of any policy or guidelines related to textbook publishing have led to an overall disarray in peace and human rights education. Currently this is the ministry's prime concern and to overcome the problems in this area, they are working towards bringing together NGO's and local secretariats of education. However, because the education secretariats are decentralized, the ministry has implemented a policy of direct collaboration with civil society in order to speed up the implementation of new policies. The civil society organizations design and develop pedagogical materials based on policies and make them available for classroom use. In some cases they are also directly involved in classroom implementation. Also, teachers have taken great initiative and created many networks across the country enabling them to work together and share ideas and resources.

Colombia is very decentralised. The government does not develop a single national level curriculum. The schools do. Government has developed some guidelines which are strongly recommended, but not mandatory. The students undergo a national test that measures how they are faring in terms of the recommended guidelines. In 2004 the government developed standards for mathematics, language, natural science, social sciences, and for citizenship competencies. Students undergo tests in 5th, 9th and 11th grade that test competencies of pluralism, good citizenship, and democratic values based on the standards. The schools, local secreteriats, and NGO's are supposed to develop tools that promote competencies stated in the government guidelines. There is substantial work being done in this area but definately not enough. There is a need for many stakeholders to work harder in this area. In 2013 a new law was implemented that made it mandatory for schools to work on preventing aggression, violence, and bullying. Those who do not are liable for legal action taken against them by any citizen. And for private schools, if protocols are not adhered to the government can revoke the school's licence. However, so far no legal action of this nature has been taken against any institution. This was followed by another law that made peace studies and human rights education mandatory since 2015. However this law was implemented without the consultation or support of the Ministry of Education, and there is a big gap between the state policy and what is actually happening on the ground. The proper tools for implementing this most recent law do not exist.

The discussion on autonomy brought us to the question of textbooks, and we discovered that there is a huge problem in this area. Schools are prescribing their own textbooks with publishers deciding what to publish in the textbooks. But often within the same region there are no similarities in what is being taught. The Ministry offers extra materials but there is no guarantee on how these materials should be used. Usage of these materials is up to individual teachers.
And finally we came to the most important question—what is the Ministry's policy with regards to Colombia's conflicted past. In a post conflict society, where a classroom has students that have personal histories of either being children of victims or perpetrators, how does one deal with this and how does the history teacher deal with this? The answer according to Olga is two fold; one is the teacher's competencies. Teachers themselves have been through the violent past and in most cases have been affected by the violenc and they have lived the history they are teaching. They have to build the strength and resilience to be neutral and take an unbiased position. The other aspect is the tools, material, and pedagogy. The Miniistry has yet to develop these to help the teachers.
In 2015 the ministry held a series of interactions with teachers to suggest how recent difficult histories may be approached in the classroom and one of the major suggestions was to start with the point in time that the students were living at the moment and then connect it backwards to the past.
This is a struggle still because the peace accord is very recent—2016—and there is development in best practise related to teaching the recent difficult Colombian past. Centre for Historical Memory has done some wonderful work in this area and the Ministry is hugely inspired by the work that Facing History And Ourselves is doing and plans to pilot projects based on their approach. They hope to contruct bridges between the recent and distant past by studying social dynamics and how identity plays a role as well as how prejudice functions. Their goal is to not just look at conflicts from the past but also at the stories of peaceful positive resistance.

However despite all these efforts by all stakeholders concerned, the discussion on how much to teach of the recent past and where to start continues. They have not arrived at a consensus yet..
There is a lot creativity happening in Colombia! And yet how to deal with the difficult past is not an easy question to answer. In Colombia it is currently an ongoing movement involving some very dedicated passionate people.

This concludes the first part of the report of a study visit to Colombia made by Meena Pankaj Malhotra and Senada Jusic. This study visit has been a part of the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”, supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. For more information on this project, please visit the project page.

Dealing with Croatia’s Difficult Past in History Education – Part II

This is the second part of a report made by Clara Ramírez Barat and Olesya Skrypnyk on their study visit to Croatia. It is the ninth article in a series of blogposts and reports on all study visits made for the project "Dealing with the Past in History Education". In this project civil society actors from different backgrounds, visit schools and institutions in countries that are struggling with a difficult past. The first part of this blogpost can be found here.

Continuation of the report

Day 2: Tuesday 31 January

After the conversation in the University the DwP team visited the City Museum of Split. Opened to the public in 1992, in a palace that was built in the15th century. The Museum exhibits the cultural and historical heritage of the city through a stunning collection of artwork (including fragments of monuments and statues that were once parts of buildings in Split) together with numerous documents, photographs, maps and manuscripts that tell the story of the city. After the visit, the DwP team met with one of the museum educators and another educator from the Maritime Museum to learn about their perspectives on the challenges of conveying to young people the recent and difficult history of the country.

As a historical museum, the City Museum of Split, however, does not cover the most recent period of the country’s history. As a matter of fact, from the different museums in Split, it is only the Maritime Museum that includes the history of the 20th Century in its exhibition. According to the Maritime Museum educator, a historian by training, it is difficult to explain the history of World War II and the Independence War to the kids that come to visit the museum. This is even more the case when it comes to students coming from Slavonia, a region from the Eastern part of the country near the border with Serbia, not only because the war was especially felt in that area, but also because the classes are mixed, with both Croatian and Serbian students. Indeed, she had sometimes been warned by teachers to be careful on how she explained this period to them, and to limit her introduction to the basics—the terrible consequences of the war—without entering into details about the causes and the way the war unfolded. She noted that while often students are surprised when they hear about the war, it is important that students today learn about the recent history of the country. Having worked in the museum for five years, she commented that the memory of the war is fading, becoming less important with each generation that passes, and she worries that students today don’t get much exposure to it in the school curricula. She mentioned that while the war is briefly touched upon in primary school, students don’t really learn about it until they are 15 years old. However, this is only if they go to high school, as those who attend technical schools won’t learn more about it in school.

After the visit to the Museum, in the afternoon, the DwP team went to visit Visoka, a primary school in the city of Split, to discuss with the students why for them it is important to learn history, and to find out what they learn about the difficult history of Croatia in school and what more would they like to know about it. In general the kids agreed that studying history was important to understand the present time, to know more about their country and the society in which they live today.

As students in 8th grade, they were planning a mandatory school visit in March to Vukovar, a city that was completely destroyed during the war. They were excited about the trip and expressed eagerness to learn more about the “heroes that defended the country” and about the consequences of the war. When asked why they thought it was hard to talk about these topics in the classroom, they mostly agreed it was because the events are still very close, and many people suffered. All of them know someone who lost a member of their family in the war, and thus for them it is still a very painful history to remember, even if they didn’t live during the war themselves.

Through the conversation, they also recognized that it is still not that common among Croatian kids to have Serbian friends (only some of them did), but they expressed complete normality about the idea of meeting Serbian kids, as they thought the war caused pain on all sides and keeping hatred for what happened won’t solve problems but just prolong them in time. One student even said that Serbian kids learn history from a different perspective than the one that they do, and that is something that has to be acknowledged and respected.

Next, the DwP team visited a history lesson in Prva Gimnazija, a high school in the city of Split. The teacher gave a presentation drawing parallels between the bombing of Guernica, in Spain (1937) and Vukovar, Croatia (1991). After that, the class joined a discussion on the problem of the difficult past in recent Croatian history. The teacher admitted that he remembered “that time” [War of Independence] and that for him it was not easy to teach his students about it without emotions, although he also asserted that he tried his best to be objective so the students could better understand the situation, including the consequences of the war.

Despite the fact that the high school students were born in the late 1990s and didn’t experience the war, they generally agreed that it had a huge impact on them. The students hadn’t covered the theme of the Croatian War of Independence before the study visit was held, but they spoke about how they learned about the events from the family – their fathers participated in the war (though, one of the students mentioned that her father never spoke about his memories of the war). Among other sources of information about the war they listed school trips to Vukovar, documentaries and professors’ lectures.

Young people expressed the desire to be given a full picture of the war events because “if you have knowledge, you cannot be manipulated by newspapers,” to have more classes on these topics, and to develop critical thinking. Media and politicians, in their view, are responsible for the feeling that almost all of them bear inside – “mistrust towards the Serbs.” However, some of the students said that they had friends or relatives in Serbia. One of the students shared her experience of participation in a TV show competition that had taken place in Serbia. Despite her own fears, and the fears of her family before the trip, Serbian people were friendly and kind to them, and she was very pleased to have had the opportunity to be confronted with such a reality.


Day 3: Wednesday 1 February

On February 1st the DwP team had a visit to the Radić Brothers Primary School in Bračević. They had meetings with the pupils of two classes (one of them consists only two students).

In the first meeting, answering the question why it is important to learn history, the students admitted the following:

  • Need to know more about what happened in the past [in order not to repeat it in the future];
  • Importance of having own opinion;
  • War is not a solution, and has serious consequences (destroyed buildings, psychological problems of former soldiers);
  • Enjoying the history classes.

Speaking about the recent past, the students admitted that they lacked the information in the textbooks. Usually teachers “tell the things which are not in the textbook.” They also learn from the TV programmes and search for information on the Internet (e.g. witnesses of Vukovar, events in Bleiburg and Jasenovac). Sometimes their parents tell “some things” (e.g. not only Serbian soldiers committed crimes during the war), and they discuss the topic among themselves as well.

Like their peers from primary school Visoka, pupils in Bračević were looking forward to visiting Vukovar, learning how people had lived there during the war, and seeing the hospital [memorial], which would help them to “protect our country”.

The teacher told the team about the school projects: one with the Serbian kindergarten, named by Nicola Tesla, and the other about Anne Frank. She mentioned those projects aimed to prevent war.

The second meeting was held with the class of two pupils. They considered it important to learn history, especially recent history, to know how their country came into existence. As mentioned by one of the students “we fought for it for centuries.” Speaking about what they know about the difficult history, the pupils regarded Vukovar as a “symbol of struggle.”

The students know of Vukovar and the Croatian War of Independence through different school subjects, from the history teacher, and from family members or elderly people. They also wished to have more lessons so that they could learn about the things they are interested in (e.g. WWII, its causes and consequences).

They presumed that Serbian people “are not that bad,” and one of the students said that she had contact with peers from Serbia, whose fathers belonged to the same motor-club as her father.

The teacher added that he tries not to give conclusions about what is good or bad, moral or immoral, but the facts, so that the students could make some conclusions themselves. He also admitted, that for him the most challenging period of Croatian difficult history is WWII.

This concludes the report of Clara Ramírez Barat's and Olesya Skrypnyk's study visit to Croatia. This study visit has been a part of the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”, supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. For more information on this project, please visit the project page

Dealing with Croatia’s Difficult Past in History Education – Part I

This is the first part of a report made by Clara Ramírez Barat and Olesya Skrypnyk on their study visit to Croatia. It is the eighth article in a series of blogposts and reports on all study visits made for the project "Dealing with the Past in History Education". In this project civil society actors from different backgrounds, visit schools and institutions in countries that are struggling with a difficult past. The previous article in this series of Ineke Veldhuis-Meesters' visit to Calcutta, India, can be found here. 

Report of the international study visit Croatia

As members of EuroClio’s Dealing with the Past Project (DwP) team, Olesya Skrypnyk (Nova Doba, Ukraine) and Clara Ramírez Barat (AIPR, Brazil office) travelled to Croatia from January 30th to February 1st 2017. In three days, one in Zagreb and two in Split, they met with several civil society actors, state institutions representatives, teachers, and students to learn about how the difficult past is taught in schools, and to discuss the practical challenges involved in dealing with conflicting memories and emotional histories in the classroom. This report briefly summarizes the discussions they held during those days and outlines the main findings of the study visit.

Day 1: Monday 30 January

On the morning of January 30th, the DwP team had a combined meeting with Documenta and Youth Initiative for Human Rights, two NGOs that work with different aspects of dealing with the past in the country, especially in regards to the adoption of transitional justice measures and the promotion of non recurrence. After a brief introduction to the work of both organizations, the discussion centered on the question of how, in their views, history education could help better deal with the difficult past in Croatia. As organizations trying to advance human rights issues in Croatia in relation to the war, however, they found it was very challenging to pursue their mission in the country today and that most of their perspectives were not widely shared by the society.

For both organizations, when it comes to education about the recent history, it is important to begin by recognizing that having a certain narrative about what happened is unavoidable. Facts just don’t stand alone. In this respect, for them, one of the biggest challenges today is that Croatia is still a young nation, and hence identity and tradition play a key role in the ongoing state building project. According to them, in broad terms, history education is not being taught today primarily with the intention of dealing with the past, but rather to teach young people the narrative of how Croatia became an independent nation.

When it comes to better understanding the War of Independence, its causes, how it unfolded, and its consequences, both organizations considered that the topic is not adequately covered in the school curricula. History classes normally end with the story of World War II, and only when a teacher is especially interested, students will learn more about Yugoslavia and the Independence War. They also noted the scarcity of pedagogical material to help teachers and students to critically learn about these topics. Learning from real sources and being exposed to different perspectives is rare, and besides the mandatory visit to Vukovar, there are almost no extra-curricular activities (like visits to memorials or museums) to complement what is taught in the classroom.

The second meeting was held at the Memorial–Documentation Center for the Homeland War (CDMCHW), a state scientific institution and specialized archive run by the Ministry of Culture. Its mission is to preserve, document, and research the history of the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995). As part of its mission, the Center organizes exhibitions and public lectures and actively cooperates with educational institutions (both public and private) throughout the country to help them better understand and convey the recent Croatian national history, especially the War of Independence and its consequences. With the support of the National Agency of Education, for example, they organize an annual seminar for teachers about the Homeland War. The seminar, which is done in a voluntary basis, gathers more than 100 teachers from all over Croatia every year.

For the staff at the CDMCHW, the war is a subject well covered by the current Croatian history curricula. As an archive, which collects and preserves a myriad of documents of the war, when it comes to history, “the facts” are more important than understanding the narratives built. While they recognize experiences are different, as historians, they think their capacity to interpret those experiences is limited—the goal is rather to have to all the facts from both sides of the war and write about the events only based on these facts. Still, they recognize that there are divisions in Croatia today on how the recent history is interpreted, which go back to the time of World War II and the Communist time.


Day 2: Tuesday 31 January

The first meeting on this day was held at the University of Split. The DwP team visited the History Department and had a discussion with a group of professors and students (members of History Students’ association).

A professor of the department gave a presentation, which listed a number of the most sensitive issues in Croatian contemporary history and presented the following essential ways to better deal with them:

  • Taking into account different perspectives and interpretations in the study program;
  • Students’ critical thinking in learning and teaching history;
  • Students’ independent participation in the reconstruction of historical events;
  • Importance of micro-history approach in outlining the impact of war [Croatian War of Independence] on civilian population and everyday life;
  • Making victims lists and referring with respect and dignity to every victim regardless of his/her nationality or political views;
  • Encouraging students to engage in extra-curricular activities (e.g. work with additional sources).

After presentation, the students and the professors joined a discussion on the topic of the challenges of a difficult past in history education in Croatia, whether there are enough materials on the recent history in the school curricula, and how the History department members deal with the challenges of emotional histories.

The students pointed out the main problems with teaching of recent Croatian history:

  • It is politically and ideologically biased;
  • There still is a “strong impact of collective memory.”

The students also mentioned that they wanted to be given real facts while studying difficult history. They also felt they should learn more about the Croats crimes and what they “did wrong.” In their view, the topic of the Croatian War of Independence is not sufficiently represented in school textbooks. Regarding their school years, they admitted that students very often got information about the war events from their families or mass media, which were not objective.

One of the professors considered that today there was a wide consensus about how to perceive the Homeland War in Croatia, but recognized that there is still a problem with the interpretation of WWII that splits the nation.

This blogpost concludes the first part of the report of this study visit to Croatia. This study visit has been a part of the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”, supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. For more information on this project, please visit the project page

Understanding Your Own History Through Education – Part II

This is the second installment of a blogpost on Ineke Veldhuis-Meesters study visit to Calcutta, India, which took place from 6 - 13 November 2016.  It is the seventh article in a series of reports and blogposts related to the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”. The preceding blogpost of Ineke's visit can be found here. 

Part II. School visits and workshop

Context on Calcutta and the Education System in India

Located in the eastern part of India, Calcutta is the capital and administrative center of the state of West Bengal. The former capital of British India, Calcutta is a veritable melting pot of cultures. The diverse nature of the city is reflected in the education system. As with every state in India, there are schools in the city that are affiliated to the State Board and offer a syllabus designed for the state, by the state. The other boards of education are the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE). These three main boards of education differ from one another in terms of content, modes of examination and assessment. The city of Calcutta also has around 300 state-recognized madrassas, or Islamic religious schools. To add to this already fascinating mix, the language of instruction differs too. In some, it is Bengali, which is the predominant language spoken in West Bengal, in some it is English and in some it is Urdu or Hindi. There is also a large non-formal school system that runs in tandem with the formal private and public schools.

(Drawn from M. Malhorta, 2016 study visit folder)

  1. Visit to Akshar Inclusive School

Akshar (‘Alphabet’ in Sanskrit) is the first inclusive school in Calcutta. It was started in 1998 by the Rajpal Khullar Trust to fulfill the need to establish an institute that benefits children with borderline special needs. As a rule, the school admits five special needs students on an average per class, who are seated between the other children. While there are teachers trained in special education to give individualized care to the students who need it, each class also has teachers who assist students with special needs, helping them out with whatever they require during a regular class. The school offers the Indian Certificate for Secondary Education (ICSE) board for the mainstream classes, and the Open Basic Education (OBE) and the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) curricula for those with special needs. The academic level is the O-level (like in the British system). The government recognizes the School Leaving Certificates. There are 17.000 of these schools in India, as per the information from the principal Mrs Noni Khular. Before I witnessed classes with Grade eight and Grade seven, I was shown around the school and introduced to educators—both special educators as well as those teaching the regular classes.

What struck me immediately in Akshar was the happy atmosphere, the happy children, the encouraging inclusiveness - really Impressive.  20% of the pupils have disabilities such as Down syndrome, physical and mental handicaps, ADHD, dyslexia, autism or Asperger. Ms. Noni Khullar, the principal and Co-Founder of the Akshar School explained her philosophy. The mainstream children will learn from the lesser-abled - how they strive to achieve their goals despite limitations (See picture of the school’s magazine ‘Mentor’ with principal). They will grow up to be sensitive and compassionate children with sound humane values, who have known students with challenges and are friends with them. Students with disabilities are also challenged by the teachers to prepare them to deal with the real world outside the school environment and are taught how to deal with success and failure.

I was enthusiastic about what I saw and heard: how they practice what they talk about and how they achieve to be such a happy school community.  I admire the strong principal and her able staff - an experience I took home.

I attended history class with Grade eight, 13 year olds and Grade seven, 12 year olds.

In both classes in an instructional conversation history was taught as events and facts to know and understand; the teacher explains and asks questions and always relate the historical content to India today. So Historical Significance came in: “What is nationalism today, what about the individuality of a nation in the present context?”  - Questions to think about. It was in an agreeable and relaxed learning atmosphere.

In answer of my question on how 13 year-olds perceive the history lessons:

Most said that they like history because they can learn about the past, want to know how life was in the past, and also because their teacher is entertaining. And they could learn about the history of other countries, e.g. in Europe.

  1. Visit to Calcutta International School

Calcutta International School (CIS) is the first school in the city to offer the GCSE syllabus recognized by Indian Boards. The Cambridge International AS and A levels are offered here as well.

The CIS caters to a large cross section of students from Calcutta as well as children of expatriates. Founded in 1953 for the British expatriates, the school has 17 nationalities of students. I was shown around the school by Ms Tina Servaia, history teacher in the middle and senior school and also member of the Advisory Board of History for Peace. The School has good resources. I did not visit classes but in a separate room I had ample time to engage with students and later teachers.  At the end of the visit I had a conversation with the Principal Dr. Nath about the level of students, teachers and the education in her school and about training opportunities for her teachers.

Eight students from the AS, A2 and IB classes, , 16 to 18 year olds, who have taken up humanities and history, sat around a table for nearly half an hour with me.

They shared their experiences of studying in a school that has a different curriculum and a different teaching methodology than most other schools in the rest of the country. They recognized that the curriculum itself offers a lot of freedom in terms of analysis and interpretation of texts. The students enjoy their history classes particularly because of the freedom given to them to discuss, analyze and debate. They are curious to know what happened in world affairs in historical, economic and sociological aspects. “There are events in the past related to the political, ideological and religious conflicts we want to know and understand: History is (connected to) current affairs”. The students are keen to find out what happened, in this way: “Give us a lot of sources and five perspectives, let us research to find out what happened, discuss what could have happened, and to see how other countries “have become different”. It was a lovely conversation with these 16 to 18 year olds on a quite high analytical level. “Humanities is less structured than science, so you can think more openly”. The students were enthusiastic to share why they liked the subject. There was such a free and enthusiastic atmosphere, amongst the eager and intelligent students, who “see the subject history as analysis”. The question about ‘difficult history’ seemed irrelevant to them. “Nothing is difficult, if you analyse,” they said in their youthful enthusiasm.

  1. Visit to the Modern High School for Girls

The Modern High School for Girls was founded by Mrs B.M. Birla in 1952. Mrs. Birla came from a leading industrialist family and the school at that time set a revolutionary example in the area of women’s education.  The school offers the Indian Certificate for Secondary Education curriculum to their students.

Dr. Devi Kar, the Director (and former Principal), Ms. Damayanti Mukherjee, Principal and Ms. Amita Prasad, the Vice- Principal gave me a friendly welcome. Dr Kar spoke to me in detail about the ethos of the school. A school that combines the best from the East and the West, with a principal who stood outside the regional rivalry. The school calls itself an ‘All Faith school’. After 35 years of rule by an American missionary, Dr. Kar succeeded as the third Principal in the school’s history and the first of Indian origin. Dr. Kar and the vice-principal Ms. Amita Prasad challenged me in a talk about Sam Wineburg’s ‘historical thinking’ ideas. Dr. Kar was really engaged, and also attended the EuroClio presentation and the first part of the workshop the following day. On the first day of the conference she led a panel discussion on how to translate theories on nationalism into the school practice.

I was able to attend two history classes, for Grade 10 and Grade 12. For Grade 10 Ms. Sunita Biswas taught a class on Gandhi. Ms Biswas used a video clip of Gandhi being interviewed by a US journalist as well as an audio clip of a narration of a poem by Tagore. The class was captivated by the images and by the reciting voice. Subsequently she handed out the text of the poem which she asked the students to read and reflect on. Both of these teaching tools fed effectively into a discussion on Nationalism vis-à-vis Patriotism.

The students reflected on Sam Wineburg’s philosophy: they thought historically and explained that history was in some ways challenging, while being complex, multifaceted, one opinion never prevails. That was the product of the watchful guidance of good teachers, who stimulate and get their students engaged in research.

The team of history teachers share the same aims but they teach in different styles. Dr Kar gives her teachers freedom because she trusts them, she said; which is indicative of an open learning atmosphere in the school. The teachers spoke about influence of the parties on the National Curriculum Board and how the Board influences the selection of topics.  The most difficult aspect was seen as: how to handle the changes in perspectives. “History is all around us, it is the basis of all other disciplines”.

  1. Workshop at the Modern Academy of Continuing Education (MACE)

‘History Education- A mirror of pride and pain?'- Workshop at Modern Academy of Continuing Education.

Ineke Veldhuis-Meester in action at the workshop at Modern Academy of Continuing Education (image provided by Ineke Veldhuis-Meester)

From Paroma Sengupta’s Report.

Ineke began with a presentation on what history means to different people and how as history teachers it becomes important to take the different perceptions into account.  Some of the participants spoke about biased perceptions of history in the subcontinent. What was interesting was that both students (senior students from Modern High School) and teachers had very similar points to make regarding bias and how textbooks reflect the inherent bias of the author of the textbook and the politics of the nation at the time of writing the book.


Participants were grouped into 5 groups of 4-5 each for the activity, which was an exercise on how different perceptions can be, even among teachers. The teachers were asked to, first individually think of events that shaped the country. The process was then repeated, in pairs and then a larger group. The participants had to work as a group to reach a consensus, as the number of events allowed per group was limited. Interestingly, the activity started off with many participants agreeing with each other, but as the groups became larger it apparently became harder to agree! At the end of the allotted time, the participants presented their work, having recorded points on charts. Some of the common events chosen included partition and the Swadeshi movement. One of the groups mentioned ‘the emergence of a national identity’ in relation to the struggle for Independence.

May I add as author of the report, that is was a joy to me to work with such motivated teachers and trainees, who were open-minded, asked without reluctance, debated and thought deeply while constructing different kind of basic curriculum frames. One of the groups did not jot down events, but concepts: “as events develop out of concepts.” The participants were given a hand out at the end of the workshop to enhance the effectiveness of the workshop as a basis for continuing the discussion together.

Groningen, 13 February 2017, part 2

This blogpost concludes the report of Ineke Veldhuis-Meesters study visit to Calcutta. This study visit has been a part of the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”, supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. For more information on this project, please visit the project page