Decolonising History – Feed forward and exchange session

Hosted by EuroClio

During this session, participants will discuss in groups and as a plenary the relevance of Decolonising History and the role of teachers within current political debates. They will have a possibility to network, share their own experiences, and set the foundations for future projects, including discussing what could be the next steps for EuroClio in an effort to Decolonise History.

Participation Fee

Participation to the webinar series is free for all EuroClio Individual Members, as well as for Members of our Member Associations.

If you are not a Member, you can register to single sessions for a fee of 15 EUR, or register to the full series for 60 EUR.

Would you like to become an Individual Member? Register here.

Donors and Partners

Decolonizing Cultural Institutions in the Netherlands

Joke Van der Leeuw-Roord Articles , , , ,

Slavery addressed at the Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, well-known for its collection on Dutch 17th Century art, is also the national museum for Dutch History. For the first time in its history, it is now hosting a temporary exhibition on slavery. The exhibition focuses on the personal and real-life stories of enslaved people from different former colonial Dutch regions such as Suriname, the Caribbean, South Africa and Indonesia. The acknowledgment that slavery also existed in the Dutch East Indies is relatively recent; the Dutch colonial context has typically only addressed slavery in Suriname and the Caribbean, making this an important and innovative step.

The Dutch colonial era is spanning approximately 350 years, and slavery has been an integral part of this history. A time when indigenous peoples as well as people were reduced to property, to objects, to items in the accounts. An online Symposium addressing Sources on Slavery and Slave Trade was organised on 23 April and remains available for online viewing. The wide range of the speakers gave global insights into the opportunities and challenges for museum collections and historical archival resources when addressing a topic such as slavery. Traditional collections normally do not contain materials relating to this topic. Consequently, that means finding alternative solutions for creating permanent as well as temporary addressing slavery.

Online exhibition on personal stories

Unfortunately, the physical exhibition in the Rijksmuseum is still closed due to Covid-19, however the museum envisages reopening in early summer. However, the exhibition also offers interesting digital opportunities. Under the title Ten True Stories you can find ten personal stories from people who were involved in slavery in one way or the other. Issues such as different experiences of enslavement, resistance, as well as the role of slave owners are addressed.

Wider efforts at decolonizing the Museum

This exhibition showcases items from Dutch and foreign museums, from archives and from private collections. The curators used typical museum artefacts such as paintings and documents but also oral sources, poems and music. The Rijksmuseum is simultaneously in a process of decolonising its incredibly rich permanent collection. This process is supported by the publication An unfinished guide to Words Choices in the Cultural Sector written in cooperation by several cultural institutes in the Netherlands.

Related to the current exhibition, the museum has started to add extra information labels to objects in its permanent collection, which highlight and explore hidden links to the topic of the temporary exhibition. An English publication on slavery is also available featuring the unique exhibits.

Archives and education

Moreover, the Dutch National Archive in cooperation with Metamorfoze, the Netherlands' national programme for the preservation of paper heritage, has published a digitised collection of almost 2.000.000 documents, originating from important archives on slavery. The original archives are based in the Netherlands, England, Guyana and Suriname.

Education is also in focus. The educational publishing house Thiememeulenhoff and Rijksmuseum have published a magazine with active learning lessons about slavery under the title Slavernij en nu?. The magazine focuses on the age group 10-14 and aims to support teaching about slavery and racism in the classroom. The magazine is freely available for all Dutch and Dutch Caribbean students in this age group.

Let’s hope that the current interest in the topic will not end when the temporary exhibition in the Rijksmuseum closes. Slavery deserves a permanent place in the national Dutch narrative on its colonial history and visible through its public cultural heritage collections.

Written by Joke van der Leeuw-Roord, EuroClio Founder and Special Advisor.

 

Image: Anoniem, Tot slaaf gemaakte mannen graven trenzen, ca. 1850 Rijksmuseum, aankoop met steun van het Johan Huizinga Fonds/Rijksmuseum Fonds, 2013

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

Alicia Rijlaarsdam Reviews , ,

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

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

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

White privilege and intersectionality

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

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

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

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

Whiteness in education

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

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

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

Moving forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decolonising Education: Voices from different fields

We believe it is long overdue that the colonial roots of history education and its connection to modern-day racism are properly addressed in the classroom, which is the focus of the webinar series “Decolonising History”. In addition, we believe that the effect of the colonial past on everyday racism goes far beyond how the colonial past is tackled in the classroom, encompassing every aspect of education from access to schooling to teacher training to non-formal education.

The panel discussion will explore what decolonisation entails outside of the classroom, in particular in relation to curriculum design, teacher education, and museum curation.

Speakers and Moderator

Dr Marlon Moncrieffe, University of Brighton. Dr. Mocrieffe is Senior Lecturer at the School of Education, University of Brighton. His areas of research and interest are: 20th Century Black-British histories to the present; National Identity, Decolonising Curriculum Knowledge; Anti-Racism. In addition, he is a world renowned expert on the history and lives of Black cycling champions. He will be talking about ‘decolonising the curricululm’, starting from the British curriculum and widening the angle to general considerations about decolonising the curriculum.

Dr Heloise Sathorar and Dr. Deidre Geduld, Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. Dr. Sathorar is Head of Department for Secondary School Education at the School of Education, Nelson Mandela University. Her areas of research and interest include: Decolonising Education and Critical Pedagogy. Dr. Geduld is Senior Lecturer at the School for Initial Teacher Education, Nelson Mandela University. Her areas of research and interest include: Early Child Development, Inclusive Education, Critical Pedagogy, and Decolonising the Curriculum in the South African Context. Together, Dr. Sathorar and Dr. Geduld will be talking about ‘decolonising teacher education’, starting from a research they conducted in South Africa and widening the angle to more general considerations.

Dr. Laura Van Broekhoven, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. Dr. Van Broekhoven is Director at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Her current research interests include repatriation and redress, with a focus on the importance of collaboration, inclusivity and reflexive inquiry. Her regional academic research has focused on collaborative collection research with Amazonian (Surinam and Brazil) indigenous peoples, Yokot’an (Maya) oral history, Mixtec indigenous market systems, and Nicaraguan indigenous resistance in colonial times. She will be talking about decoloniality from the point of view of museums and museum curation.

Participation Fee

Participation to the Panel Discussion is free of charge

Contact us!

Would you like more information on the panel discussion?

Please, reach out at secretariat@euroclio.eu with the subject line “Decolonising Education”. We will be in contact as soon as possible.

Donors and Partners

Guest Blog: What is Diversify Our Narrative?

Diversify Our Narrative Articles , ,

What is Diversify Our Narrative?

Diversify Our Narrative (DON) is a non-profit, student-run organization advoacting for anti-racist curriculum within K-12 schools across the United States. DON supports over 850 chapters led by student organizers working on the ground in their school districts to create culturally responsive curriculum and racial justice within their schools, primarily through the inclusion of anti-racist and diverse texts taught in high schools. We also utilize social media as a form of education, creating digestible infographics to explain complex social issues and raise awareness for the curriculum resources we create.

 

Curriculum Development

The National Curriculum and Allyship Council is a component within Diversify Our Narrative that focuses specifically on curriculum development and program development. Composed of a diverse group of students and educators, the council is committed to creating anti-racist and liberatory learning spaces throughout the country through our curriculum.

The largest resource we’ve created thus far is our anti-racist intensive workbook, a thirteen day intensive designed to teach teachers how to be active co-conspirators against the systems of oppression that exist inside and outside their  classrooms. The workbook covers seven chapters, ranging from identity and culturally responsive pedagogy to decentering whiteness in curriculum and celebrating the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community.

With regard to history specifically, we have created several resources that focus on the lived experiences of underrepresented voices in history, while remaining true to American education standards. Former council member Keoni Rodriguez (they/them)[1] has created lesson plans for 11-12th graders focused on the discrepancies between the realities that exist in primary sources and their depiction in secondary sources, such as history books. They sought to dismantle the common assumption that history - and the textbooks students read during their time in school - are always an objective truth of past events, rather, that it is often influenced by biases and generalizations established by genre. By learning about the differences between primary and secondary sources at an earlier age, educators can teach students to understand how microhistory fits within larger contexts of history.

Although this lesson plan only examines two specific sources, it can be adapted to show the prevalence of Eurocentrism among secondary sources and encourage discussions surrounding historiography in order to dismantle the systems of privilege that exist in pedagogy. The lesson plan includes discussion questions, and an accompanying interactive presentation that would simulate primary/secondary source development in a palatable format.

Our most recent history focused lesson plans serve a similar purpose. Human Impacts of World War II, created by council member Carlene Sanchez, recognizes the effects of the war on vulnerable and disadvantaged communities and how the roots of colonialism, racism, and white supremacy played a role in the war.

 

Our Goals as Changemakers

In 2019, the Uniform Crime Reporting program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation found that there were a total of 8,812 reported victims of hate crimes in the U.S. that year. Within this staggering statistic, over half of the victims were targeted solely for their race or perceived ethnicity. With modern, worldwide, institutions being built from the ghosts of the Transatlantic slave trade, displacement of Indigenous Peoples, and interests of white colonizers, it is no surprise that institutional racism remains a pervasive force today. The need for movements like Black Lives Matter to bring recognition to racial inequity reflects a world that has been poisoned by white supremacy and racism in all walks of life. This starts in the classroom, as prejudice is a learned behavior. Texts that are centered around whiteness as the norm or promote white saviorhood perpetuate a dangerous complacency in students who do not see diverse perspectives validated in their educations. As conceptualized in the Pyramid of White Supremacy, eurocentric curriculum plays an integral part of larger systems of oppression by denying the immense harm white supremacy has wrought on communities of color and the important stories of BIPOC resistance against this. Therefore, dismantling these false narratives is vital towards creating liberation for communities of color and other folks harmed by white supremacy. By introducing media about the experiences of BIPOC folks (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), having discussions about race in the classroom, and advocating for more equitable school structures that end the school to prison pipeline, DON aims to disrupt white supremacy and racism in schools. We hope that by experiencing diverse perspectives and questioning the norm, students will be enabled to act as agents of change in their communities and in adulthood.

 

Why our work is necessary

In order to build a world where individuals can coexist and care for each other regardless of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., we must first do the work to build understanding. Without holding empathy for those around us, we cannot achieve an equitable global community. Anti-racist education teaches individuals how to be intentional activists, how to unlearn ingrained biases, and how to recognize injustice when it occurs. This is different from simply telling students to not be racist because being an anti-racist is an active effort that recognizes that racism is penetrative and deeply rooted. Anti-racism focuses on identifying and undoing oppressive structures in our society, and it aims to build understanding between people of all backgrounds. Diverse educational resources, anti-racist curricula, and culturally-responsive pedagogy are essential to educating both students and teachers on how to be active anti-racists - tackling institutional injustice in the classroom itself. Through education, Diversify Our Narrative encourages students to be agents of change so that we can become a global community that is not only hyper-aware of discriminatory entities, but also actively works to fight against them.

 

Written by

Anusha Nadkarni (she/her/hers) - Anusha Nadkarni is a sophomore at Bloomington High School in Illinois and a strong advocate for social justice. Through Diversify Our Narrative, Anusha hopes to make communities everywhere more inclusive through equitable, anti-racist education.

 

 

 

Morgan Yen (she/her/hers) - Morgan Yen is a junior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science: International Relations with a double minor in Business and Chinese Studies. As Co-Chair of Diversify Our Narrative’s National Curriculum and Allyship Council, she hopes to promote the placement of human rights at the core of teaching.

 

 

[1]In this post, we use the self–reported gender pronouns Keoni provided, including the gender–neutral pronouns “they/them.” For more information, see the UW–Madison LGBT Campus Center guide to pronouns (https://students.wisc.edu/lgbt/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2016/07/LGBTCC-Gender-pronoun-guide.pdf).

 

Sources:

  1. Workbook Link: https://www.diversifyournarrative.com/don-educator-resources/winter-intensive
  2. Lesson Plan #1: https://www.diversifyournarrative.com/lesson-plans/between-the-world-and-me
  3. Lesson Plan #2: https://www.diversifyournarrative.com/lesson-plans/human-impact-of-wwii
  4. https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2019/topic-pages/victims

Decolonising History – Workshop on “Tackling the textbook: recognising and rethinking colonial narratives”

Hosted by Tom Allen

The concept of a school history curriculum has its origins in 19th century ideas of progress and national pride. This can have implications for the historical narrative we impart, often subconsciously, to our students. Teachers in many different countries are now recognising the need to teach our students about empire, but the way we present this story is important too.

The aim of this session is to unpack the story our textbooks tell about European empires in the 19th century, and enable you to recognise potential problems with the materials you use. We will analyse anonymised extracts from textbooks used in a range of different countries (you are encouraged to bring your own examples to the session). The session will also offer practical advice on how a fuller picture can be presented to the students – without the need to throw away the textbook!

About Tom Allen

Tom Allen is Head of History at a comprehensive school in Bath, UK. He has recently been working with textbook publishers in the UK to reconsider the way colonial history is presented. In September 2021 he is moving to Germany to begin working at an international school.

Participation Fee

Participation to the webinar series is free for all EuroClio Individual Members, as well as for Members of our Member Associations.

If you are not a Member, you can register to single sessions for a fee of 15 EUR, or register to the full series for 60 EUR.

Would you like to become an Individual Member? Register here.

Donors and Partners

Decolonising the History Curriculum: Considering National Narratives in History Textbooks from a Global Perspective

Written by Tina van der Vlies

Tina van der Vlies is an assistant professor of history at Erasmus University Rotterdam. In 2019, she successfully defended her PhD dissertation ‘Echoing Events. The Perpetuation of National Narratives in English and Dutch History Textbooks, 1920-2010’. Since her research provided a better understanding of the potential mobilizing power of national narratives in societies, it was awarded with several prizes.

 

Decolonising the history curriculum is a topical issue.[1] Decolonising in this context means a call for what Meera Sabaratnam describes as a "better historical awareness of the contexts in which scholarly knowledge has been produced".[2] Especially since the nineteenth century, knowledge about the English and Dutch nation has been built on colonial and racial structures. Sabaratnam asks us to look at our shared assumptions about how the world is.

One way to achieve this aim is to challenge traditional frames in which history is taught and understood. The most well-known frame in which history has been presented in history textbooks is the national one. This is understandable since history is a compulsory subject in many national curricula. National regulations and public discourses about school history are often connected to debates about citizenship and values, in attempts to attribute specific characteristics to the nation and its inhabitants. However, stories from different countries that emphasize national unique characteristics often share interesting similarities. For instance, various politicians stress ‘national features’ in their speeches, while perpetuating nostalgic and heroic images of the nation as well as implicit colonial world views. Hence, this article considers national narratives in history textbooks from a global perspective in order to shed light on some of these resemblances. Transnational narrative structures are easily overlooked when national contexts and their accompanying stories dominate the history curriculum.

National narratives can share the same underlying interpretation pattern. Memory scholar James Wertsch makes a distinction between specific narratives and schematic narrative templates. Specific narratives are uniquely situated in space and time and deal with specific events, persons and periods. These different stories about the past can – although they vary a lot in their details – look like replicas as they share the same underlying narrative structure. Wertsch describes this shared storyline as a schematic narrative template, as a basic building block of collective memory that connects various specific histories.[3] However, Wertsch warns that these schematic narrative templates are not universal archetypes; he explains that certain narrative templates are part of a specific cultural tradition. For example, the “triumph over alien forces” template dominates Russian collective memory and although this template is available to members of other cultural traditions as well, it is not as prevailing as in Russia. For example, it can also be found in the American tradition but will be outweighed by the dominant American “quest for freedom” template.[4]

During my PhD research, I discovered how national narratives in English and Dutch history textbooks overlapped and interfused, and how certain national frames of references were perpetuated over time. Textbook authors narrated different histories as ‘echoing events’ by interpreting them in the same way and by using the same combinations of historical analogies. They gave meaning to history with these recurring connections.[5] Next to the fact that this mechanism was visible in history textbooks from both countries, my research revealed some transnational narrative structures as well.

A first example is interpreting history as a fight between freedom and tyranny. This interpretation is visible in Dutch history textbooks, but also in English and American history textbooks. This interpretation can dominate sixteenth-century war narratives but also stories about the two world wars. Dichotomies often have a great effect on national narratives: the rhetoric is simple, recognizable, and appealing. Sometimes the dichotomy between freedom and tyranny is related to the contrasts between ‘light’ and ‘dark’, or ‘good’ and ‘evil’. However, in both countries the history textbooks hardly questioned the meaning of freedom and tyranny during the colonial period.

Another similarity is the David-Goliath narrative structure, referring to the Biblical story of the shepherd boy David who courageously fought against the giant warrior Goliath who was twice his size. Although the shepherd boy was armed with nothing more than a few stones and a sling, he defeated the heavily armoured and weaponed giant. It is a classical story about how the underdog can champion over a major power. This structure is present in several national narratives as well. For example, Dutch national narratives are often presented in line with the phrase ‘small but brave’. The Netherlands is a small country and its founding narrative is located in the sixteenth century: the low countries revolted against the mighty Philip II and this resulted in the independence of the Dutch Republic. It is interesting that the same narrative structure is present in the southern low countries, nowadays Belgium. In 1999, ‘the three Belgians’ released a modern musical version of the Belgium national anthem and the phrase ‘small but brave’ plays a key role in this song.[6] More recently, in 2014, the Belgian author Mark De Geest published his book Brave Little Belgium.

In England the same narrative structure is visible, although the exact phrase differs from Belgian and Dutch national narratives. English history textbooks emphasize how England had repeatedly ‘stood alone’ against a superpower, for example against Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars or against Hitler during World War II. The latter interpretation was reinforced by the British prime minister Winston Churchill’s wartime speech on 20 August 1940 in which he stressed: ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’. This myth of ‘standing alone’ has dominated in various English history textbook series. Although the myth is debunked and various new textbook series have been published without the myth, it still appeals to people and continues to play an important role in English collective memory. That is why the well-known expression also surfaced several times in the Brexit debate, which is based on nostalgic images of Britain as a colonial empire: "Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves”.

A third similarity between history textbooks from various countries is the “quest”, such as the quest for freedom, tolerance or progress. The idea of a quest is a well-known storyline of several novels and films, such as Lord of the Rings and Saving Private Ryan. A hero needs to overcome several problems during the journey to reach the ultimate goal in the end. It is certainly not my goal to downplay history textbooks – it is extremely hard to compose a textbook that suits a certain age-population and their interests. Next to contents, textbooks need to be pedagogically in line with the audience and – also important – the text and the assignments need to be read and accomplished in a limited time frame. Moreover, politics and society are demanding as well. What I would like to stress in this paragraph is that the story-form of national narratives can intertwine with ideas about history itself. (National) history can be defined as a process towards freedom, tolerance, or progress. This is also visible in academic historiography: in 1931, Herbert Butterfield published his well-known book The Whig Interpretation of History, in which he criticized historians’ retrospective creation of – especially national – progress.

This article discussed the decolonisation of the history curriculum by showing that ‘unique’ national histories in textbooks from former colonial empires often share remarkable similarities: the stories often include implicit colonial references and images, and contain the same underlying storyline or interpretative structure. It is important that pupils understand how national histories are framed by the selection of specific persons, topics, periods, and sources – while ignoring others – and by the underlying interpretative structure. Although this is a difficult skill, it is necessary to obtain insight in national narratives’ frames in order to genuinely decolonise the history curriculum.

 

References:

[1] I would like to thank the founder and special advisor of EuroClio Joke van der Leeuw-Roord for her valuable comments.

[2] https://www.historyextra.com/period/modern/decolonise-history-curriculum-education-how-meghan-markle-black-study/. May 10, 2021.

[3] James Wertsch, Voices of Collective Remembering, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002; James Wertsch, ‘Specific Narratives and Schematic Narrative Templates,’ in P. Seixas (ed), Theorizing Historical Consciousness, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004, 49-63.

[4] James Wertsch, ‘The Narrative Organization of Collective Memory,’ Ethos, 36 (2008), 120–135, 124.

[5] Tina van der Vlies, ‘Multidirectional war narratives in history textbooks,’ Paedagogica Historica 52, no. 3 (2016), 300-314; Tina van der Vlies, 'Echoing national narratives in English history textbooks,' in M. Carretero. S. Berger & M. Grever (eds.), Palgrave Handbook of Research in Historical Culture and Education, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, 243-258.

[6] De III Belgen, Zwart geel rouge (1999): ‘O dierbaar België, klein maar dapper, van stad tot vlakke land’.

Keynote Lecture by Peter D’Sena: An introduction to Decolonising the Curriculum

Alicia Rijlaarsdam Articles ,

Given the disparity and inequity in education, methods and methodologies, change is not just an educational imperative but a moral one.  Prof. Peter D'Sena

At the start of the lecture, Peter D'Sena asked participants: 'What does decolonising the curriculum mean to you?'. These are the answers.

In 2015, students at the University of Cape Town, South-Africa, called for the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the nineteenth-century British coloniser, to be removed from their campus. Their clarion call, in this quick spreading #RhodesMustFall movement was that for diversity, inclusion and social justice to become a lived reality, the full gamut of educational provision should be challenged, and schools and universities decolonised. 

But before understanding how we can decolonise education and the curriculum, it is crucial to understand our colonial past and coloniality. In EuroClio’s Keynote Lecture of the Decolonising Webinar Series, Prof. Peter D’Sena gave an introduction to decolonising the curriculum by focussing on the historical dimensions of colonialism and coloniality. 

Colonised lands and commodities: the creation of a global economy built on blood and suffering

Prof. D’Sena explained how the colonised world was formed with the help of the Black Atlantic. Slavery was a complex part of the colonial world. The implications for humanity were enormous. A vast number of people died during the middle passage, the forced passage from enslaved Africans across the Atlantic to the New World. Ships were organised to carry people like cargo and people were treated like cattle. While the exact number of people transported remains unknown, estimates surpass 10 million. What we do know is that on the passage people were deprived of their language and liberty and were subjected to brutality. The Black Atlantic displaced so many people that we lost their voice. Once people arrived in ports, they were separated from their families and sold. They were deprived of their cultural identity. Finding the voice of those who were enslaved has proven very problematic, only rescued by a number of historians in the 20th century, most notably by Trinidadian Historian C.L.R James in the Black Jacobins (1938).

World map of the Queen's Dominions, late 19th Century. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Commodities formed an important part of the colonised world. During the Columbian exchange, one of the greatest gifts of the Europeans to the Americas were smallpox, measles, typhus and cholera. Colonies were for and about exploitation. The blood and suffering of slaves and indigenous people fuelled a consumer revolution in Europe. This led to a global economy with ongoing vestiges today. Apart from an exchange of commodities, coloniality also meant the exchange of ideas. Underlined by Rediker & Linebaugh (2000), ships carried ideas of revolution. In Europe this established itself in a dependence on tobacco and coffee, the establishment of cotton fed industrialisation, and an example being how mahogany changed people’s tastes. 

Prof. D’Sena explained how indentured labour has been relatively ignored when talking about coloniality. Indentured labour, a form of labour in which a person works without payment for a set amount of years, has existed throughout history. When Britain abolished slavery in 1807, and in the colonies in 1833-1834, new forms of slavery were introduced. From 1838 to 1920 indentured labour was a system which helped to make the plantations work. Transoceanic movement meant more cultural change and hybridity as well as greater complex identities. Prof. Peter D’Sena drew upon his own heritage explaining how his grandfather had been an indentured labourer, having travelled from Calcutta to Trinidad and Tobago. He subsequently fled, becoming the first East Indian to settle in Barbados (Nakhuda, 2013). 

Colonised bodies and minds: the pseudo-science of race and epistemicide

When talking about colonialism, the pseudo-science of race developed in the 17th and 18th century, is an important aspect to consider. It led to a theory of scientific racism and the dissemination of an ideology of racism which would come to underpin exploitation and supremacy. This pseudo-scientific racism culminated two centuries later – in the late 19th and early 20th century – in the eugenics movement. This led to a classification of human beings, with peoples ranked according to physical features. In European culture it led to an ubiquitous notion of beauty. People of colour were objectified and hypersexualised. Many of the racist stereotypes that emerged in the 17th and 18th century still exist today. This ideology of racism was fuelled by scientific research and by fear and othering, justifying the treatment of people in plantations and beyond. Pseudo-science and the classification of human beings helped underpin the idea of race and colour aiding the establishment of racial hierarchies. In the colonies people would ‘pass’ as white (see also EuroClio’s recent review of Nella Larsen’s “Passing” for more on this subject). 

The systemic marginalisation, as well as the destruction of the knowledge systems of indigenous and colonised peoples, is called epistemicide. At the very least it is the assimilation of those knowledge systems into the dominant knowledge system and values of the colonisers. One vehicle for domination was language and education. The concept of ‘colonial minds’ helps us to understand the key ambition of the colonisation agenda. Colonising the mind refers to colonising peoples’ culture, their being, their belief, and way of thinking. The implications of epistemicide are very present in today’s society. 

Decolonising the Curriculum: a coalescence of old and new conversations

Removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the campus of the University of Cape Town, 9 April 2015. Licensed under CC2.0 via Flickr. Image by Desmond Bowles.

In previously colonised places, globalisation and coloniality are merging to maintain Western dominance. Rather than post-colonialism, Prof. D’Sena described how neo-imperialism remains in place. Thinking of the decolonisation debate presents a number of dilemmas. Are we willing to look past misdemeanours? Reparations? Do we need to press the ‘reset button’? Is it even possible to dismantle the system built upon colonisation? Can decolonisation be seen as a spectrum? What should we think of doing for ourselves, for our society, for our curriculum?

Concerns have long been voiced by both academics and students about curricula dominated by white, capitalist, heterosexist, western worldviews at the expense of the experiences and discourses of those not perceiving themselves as fitting into those mainstream categories. In recent years these discussions have been brought together under the banner of decolonising history. The Rhodes Must Fall Movement meant more than getting rid of a statue and reaches back to movements of Black Power, civil rights, Négritude and many more. The movement came to be quickly connected to the Black Lives Matter Movement which spread across the world. The emerging conversations may have reached the news because protests were disseminated and statues were ‘attacked’ as part of symbolic attacks. The movement is about much more, about ourselves, about our own position, biases, and our own white privilege.

Education is still dominated by the values of scholarly activity determined in the West. Countering epistemicide, is going to be enormously challenging as so much has been drowned by the process of coloniality and colonialism (Sousa Santos, 2018). In our quest to decolonise the curriculum, it is not just our own view that matters but also that of our students. Prof. D’Sena urges educators to think of ways to involve students in the cocreation of knowledge. It is important to talk about the ideology of racism and the complex scheme in which not just our belonging but also our minds and bodies were shaped by coloniality. 

Initiating change

The hardest thing is thinking about our own positions, about our own biases, about our own privileges, if we are to think about decolonising the curriculum in our own practice, we have to think about our own conscious and subconscious biases in both witting and unwitting practices.  Prof. Peter D'Sena

During the lecture, participants took a moment to reflect on their practice and consider ways in which they can be part of the change they would like to see. We would like to invite you to do the same, add your commitments to our collective padlet. You can find it at this link: https://cutt.ly/decolonise-history.

About Prof. Peter D’Sena 

Peter D’Sena is Associate Professor of Learning and Teaching at the University of Hertfordshire and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research. His key contributions to history education are borne from his enduring commitment, over four decades, to equality and inclusion. As a writer of the revised National Curriculum in the late 1990s he championed the introduction of black history; now he continues to lecture and write on decolonising the curriculum. As the HEA’s National Lead for History he organised the revision of the Benchmark Statement and created innovative resources for those ‘New to Teaching’. He is a fellow of the Historical Association, a principal fellow of the HEA and last year he was elected to be the first President of SoTL’s European branch for History. Professor D’Sena is also Vice-President and Chair of the Education Policy Committee at the Royal Historical Association. 

Resources suggested by Prof. Peter D’Sena for exploring ‘decolonising the curriculum’ can be found here

 

Image banner: Removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the campus of the University of Cape Town, 9 April 2015. Licensed under CC2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Image by Desmond Bowles.

Decolonising History – Workshop on Contested Histories in Public Spaces

Workshop hosted by Dr. June Bam-Hutchison, Dr. Joanna Burch-Brown, and Marie-Louise Jansen

Contested Histories is an IHJR-EuroClio flagship Initiative that studies disputes over statues, street names, and other historical legacies in public spaces with an aim to identify principles, processes and best practices for decision-makers, civil society advocates, and educators confronting the complexities of divisive historical memory.

This workshop will be split into two halves. First, the research behind the project will be introduced before Dr. June Bam-Hutchison showcases the case study of the legacy colonist Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Secondly, Dr. Joanna Burch-Brown will speak on community engagement in remembrance. Finally, an interactive session on deconstructing iconography in public spaces will be held by Marie-Louise Jansen, Contested Histories Program Director. Participants are encouraged to come to the session with an example of a contested historical legacy in public spaces in their home country/region.

Participation Fee

Participation to the webinar series is free for all EuroClio Individual Members, as well as for Members of our Member Associations.

If you are not a Member, you can register to single sessions for a fee of 15 EUR, or register to the full series for 60 EUR.

Would you like to become an Individual Member? Register here.

Donors and Partners

This workshop is co-hosted with the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation

Decolonising history by reframing significance

An approach to decolonizing history education in an IB History classroom through a redefinition of the concept of significance

Ned Riley is Head of Humanities at the International School of The Hague and creator of the IB History website History Rising. He is currently creating history content and acting as Community Moderator for the IB’s new professional development platform, the PD Digital Channel.

Introduction: Why Significance?

Decolonising the history curriculum is a multi-dimensional challenge. It provokes emotional responses from different stakeholders - educators, students, and parents. In different regional and national contexts, it raises questions about what history should be taught, and to what purpose. Within our discipline - both in academic and school forms - it raises methodological questions about how knowledge is constructed.

I hope to make a very specific contribution which focuses on the last of these points - the way knowledge is constructed. In particular, I will focus on how the concept of significance can help us understand this process.

How should we understand significance?

Early in my career, I thought of significance as a synonym of importance. In my very first training position, I attempted a project based on significance. I asked my students to choose a significant historical figure and write a persuasive speech about why they were the most important in history. Later in my career, I asked similar questions about the most significant battle in World War Two, or the most significant technical innovation in the Industrial Revolution.

In 2012 I began teaching IB History. Significance is one of the six key concepts of IB History. Over this time, my understanding of the concept has changed.

The IB doesn’t completely reject the connection between significance and importance. In the DP guide (login required) it says that students should “think about, and assess, the relative importance of events, people, groups or developments” (DP Guide, p. 93).

However, the vast majority of IB literature on significance is about something entirely different. There are three strands from how the IB defines significance which I would like to emphasise.

  1. History is created from fragments of the past, which can be “included” or “excluded” from the preserved record (DP guide, p. 93).
  2. What is preserved is the result of what “someone has consciously decided to record” (DP Guide, p. 93).
  3. The decisions about what to record are based on judgements of “meaning and value”, which depend on the context of the time (MYP History Guide. p. 56 - login required)

This re-defining has had important implications for me as a history teacher.

I no longer conflate significance and importance in my classroom. It has become increasingly apparent to me that conflating these terms encouraged me to develop lessons that focused exclusively on the powerful. I still teach about “important” events, people and groups, though I would now often frame these in relation to different concepts such as causation (the most important cause), or change (the biggest impact).

In my lessons on significance, I now actively try to engage my students in two particular ways of thinking. First, thinking about what has survived, and what is lost. Second, thinking about the meaning and value of evidence in new ways.

Thinking about what has survived, and what is lost

I want students to think about what fragments of the past have survived to the present, and what has been lost. For me, this is an important starting point for any conversation about decolonising a history curriculum.

I’ve developed a few strategies to help students think about this. For instance, I get my students thinking about the work that archivists do. Archivists have to make conscious decisions to preserve some records and destroy others. I show my students a video from the UK National Archives - The records we hold. The video explains that the archive holds 11 million government records, but this is only 5% of what the government creates. The rest is destroyed. 

More recently, the UCL Professor Dr. Arthur Chapman shared an anecdote on the Euroclio Pastimes Podcast (Episode 6 - the powers of historical knowledge) about one tangible example of this process in everyday life:

“On my road there is one [...] old house of a poor person. It’s a single storey building. And I’m always really struck when I walk past it by the fact that it is the only one. The houses of the poor do not survive because they are made of such poor quality housing material that they are destroyed or they collapse. So this one old house, when I look at it I feel sorry for it. Where are the other old houses of the poor? The archives contain structural biases and so on. So, history can be disempowering and the record is silent on so many important things.”

These types of provocations can really help our students think about the very practical considerations and decisions that lead to the exclusion of the vast majority of fragments of the past from today’s historical record. 

Thinking about the meaning and value of evidence in new ways

I want my students to explicitly think about different ways, other than the importance of who produced it or it’s subject, that can make evidence have “meaning and value”.  The analytical framework I have developed uses three categories: Important, Illustrative, and Idiosyncratic.

Important evidence might be the transcript of a speech by the leader of a country. It is typically created by or about people in positions of power and can provide a unique level of insight into why important decisions were made.

Illustrative evidence might be a newspaper article interviewing eyewitnesses to a particular event. It is typically created by or about people with low levels of power, who will often come from a large or dominant social group. It can provide a typical snapshot of a time or place, and help us understand commonly held views or attitudes.

Idiosyncratic evidence could be an unpublished diary by a person without any authority, whose views do not reflect orthodox ways of thinking. Typically created by or about people who are outside the mainstream, it can reveal to us contradictory ways of thinking, or alternative perspectives. This can help us avoid assumptions of lazy generalisations about particular groups or periods of time  (I often reference the brilliant work of the historian Carlo Ginzburg, whose “The Cheese and the Worms” is a great example of the power of using idiosyncratic evidence).

I have tried to use this framework to create a language for my students to meaningfully discuss both the value placed on evidence in the past, and to re-measure this value themselves. 

Using Historiana to teach significance

Historiana is a brilliant resource for applying these ideas in a history classroom. Here is one strategy I have used with my students, called “Curating an Archive”.

Begin by collating source collections from Historiana. Using the topic of World War One, these five source collections provide over one hundred sources in total:

Explain to your students that they are taking on the role of archivists, and can only preserve 5% of the evidence in the archives. So, if there are one hundred pieces, they can only preserve five. Students should work collaboratively to decide which five pieces of evidence should be preserved, and draft a rationale for their choices.

After doing so, have your students reflect on the choices they made. Here are some reflection questions you could use:

  1. To what extent were your choices of what to preserve based on evidence created by or about important (ie. powerful) people? 
  2. Are there particular groups of people who have been excluded as a result of your choices you made?
  3. Even though you tried to make your choices as fairly as possible, what complaints do you think people might have about the choices that you made?
  4. If you could add one bonus, idiosyncratic, piece of evidence, what would it be and why would you preserve it?

Conclusion

As I wrote at the beginning of the article, decolonising the history curriculum is a complex, multi-dimensional challenge. I hope that re-defining the concept of significance can provide history teachers, both in the IB and other educational contexts, with one more valuable tool with which to approach this challenge.

Image source: A Maori lumber worker talking to a Frenchwoman. Forest de Nieppe, March 1917, Brooke, John Warwick (Lieutenant) (Photographer). Imperial War Museums via Europeana, Q 4740.