Two Decades of Mapping History Under Threat

The Network for Concerned Historians celebrated its twenty-third anniversary on October 13, 2018. With more than two decades of monitoring cases of prosecuted and censored historians around the world, this network has put a neglected issue on the agenda, raising awareness about the multiple threats that history producers are receiving on a daily basis. Here you can find the story of the origins of the NCH, in the voice of its founder, Antoon De Baets, Honorary Board Member of EUROCLIO and holder of the EUROCLIO Chair for History, Ethics, and Human Rights at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.  

Maina wa Kinyatti, a Kenyan writer and historian, joined the history department of Kenyatta University in Nairobi in 1975. His research was mainly focused on the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule, and he wrote several papers and books addressing Kenyan history. In June 1982, five police officers came to search his house, without a warrant, confiscating 23 books, 29 personal files, and Maina’s typewriter. On the basis of this “evidence”, Maina was arrested for allegedly possessing seditious literature. His Marxist approach to history and his critical stance towards the authoritarian regime of then President Daniel Arap Moi brought Maina 6 years of imprisonment, after which he fled to Tanzania to then apply for asylum in the U.S.

Sadly, the story of Maina’s prosecution and imprisonment is not an isolated case. The censorship and prosecution of historians is a global phenomenon: historical research and education are targeted by both state and non-state agents in scores of countries around the world. To a certain extent, it resembles the worrying trend of prosecuting and murdering journalists. Antoon De Baets, a historian at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, first observed this disturbing phenomenon in the early 1980s. “While working at Amnesty International’s former publication office in San José, Costa Rica, from 1980 to 1982 (…), I noticed that in every corner of the globe historians were among those who suffered from political persecution”.

But not only that. De Baets also noticed that most of these cases were probably overlooked by other historians and that this could be the principal reason why many preventive or remedial measures were not contemplated by the victims’ colleagues. With this bleak scenario in my mind, “I began collecting material that caught my eye”, De Baets said. A few years later, the data of these cases gave shape to comparative research into the relationships between history, freedom, and power, thus enabling academic analysis and scholarly inquiry. “I began lecturing on the topic before an audience of history students at the University of Groningen. In 1991, this resulted in the first publication in Dutch, entitled Palimpsest”.

Perhaps unexpectedly, this attempt for raising awareness into a widely overlooked issue resulted in a network that could be called a “Historians without Borders”. In its turn, this led to more systematic attention for persecuted historians in several academic circles. In 1995, the 18th edition of the International Congress of Historical Sciences in Montréal organized a special roundtable on “Power, Liberty, and the Work of the Historian”. “This provided a new and lasting impetus to the idea. At the roundtable, I presented a paper, The Organization of Oblivion: Censorship and Persecution of Historians in Africa, Asia, and Latin America”, De Baets said.

Facts-based advocacy

So, for over a decade, De Baets had gathered information about ongoing cases. Nevertheless, early on he realized that the urgent character of many of these cases required more than data collection: it required an immediate response. “This situation appealed to me, not only as a researcher but also as a member of the community of historians. The ongoing cases clearly called for more than research: they called for action also”. This call for action could not be made from scratch, though. The international human rights organizations, which had already been campaigning from time to time against such abuses seemed like a good ally. “After the Congress, the time for action seemed to have arrived. I attempted to unite colleagues I had met in Montréal who were willing to campaign for their persecuted colleagues in this Network of Concerned Historians (NCH). On Friday 13 October 1995, a website was created. That is how it started”.

From that day until now, the NCH has been monitoring the state of the situation globally, publishing 24 Annual Reports to this date with an assessment of cases in countries worldwide. In its mandate, the NC

H states that it serves as a link between concerned historians and human rights organizations, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Amnesty International, Article 19, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, and Scholars at Risk.

In addition, Antoon De Baets has continued conducting research, systematizing databases and looking for worldwide patterns and trends. The results of these efforts will be presented in his next book, Crimes against History, which will be published in January 2019. This material includes, among others, 428 cases of history producers who were killed for political reasons from ancient times until today. One of De Baets’s conclusions about the repression of the historical profession is the following: “The present age is no exception; it even has the worst record. In myriad ways, the outcome of the historian’s work can damage those happening to hold power, and, therefore, critical history with its unwelcome truths is always potentially threatening”. In this regard, history producers are described as fragile, yet their work is not. “With some luck, their views may survive the regimes that killed or censored them”.

Check here the latest NCH Annual Report, and visit the NCH website at http://www.concernedhistorians.org

“Education for 21st Century” Publishes Recommendations on Human Rights Education

Jaco Stoop Association ,

EUROCLIO Associated Member Education for the 21st Century (Serbia) published “Recommendations on ‘Fostering Human Rights Through Deconstruction of Stereotypes in Education, Culture and Media'”. The recommendations are formulated by a group of academic experts from the Balkans after consultations with the educational, cultural and media sectors. The project, funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the context of Serbia-EU negotiations, took place during the first half of 2016 and included two round table sessions in the Serbian capital Belgrade.

The first session, held in February, focused on sharing experiences from the field in fighting stereotypes. EUROCLIO Network Coordinator Jaco Stoop attended the meeting and presented the “EUROCLIO Manifesto on High Quality History, Heritage and Citizenship Education“, which addresses the abuse of history and the use of stereotypes in history education. The round table was attended by representatives of NGOs, governmental organizations and educators in the field of education, culture and media from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia. Mr. Cartwright from the Council of Europe’s office in Serbia delivered some opening remarks. Participants to the round table stressed the need to directly address policy makers and politicians, and to actively engage them in debates about fighting stereotypes. Media representatives noted that a code of conduct is being developed, and that media organizations need to supervise themselves better.

In May, a second round table was organized by Education for the 21st Century, again attended by many representatives from the field of education, culture and media. The result of these two round table sessions has been summarized in twelve recommendations for the educational, cultural and media sectors, as well as governments in the Balkans and the political scene in general. The publication is available for download below.

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Write for Rights with Amnesty International!

Every year around International Human Rights Day on December 10, hundreds of thousands of people around the world send a letter or e-mail on behalf of someone they’ve never met, as part of Write for Rights. These messages help convince government officials to release people imprisoned for expressing their opinion (called ‘prisoners of conscience’ by Amnesty International, stop the use of torture, commute death sentences, and end other human rights abuses. The more people participate in Write for Rights, the more letters and e-mail messages are generated, increasing Amnesty’s influence on government officials.

Last year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world helped send over 3 million messages. This year, Amnesty International wants to surpass 4 million actions and make a difference in the lives of all ten cases. So sign up now to participate!

For more information about Amnesty International’s Write for Rights action, and information about how to sign up, please click here:

Historians, Archivists and Archeologists Censored across the Globe, Network of Concerned Historians Reports

Since its founding in 1995, the NCH has aimed to provide a bridge between international human rights organizations campaigning for censored or persecuted historians (and others concerned with the past) and the global community of historians. As of now, the 21st Annual Report of the NCH, covering events and developments of 2014 and 2015, is available in a print-friendly version (pdf). You can find it here. It contains 121 pages of news about the domain where history and human rights intersect, especially about the censorship of history and the persecution of historians, archivists, and archaeologists around the globe, as reported by various human rights organizations and other sources.