Humans of EuroClio: Sue Bennett

EuroClio Association
Sue Bennett (left) and Joke van der Leeuw-Roord (right)

Sue Bennett
Former EuroClio President

Q: How did you first get involved with EuroClio?

In 1991, I received an invitation from the Council of Europe to attend a conference on history education in Bruges, Belgium. At that time, I was employed as an Adviser for History at the National Curriculum Council in England and I was a member of the Historical Association. Maitland Stobart, from the Council of Europe, had initiated the conference just after the collapse of the Iron Curtain so that history educators from the east and west of Europe could meet. During the meeting, Maitland Stobart suggested that, starting a European non-governmental organisation of history educators, could contribute to developing peace, stability and mutual understanding in Europe. After the meeting, Joke and Hélène from the Dutch History Teachers Association decided to accept Maitland’s challenge and with a group of people from different countries started EuroClio. Later, Joke came to talk to me in London about history education. But it was not until 1996, when I had changed my job, that I became more directly involved: an involvement which lasted while I remained directly connected with history education in the United Kingdom. And even now, I still have friendships with several people from Europe who I met during EuroClio activities.

Q: For several years you were heavily involved in EuroClio, as editor of the Bulletin, board member and later president, and working on several projects, right?

By chance, during the Annual Conference of 1997 in Budapest several of the EuroClio Board members resigned, including the then editor of the Bulletin, Martin Roberts. As the Board needed a native English speaker to edit the Bulletin, I was invited to stand for the Board. I was happy to be elected because my job had changed and it was easier for me to be more directly involved. Then a few years later, the other members of the first EuroClio Board had to resign as their statutory terms had finished. This included Joke van der Leeuw, who was one of the founding members and the first President of EuroClio. As I was the most experienced Board member, I was asked to stand for president and was subsequently elected during the 1999 Annual Conference in Edinburgh.

Q: I remember your presidency was not the easiest period for EuroClio?

Being a president is never easy as there are always complicated matters to deal with. But in this period, we had to deal with two important and sensitive issues: the relationship between the EuroClio Secretariat and the Board, and the bi-lingual character of the organisation. EuroClio started as an organisation of peers: history educators coming together to discuss their profession and trying to improve their skills and develop history teaching. But soon the organisation managed to gain considerable funding and was granted some big projects from the European Union. To deliver these projects, permanent staff needed to be employed and a professional financial administration became vitally necessary. In order to run the organisation, greater knowledge of law and accountancy became important. The Board members, who were only doing the work on a voluntary basis as well as their jobs as history educators in their own countries, were unable to take on this level of responsibility. The decision was made to split EuroClio in two closely interconnected organisations: , which already existed and a Foundation and Secretariat, which was set up to execute big and complex projects, raise funding and cope with finances, employment, tax regulations, etc.

Now this sounds easier than it was. During the process, there was some confusion about who was responsible for the funds from projects and who was responsible for funds from the subscriptions from member organisations and this led to a lack of trust. It took several years of lots of talking to ensure that the financial transparency was obvious to all and to rebuild trust within EuroClio.

Q: And what was the second complicated issue?

Well, EuroClio has always had a strong connection with the Council of Europe and because of this it started as a bilingual organisation with English and French as its two languages. This meant the Bulletin was issued in two languages and there was simultaneous interpretation at the conferences. After a few years, this became an issue in the organisation. The costs of translation and interpretation were very high and only a small group of people made use of the translation. However, it was also important to recognise that French was an official Council of Europe language. But as the organisation grew, more history teacher organisations from Central and Eastern Europe joined EuroClio and there were proportionally more people who used English as their international language. Member organisations then asked whether it was necessary to spend a lot of money on translation. It is not an under-statement to say that EuroClio was never very rich and that simultaneous translation during the Annual Conferences cost a fortune.

Q: How was it solved?

Time and building trust were important factors. Discussions on the language issue lasted for several years with people exchanging views and arguments. In the end, it was boiled down to considering what the organisation wanted to spend its very limited resources on. After a few years, the French speaking community within EuroClio began to accept that spending so much money on translation and interpretation was perhaps not the most important priority. So, during the General Assembly in Tallinn in 2001 it was decided by democratic vote that the Bulletin would only published in English and that simultaneous translation during the Annual Conferences would only be provided if external funding was available.

Q: What was your role as the President of EuroClio in these issues?

I always saw my role as a facilitator trying to solve sensitive issues through debate and discussion. Working with people from different countries was both interesting and challenging. People bring their own assumptions to meetings about how they might best be organised and run. During my time, it was possible to identify different approaches within EuroClio. Some countries had a culture where people were very pragmatic in their approach to meetings and others were more formal. For example, some people like minutes of meetings to be exact reports of what people say and others just want action points. Some people want formal votes and others are happy to look for general agreements: some people focus on outcomes and some on procedures. These are not straightforward issues and during my time as President I learnt that it is important to talk about how meetings are organised. There are different ways of working democratically but if people are not clear about what is happening, confusion and misconceptions can happen.

Q: In 2002 your term as president ended. But it was not the end of your involvement in EuroClio?
No, not all. I was involved in several EuroClio projects on history education, for example a project in Estonia and Latvia and a project in Bulgaria. In both projects we were assisting local history educators in developing innovative teaching materials and then in using these materials to train local teachers. These were lovely and very inspiring projects. One of the most interesting aspects of them was that you were committed to a group of history educators in another country for several years, making personal friendships, but also really getting acquainted with the culture, habits and educational practice in other European countries. As well as my involvement in EuroClio, I was also working as an adviser for the Council of Europe to help develop history education. However, when I ceased to be actively involved in history teaching in the UK, I felt that it was time to stop being directly involved in EuroClio.

Q: EuroClio over the years benefitted from British methods of history teaching and many British history educators disseminated their knowledge and experience in Europe via EuroClio. But what did you gain from your meetings with history educators from other countries?

Well, I met lots of kind and interesting people, several of whom remained friends. Moreover, it was interesting to meet people and learn about their personal experiences, especially because many people had grown up under Soviet rule and their lives had shaped by those experiences.

Professionally, it was a privilege to introduce people to methods of history teaching used in the United Kingdom. Designed to encourage pupils to think critically about the past, these methods involved using sources and encouraging pupils to debate different interpretations of history. But this was not a one-way exchange and I learnt from others. I was also very impressed with the professionalism of teachers in the countries I visited. In discussions, it became clear to me that all history teachers struggle with similar issues, for example: how to design an interesting history curriculum when there is so much history that could be taught and which is also very significant. Is it best to go for breadth or depth? Should one cover the whole span of history or just more recent history? How does one balance the need to develop critical thinking with the need to develop a breadth of understanding? These are questions that history educators return to again and again and perhaps they will never be totally resolved.

Q: How do you look back on your involvement in EuroClio?

Being a member of the Board, especially being the President was a very interesting period in my life. Sometimes it was stressful, but it was also stimulating. I was happy to help ensure the continuation of EuroClio and to support the Secretariat in The Hague, with Joke van der Leeuw at its head. Now EuroClio has grown and developed but it is good to see that, even in a much-changed international environment, the organisation is still alive and active.

Humans of EuroClio: Ineke Veldhuis-Meester

EuroClio Association

Ineke Veldhuis-Meester
EuroClio Affiliate 1992-Present

“It is best to connect past and present, and this is what EuroClio does.”

Ineke Veldhuis-Meester stood at the threshold of EuroClio and has remained active within the organization ever since. From the start, she has been part of the Historiana Learning Team, developing innovative and multi-perspective learning activities. Currently she works for the project “Decisions & Dilemmas” on the reasons for European cooperation after World War II. Her background is in teaching History and Civics in a Dutch secondary school/gymnasium and at the International School in the Netherlands. For 18 years Ineke was responsible for the Pedagogy of History teaching at Groningen University, and from 1997-2000 she served on the National Board for the Association of Teachers in History and Civics in the Netherlands (VGN). Her interest in assessment led to constructing national history exams at the National Institute for Assessment and Measurement (CITO). With ‘a gang of four’ she implemented a new examination system for History in secondary education throughout the Netherlands. After retirement she continues to serve as expert in History Education on Council of Europe and EuroClio projects; her field of interest is multi-perspective History teaching and innovative methodology, the shaping of historical consciousness in collective memory and remembrance today.

Q: How did you first get involved with EuroClio?

My first involvement with EuroClio was very early on.  At the time, I was the chair of the postgraduate teaching committee of the Dutch History Teachers’ Association (VGN), where Joke was president. We became close while working on reforming the examination system of the Netherlands, commissioned by the Ministry. In 1992 and 1993, Joke and Hélene Budé set up EuroClio, and I was with them at the founding meeting in Leeuwarden in 1993. From that point on, I continued to be involved, as we worked intensively together from 1990 to 1999. In that period, I myself would become a VGN board member. Along with reforming the examination system, we also had to change the curriculum.  During these efforts, I learned that implementing these changes successfully was highly dependent on working with the teachers themselves. We had between 60 and 80 half-day workshops all over the country where we gave information, explanation, and professional coaching to teachers focusing on how to educate their pupils in the new curriculum. We engaged with the challenges of the reforms on all levels, and we were very intense and met many times! It took me two and a half to three hours to come to each meeting, and I returned the same day, so it was a lot of travel and work time.

But in the end, we published two books on the reforms to the examination system and curriculum, in 1993 and in 2000. So that is the story of my initial involvement with Joke, and I think we worked well together because we both had the same determination.

Q: You were a teacher-trainer for many years. Are there any specific challenges or insights that you can share from your experiences in this profession?

Unique challenges presented in the course of teacher trainings. I remember my first experience at one teacher training course in Poland in the 90s, where I was introducing a new examination (Matura). Joke was involved in that program, but she had asked me for the assessment part because I was a teacher-trainer and I had been constructing Dutch national exams as well as British Coursework for the 12-15 International examination. At first, the teachers were apprehensive and maybe even fearful. At the same time, however, they were eager to learn. It was so soon after the communist regime had ended. The teachers said things like, “You don’t give me knowledge!” and they gravitated towards yes/no questions rather than toward more open and broad queries. I recall asking one of the groups “Is Hitler the only one to blame for the second world war?” and the response was immediately, “YES!” So then I asked, “But can you imagine that the role France and Britain played made them also a bit to blame? Weren’t other parties somewhat responsible?” I tried to teach these educators that there could be stages to a good answer, and that responses shouldn’t have to be black or white. These questions do not warrant merely a straight answer. History is complex, and I tried to explain that the more complexity that can be understood, the more valuable it becomes. Personally, I was impressed by their amount of knowledge. If they could apply that in a kind of new way, this would make them better history teachers. I realized that they needed many more sources and more professional training.

I’d also like to share a couple of impressions from my experiences as a teacher-trainer. First, I remember being told at the last teacher-trainer session in the above program in Poland, “You brought imagination back to our education.” Isn’t that a reward? It made me happy. Imagination in education is so valuable, and it is something that I strive for and that I believe others should strive for in their practice. This feedback was therefore quite significant to me.

Secondly, I recall that at the time, in countries that had belonged to the former Soviet bloc, apprehension was quite prevalent among the teachers that I worked with, and these individuals did not champion the value of cooperation. They seemed to focus on knowing the ‘right facts’, of the post-soviet nationalist curriculum. I realized that these educators’ professors and government officials were also observing.

When I was in Moldova in 2002 and 2003, in Saravejo in 2003, and in Romania from 2004 to 2007, there were 2-3 years of programs with money of the Council of Europe that, in the context of the Stability Pact, were designed ‘to prepare countries in eastern Europe for democracy’. We worked with teachers, teacher-trainers and persons from the ministry during this time, and I engaged them in interactive exercises around a couple of sources to get them to think more openly. From one seminar I remember: At first, educators just wanted me to tell them the ‘new’ truth. I responded with, “Which truth do you want to hear? The truth of Stalin? ‘The’ East? ‘The’ West?” I tried to get them to recognize that more than one perspective exists. There is not One East nor One West, and even within their own country there were different ways to look at the past. To stay away from sensitive politics, the strategy I used was asking the educators to jot down five facts or events that they would want tourists to know about the country. If I had tried this exercise in Western Europe or the U.S., most people would have been trying to read the responses of their neighbors. But within this group, most of the individuals wrote while covering their papers to hide what they had written. This gave me the impression of the fear, still so prevalent in society, that came with sharing your opinion. The new governments that existed after the wars in Yugoslavia wanted specifically the history of the new nation state, and no history that connected between the nations of the former Yugoslavia, being taught. After the educators had written their responses, I asked them to share what they had written with their neighbor, and to not immediately react or apologize for what was written, but rather to silently reflect before interacting. That was my way of getting the participants to interact with one another and to try to remove a little of their fears of opening up to one another. People did open up once they got to know me, as well. Of course, strategies and approaches differ from country to country, from group to group.

Thirdly, I’d like to share that I believe continuation in professional training to be rewarding for everyone, including myself. I learned this from having been involved from start to finish in a professional training program entitled ‘Education 2000+’ in Romania and the Bulgarian ‘Cultural Rainbow Program’. I saw that when you work longer with individuals, they trust and feel more comfortable with you, so they open up. Together we created a safe basis for interaction and had more fun. This is why I believe that 2 to 3 year projects to be invaluable!

Q: Do you have a first or favorite memory of working with EuroClio?

It’s not specific, but my favorite aspect of working with EuroClio has been connection. Through this work, you can reach people, make them happy and encourage them to be open, to think with you, to imagine and to not fight against you. Additionally, after every course I felt rewarded by the real contact with people, the places of heritage I was brought to, the landscape, and the culture and organization of society. I learned so much from my contacts with participants and the course leaders, and I felt enriched by experiencing different ways of living. I was and am given so much cordiality, warmth and open-heartedness, and the hospitality so many persons extended to me often made me remember, ashamedly, that I and other Dutch people have lost this unconditional hospitable approach to guests and friends. It is so worthwhile; I try to practice this approach.

There were wonderful specific moments as well. One warm evening at the coast of the Black Sea in Constança Romania, my colleagues and I were walking because our Romanian colleagues wanted to show us something. When we came upon a statue and I asked who it was, they promptly began to recite a poem that they all knew by heart to relay information about the statue. For me, this was incredible. It seems that we, as north-western Europeans and perhaps especially as Dutch citizens, have a shame culture that dictates that you should not proudly raise your own country above others. But our Romanian colleagues stood there and recited the poem, integrating that historic period into today’s world before moving into a nationalistic song. When I asked about the song, they told me that they had all learned the song when they were babies, and that they continue to teach their babies this nationalist song. The moment was so wonderful; I was in a spell on the warm evening, with people that trusted us enough to proudly share their nationalist song and poem with us. On the whole, it was clear to me that in eastern European countries, most people are much more outwardly proud of their national histories than us, and in this moment, this sentiment became even clearer. Apart from all of the dangerous aspects linked to these feelings, I felt ‘connected.’

I also recall specific moments that remind me of how moving it is to know that you can have contact with a person who resides in such a different atmosphere of thinking and possesses opinions that often do not match your own. At annual conferences, I have that strong feeling of forming together ‘One Big Family’. EuroClio feels like my second family. At a recent annual conference, I was reminded of the splendor of this kind of exchange. I was speaking with a man from Turkey with whom I have worked before. I asked him if he was not quite tired of sharing his political opinions with big groups of people, and he responded that he almost felt as if he couldn’t trust many people with his own thoughts. But when we went for a quiet walk in the evening, it was possible for us to exchange our opinions and for him to share his thoughts with me. This kind of personal exchange is so dear to me.

Q: How did EuroClio contribute to your work? To history education in general?

Personally, I have made friends all over the world who have broadened my mind. I learned as much from my colleague-educators as they learned from me, and I experienced other ways of living and perspectives. It enriched my personal life to work with these highly motivated educators and organizers. All of the EuroClio personalities are quite stimulating, whether it be in programs with the history associations, in specific teams, in Historiana from the start, or in the secretariat; they have energy, they want to work and to develop in a direction that mirrors my own. EuroClio espouses a way of thinking and behaving with determination that I share, and that is enriching to others and to myself.

In terms of how EuroClio contributes to history education, I don’t believe that it necessarily aims to always be on the cutting edge of history education, keen on the newest tips and tricks. For EuroClio, I believe it is more about spreading a different mission: showing that new perspectives, as well as old, can and must be connected. It all has to do with connection for EuroClio, with opening up and experiencing others’ different views, with moving all of us forward to understanding and democratic persuasion. Rather basic in the world is the idea that every human is an ‘animal sociale’ and this has been laid down in the EuroClio manifesto.

Q: What is the role of EuroClio today? In the future? How will it develop?

I believe that a main focus of EuroClio is and should be to continue to build up and strengthen countries’ organizations associated with history education, both in areas where EuroClio is already established and in new areas.  We already have so much experience reaching people in divided societies.  The built-up professionalism should be employed, and we should continue to support these organizations by invigorating them and not patronizing them. We must also explore new areas. As EuroClio Ambassador, I recently went to India in connection with the ‘Dealing with the Past’ project to establish connections as we work in the same field; in July 2017, we have another organized team visit to Korea. Opportunities in places like these are exciting and useful. It is important that the member educators’ organizations, new and old, should be continually monitored by EuroClio’s team (which is perhaps a role that can be fulfilled by ambassadors), and these members should show up to the annual conferences as they mostly do. Money plays a role, of course.

I strongly believe that a big part of the development of EuroClio is through Historiana. The new, successful Historiana format, with its creativity, technology, and discussions of the pros and cons of the new and old media, gives a new form to educational exercises previously completed in class with sources on paper or slides. I’m happy to still be involved, despite being at a bit more of a distance nowadays. Although, next August in Estonia I ‘ll conduct workshops on ‘Changing Europe’, involving life stories from the period of the start of the EU!

Q: In your career with EuroClio what has been your greatest challenge? How did you overcome it?

In 1997, the Dutch ministry asked me to become a member of the Project Group of the Council for Cultural Cooperation Project: Learning and Teaching about the History of Europe in the 20th century. I learned first about the difference in cultures and views between countries in western and south-western Europe outside the former soviet dominated countries. I found this experience interesting, intriguing and also heavy and difficult sometimes to cope with.

As I explained above I had an even heavier experience working together with colleagues in programs in Eastern Europe. Mainly in the first twenty years after the fall of the SU, in many countries, history education in school and at university seemed to be focused on knowledge of the right facts to pass final examination. I realized people were not used to, and often could not, speak openly. At the time, their professors and government officials were often present in the training meetings. Did they watch how far we could move away from the traditional history content, which was often politically influenced? Which sources we brought in? I felt I had to deal with them as well, as we wanted to move away from the facts in the prescribed textbooks. And I did, in my way.

I came from a different world, where you could freely express your thoughts. At best, those who heard your thoughts valued you as being honest and brave, and at worst they saw you as too courageous, especially being a woman. So in Moldova, I first asked professors why they stood aside and did not cooperate. That was a mistake. But that same day, I already got some participants so far that they individually asked the professors sitting adjacent to them for help to answer my questions encouraging them to think of sources for an event of their choice. Soon, small groups gathered around their former professors with questions, and the professors went into discussion with their former students. The ice was broken in the evening with a drink and a talk via an interpreter.

I learned to cope with these challenges by always starting a professional training with questions. At first, I’d ask for the participants’ views on certain events in their own history, and then I’d widen their thinking by asking questions concerning one or two sources, gradually building up their skills to analyze and interpret.

But going from teaching facts to dealing with interpretations of these facts is not an easy path. My method was to let participants work in small groups, where they could speak more freely and in their own language. I’d engage them in activities on how to look at sources together and then how to analyze and agree to interpret them differently. When the history was too heavy to name a country, I spoke of ‘the history of this region’ and we looked - in mixed groups of course - at what to put in a tourist guide of that region, so there would be no political issue at stake. My best experiences are from working over a longer period in a project so that trust had been build up.

Q: Within EuroClio and outside of EuroClio, who has influenced you the most professionally and/or personally?

Within EuroClio I would say the team of Historiana. We started in Historiana with ‘discovering diversity’, implementing multiperspectivity in history education in a new technology concept, developed by Steven and guided by our chief editor. Bob Stradling was ‘the Great Helmsman, and it was a joy working with him. He is inspirational, and accessible, full of ideas and determined to finish the task ahead, of which he can already see the result. I was lucky to be involved from the beginning in the development of Bob and Steven’s project. We started with ‘People on the Move’, a series of case studies on migration, in which history content and history learning had to be made accessible for a whole field of educators. We had to find out the right format. Chris Rowe was often at our side with his enormous knowledge, energy, and willingness to help us out, from a range of sources, to find the right words. Furthermore, my friend Joke van der Leeuw-Roord has inspired me; we both have the same conviction and similar ideas about good steps to take. But Joke has additional, admirable characteristics; she dares more, she can be very decisive, and she is far more strategic than I am. Because of all these things, she is more powerful and she has reached far into places, where other people would have waited to go, e.g. driving in a taxi in Russia in the nineties as two women (with Hélène Budé). Her far-reaching example made me refuse to accept that the Congress on Nationalism in India in November of 2016 would do without a EuroClio contribution while I could still go! I went to Jonathan, who is always in for a solution, and we created a new program on that very morning. So I went to Calcutta and paid a visit to six schools as well! It was an efficient and rewarding event. Then ‘the two boys’ who continued Joke’s role in EuroClio, developed into young decisive and amiable steering men; Jonathan and Steven are quite inspiring and efficient. I admire them, and I also admire ‘the two girls’, firstly Judith, followed by Aysel, who as junior managers started and soon developed into energetic and charming leaders of complete programs, both nearby and far away, with power that drove people forwards.

A person further away who inspires me was Rumyana Kusheva from Bulgaria. With a firm hand, she led the teachers group in the EuroClio Rainbow project, and she always reminded us that we were colleagues all striving for similar aims towards a more multiperspective history education. She was decisive, open, determined, and committed, and she especially wanted to ensure that the students became good citizens. I keep her in my mind as an exemplary individual.

Q: How has your perspective on history education changed since you began working with EuroClio?

I would actually say that working with EuroClio has not changed my perspective on history education; rather, it broadened my vision on the power of history in society and in a community, both in terms of its influence in the way society has been constructed and how it can be used and abused to influence people’s opinions. I became more aware of the positive role history education can play to show and explain the constructive character of history to pupils/students. The more I learned about the role of history in countries, the more I was driven to work to spread the multiperspective approach in EuroClio projects. My recent experiences in the History Project of the Black Sea Region showed how difficult that is, and how wonderfully it can work as well.

EuroClio has confirmed my own philosophy. I believed that a good history teacher connects past and present, and this is exactly what EuroClio does. I want to teach students history by encouraging a way of thinking - a critical mind that students can continue to nurture into adulthood. It has always been my goal to make people critical in this way, so I don’t think I can say EuroClio changed this for me. It has also always been imperative to encourage people to not immediately judge others, but to instead, first inform themselves.  This is especially relevant in terms of today’s context and media influence. Because of the media, our role as teachers has changed. I believe that multimedia should be used more in education; although even then, the students are in their own media circles, so our influence as teachers is limited. We must continue to think of how we can open students’ minds to encourage them to consider and to be aware of the need of multiple sources of information from multiple perspectives. I think EuroClio aligns with my own philosophy on this matter.

Q: How was your time spent in India? Do you have any insights from your visits?

One thing I learned is that the challenges there were exactly of the same kind as the challenges here. Problems about nationalism were quite prevalent, because there’s an interplay of different kinds of nationalism. There may exist a kind of civic nationalism, but at the same time, one’s own nationalism is present. These feelings cannot be eradicated. The situation is also varied with so many languages and so many points of view. I noticed the importance of religion in so far as it provides a sense of belonging and forms a foundation for a way of life, but I also saw how religious groups designate different groups as ‘the other.’ So I learned from my visit to Calcutta that in order to communicate, it is necessary to come together on another level. And again, I also strove for the same goal of experiencing and encouraging the warmth and cordiality that connects people.

Humans of EuroClio: Irina Kostyuk

EuroClio Association

Irina Kostyuk
EuroClio Affiliate 2000-Present

"EuroClio has been the best part of my professional life."

Irina Kostyuk has 25 years of teaching experience as a History and Social Studies teacher and more than 10 years as a teacher trainer. She cooperated with the Ukrainian Association of Teachers of History, Social Studies and Civic Education “Nova Doba” from its creation in 1997. From 2001 to 2004 she was one of national coordinators of the European-Ukrainian project “New times, new history”, initiated and supported by EuroClio (MATRA program of Ministry of International Affairs of Netherlands). During the last 10 years she participated in numerous Ukrainian and international seminars on issues of historical and civic education, including Council of Europe seminars on Ukraine on standards, curricula, and textbooks problems. She was a member of the History component of the working group of the new standard and curriculum under the Ministry of Education of Ukraine in 2011 and 2012. She also has worked on projects with the Anne Frank House, the Institute of the Visual History of USC, and USA in Ukraine. Iryna is a co-author of several teaching materials and articles. As a teachers’ trainer she has held about 70 seminars in the different regions of Ukraine and she is still trying to improve the EuroClio approaches in schools’ History education.

Q: How did you first get involved with EuroClio?

I remember it very well. In 2000, one year before my involvement with EuroClio activity in Ukraine, I went on a study visit to the USA with six other history teachers who were members of an NGO for Ukrainian history teachers, “Nova Doba” This organization was created by Pjlina Verbytska, a young, smart, active history teacher. “Nova Doba” was one of the first organizations in Ukraine that started to work with international partners in the Civic Education field, and it had a project titled “Education for democracy in Ukraine” involving colleagues from USA. It was completely new for us; we had some social studies, but not civic education in a real sense, and this project was successful. Pjlina Verbytska, as the organizer of our NGO, visited some international conferences devoted to innovations in the History and Social Studies Teaching/Learning.  She met Joke at one of these conferences, as I recall, and the will of EuroClio to share new experiences and to bring good possibilities to make innovations in accordance with European standards was obvious. We were happy because at that time, no projects for math or science teachers were being started; only projects for history and civic education teachers were started, because these subject are about an outlook on the world.  After some previous agreements the decision to start a new project in Ukraine was made.

Exactly on the first of September, a very significant day for all teachers in our country and for me personally, I was invited to Kiev, where I met Joke van der Leew-Roord and Hubert Kriins. They were with Pjlina Verbytska, who asked me to join the project as a second project coordinator in Ukraine.  It sounded so attractively and surprisingly, I was not sure I could do it. And I remember how Joke said, “Yes, it could be hard work, of course you will be tired very often, but I promise- it will be very interesting!  And now, many years after, I can say that these years were the happiest in my life, not only for work but for my personal life as well. There were new meetings, people, experiences, conferences, and I was completely happy, though it was very hard work and very new for me and my colleagues.  Many examples of these new experiences come to mind, including the coordinator’s meeting in The Hague in February, 2002 in the company of Pjlina, Joke and Hubert, the study visit to Scotland with members of our project team - Andrey Osmolovskyi and Yuriy Komarov - in September, 2002, participation in many conferences in Italy in 2004, or the meeting and the friendship with colleagues from Bulgaria and Macedonia, Latvia, Estonia, Russia and other countries. During all these meetings, we communicated with history teachers and we saw another style of teaching: multiperspectivity, more than one truth, a source-based approach, and so on. This was about the possibility of exchanging opinions. It was so important for all participants of the project in Ukraine, and at the same time, I think that we brought Ukrainian teachers this new fresh view.

Now, I understand that the great result of this project, “New Times, New History”, was in reality due to the big team of Euroclio experts that worked with us – Christa Donnemaer from Austria, Richard Dargie and Duncan Toms from Scotland, Julia Kushnereva from Moscow, and many others.  Of course we were very happy with this textbook for students, “History of Epoch. Ukraine and Europe in 1900-1939” and the teachers’ guide for it.  These two books were absolutely new for our pedagogical traditions; even the publishing style of design was new. The personal experience of each participant was great, and the influence of the publishing affairs of history in a textbook was great. However, the main problem of this project was that we did not have enough seminars for teachers. We created a new product, but distributing it and teaching with it was problematic because it was so new; additionally we printed only 3.000 books, but at this time we had 24.000 schools in Ukraine.

Of course, the possibilities to change the whole situation with history teaching were limited in such a big country after the long period of Soviet and Post-Soviet history education.   Year by year, the participants of EuroClio activity in Ukraine, including the projects "Multiperspective History of Ukraine" in 2012 and the last one, "Crossroad of Cultures" in 2015, tried to disseminate the ideas of EuroClio about responsible teaching of history in the 21st century.  The efforts of sharing the obtained knowledge and experience among history teachers have got a good chance to change History curricula according to the EuroClio approach.

In 2012, I was a member of a working group under the Ministry of Education umbrella, and we were invited to create a new history curriculum for secondary schools. For me, it was a unique chance to realize the ideas of EuroClio.  We tried to bring special lessons without narrative texts; we named these, “practical lessons”, and these were based only on different kinds of sources for the development of critical thinking.  To my deep regret, this idea was not realized fully.  In 2014, the Ministry initiated “the improving of curriculum” stemming from change the political leadership in country.   Teachers still use all the ‘correct’ words because we don’t have the right materials to truly work with information, develop critical thinking, and develop students’ personal opinions. Instead, teachers continue to try to give students conclusions and “correct views” about controversial, sensitive issues. We also have a lot of people without a good, modern education and without access to internet, and a lot of teachers don’t know about access to textbooks created by “Nova Doba” with EuroClio support, because there are not enough copies, not enough prepared teachers, and the official discourse is based only on a “right”, patriotic view of the past. It is like a very good cake that is eaten only for birthdays, but not every day.  This is a deep problem.

I believe that the EuroClio approach is the most correct approach for the current situation in the world. We cannot teach about the “right” past. After our last war, and aggression from Russia, of course we have movements with nationalistic contexts, and the officials of our national institute of memorialization give teachers recommendations about the correct teaching of the past. These individuals decide what is true or not in our common past, and now especially with this aggression of Russia, according to these officials, Russia has been the enemy of Ukraine throughout its entire history, but it’s not true! It’s a very controversial situation.

For me it’s painful, because I believe that history education is about multiperspectivity, individual interpretations of students and their different views, everyday history, and different groups’ voices of society in the past. In the current context in Ukraine, this kind of multiperspectivity is fading. It means that the influence of EuroClio exists, but not for all. One of the challenges has been deciding who will go to the conference from Ukraine, because it depends on a knowledge of the English language. Teachers with 20 to 30 years of experience often don’t have English, so a lot of information and lesson plans aren’t possible to use.

Q: Do you have a first or favorite memory of working with EuroClio?

EuroClio is the best part of my life. I am not young, but I remember all the annual conferences where I was as a participant and encountered not only professional experience, but also the human experience of connection with others who helped me understand myself, my country, and the current world as far it is possible at all. And of course, the style of EuroClio is working with different people based on respect and quality of partners. It doesn’t depend on which country you’re from. That doesn’t matter. I believed and I saw that relationships depend on individual personalities. And I think it depends on our personal, professional, and human input to common activity. I am very thankful because I’ve been involved not only in this project for Ukraine, but also the Black Sea Project; through this, I’ve seen that these are not just our problems. Other countries have the same kind of problems.

It depends on our common understanding: what is the real past for us. The new generation understands another kind of past; many of them don’t know who Lenin was, what Soviet power was, or what Gulags were. I think it’s not a huge problem, because they know another history; they know about the Kozac area in Ukrainian past, or the relationship with Poland. People like me and my colleagues, through personal teaching, bring the issues of the Holocaust and controversial issues, which are sensitive topics for Ukrainians, but it’s not official. I hope that in the future this may change.

The Annual Conference is the best and it’s a privilege to be invited. These conferences aren’t only great because of hotels and food; the main thing is communication with people who think like you, who are responsible for youth and teaching the past. We are responsible for something in this world, because it’s a mission of good. And it doesn’t depend on what country you come from. We have different lifestyles, and different welfare levels, but that’s not important when we meet.

Q: What is the role of EuroClio today? In the future? How will it develop?

I think that EuroClio’s influence could be deeper in Ukraine. For example, the person that is responsible for history education was abroad for lots of different conferences.  But, if we have some change of political course inside the country, everything from EuroClio could be lost. I think that probably, I don’t know how it’s possible to change so quickly, and cooperation with Ukraine has existed since 2001, but there are a lot of textbooks that don’t have the stamp of the ministry. They support our activity only in cases where it is not opposite to the main track of the ministry. This difficulty is not only problematic for Ukraine, but also probably for Russia. I think that if EuroClio had new ground for new projects in Ukraine, one of the points of the project should be some duties of the Ministry. For example, there should be duties about human rights education, because we have official, formal duties to improve rights education due to the worldwide problem that exists, and the fact that we have a responsibility to the Council of Europe. In addition, there are recommendations of history teaching in the 21st century and I’m not sure that they are translated to Ukrainian teaching.

Q: In your career with EuroClio what has been your greatest challenge?

The biggest challenge for me today is the nationalistic trend in education policy. The new curriculum that we have in 2017 is mostly centered on political and military history. For me, it’s actually a step back after the curriculum of 2012.

Q: Within EuroClio and outside of EuroClio, who has influenced you the most professionally and/or personally? Who have you connected with?

There have been several people. Riitta Mikkola from Finland was in Kiev with her colleagues because they had a five hour break between flights, and she asked me for things to do in Kiev. I helped her, and organized things for her to do! And that is possible only through the EuroClio context.

Klaus Bierre from Denmark is another. My son and I were invited to his home, and this was a great experience. Without EuroClio, I wouldn’t have had any possibility to see this new country.

A lot of places, I’ve only gone because of EuroClio. When I need something, I’m sure I can ask about it, and people will help. It’s a huge network based on interpersonal attitudes and relationships, not only within the official realm but beyond.

Q: How has your perspective on history education changed since you began working with EuroClio?

It has made me realize that we need projects for students at pedagogical universities, because they will come to teach at schools, but right now, they only know the traditional approach. Now we have a very interesting experience with a summer institute for volunteers who haven’t had pedagogical teaching. They agree to go to school, but from what I have seen, these people who haven’t had the pedagogical university education have actually had a more open and wider outlook than those who graduated from pedagogical university! Probably if EuroClio plans to have a deep influence, students of pedagogical universities who plan to go to schools and change things need to be targeted with teacher guides.

I’d also like to make another point. I live in a small town, and I am a provincial teacher. I have no official job position with a huge influence, but I try when I communicate with others, to say, “OK. We have some problems in our country, but many people have problems in this world.” War exists not only in this small part of Ukraine, but rather, it exists in many countries. Therefore, if we can maintain our professional level, it’s very important for our kids and our families. Because sometimes these kids go on to have other influences. Your smiles, your assurance, the fact that you are light and have pleasure from your lessons. That is so important. We have an excellent job. You have your own theater when you close your classroom door. Do it with pleasure and give your pleasure to students; it is an exchange of energy. History is an excellent subject that reaches out beyond the curriculum. I try to bring this perspective in seminars and in teacher trainings, and I tell people to think about it. I’m sure that my opinion on these matters has brought me to EuroClio.

Humans of EuroClio: Bob Stradling

EuroClio Association

Bob Stradling
EuroClio Affiliate 1992-Present

"EuroClio gives me an opportunity to have my own views challenged."

Dr. Robert Stradling has brought the thinking about history education in Europe to a higher level by sharing his insights in books, lectures, and workshops, contributing to policy recommendations, and developing educational resources. He has been one of the driving forces intent upon mainstreaming the concept of multiperspectivity in history teaching, and he has worked intensely to deepen understanding of the concept and promote its use, in addition to providing practical support to teachers. As part-time consultant to the Council of Europe, Bob has been the author or co-author of many publications which have been translated in over 20 languages, including the Handbook for Values for Life in a Democracy with Chris Rowe (2009), Cross-Roads of European History – Multiple outlooks on five key moments in the history of Europe + CD-ROM with Chris Rowe (2006), Multiperspectivity in History Teaching: a Guide for Teachers (2003), and Teaching 20th Century European History (2001). Bob Stradling has been a supporter of EuroClio since its beginnings in 1991-1992 at the initial conference in Leeuwarden. In recent years, he has been a primary contributor to the development of Historiana, a digital learning resource on European history and heritage designed to help educators deliver innovative and responsible history to their students. In 2007, he agreed to become a member of the Historiana Advisory Board, and since 2009 he has been leading the development of Historiana as Editor-in-Chief. From 2009-2013, he has supported an international team of history educators from EuroClio in the development of thematic case studies structured around a set of key questions that allow for comparison between countries, and he developed the thematic approach that underpins Historiana. Since 2014 he led the creation of Historiana modules on World War 1 and World War 2 as key moments in European history and heritage, providing structure and contextual information and ensuring balance for thousands of sources, including many that are unknown to most history educators. He has supported trainees at EuroClio in their efforts to complete transnational source collections, and he has edited their materials since 2013. From 2014 to 2016, Bob has also been an advisor on historical content and a supporter of the development team working on a unit to learn about the European Union from a historical perspective.

How did you first get involved with EuroClio?

It’s a rather long-winded story, so bear with me! Back in 1990 I was doing an international survey for CIDREE (the Consortium of Institutions for Development and Research in Education in Europe) on the content of history curricula across Europe. It covered about fifty educational systems. What I was seeing while I was doing this survey was that the status of history education over the previous 20 years had been declining, partly because practice in a lot of schools was not keeping up with the innovative approaches that were being developed which emphasised not just the learning of content but also the development of historical thinking. School history curricula often consisted of a two-year survey, sometimes described as “From Plato to NATO”, which was then repeated in greater depth for another two years. There was also growing concern about the teaching of biased, nationalistic history in some European states.

This report came to the attention of the Council of Europe’s Deputy Director for education, culture and sport, and a good historian, Maitland Stobart, and he called me out to Strasbourg to discuss it and then asked me to work as a part-time consultant on history education for the Council of Europe. At around the same time, he had also been talking to Joke van der Leeuw-Roord as well. Joke at that time was the President of the Dutch History Teachers’ Association and Maitland Stobart wanted to discuss the possibility of setting up an NGO that might be able to work with the Council of Europe to spread good practice in history education.

In December, 1991 the Council of Europe organised a pan-European conference in Bruges in December 1991. The theme was ‘Learning and Teaching History in the New Europe”. Many of the participants then helped to form a network of history educators prepared to work together and with other colleagues. A year later the Council and the Dutch History Teachers Association invited around 30 to 40 representatives from other History Teachers Associations to Strasbourg to discuss what was needed. They agreed that it was necessary to set up an international organisation to support history education in Europe. At first, they came up with a really awful name for it: the “European Standing Conference of History Teachers”. Luckily, the Belgians came up with a much better name, EuroClio! Then in 1993, Joke and the Dutch History Teachers Association organized a conference in Leeuwarden. I think there were representatives from 14 European countries, and this was EuroClio’s inaugural conference. I attended along with others from the Council of Europe and acted as the rapporteur for the conference.

I recall my relationship with Joke at the beginning of the conference being a bit spiky, mainly, I think, because she wasn’t sure what I was going to say in my report about the conference! In fact, Maitland Stobart was already committed to the idea of EuroClio, so even if my report had been negative, would not have changed the Council’s support for the NGO. In fact, my report, which was written mainly for Council staff and the Parliamentary Assembly, recommended that the Council should welcome the setting up of EuroClio and work with it in the future.

After that, we worked very closely together on three main initiatives. One was in the early 90s after the fall of the Soviet Union. The Council of Europe set up something called the Secretary General’s Initiative, which involved working with history educators and curriculum administrators in all the former Soviet Republics. There were three main aims: to use historical sources to develop analytical and interpretive skills; to move away from the ideological content of the old history curricula, and to explore ways of encouraging cross-border initiatives in history education. EuroClio played a very important role in this. The Council of Europe could pay for and coordinate conferences and workshops, but it needed highly experienced history teachers to provide the input.

It was actually during this time that EuroClio grew rapidly. By 2000-2001 the membership had risen to 76 associations. The sessions that EuroClio was running were so good that word of mouth was getting around, and more people were interested. Interest was also heightened because schools were actually using textbooks that were developed by cross-border teams established by EuroClio.

Another project on which EuroClio and the Council of Europe worked together was the Stability Pact for Eastern Europe in the late 1990s. The former Republic of Yugoslavia had disintegrated and conflicts had broken out in the region.  Something had to be done to try to get these people together again. By 2000, there were steps being taken at a geopolitical level, with the U.S. actively involved, and all of this created a basis for a negotiated peace, the Dayton Peace Agreement. Once again, the key question for the Council of Europe was how to help with the reforms to history education that were planned in the new states. Once again, there was a lot of work for EuroClio to be done with the support from the Council of Europe. I was actively involved with Joke, and we were both involved at that time in a lot of history education workshops in the region. From a personal point of view, this was fantastic! To get into parts of Europe I’d never been able to enter before, to sit down with teachers and historians, and to talk about what needed to be done was quite an experience.

The third initiative we worked together on was the Council of Europe initiative: Learning and Teaching about the history of Europe in the 20th century. I was involved in the development side of the project and the steering committee had several representatives form EuroClio, including Joke. This led to a number of publications including a Handbook: Teaching 20th Century European History and EuroClio was very active in helping to organise a number of teacher workshops based on the outputs of this initiative.

However, we started getting feedback from history teachers that they got the message about the integrating skills-based teaching into their classroom work and they also got the message about a greater focus on European and not just national history but where could they get the sources form all over Europe. We realized we had to do something about this! The Council of Europe initiated a project which was carried out by Chris Rowe and myself which led to the production of a CD-Rom of source material, which we structured around several key years in European history. We gathered lots of source material, both written and visual, from all over Europe and put that onto the CD-Rom for teachers to use. But, by the time we finished this, we felt that we had been overtaken by new technologies. At the same time Joke had been saying, “what we really need is a website!” Jonathan and Steven had joined the EuroClio team, I think in 2006, and brought new energy and skills and so the website Historiana was born. Editing Historiana is my current job, and that’s how I am involved with EuroClio today.

Q: Do you have a first or favorite memory of working with EuroClio?

I think there were two that stuck out. For the first one, I was with some EuroClio colleagues in 1991, and we were in Moscow. We had a meeting with representatives of history associations, people involved with developing new curricula, and also people from the Ministry of Education. We attended the seminar, and the formal meeting was dominated by the Ministry. The representatives from the Ministry were quite nervous because of the presence of the Council and EuroClio. We felt that there was a certain resentment that these outsiders were trying to show them ‘how to teach history.’ Understandably, it was quite tense in the room. At about 4 o’clock, a row of black cars emerged outside and the officials left. We all thought that the day had ended. But as we headed for the lift, the representatives of the history associations and curricula developers all said, “Now we can have our seminar!” We went back to the room, and there we had an open discussion, with lots of ideas presented about things they’d like to do and how EuroClio and the Council could most effectively support them. This led to years of close cooperation.

A similar meeting took place in Moldova, and this was also a part of the Secretary General’s Initiative. I was there with Joke, and it wasn’t Ministry officials this time, but rather Professors of History who sat in the first four rows of the conference hall. All of the history teachers sat behind them, and there was clearly a strong deference towards the professors. Now I am the same age as most of those professors were then, so perhaps I am now more sympathetic than I was then. But our impression was that they were not interested in innovative approaches to history education. We were talking about skills-based approaches to teaching and learning, multiperspectivity, and the idea that history deals with evidence which is often partial and drawn from what is left on the record. It appeared from the questioning that this approach was not very popular in the room. The professors believed that the history they taught, which influenced what was taught in schools, was the plain truth of what had happened. Joke and I felt that we were not having much impact but again, when the professors left, we found that the teachers wanted to stay on and talk about classroom teaching.

These kind of moments are so powerful, because at one point we all felt as if we were treading water, seemingly not getting anywhere. But the next, we could talk openly and frankly, and things began to happen!

Q: How did EuroClio contribute to your work? To history education in general?

EuroClio has definitely changed how history has been taught, especially in central and eastern Europe since the 1990s!

Personally, I’ve acquired a lot of great friends, both in the secretariat and across the membership network.  That is one of the great aspects of something like the 25th year celebration. Because I don’t teach anymore and I live in the north of Scotland, I don’t meet students and young people to the same degree to talk about history anymore. EuroClio gives me an opportunity to have my own views challenged. People like Steven, Jonathan, and Judith always ask me questions I can’t easily answer, questions I have to go away and think about for a bit. These kind of tough questions are important in one’s development, regardless of one’s age.

Q: What is the role of EuroClio today? In the future? How will it develop?

That’s difficult purely because of the problem of funding an NGO. Inevitably, the direction of development depends in part on what sponsors want. But I think a major task is perhaps to become GLOBALCLIO and not simply EuroClio. EuroClio already has links with countries in the Middle East, Japan, Korea, and the U.S. At the risk of sounding like a 1930s dictator saying “Take over the world”, I would like an even bigger EuroClio with a wider target audience to work with. I do feel that the issues we all face now have historical roots. Whether it is terrorism, problems in the Middle East, or problems within Southeast Europe or Southeast Asia. The roots of these issues are in history. A lot of the decisions made at the end of the first and second world wars have come home to roost, and therefore, they should be looked at from the widest possible perspective. I suppose that raises the issue of a connection with China and Japan as well. We struggle to access sources, and we especially struggle with Japanese sources. So, we need links with these countries for Historiana, and we need to look at the possibility of learning from each other in terms of how we teach history and the purpose of history in schools.

I would also highlight how seamless the transition from Joke as Director to Jonathan has been. Jonathan, Steven, and Judith have brought new energy, ideas and skills and Joke is still involved. They have sustained EuroClio’s capacity for networking which Joke had originally brought to the organisation.  I believe that this capacity to network and to use the network to full effect is one of the best things that EuroClio has to offer.

Q: What could EuroClio do better? Any disappointments?

The short answer is, no! I have thoroughly enjoyed working with EuroClio; they are a great bunch of people. One of the best things that ever happened was the decision to bring in trainees. And I wish that they could have longer terms with us! Trainees learn so much but at end of a semester, they’re off again! That’s great for them, and they hopefully have seen a bit of Europe during their time with EuroClio as well. Yet, from another point of view it’s a kind of disappointment to let them go when they are working so well with us. However, the traineeship is a brilliant idea. I wish we had had something similar at my research institute at Edinburgh University.

I guess one thing is that we lost two years on Historiana development because we initially picked the wrong people to develop the website. But we are catching up now! This brings me to another idea; something that is also so important is building new generation of people!

The only other disappointment is probably that we’ve never had quite as much involvement from the French-speaking part of Europe as from the rest. We do have French speakers within the EuroClio secretariat, but it’s not easy to get them to come and work with us.

Q: In your career with EuroClio what has been your greatest challenge? How did you overcome it?

One is money! There is no doubt about that. It’s true for the Council of Europe as well. Unfortunately, you can’t just say, “This is a great enterprise, so let’s sell this idea to all international organizations. They’ll fund it, and it’ll just happen!” That won’t work, so you do things in bits and pieces.

The other challenges are heavily dependent on the cooperation of volunteers. I wish we could pay them for their work but mostly this is not possible. Development is necessarily slower than we would like. Inevitably volunteers working in their spare time take much longer to develop materials for us than they would if they could take time out to work full-time. That is just one of the practical realities of that kind of thing.

It is also difficult to keep content up to date. Over the past two years, our editing team for Historiana has also been the development team. We developed content for WWI, WWII, and the Cold War. We are fairly certain we can’t carry on that way. It’s become a full time job! So volunteers must be engaged, but in a different way. The membership is great in workshops, giving up their valuable time to run sessions and organize events. But we really need some of them to just sit and write material!

Additionally, it is nice to think of history as an objective subject, but it does have social aims in schools. The question is, what are they and do they lead to biased history? How, in the end, can we best encourage all those involved in the educational process to work with diverse and even contradictory perspectives? Keeping at the forefront of modern technology is another challenge, with mobile phones and apps.  Looking at the implications of new technology for teaching is intriguing, because we’ve moved away from the old style of a teacher standing, telling a story and handing out worksheets toward a new style where people have their own personal learning stations. How do we keep up with these changes? These are major challenges facing EuroClio and history educators.

Q: Within EuroClio and outside of EuroClio, who has influenced you the most professionally and/or personally?

In terms of my thinking about history education, Maitland Stobart has had a great influence on me. I’d worked as a historian in London, but then moved into policy research, and this path had taken me away from what I really loved: history. He gave me the opportunity in my spare time to do history, and to think about it as a discipline. Before, I just did history. I didn’t think about what was involved in the process, or how you would teach others that process, because I was always working as a researcher at that time, not teaching students. So it never had occurred to me to ask, “What do you have to do to begin to understand the process of history?” What it is to learn how to think historically and to be historically conscious?” Stobart helped give me the space to grow in this respect.

A number of British social historians also influenced me, because what truly fascinates me is how ordinary people live!  For example, there was a photograph that influenced me quite a lot. It was from the first world war, of a farmer in the middle of Germany right in the middle of everything that was happening, just getting on with farming, totally oblivious to the massive conflict on his doorstep. It made me realize, we say, “Germany goes to war,” but of course it doesn’t. Governments go to war, and they conscript people to fight for them. The families of those conscripted experience it directly, and with ‘total war’ people feel the effect of war more, but for a lot of the time, people are just getting on with their lives. We tend to forget that, and we get locked in as historians to big questions and big events.  So I actually think that because of this interest, if I had my time again, I’d be a social historian.

Q: Why do you value teaching with multiple perspectives? Is there a specific instance or historical event that shaped your interest in teaching with multiple perspectives?

It was a book about the Spanish Armada, actually, by Garrett Maddingley.  He looked at the Spanish Armada from the perspective of what was happening in Madrid and London as you might expect, but he also looked at what was happening in Paris, Amsterdam, and other parts of Western Europe. He was looking at the diplomatic dispatches between them. Suddenly the whole event seemed very different! I’d gone to school and been taught about the Spanish Armada from a totally British perspective. It was just, “We won it. Our sailors were better.” I started thinking that this multiperspectivity was a much better way to teach history.

Not long after I read the book, I was at a conference on World War I that I’d helped to organize. We were discussing the armistice, and the fact that though textbooks make it seem as though events occurred in a linear sequence, it was in actuality far more complicated; things happened in parallel, with contradictory impact. For instance, Wilson was making offers to the German government in Berlin before talking to the British and the French, who’d then been receiving information two days after their own decisions had been made. Again, the narrative you got from different textbooks made it all seem as though it was a linear sequence. In discussions about how to teach this, some teachers were saying that we had to keep it simple, that students might not understand this complexity.  This view outraged me!  My kids were studying nuclear physics in school, and if they could understand the theory of relativity, they could certainly understand the multiperspectivity behind the negotiation of the armistice in 1918! The task was how to develop the material to teach this effectively, by having more than one language involved, by working together, and by collecting source material from different countries.  Though we may never reach ubiquitous multiperspectivity, the hope is that teachers will at least try to include some multiperspectivity in their teaching.

This brings me to another point that struck me. We went to St. Petersberg, and we were looking at 1917. Eisenstein’s film Oktober was a great movie about events at that time. But the perspective is heavily skewed to promote a par4ticular narrative. The storming of the Winter Palace is spectacular but it is difficult to find evidence to confirm that it actually happened in the way depicted in the film. Once I started exploring the evidence available what emerged was some contrasting perceptions of the event. For example, one man walked past the Square at 11 at night, didn’t hear anything, and just walked home. One man said he heard some shots fired, and yet another said it was chaos and mayhem. History and the evidence we deal with is always partial and always told from different perspectives, even physically. Lots of historians started employing a kind of legal or trial approach to teaching, emphasizing the fact that witnesses see the same event quite differently. Evidence to corroborate these versions of history is often missing, because it is lost or destroyed. Of course, there are dates and people that we can all agree on, but there’s an awful lot upon which we can’t agree. This is again the question of how do you get people to understand that there isn’t just one truth; rather, there exist many variables to deal with depending on the available evidence in the record.

Q: Since your work on Crossroads of European History: Multiple Outlooks on 5 Key Moments in the History of Europe (2008) is there any event that you wish you could add to the work?

Yes; lots! The choices made were practical, due to limited funds. We focused on 1848, 1913, 1919, 1945 and 1989. What the Council of Europe does well is organize international conferences, so they wanted to have an international conference around every one of these key dates. So we had to come up with five dates. Part of what was so cool about the research for this project was that we got to look at the history of the event in the places where they happened. For example, we had a conference in Yalta in the room where Stalin, Churchill and Wilson met.

If we could have added more key dates I would certainly have included think the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also 1968 was a crucial year. One of the reasons why it was so important was because in a way, there were protests all over the West, but also protests in the East that we didn’t always hear about. We were protesting civil rights and there were student protests, industrial strikes, and political changes. It was a year of change, even within Central and Eastern Europe in the post-Stalin era, that created a generation of liberal politicians.

1914 was also one to add. In a way, we’ll never quite understand why the diplomatic system that had resolved a whole series of crises in the previous four decades failed in 1914.

The 1929 Wall Street Crash is also crucial. Its impact was felt by so many across the world, and it wasn’t just an American thing.

The 1936 Spanish Civil War was important, not just because of what was happening in Spain but also because Italian and German forces used it prepare for war. A lot of people of my generation had older relatives who fought in the international brigade. This civil war probably made war much more likely in 1939.

It’s not an exact date, but the Vietnam War would also be on that list. Possibly, I would suggest the date when the French were forced to withdraw and the U.S. had to consider what it was going to do.
And that is just relatively modern history.

Humans of EuroClio: Huub Oattes

EuroClio Association

Huub Oattes
EuroClio Affiliate 1995-Present

"EuroClio got me flying again."

Huub Oattes (1955) was a Board member (Communications Officer, Vice-President) between 2005-2010. His involvement with EuroClio started as early as the mid 1990s through attending and participating in Annual Conferences (in Prague, Bologna, Cardiff, Riga, Malta, Nijmegen, and Erfurt) and participating in teacher training courses (in Doorn, Coleraine, and Oslo). Inspired by the EuroClio meetings he became a proponent of the international dimension of student education (Comenius Projects, EuroClio cartoon webinars) in both secondary and tertiary education. Huub is currently working as a teacher trainer and lecturer in history education at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. He is also a PhD-student researching the role of the history teacher in Dutch bilingual schools.

Q: How did you first get involved with EuroClio?

I was a secondary school history teacher and, as such, I first heard the name “EuroClio” one day in the late 90s. The thing that attracted me to EuroClio was that it was an international organization. In 1995 I did a postgraduate study in Amsterdam about Holocaust education, and during this year I also went to London for a conference, where I first encountered EuroClio. A year later I did a teacher trainer course in Ireland. I very much enjoyed the idea that we, as teachers together in Europe, are related and have the same goals and purposes. So that experience is when I first got attached to the organization, and I attended a EuroClio activity each year thereafter.

Q: Do you have a first or favorite memory of working with EuroClio?

This may be a silly anecdote, but EuroClio got me flying again. Several years ago, I was quite afraid of getting on a plane. I went to all of the conferences by car, so it took me much longer than other attendees to get to all of the places. However, I did enjoy driving around so many places at that time! But then at one point, EuroClio was going to meet in Malta. I obviously could not get there by car! So, in the end, because I wanted to stay involved and attached to the organization, I realized I had to get over my fear. I took a course and did many exercises, and nowadays, I can fly without issue.

Most of the conferences were really excellent, so finding one memory that stands out above the rest is quite difficult. It comes down to a personal preference, and for me, going to countries where I’d never traveled before and meeting new people was very exciting. My first trip to eastern Europe was in 2005 to Latvia, and I remember being so impressed by my colleagues there and the difficult circumstances under which they taught. The educators truly had very poor working conditions. I even felt a bit ashamed that in western Europe, teaching seemed carefree, and it wasn’t politicized as it is nowadays. The teachers in Latvia worked under difficult circumstances, where interest groups were pressuring them, and this pressure was something that we did not experience in the Netherlands.

Every time we went to a different country, the association there would organize it, and all of the organizers made huge efforts to make us feel comfortable. The organizers, proud of their country, would take us around and showed us parts of their cultural heritage. For me, it was very educational to be able to travel around and to see schools and circumstances very different from my own.

Q: You’ve participated in so many international training courses and conferences: annual Conferences (in Prague, Bologna, Cardiff, Riga, Malta, Nijmegen, and Erfurt) and teacher training courses (in Doorn, Coleraine, and Oslo). Do you have any specific memories or impressions that stand out from these experiences?

Each year, the week of the annual conference hosted by EuroClio is packed with meeting people and talking to colleagues. The conferences are also so multifaceted and dynamic; we would experience the intellectual part of the conference from scholars, we would attend workshops to get new ideas to use in our own teaching practices, and then we would have school visits where we would see the differences between schools in our own countries and the host country. At all different levels, there was so much input. I also should mention that there exists the official conference time, but then there is also “off-the-record” time spent with colleagues, during meals and at the pub, for example. Time spent talking with colleagues could reach up to 20 hours a day sometimes! Through these talks and meetings, friendships were born.

As a result of me being enthusiastic about the meetings, I thought that my students would also love this idea to work together with international colleagues, so I did stay in touch with those that I met at the conferences. Sometimes we even managed to set up a digital project or an exchange where we would actually meet each other! It inspired me and my students as well to have this kind of international contact.

Q: What is the role of EuroClio today? In the future? How will it develop?

I believe that new projects are needed to develop more contacts and additional areas of interest, but I think that another necessary component are regular, sustainable projects that will come back every year. In other words, I think that one part of EuroClio’s program should be fixed for a couple of years and that there should be another department finding new frontiers.

During the last couple of years, we worked on digital side of things as well, so that we could interact with colleagues and students from around Europe. I think it is important for EuroClio to be active in the digital world, making sure that people can attend webinars and digital seminars a couple of times a year. EuroClio has worked with eTwinning in the past, an organization that facilitates, through digital means, collaboration and connection between European schools. This cooperation with other institutes and organizations is important for EuroClio as an organization. Historiana is also a very interesting digital product that deserves further attention and effort.

Q: In your career with EuroClio what has been your greatest challenge? How did you overcome it?

In 2006, EuroClio was quite close to the edge, and financially, more money was going out than coming in. It looked like it would be the end of EuroClio as an organization. It was a tough time, but then we, as a newly elected board decided that we did not want to quit on the organization we believed in, and we wanted to put all our efforts into keeping it alive. Luckily, people were very supportive, and many came to Malta in 2006 to help. At that time, I vividly remember that the secretariat had largely resolved, so as board members, we were stuck in a basement trying to do all of the work that the secretariat does! I also remember that because finances were a bit off at the time, I was traveling with 20,000 euros in my pocket throughout the Netherlands! I kind of felt a bit funny about that.

However, 2006 passed by, and we survived and new projects came in. It was definitely a tough fight and emotional period with high tensions.

Today, the secretariat is alive thanks to the worldwide projects that EuroClio manages to get involved in. Accompanying the projects is funding, and if that money is managed well, then it is possible for EuroClio to sustain itself. Back in the early days of the organization, all the money was geared toward projects, and funding for the secretariat was secondary.  That was kind of like a poker game: was it possible to get enough money to fund projects AND the secretariat? Now, thankfully, I think that people have enough experience to realize that if quality projects are desired, secretariat funding is absolutely necessary. And of course volunteers are also quite important to the organization!

Q: Within EuroClio and outside of EuroClio, who has influenced you the most professionally and/or personally?

Well of course I have to say my mother! But within EuroClio, different individuals influenced me when I was working at different levels. In 2005, I managed to squeeze myself onto the board of EuroClio, which I was lucky enough to be a part of for five years. I was closer to the fire, and happily for me, I was able to pull a few strings and have some influence on the activities we organized. I also became extremely close to the other board members, especially during the 2006 period when the organization was struggling. We would talk to each other a few times a year in person, but we really became friends through a lot of Skype and telephone meetings. This getting to know the thoughts and ideas of my colleagues was really important for me.

My fellow board members and I were teachers, but as board members we were also organizers, and we had to always consider the secretariat. It was very interesting for me to see how EuroClio worked and to get insights into running a business. Sometimes there was even a bit of competition amongst the board members! For instance, Joke is a powerhouse; she did not always agree with the things we wanted, because whereas we could think more in ideals, she had an office and projects to run, and she was grounded. Of course, if you say EuroClio, you would also have to say Joke, because her focus on EuroClio and her determination to make it succeed was quite impressive. I think other people would have said, “it’s too much,” but she never let go. She deserves much credit for that! So even though sometimes there were opposing forces, these competing ideas gave EuroClio a special dynamic, and in the end we all appreciated each other.

Q: How has your perspective on history education changed since you began working with EuroClio?

The first thing that comes to mind is that I have gained this international perspective by listening to others’ stories. Through EuroClio, the idea of multiperspectivity became reality. At the week-long conferences, ubiquitous multiperspectivity would lead to new and valuable discussions and insights. I would think, “Oh, I haven’t looked at it from that point of view,” and then I would take that perspective back home and integrate it into my own teaching. One specific project, which looked at remembrance during the World War I, exemplified this multiperspectivity for me. We heard the familiar English, French, and Dutch stories of the war, but we also heard from teachers in Bulgaria and Greece, for example, and their perspectives were quite eye-opening. Now, as a teacher trainer, we have discussed and compared, in my own classroom, EuroClio’s set of ideas as to what teaching should be like to the Dutch curriculum. And from this exercise, I can safely say that multiperspectivity is definitely invaluable, and it has become an integral part of my own teaching.

Additionally, I have recognized that international cooperation, not just through books or texts but through actually working with the other, is quite powerful. The image of the other is significant, but there is nothing as striking as working with this “other,” listening to them, and being able to discuss with them; nowadays all of these things are possible.

Q: For those interested, could you tell us any more about your PHD work in Dutch bilingual schools?

Because of my interest in international relations and international education, the idea to look at international education and bilingual schools stemmed from my being a history teacher; the main question I am trying to answer is, “what does it mean for a history teacher to teach in a different language?” At Dutch bilingual schools, half of the subjects are taught in Dutch and half are taught in English. We only use English in history education, so this dynamic is a bit odd because the teacher in the classroom is usually a Dutchman.

I’ve seen high quality Dutch teachers who have learned to teach in Dutch, and so when they try to transition to teaching students in English, it is a bit unnatural. In addition, the Dutch teacher knows a lot of vocabulary, but not everything. If you can teach in your native language you can use cultural references, play word games, and relay details, but if you have to teach in a different language, it is much more complicated due to more limited language skills. So, how can you get the same message across with a limited vocabulary? Even though the students are very bright and motivated, this does provide unique challenges, because inevitably, the quality of a Dutchman’s history lessons taught in English is slightly less than history lessons taught in Dutch.

It is clear to me from my observations that teachers are really doing a good job, and I’m not quite sure but the end result of my study will be. Perhaps I hope to determine compensatory measures used by teachers; if you cannot use all the words that you would like to use, you have to add something, like more illustrations or gestures.

Humans of EuroClio: Benny Christensen

EuroClio Association

Benny Christensen
EuroClio Affiliate 1994-Present

“I have come to greatly appreciate the EuroClio family.”

Benny Christensen served as a board member of the Danish History Teachers’ Association from 1997 to 2003 and was chairman of the International Committee from 1999 to 2003. He was project manager and expert in the project “Towards a New History”, that took place in Serbia and Montenegro from 2001 to 2003, funded by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. He has taken part in a number of annual conferences, also moderating workshops, and has acted as a EuroClio expert on many occasions including, “History in Action-Planning for the Future: Regional Approaches for the Learning and Teaching of History in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia” (2005-2008), and the Historiana theme “People on the Move” (2009-2011). He is currently a member of the Historiana Learning Group, and works for the Council of Europe as an independent expert in the intergovernmental project “Educating for Diversity and Democracy: Teaching History in Contemporary Europe.”

Q: Do you have a first or favorite memory of working with EuroClio?

I have several actually. In order to more helpfully structure my answer, I will separate my time with EuroClio into three phases.

The first phase, from 1994 to 2001, contained participation in a number of general assemblies and courses along the road.  I would say that the key elements of this first phase were “Cultural Encounters.” The first of these encounters involved meeting many friends from former East bloc countries. In the first year, these friends were struggling with English, and that was a significant obstacle they had to overcome.  The other element of these encounters involved coming to terms with some academic and educational traditions that were very different from ones I was used to in Denmark, which I discussed with these new friends (with or without beer)! Over these years, I also was asked to do workshops at general assemblies which were focused on active learning and critical thinking. These workshops created many valuable shared experiences with my colleagues.

The second phase was from 2002 to 2008, and this phase entailed regular contact with EuroClio.  In 1997, I was asked to join the Board of the Danish History Teachers’ Association, which I was on for six years.  In the beginning of 2001, I was asked by Joke to take part in a meeting on History Education in Belgrade, organized by the Council of Europe.  There, I met with people involved in NGOs and discussed the founding of a Serbian History Teachers’ Association.  I became the project manager of that endeavor in 2002.  Around the same time, I was also asked by the Danish Foreign Ministry to be involved with a new regional project in the West Balkans. Project management was then handed over to EuroClio, and the project was entitled History in Action.  During this time, active learning and critical thinking continued to be important for me, as well as the inclusion of multiple perspectives, planning, and training colleagues in practical endeavors as well as in confidence and responsibility.  I was able to meet many colleagues from the Balkans, and through this I gained a sense of the great responsibility of teachers in the region having to deal with a very near and sensitive past.

Perhaps my most impactful memory from this second phase took place on December 8th, 2001 on a Saturday afternoon.  On this day in Belgrade, I witnessed the first general assembly meeting of Serbian NGOs.  I recall immense pleasure in telling the meeting’s participants that I had money to establish a study visit to Denmark.  My second favorite memory from this time came several years later on March 28th, 2003 during a general assembly of EuroClio in Bologna.  At this assembly, I witnessed Serbia’s ability to vote for the first time, as they had just been admitted the year before.  Just seeing them with the voting documents in their hands, despite the struggles of the country with Milosevic and the NATO bombings, had a great symbolic impact on me.

Another significant series of memories from this time centers upon History in Action - a product of 5 years of work.  During the intensive meetings we had in Sarajevo I noticed a turning point, where we began to develop colleagues’ knowledge and training of what we would call modern ways of history teaching. I was also very happy when the publication was finished and quite moved when I saw that the publication was to be recognized with a special award at an Anna Lindh Awards Ceremony.  One of my Balkan colleagues went to Sweden and received the international recognition, and this was extremely exciting and gratifying for me.

The third and final phase is from 2008 to today.  This period of time revolved at first around Historiana and my extensive work on People on the Move, which concentrated on migration.  During this time, I was involved quite directly with EuroClio. I was invited to do some parts of the learning units focusing on World War I for Historiana, and I was also involved in other projects and conferences.  {My ultimate test during this time period came on the 15th of October, 2015, when I represented EuroClio in the European Parliament in Brussels where we were discussing the theme of preventing radicalization.  This was a very special event, and luckily it worked out OK for me!}

I hope that this answer helps others to see what I believe to be a general trend in the history of EuroClio; the organization is able to become involved in various new and different contexts. I believe that my story with EuroClio is an example of how EuroClio widens its geographical network, as well as the intensity, quantity, and experience of colleagues.  Over time, EuroClio becomes more and more engaged with international projects and other partners, which is in great part due to the hard work of Joke and the current secretariat and the reputation this team has created for EuroClio as a well respected partner within and beyond Europe.

Q: How did EuroClio contribute to your work, or to history education in general?

For me, the work I did with EuroClio put the Danish tradition and practice of history education into an international perspective. Danes were considered advanced in ways of teaching history in comparison to other European countries. Over time, we have had three Danes as board members of EuroClio, and many members of the Danish Association have taken part in EuroClio’s training courses. These courses did much to reflect my practice.  For me, working with EuroClio also had national effects because my colleagues and I were able to provide input, gained from our experiences abroad, to the Danish Association’s board that helped to create new and improved curricula.

I also believe that working with EuroClio influenced my own teaching.  Through my experiences abroad, I had seen that my colleagues from the Balkans and former East Bloc countries used everyday life history in the classrooms to escape from the textbook, which was always the basis for the final exam.  Until these experiences, I was not used to using everyday life teaching in my own practice.  I thought, “Oh it’s too insignificant…. How could you do an analysis based on that?” But now, I use it in my own teaching.  I find it really works, especially to help female students to become more engaged.  This is because history often seems to be a bunch of old men fighting wars; connecting history more to everyday life helped to ground history more for some of my students.  This kind of perspective has become invaluable to teaching for me.

Q: What is the role of EuroClio today? In the future? How will the organization develop?

I see the role of EuroClio as having two parts.  The first role is defensive, since history education is threatened in various ways across Europe.  History is becoming marginalized as civic education is taking over from history education.  Additionally, history is very much utilized strategically in some countries for nationalistic purposes.  Teachers can feel threatened that they may become political tools. So EuroClio must continue to try to secure the position of history education and educators across Europe.

The second role of EuroClio is a constructive role.  This role is illustrated by EuroClio’s manifesto, which I believe is both symbolic and useful, and a very important development in EuroClio. For me, the manifesto is very much in accordance with the Danish tradition that we do not teach history for the sake of history, but to develop students’ democratic skills and tools for taking part in society and for being constructive citizens.  EuroClio’s role today and in the future will be to develop history education as such, stressing high quality education of teachers, developing curricula that embraces all groups in society, and training multiperspective critical thinking, democratic classroom discussion, and continuous dialogue between the past, present, and future.  EuroClio must continue to make history education relevant to students in the classroom and to the elements of society around students that they deal with every day.  EuroClio also should continue to strive to develop understanding among history teachers, a skill vital to the development of democratic competencies.

Q: What, if anything, could EuroClio improve upon?  What were some challenges/disappointments you faced?

EuroClio does a marvelous job. One thing that I could see EuroClio helping with is the international problem of the dwindling number of history association members. This decreasing membership is a threat to the underlying network of EuroClio associations, so I believe that focusing upon boosting membership in the associations is essential.  Another challenge, as any organization, is maintaining a sound financial basis and a strong national association which gives visibility and a strong political position in order to promote and influence school curricula and the debate over the education of young people.

Q: How has your perspective on history education changed since you began working with EuroClio?

Working with EuroClio, with the Council of Europe, and with many other history organizations has given me more self confidence and more optimism in my daily life. I have also become much more aware of the crucial position history has as a school subject, because I saw firsthand how history education was abused in other countries. So, I’m not sure that I would have fought for the school subject as a board member or fought for history in general in society if I had not been involved with EuroClio. The work I did with EuroClio made my working days more positive and more rewarding. As my wife would tell me, “You work like hell, but you smile all the time,” and I believe this statement is characteristic of my hardworking years with EuroClio.

I have also come to greatly appreciate the EuroClio family. The members of this organization, with whom I have worked very closely, have truly become a very important element of my private life.  I really have made very close friends and even an extended family by working with EuroClio.