Two Decades of Mapping History Under Threat

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

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

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

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

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

Facts-based advocacy

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

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

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

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

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

Annual Report of the Network of Concerned Historians

EUROCLIO Partners

History can be a very dangerous occupation. Thanks to the network of Concerned Historians, we can see on an annual basis how much under threat historians and history teachers are across the world. Reading through the 2017 edition of this annual report is a staunch reminder of the public role that history has, and how politicians, democratic or otherwise, are keen to use this role for their benefit. The report touches upon issues related to remembrance as well, including monuments and street names.

The full report is available as a PDF at: http://www.concernedhistorians.org/content/ar.html

Annual Report 2017 of the Network of Concerned Historians

EUROCLIO Partners

The Network of Concerned Historians (NCH) has just published its Annual Report of 2017. This is available in pdf-version here.

The NCH, established in 1995, serves as a link between concerned historians and human rights organisations. It wants to be an independent and universal network. This year’s Annual Report is the 23th Annual Report of the NCH. It contains 145 pages of news about the domain where history and human rights intersect, especially about the censorship of history and the persecution of historians, archivists, and archaeologists around the globe, as reported by various human rights organisations and other sources. It mainly covers events and developments of 2016 and 2017. 106 counties are covered in the report.

Previous Annual Reports of the Network of Concerned Historians, covering the years 1995 to 2016, can be accessed via NCH’s website.

Network of Concerned Historians – Annual Report 2016 is now available

EUROCLIO Partners

We are please to announce that the Annual Report 2016 of the Network of Concerned Historians (NCH) is now available in a pdf-version here.

This is the 22th Annual Report of the NCH. It contains 123 pages of news about the domain where history and human rights intersect, especially about the censorship of history and the persecution of historians, archivists and archaeologist around the globe, as reported by various human rights organizations and other sources. It mainly covers events and development of 2015 and 2016. This circular is sent to 2601 historians and other interested in the past all over the world.

More than 100 countries are covered in the report, from United States to Argentina, from Ireland to Turkmenistan, from Algeria to South Africa, and from Cambodia to South Korea.

Previous NCH Annual Reports, covering the years 1995 to 2015, can be consulted on the NCH website here.

Updates from the Network of Concerned Historians

EUROCLIO Partners

On 13 October 2015, the Network of Concerned Historians (NCH) had its 20th anniversary. According to its coordinator Antoon de Baets, however, this was not a time for celebration. He points out that after the online publication of the 21st NCH Annual Report on 14 July 2015, historians in Syria and India have been killed, while historians in Azerbaijan, China and Morocco have been imprisoned or have otherwise found their rights infringed upon. On the NCH website you can find more information on these cases, as well as campaigns conducted since 13 October 1995; 21 NCH Annual Reports about the persecution of historians, history students, history educators and related professions and the censorship of history worldwide; 226 codes of ethics for historians, archaeologists and archivists in dozens of countries; and other relevant human rights documents and legal cases involving historians and history around the globe. Moreover, you are invited to forward to NCH any relevant documents to supplement these collections.

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

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