This address was given by Joke van der Leeuw-Roord at the dissemination conference of TeacMem in November 2012 in Hamburg as the result of her evaluation:
“Thanks to ask me to join your thought provoking journey. Teaching Historical Memories in an Intercultural Perspective gives ample opportunities to reflect ways we teach about the past, especially using museums, monuments and memorial sites. My historical knowledge and thinking is everyday enriched with more 3 dimensional jigsaw puzzle elements, which make you rethink every time the past, the memory about it and the influence of the past on the present.
In this Project it was fascinating for me to learn about the way Denmark and Norway have addressed the memory to World War II over time. It struck me how the Danish and Norwegian approaches were similar to the Dutch patriotic narrative, and how the deconstruction process also shows many parallels. The fact that I personally have been able to observe the manner in which my society was processing these World War II experiences, made participating in the final project event and the reading the articles for this publication materials extra interesting. To study the project was not only an intellectual journey, it was also a reflection exercise linked to my personal experiences.
Let me share some more detailed observations about this project. I have looked into the goals and expected results of this project and questioned if these where achieved. I also was interested to look for some unexpected processes or outcomes. As my professional interest focuses on the challenge how can we improve school history and the quality of history teaching professionals, another question to the project was in how far the project contributes to these goals and if it was possible to propose practical translations of theory into class-room strategies and tools
The articles in the publication confirm the strong mirrors of pride and pain which rule the way we generally present the past in public history in Europe and beyond. This pride is present via the strong emphasize in the museum/ memory site’s presentation of resistance, patriots and the Danish rescuing of most of its Jewish population. The pain is made clear through the victimhood of all suffering, the effects of occupation, the violation of human rights, and in a rather late stage with the more particular focus on the Jewish catastrophe. However those issues, which were wrongdoings, inflicted on others, and are shameful, are only addressed with great difficulty. Or only at a very late stage: the role of the national police in the holocaust, the beyond limits operating of the resistance or the collaboration of Danish and Norwegian citizens. The Dutch experience is basically the same, only that the Jewish disaster plays, certainly already since the early seventies, a more central role, probably due to the sheer size of the catastrophe, as more than 100.000 Dutch Jews were murdered. However the negative Dutch (police) role was also long down played, and the bystander question rarely asked.
The project shows the great European added value of the trans-border approach in the teaching and learning of history. The cross national experience of this project made me again aware of the need for such intercultural reflection on the way the memory culture about World War II is made agent for the narrative of the uniqueness of the national experience in the different European countries. The project members observed an ‘ Iconic culture’ maintaining and developing the national memory. Many of the visited museums and sites had double functions, they were showing specific historical issues or events but acted also as national memorials.I agree with the observation that an “ overarching shared perspective” is something we should try to strive for, when we are serious about the project Europe. A much bigger project involving a rich variety of countries involved in the World War II experience, using the methods developed by this project, would certainly develop such wider perspective on this common experience.
The different articles give clear insight that the project offered the participants a in depth cross-national and cross-cultural insight to the shared but differently experienced history of the Second World War, German Occupation and the Holocaust. The activities within the project enriched the knowledge and understanding of the participating countries’ history culture, memory and politics among the participants. They also acquired deeper insight in their national narratives as well as in the perspectives of the other participating countries and increased the reflections of the group from a variety of cultural perspectives.
The envisaged target group of participants was wide, with academic historians, specialists in the theory of the learning and teaching of history, teacher trainers, teacher students as well as museum and memorial educators. Unfortunately very few teachers were involved. The dialogue among the participants could have been stronger when it had been based on a somewhat more equal footing. The main role was formed by academics, trainers, museum educationalists and trainee students, the last group mostly used as guinea pigs for the (very interesting) exercises. A good representation of practitioners was absent, as I understood certainly also due to bureaucratic obstacles and there was no attempt to pilot of the developed exercises also for school students. It resulted unfortunately in a lack of communication about the goals directly related to school history: ‘ to open history teaching in schools’ … ‘for stronger and more reflexive cooperation’
The different exercises addressed a great variety of competencies, related to memory and teaching history. The project targets to develop ‘ students’ abilities to develop positions in relation to the past’ ; ‘ to construct, reconstruct and discuss individual narratives about and interpretations of the past’ and ‘to relate to and make use of key historical concepts’. ‘ The students should know what happened and understand complexity’ . They also should have obtained transversal competencies such as being able to reflect, to question, to think critically and to judge.
There is also a set of specific competencies, related to working with museums and memory sites. Students should be able to “read” monuments and memorial signs and to ‘ identify the different understanding of monuments at various historical points in time’ . They are considered to be able to ‘ interpret’ these monuments and ‘ relate to the interpretations of others, while investigating the reasons for diverging or conflicting interpretations’. They should have the capacity to ‘ compare and relate memorials to each other’ and ‘ to the development of memory culture over time or depending on their individual background’. Students should be able to ‘critically question the notions of individual and group identities’, their ‘ links to representations and interpretations of the past as well as the notions of “one’s own” and “other people’s” history’ . And finally the students should be able to explain their ‘ narratives, artistic style, texts, symbols, architecture, color and symbolisms’. It was good to notice that EUROCLIO’s goal to implement the concept Reponsible History Education, by developing the ability and willingness to question and to deconstruct historical myths and an understanding that history is made of multi-layered narratives, and can be told very differently, is fully addressed through the activities and the publication of this project.
If students would have obtained all these competencies ‘ the main goal of using the method is to highlight the diversity of narratives, related to the politics of history at different times and the changes in memory culture over time’ would certainly be reached. However are we not over estimating in what school can achieve and what school students can master. Reading this impressive list of competencies I could not help asking my self what are skills historians required for historians and what are relevant skills for students to acquire during school history lessons. In my longtime experiences in working with historians in Central and (South) East Europe I have unfortunately to conclude that most of the competencies addressed in this project are not ordinary tools for academic historians. And even in the Academic world in Western Europe I am not sure these competencies are always fully applied. Requiring university and teacher training students, let alone school students, to master a good sample of these competencies might be too ambitious.
In this respect I am concerned if the project is not over demanding for students and their teachers. The proposed approaches do not look into different capacities and levels in performance of students and demand significant historical knowledge. The chosen approaches demand often asking critical historical questions, but I wondered how many ( historical) questions people can ask if they have no prior knowledge about contextualising information and mainstream interpretations about the past.
The fine tuned list of competencies brought me to an other question. Do we need such a exclusive and specialized list of competencies or is it not better to bundle these competencies into more inclusive concepts. Competencies based learning is still far from common practise in Europe and beyond, and if we are able to transfer a common message about which competencies we think vital for history classroom, such approach would certainly strengthen the implementation process of competencies based learning in European history class rooms. The more complex we make the competencies, the more confusion we create by in using different terms, the least chance we have that they will be implemented. Such implementation will be highly depended of the understanding of practitioners what is meant, how it can be made applicable and how it can be assessed.
The project addresses a wealth of key concepts and competencies, which I recognized as to understand how the museums, monuments and memory sites interpreted the past; to consider the significance of museums, monuments and memory sites in their historical context and in the present day, to identify and explain change and continuity in the waymuseums, monuments and memory sites present within and across periods of time and to analyze and explain the causes and consequence of the way the museums, monuments and memory sites present the past.
The Project addresses historical enquiry as the exercises and activities require toidentify and investigate, individually and as part of a team, specific historical questions or issues museums, monuments and memory sites, making and testing hypotheses and to reflect critically on their findings. It also demands to use evidence as the exercises and activities require to evaluate the sources used in order to reach reasoned conclusions and it requires to communicate about their knowledge and understanding of history in a variety of ways, using a variety of conventions and historical vocabulary.
The exercise with the Responsibility Cards addressed a very important challenge related to competencies based learning: how to assess it, by noticing that ‘ the one right answer does not exist’. For most educational authorities in Europe a horror remark, as the results can in this case not objectively be measured. However assessing competencies based learning in history a very important aspect to be addressed when we talk about high quality innovation of the learning and teaching of history.
Seeking a balance between distance and engagement is an important issuei. This project fosters the need for historical distance to detach museums, monuments and memory sites from emotional, personal and time related( political) interests. However if we think about the ultimate target group: young people it seems to me that we should not neglect their emotional involvement, as all these places are related to an evil period in the past, and many of the spots visited are directly related to events that happened at that time on that spot. We therefore should also allow young people to experience what the cross-border known Dutch historian Johan Huizinga’s coined as ‘historische sensatie’ (historical sensation). He understood this notion as a moment in which the past is seen as a vivid image, the awareness that this happened then on this place where I stand or live now. We have to acknowledge that many of the historical sites involved in the project reflect this element and should not be reduced to simply tools for procedural reflections. Historical sensation should be used as a source of inspiration to further the reflection exercises.
This counts also for the issue of the authenticity of place, buildings and objects, which young people help bridging the time gap and create opportunities for identification. We have to realize that for them the period of the World War II is history and an emotional appeal on students, can create a feeling of personal attachment towards the sensitive history of may intensify their experience and their identification with the evoked past. Such approach may also be a powerful tool to involve students in processes of historical thinking.
In the goals of the project I observed little emphasize on the rather normative element, or moral message namely attitudes and values,which certainly are related to the topic of the project. In the project it is very clear that dealing with the period of World War II one can not escape from notions such as good and evil, perpetrators, bystanders, victims and upstanders, looking at issues as dilemmas and responsibility. The above mentioned Responsibility Cards this issue is certainly addressed as they directly question the individual responsibility of actors during World War II. But the exercise goes beyond that explaining that the procedure focuses on develop the students’ democratic abilities. The rescue operation referred to as the White Buses, rescuing Scandinavian prisoners but having to move other prisoners to other places raises an important moral dilemma faced by many active in the national resistances.
What can be considered as an unexpected outcome of the project, certainly influenced by the cross border approach is the question what qualifies to be commemorated and who should be commemorated, and how should that be made material or visualized. The mirror of pride and pain certainly plays a role. It seems generally very hard to present national wrongdoings, or emphasize for instance the place where the Nazi collaborator Quisling was executed. (also out of the anxiety that it could be misused ) There were also interesting national differences. For the German participants presenting Nazi memorabilia in museums was very problematic but for the Norwegians it was a normal experience, to demonstrate the victory on the evil perpetrators. And I learned in November 2012 that in Lithuania it is by law forbidden to display or carry any Nazi nor Communist symbols. The project offers a good starting point for further reflection on this particular issue, which presently is widely discussed in the Former Communist countries.
The project thus gives enough concepts and principles to the learners to learn about issues and structures how museums, monuments and memory sites on World War II represent the memory and history of this period and a variety of (practical) suggestions how to handle these representations. The proposed methods and exercises give ample opportunities for the development of historical thinking. I hope that this publication offers a wider history, citizenship and heritage education community the opportunity for intercultural reflection on teaching about the memory culture.In this contribution I concentrated on the questions If (my understanding) of the project goals have achieved the envisaged results and if and how European history education can benefit of the results. I hope I made clear that I answered these questions fully in the affirmative and that I have inspired you to explore the wealth of thought provoking articles in this publication.
Joke van der Leeuw-Roord Executive Director EUROCLIO