EUSTORY Network Meeting 2015
From 19-21 April 2015, organisers of national history competitions from twenty-two European countries gathered for the EUSTORY Annual Network Meeting in Helsingør, Denmark. This year’s network meeting was held in partnership with EUROCLIO, the European Association of History Teachers. It was linked to the EUROCLIO Annual Conference that explored possible “Roads to Democracy” and the role that history, history teaching, democratisation and citizenship play in paving the way towards open, democratic societies in Europe.
One of the core joint events of EUSTORY and EUROCLIO was an interactive debate with the guiding question: “Open societies – emerging from a conflicting past?” This brought together a panel of experts: Ioannis Dimitrakopoulous, Head of Equality and Citizens' Rights Department, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and Jens Dalsgaard, Secretary General of the Danish National Commission for UNESCO as well as Maria Ecker, historian and author of teaching materials at the Austrian online history platform erinnern.at.
They talked about ways, opportunities and challenges of teaching and discussing history, identity and citizenship in 21st Century Europe linked to the concept of open societies and discussed questions dealing with the role of educators and NGOs in sustaining peaceful societies in Europe on the basis of the conflicting past. What is the role of politics and media in communicating diversity, tolerance and active citizenship and which methods are appropriate in history teaching and historical learning in order to strengthen awareness among European youth for critical thinking, tolerance, human rights, multiculturalism and active citizenship?
The debate was moderated by Jonathan Even-Zohar, Director of EUROCLIO, and Gabriele Woidelko, Spokesperson of the EUSTORY Steering Committee. Time was also allotted for questions from the audience to try and promote a wider discussion amongst conference participants.
Apart from dealing with the political dimension of history education and historical project work, this year’s EUSTORY Network Meeting focused on methodological questions such as evaluation criteria and the assessment processes within the EUSTORY Member Competitions. The internal EUSTORY Network Sessions, therefore, started with the traditional marketplace where every country presented its competition and current developments. The 2015 marketplace was extended by the presentation of each competition’s rules, assessment criteria and evaluation processes. Thus, the ground for a vivid exchange was set and the network members got involved in a first dialog about opportunities and challenges linked to their work and their organisations.
The marketplace was then followed by a presentation of a survey on evaluation criteria conducted within the network and an open discussion about its main results. The debate focused on three core questions: “National and global history versus regional and family history: What are the pros and cons for the students’ research?”; “Educating historians or responsible citizens: How relevant is the transfer of the students’ findings to their current communities and the societies they live in?” and, last but not least, “Exploring the invisible: What kind of possibilities do competition organisers use to get a clear picture of the research and learning processes of their students?”
The moderated group discussions revealed that many network members found it hard to clearly distinguish between the two aspects within each question. Some network members pointed out that the research and understanding of regional and family history, for example, would not be possible without the contextualisation into “the bigger picture”, without looking at the background of the global or at least the national context, and vice versa. “A 'local anchor' is needed to tackle a global topic,” said Katja Fausser, one of the organisers of the German history competition. Karsten Korbøl, organiser of the Norwegian history competition, stated: “In most Western schools the national and global aspects of history teaching are very present, whereas the communication about local and family history is usually missing. A project like a history competition is a good opportunity to give voices to these 'silent' groups.” Natalia Kolyagina from The International MEMORIAL Society Moscow emphasised: “If sources are not accessible, research on a local level can be a solution. Moreover, participants’ findings on a local level can even be in contradiction to national history teaching and therefore be a valuable addition.”
Besides this, some network members used the meeting to present their new competition concepts, ideas and plans to the network. After a two-year break, Poland has started a competition round on the basis of a new concept. The core of the competition has been shifted from schools to libraries and archives. “Hidden History - undiscovered, untold, unheard ...” is the current competition topic in Poland. Only group works with at least 5 people are allowed to participate and basically everybody, not only history teachers, can support the participating groups as tutors.
The current Italian competition is also based on a new didactical approach. “The Contemporary Wars - From the Fall of the Berlin Wall until Today” is the topic that will guide the Italian participants through their research which will be mainly focused on the analysis of the perception of wars in the (new) media. The Swiss competition team is currently working on setting up a pedagogical network consisting of archives and libraries in order to broaden the competition’s basis beyond schools. Mirjam Musica, co-organiser of the Swiss competition HISTORIA, presented the aims and proceedings linked to this new approach.
At the end of the meeting the network elected four members to the EUSTORY Steering Committee. The new committee for the period of 2015/2016 consists of the following members: Bojan Balkovec (Slovenia), Danute Dūra (Latvia), Natalia Kolyagina (Russia), Alun Morgan (Wales) and Gabriele Woidelko as the Spokesperson of the Steering Committee (Germany).