Moving Beyond the National Histories Introducing Historiana – Your Portal to the Past

Euroclio, Global Education Magazine

Only a few weeks ago, on October 24, the United Nations General Assembly actively discussed the importance of history teaching in the world. The Special Rapporteur for Cultural Rights, Farida Shaheed, delivered her report on historical and memorial narratives in divided and post-conflict societies. After research in many countries, she concluded that “education policies relating to history teaching fail to acknowledge cultural diversity and the multiplicity of historical narratives between and within communities” by “promoting nationalistic political agendas and/or monolithic views of dominant powers”. These conclusions are not new: history has always been the most politicised subject to teach.

History is an inseparable part of the project of integration. National histories are traditionally introspective and teach little about linkages between the nations. History can help young people understand their environments and its relation to their own identities. Undoubtedly, most nations count large numbers of students whose immigrant or minority families do not share a common historical experience. To that extent, history teachers increasingly deal with heterogeneous historical cultures as reflected by the plurality of their pupils. Indeed, they cannot simply create ‘more inclusive’ historical narratives as the diverse student population also introduces different and frequently conflicting perspectives in an attempt to give meaning to the ‘same’ events. Therefore, it is evident that a new approach towards history education based on mutual understanding and multi-perspectivity is of urgent need in history education.

EUROCLIO – European Association of History Educators has been promoting development of responsible and innovative history education for over 20 years now. A sound use of history and heritage education demands critical thinking, multi-perspectivity, mutual respect, and the inclusion of controversial issues. EUROCLIO is advocating these values and has therefore been working on many projects since its establishment in 1992. These projects are built on three pillars: building professional capacity through the development of innovative teaching tools, fostering a professional knowledge exchange and supporting civil society by empowering independent history educators’ associations across the globe. The projects are implemented under different programmes, arranged regionally and thematically.

In this context, in 2008 EUROCLIO started the programme Historiana – Your portal to the past, Historiana is an international programme in which a community of professional volunteers, who are history education specialists from more then 30 different countries, work together to provide access to high-quality resources for history, heritage and citizenship education. The resources are selected, developed and tested in order to promote active learning, historical- and critical thinking and multiperspectivity in history. Historiana does not attempt to present a comprehensive ‘story of Europe’ and its relationship with the rest of the world. It offers a framework for comparing and contrasting the impact on and responses by Europe’s nations to a range of different events and developments which have shaped the world from the distant past to modern times.

Historiana promotes historical and critical thinking, and the acquisition of key and transversal competences that are important for preparing a young generation for active participation as citizens of the 21st Century. By doing so, it makes use of the wealth of digitized source materials in museums, archives and other heritage institutes. These offer unprecedented opportunities to make history and heritage tangible for students.Historiana has received the World Aware Education Award (in 2011) and the MEDEA Special Prize for European Collaboration in the creation of Educational Media (in 2012).

The very reason for the necessity of the programme also leads to one of the challenges for Historiana: connecting to the diverse curricula of Europe. Every country has its own subjects and themes. Historiana’s answer to this hurdle is firstly to accentuate the white spots that exist in those curricula and secondly to offer materials on the border-crossing events that are being covered in every European country.

The team is working on the development of Historiana modules that focus on key moments or historical developments that are taught in Europe and beyond. Each module consists of cross-border collections of sources and online learning activities. The current project is the EuropeanaCreative project (2013-2015), in which the first Historiana module, on “The First World War in Wider Perspective”, is being developed. The project will also result in the first tools that educators can use to create their own online learning activities that are specifically suited for the learning of history and acquisition of historical competences.

The module will be launched in July 2014 during the School History Conference in Leeds. Future modules are: ‘The European Revolutions of 1848’ and ‘The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Collapse of the Soviet Union’. The modules feature on the one hand extensive source collections and on the other hand exemplary learning activities. The sources are selected according to three criteria: their relevancy, quality and availability for non-commercial educational re-use. The learning activities are designed to stimulate users to think critically on issues related to history and heritage and to acquire key competences and simultaneously gain knowledge and understanding of specific events and long term developments in history.

EUROCLIO is looking for history education specialists who are interest to increase the global dimension of the Historiana website. The material that is now available is focussed mostly on Europe, because that is where the majority of the contributors to Historiana come from. EUROCLIO recognizes that history does not stop at the border, and would welcome ideas for additional material from other parts of the world.

If you are interested and want to know more or contribute by either developing or testing of material, please contact Judith Geerling at

This article was published on 10th December: Human Rights Day, in Global Education Magazine.

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