Engaging with Historical Traumas
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Engaging with Historical Traumas

Experiential Learning and Pedagogies of Resilience

Nena Močnik, Ger Duijzings, Hanna Meretoja, Bonface Njeresa Beti, Nena Močnik, Ger Duijzings, Hanna Meretoja, Bonface Njeresa Beti

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eBook - ePub

Engaging with Historical Traumas

Experiential Learning and Pedagogies of Resilience

Nena Močnik, Ger Duijzings, Hanna Meretoja, Bonface Njeresa Beti, Nena Močnik, Ger Duijzings, Hanna Meretoja, Bonface Njeresa Beti

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Über dieses Buch

This book provides case-studies of how teachers and practitioners have attempted to develop more effective 'experiential learning' strategies in order to better equip students for their voluntary engagements in communities, working for sustainable peace and a tolerant society free of discrimination.

All chapters revolve around this central theme, testing and trying various paradigms and experimenting with different practices, in a wide range of geographical and historical arenas. They demonstrate the innovative potentials of connecting know-how from different disciplines and combining experiences from various practitioners in this field of shaping historical memory, including non-formal and formal sectors of education, non-governmental workers, professionals from memorial sites and museums, local and global activists, artists, and engaged individuals. In so doing, they address the topic of collective historical traumas in ways that go beyond conventional classroom methods.

Interdisciplinary in approach, the book provides a combination of theoretical reflections and concrete pedagogical suggestions that will appeal to educators working across history, sociology, political science, peace education and civil awareness education, as well as memory activists and remembrance practitioners.

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Part I
Creative engagements with “ghosts from the past” in traditional classroom contexts

1 Why would you use a Fascist greeting to celebrate a football victory? Discussing historical revisionism and genocide memory with Danish high school teenagers

Tea Sindbæk Andersen and Tippe Eisner


European societies of the 21st century seem to cherish history and curate the sense of a shared past as much as human collectives have ever done. If we recognise that ideas of shared memories are a crucial element of establishing states, societies, and other social groups (Connerton 1989; Gillis 1994; Assmann 2010; Smith 1991, 11–15) this is perhaps not so surprising. Yet, given the resources and energy invested in creating and sustaining historical memories, it is worth questioning what it is such memories teach us as members of 21st-century societies. Does historical memory primarily give us a much-needed sense of collectivity and social belonging? Does it help us find anchor and orientate ourselves as humans in time and space? Does it perhaps allow us to reflect on the past as an archive of human experience, constituting in a way a catalogue of successes and mistakes to learn from and try to improve? Can we use historical memory to learn to be careful empathic creatures, or at least to be wary of repeating crimes and human-made catastrophes of the past?
In Denmark of the 2010s, history as a school topic has rather high priority. It is taught continuously from the early primary school to the end of high school. Moreover, history remains among the biggest study programmes within the Arts and Humanities faculties of Danish universities. History teaching is politically administered with the Ministry of Education supplying directives in the form of so-called “teaching plans” pointing out which issues and topics are to be taught, including national history, the establishment of democracy in Denmark and the welfare state. As a new addition within the last decades, pupils are introduced to the idea of “uses of history”, that is, ways in which history and memory are being appropriated for various purposes (Ministry’s webpage, Børne- og Undervisningsministeriet 2017).
Yet, which lessons the Danish public are able to draw from history and memory are uncertain. It is clear from the public debates of the last decades that direct historical parallels may serve to mobilise attention and affective reactions, but they do not seem to foster much empathy or reflection. The political rise of right-wing Danish nationalism with its outspoken anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric has been accompanied by frequent comparisons to the memory of Nazism made by the right wing itself and by its opponents as well as by mainstream media. Yet, these discussions are usually packed in confusing meta-discussions about the validity of making such historical parallels, often referred to as “playing the Nazi-card” (e.g. Vistisen 2016; Hedegaard 2011; Center for Vild Analyse 2014; Engelbreth 2009). Thus, when a new extreme right-wing party, Stram Kurs (roughly translatable as “Hard Line”) ran in the Parliamentary elections in May 2019 with an explicit agenda to deport all Muslims from Denmark, an argument unfolded in Danish media about whether the party and its front figure, Rasmus Paludan, were Nazi or not (Krasnik 2019; Larsen 2019; Boffey 2019). A group of university historians discussed the question and concluded that the party’s views were certainly worrisome, but it was not a Nazi party as such (Ringgaard 2019). Here, history was involved more as a source of exact comparison and definition, and less a source of general knowledge of the risks of far-right thinking, stigmatisation, and potential ostracism of particular population groups.
Created initially as an internet and social media phenomenon, Stram Kurs became famous by visiting predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods and filming themselves loudly insulting Islam and Muslim populations. The party became an internet sensation especially among the young, and by May 2019 the party’s around 400 videos had been watched more than 20 million times on Youtube (Ringberg & Kristiansen 2019). Stram Kurs’ wide Youtube audience may be watching the videos with deep disapproval or ironic distance. Nevertheless, the party’s powerful presence on the internet and the fact that its videos were being quoted in Danish schoolyards are certainly disturbing factors in a democratic state. Equally troubling is the knowledge that the party managed to gather the 20,000 signatures that allowed it to run for elections and though it did not make it into Parliament, it still gathered 1.8% of all ballots (Hvilsom 2019). Even though the party may not adhere to National socialism as such, its party programme called for the general deportation of several hundred thousand Danish Muslim citizens (Stram Kurs undated). Such rhetoric should remind most people with some knowledge of Europe’s 20th-century history of other cases where discourses of extreme othering, segregation, and dehumanisation have existed, and also of cases where such discourses have been acted out in practice, resulting in mass violence, deportation, or even genocide.
It was against this context that we set out in the spring of 2019 to explore if we could find a way of drawing on history and historical memory to make Danish teenagers reflect about histories of mass murder and genocide in relation to processes of othering and dehumanisation of today. We were hoping to find a way of battling the playful indifference that seemed to be behind some of the reactions from teenagers following the party Stram Kurs’ videos; indeed, this attitude seemed to us a widespread reaction to the rise of the right wing. Thus, our ambition was to somehow make youngsters really think about and relate to genocide history and its presence and role in contemporary societies.
Within the framework of the #Never Again: Teaching Transmission of Trauma and Remembrance through Experiential Learning, we created a one-day teaching pack aimed for high-school pupils. The teaching pack was based on our own research into memory, history, and popular culture in contemporary Croatia and Serbia, and it was built around the project’s idea of using experiential learning as a tool to engage and include participants and audiences in teaching and learning experiences. As a pilot project, we tried out the teaching pack on two groups of high school pupils in the Copenhagen area. The results were interesting, though rather mixed, we think. Some feedback was thoughtful and rather encouraging, whereas other reactions were quite puzzling and not along the lines of our aims. The following pages will present the ideas and theories behind our teaching pack and the results of our pilot project. Before that, however, we would like to express our warm gratitude to our great collaborative partners and high school teachers at Hvidovre Gymnasium and Niels Brock innovation high school, to their kind and funny pupils and not least to our wonderful students who helped us prepare the course pack and realise our teaching events.1

Memory and historical empathy

Following the thinking of Astrid Erll, we propose to understand history as a specific “mode” of cultural memory (Erll 2010, 7), one of the organised and institutionalised ways in which “societies remember” (Connerton 1989). Cultural memory, of which history and history teaching constitutes important parts, serves to orientate people in time and space and to establish individual and collective identities (Karlsson 2003, 33, 43–44). Thus, school teaching in history contributes both to consolidating a consensual public memory in future citizens and, more fundamentally, to help students understand their time and place in the world. This is done through historical narratives. Historical narratives, as presented in history books, school textbooks and historical teaching, connect past, present, and future into concepts of continuity. They mobilise experiences of the past, engraved into archives of memory, to make the present understandable and to make expectations of future time possible (Rüsen 2008, 11). Thus, historical narratives create a certain logic of the connection between past, present, and future. They suggest what is to be learned from the past and what should be expected of the future. We learn from history by reflecting on experiences from the shared past of human beings, and we use these reflections to imagine future scenarios and conditions for actions. Hence, ideally, history should make us wiser and better prepared for our future.
The capacity to understand and learn from history may be thought of as “historical empathy.” Recent scholarship on history didactics views historical empathy as comprised of several aspects, the first of which is a primarily intellectual endeavour to understand and explain historical events and developments based on a “distinctly cognitive act of reconstructing past perspectives from available historical evidence” (Brooks 2011, 166–167). This act of trying to understand the acts of historical figures based on their worldview and conditions is also referred to as “perspective recognition” (Endacott 2014, 5–6; Barton & Levstik 2004, 206–227).
Yet, whereas perspective recognition is a useful tool to explain actions in the past, it does not help us to evaluate these actions. According to Barton and Levstik, to be able to do so, students of history need to be emotionally engaged; to actually care. The absence of emotional commitment, they argue, leave historical enquiry “vulnerable to indifference” (2004, 241). For Barton and Levstik, emotional commitment and feelings of personal relevance are necessary to make students of history engage in understanding, to consider the issues at stake and to be willing to react and behave according to what they have learnt. As such, history teaching and the formation of historical empathy become means to develop democratic participation. “The ultimate purpose of history education”, they argue, “is to enable students to take action in the present, and if they are going to take action, they must care to do so – that is, they must be willing, based on what they have learned, to make changes in their own values, attitudes, beliefs, or behavior” (Barton & Levstik 2004, 237).
Thus, if we hope to make Danish teenagers reflect about the threats of right-wing nationalism, the dangers of dehumanisation of minority groups, and the risks of repeating politics that lead to mass violence, one way to do that could be by trying to foster historical empathy. Yet, in order to do that, we needed to develop teaching tools aimed particularly for this by drawing on the idea of experiential learning.

Experiential learning

We work with a simple understanding of experiential learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb 1984, 41). This understanding combines experience, perception, cognition and behaviour (Kolb 1984, 21). Kolb presents a model, experiential learning cycle, in which he describes four elementary forms of knowledge: two different ways of grasping experience, either by concrete experience or by abstract conceptualisation, and two types of transforming experience, either via reflective observation or via active experimentation. Critics called this model too simplistic as it did not consider factors such as emotion and individual differences, which may play a role in the ability to learn (Beard & Wilson 2018, 42–43). Consequently, Kolb’s experiential learning cycle was altered into a spiral of learning (Kolb & Kolb 2009, 309; Beard & Wilson 2018, 43), which allows for the notion of continuity of experience to be included (Kolb & Kolb 2009, 309–310).
The thoughts behind the spiral of learning are useful for our purpose: Examining if the high school students (can) reflect upon the experiences gained during the event(s) and, upon that, whether they (can), simultaneously or afterwards, conceptualise and eventually apply what they have learned, or even take it further. Nonetheless, we acknowledge, along with the model’s critics (Beard & Wilson 2018, 43), that experiential learning does not happen in a closed space, neither spatially nor timewise. Various contexts may influence the individual’s possibilities to learn, and we acknowledge these contexts as relevant and omnipresent.
For the learning to actually take place, some significant conditions have to be present. These involve motivation, engagement, and immersion, what can help in creating emotional investment (Beard & Wilson 2018, 52; Schwartz 2012, 2), which was also pointed out as crucial to historical empathy. We as facilitators can take part in creating motivation and engagement, making sure that there is a certain quality to the experience to make it memorable (Beard & Wilson 2018: 52). The following section describes how we attempted to implement experiential learning as a tool in the development of our teaching pack in order to engage and motivate the high school students.

The teaching pack

We prepared the teaching sessions in collaboration with two teachers from each high school. Through explorative and creative group work, we were hoping to make the students engage themselves, investigate, reflect, and make a stand. Thus, we were trying to encourage enough emotional investment to make these students care enough to move beyond indifference and, if we were truly successful, to perhaps also draw that reflection back to wondering about the dangers of indifference in contemporary Danish society.
In order to do this, we needed to create a teaching material that initially gave enough knowledge to try to grasp the historical cases, but also allowed the students to engage themselves in investigating the cases and somehow encouraged them to reflect and consider what they learned. We decided to use cases from Yugoslavia’s recent history, both because this is where we ourselves have some expertise, and because we were hoping that by drawing on a non-Danish material we could create the experience of learning something completely new. At the same time, we were hoping to benefit from the students having a more open approach to examples from Yugoslav history, since they would know relatively little about this in advance. We prepared a very brief written introduction to Yugoslav history with a focus on political changes and on moments ...


  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Series Page
  4. Title Page
  5. Copyright Page
  6. Contents
  7. List of figures
  8. Editors
  9. List of contributors
  10. Introduction
  11. Part I: Creative engagements with “ghosts from the past” in traditional classroom contexts
  12. Part II: Places of pain as sites of critical knowledge production
  13. Part III: Using artistic strategies to respond, reflect, and overcome
  14. Part IV: Healing and embodied strategies of learning
  15. Part V: Playing (with) the past, rehearsing (for) the future
  16. Index
Zitierstile für Engaging with Historical Traumas

APA 6 Citation

[author missing]. (2021). Engaging with Historical Traumas (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/2567519/engaging-with-historical-traumas-experiential-learning-and-pedagogies-of-resilience-pdf (Original work published 2021)

Chicago Citation

[author missing]. (2021) 2021. Engaging with Historical Traumas. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/2567519/engaging-with-historical-traumas-experiential-learning-and-pedagogies-of-resilience-pdf.

Harvard Citation

[author missing] (2021) Engaging with Historical Traumas. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/2567519/engaging-with-historical-traumas-experiential-learning-and-pedagogies-of-resilience-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

[author missing]. Engaging with Historical Traumas. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.