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Designing a European history curriculum


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One of the most important aspects of the E-HELP project is our commitment to producing new online resources for European history students and teachers. In addition to content themes that are inherently important (students should know about subject x), we also hope to produce a website that is an exemplary use of the medium.

There will be other threads about web issues, ICT and history 'skills', here I'd like us to focus on the content. In our application for Comenius funding, we said we would produce resources on the following list of topics:

· Minority languages in Europe: a cultural politics of the 20th century

· Europe’s other half: women in 20th century

· And then there were 25: integration and expansion of nations in 20th century Europe

· Peace and Terror: a 20th century history of pressure groups

· Sporting Times: from pastime to primetime

· Globalisation: European work patterns and processes

In justifying this list I wrote:

Historical topics were chosen for three reasons:

(i) They have contemporary relevance and importance. The ‘past-present’ focus attempts to explain the contemporary issue within an historical context. In this way we are able to contribute directly to the promotion of certain transversal priorities e.g. Minority languages in Europe directly promotes the priority of ‘linguistic diversity’ and Sporting Times directly promotes ‘education through sport 2004’.

(ii) They promote a European added value and foster a European identity. History curricula are usually overly concerned to inculcate a particular, exclusive national narrative and identity. In contrast we are an international group of history teachers with a track record of commitment to European ideals.

(iii) They meet a need for curriculum resources currently lacking, that we are excited to provide, in ways that meet various national criteria and a range of language needs. For example, the International Baccalaureate European syllabus provides for the study of ‘20th century European society’ though ‘sport, gender issues, pressure groups, peace movements, terrorism, globalization’ etc. but there are precious few resources to enable teachers to do this.

We are not committed to any of these topics. They were chosen to score points in the application process and did not necessarily reflect previously expressed interests of the E-HELP group. However, we now have to decide on topics that will form the curriculum basis of the E-HELP project.

So, what topics should we be covering that have (i) contemporary relevance (ii) European added value (iii) and are currently lacking.

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· Minority languages in Europe: a cultural politics of the 20th century

· Europe’s other half: women in 20th century

· And then there were 25: integration and expansion of nations in 20th century Europe

· Peace and Terror: a 20th century history of pressure groups

· Sporting Times: from pastime to primetime

· Globalisation: European work patterns and processes

We are not committed to any of these topics. They were chosen to score points in the application process and did not necessarily reflect previously expressed interests of the E-HELP group. However, we now have to decide on topics that will form the curriculum basis of the E-HELP project.

So, what topics should we be covering that have (i) contemporary relevance (ii) European added value (iii) and are currently lacking.

I've already expressed my interest in Europe's other half: women in the 20th Century and I think Juan Carlos did too. Time to get started!

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It seems self-evident but I think that teaching European Integration Process should be stressed in any European curriculum. This is a topic that is taught in every European country.

Should we go on teaching and teaching wars between European nation-states or should we start to elaborate didactic materials that highlight common threads in our history? When I talk with European students I feel that World Wars are far and far away from them and that their image of the world is mainly based on other very different conflicts.

I intend to set up a sort of bilingual didactic unit on line that attempts covering the European Integration Process from the first projects over the Interwar period up to, let's say, European Constitution.

The historical content should try to link European Integration history with World International Relations (mainly Cold War history), in a way that students contemplate EU history as a (relative) success in a not so successful world context.

Most of differet materials used in any history web site (maps, graphics, texts, biographies, glossaries, quizzes, simulations...) should be included in the most interactive way. Flash animation will be the best way to do it.

As Nico says, women's history in the 20th century can be other excellent topic to work on.

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It seems self-evident but I think that teaching European Integration Process should be stressed in any European curriculum. This is a topic that is taught in every European country.

Should we go on teaching and teaching wars between European nation-states or should we start to elaborate didactic materials that highlight common threads in our history? When I talk with European students I feel that World Wars are far and far away from them and that their image of the world is mainly based on other very different conflicts.

This is an interesting and important topic.

· Minority languages in Europe: a cultural politics of the 20th century

· Europe’s other half: women in 20th century

· And then there were 25: integration and expansion of nations in 20th century Europe

· Peace and Terror: a 20th century history of pressure groups

· Sporting Times: from pastime to primetime

· Globalisation: European work patterns and processes

I don't mind keeping all the suggested topics for a while and see what we can come up with...

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· Minority languages in Europe: a cultural politics of the 20th century

· Europe’s other half: women in 20th century

· And then there were 25: integration and expansion of nations in 20th century Europe

· Peace and Terror: a 20th century history of pressure groups

· Sporting Times: from pastime to primetime

· Globalisation: European work patterns and processes

Richard, isn't this all a bit 20th Century? More and more, I find that my kids have trouble with "context"... I think it's approriate to trace things back a bit further. The following are just a few ideas along those lines which I haven't allowed myself enough time to elaborate sufficiently...

Revolution and Reaction

- French Revolution & its influence

- Napoleon as a prototype

- Metternich and Legitimacy

- Russian Revolutions --> Stalinism

- Fascist and Nazi "Revolutions"

- Spanish Civil War

Rise and Fall of Working Class Movements

- Aims and origins of European trade unions

- Aims and origins of European social democratic parties

- Rise or working class "conservatism"

- Decline in influence of European labour movement (falling membership, Thatcherism, neo-liberalism and labour laws, etc)

- Shift to right of European social democratic movements (abandonment of Revolutionary Marxism in early 20th Century in GB, Fr, Germany; social democratic "Cold Warriors" -- eg Bevin, Brandt, etc; PSOE, New Labour, SPD, etc and the Third Way)

Religion and Race a sources of conflict

- 1492 in Spain

- Religious Wars in Germany

- Northern Ireland

- Anti-semitism in European history

- Black Africans in European history

- European responses to decolonization

- European responses to Islamic fundamentalism

These are really sloppily put together and lack any sort of focus, but I do think we should try to look back a bit further than 1900, even if it's not any of the above...

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A few months ago, Germany's ambassador to Britain, Thomas Mattusek, complained that English history teaching focuses excessively on the Nazi period. The history curriculum was "unbalanced". It said little about the successes of post-war Germany, ignored German reunification, and glossed over other crucial chunks of German history. Last week Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fischer, accused UK teachers of perpetuating a "goose-stepping" image of Germany that was three generations out of date.

Mattusek and Fischer have called for these subjects to be taught in the UK: Charlemagne, Bismarck, Willy Brandt, Germany’s post-war economic miracle and Reunification.

There is an article about this in today’s Guardian. Apparently the German government have just paid for 20 English history teachers to visit Germany to discuss these issues. However, as one of the teachers said (Peter Liddell): "Kids find the Nazi period interesting. A lot of things happen. There is plenty of violence. You have to bear in mind that at 14 kids can drop history altogether… Post-war German history is more sophisticated and convoluted and is therefore harder to teach."

The article ends:

"British children can be bigoted and uninterested. The general impression is that Germans are all Nazis who steal sun loungers," Stephen Daughton, who teaches history at a Newcastle comprehensive and spent teenage holidays in Germany, said. "This is obviously a cartoon-style view. The problem is that if you ask them seriously they have no view of Germany at all."

Other teachers blamed England's prescriptive curriculum, which left huge chunks of history out. "Europe disappears entirely after the Norman invasion and only reappears in the 20th century," Gerald Clarke, a teacher at Torquay Boys Grammar School, said. "I think the problem with the Nazis is that they are sexy. Evil is fascinating."

Yesterday German officials defended their decision to pay for British teachers to come to Germany - and said that Mr Fischer had a point. "We didn't know that he would say what he said. But for sometime we have had the feeling that we have to do something about this misperception," one official said.

"The problem is that on British TV you get endless movies that show goose-stepping SS soldiers. The level of ignorance is stunning. We've even met postgraduates at Oxford who didn't know about [communist] east Germany." The trip cost the German government €52,000 (£36,000) and it might be repeated if the money was well spent, the official said. Last year the education secretary Charles Clarke said he sympathised with German complaints about English history teaching but refused to downgrade the role of Hitler.

"Do I think there is a systematic distortion through the national curriculum of German history designed to misrepresent modern Germany? No, I don't," he said, during a visit to Bonn. Last night one British official said there was an ongoing debate about teaching history in Britain and that no firm conclusions had been reached. "This isn't just confined to Germany. Should children learn about the potato famine in Ireland, the American constitution or about feminism in Victorian England? There is a wide debate in the UK."

Before setting off to Dresden last night, meanwhile, some of the teachers said they were astonished at the lavish hospitality provided by the German government.

"I found myself in the penthouse suite of a five-star hotel," Mr Daughton said, before a German government tour bus whisked him off to the Reichstag. "We discovered later that even the mini-bar was free. We would never have been able to stay anywhere like that normally as teachers."

Had the trip worked? Would he teach Germany differently now? "I'm doubtful," Mr Daughton said.

I think we should attempt to deal with these issues. Maybe we should seek a meeting with the German government?

I think we could do with a German as an associate member. I would also like to see someone from Russia.

One of the things I would like to look at is how subjects like Nazi Germany, Soviet Communism, Women's History and the Cold War are taught in the classroom.

The "Ask a Historian" is intended to be part of this. This raises the whole issue of content and interpretations in history.

I think the German government is right to raise this issue. However, if I was the Germans I would be more concerned about the way Nazi Germany and the Second World War are taught. Do history teachers spend enough time on the German resistance to Hitler? Are history teachers guilty of providing material that encourages nationalistic feelings in our young people? Should we be more concerned with developing an internationalist view of the world?

This does not only apply to our teaching of Nazi Germany. Can we expect complaints from Russian diplomats about the way we teach the Cold War? What about the United States? Do they approve of the way we teach the Civil Rights struggle in the 20th century? I know I have had several complaints from American educators about the Civil Rights material on my website. Others have complained about the material on the Vietnam War. The reason they complain is that their students use this material in their studies. This especially upsets those in Texas who keep careful controls over the textbooks that their students use.

I believe the arrival of the web raises a whole range of questions about the way we teach history in the classroom.

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John is correct, the key point here is "the way we teach history".

Teaching about the Nazi period is a very important thing all European History teachers should be doing.

Properly done it does not perpetuate an image of Germans as Nazis, rather it presents fascism and racism as human problems which need the consideration of us all.

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I think we should attempt to deal with these issues. Maybe we should seek a meeting with the German government?

I think we could do with a German as an associate member. I would also like to see someone from Russia.

One of the things I would like to look at is how subjects like Nazi Germany, Soviet Communism, Women's History and the Cold War are taught in the classroom.

The "Ask a Historian" is intended to be part of this. This raises the whole issue of content and interpretations in history.

I think the German government is right to raise this issue. However, if I was the Germans I would be more concerned about the way Nazi Germany and the Second World War are taught. Do history teachers spend enough time on the German resistance to Hitler? Are history teachers guilty of providing material that encourages nationalistic feelings in our young people? Should we be more concerned with developing an internationalist view of the world?

This does not only apply to our teaching of Nazi Germany. Can we expect complaints from Russian diplomats about the way we teach the Cold War? What about the United States? Do they approve of the way we teach the Civil Rights struggle in the 20th century? I know I have had several complaints from American educators about the Civil Rights material on my website. Others have complained about the material on the Vietnam War. The reason they complain is that their students use this material in their studies. This especially upsets those in Texas who keep careful controls over the textbooks that their students use.

I think it's a very good idea to have an associate member from Russia (as well as contact the German government). It's important to get an idea on how our suggested topics are treated in different countries.

Our plan from the very beginning was to focus on the 20th century - even if it's interesting to work with other centuries I think we should stay with this plan. I also agree with Juan Carlos about "European integration" - we need to focus on these parts as well as the conflicts.

;)

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Our plan from the very beginning was to focus on the 20th century - even if it's interesting to work with other centuries I think we should stay with this plan. I also agree with Juan Carlos about "European integration" - we need to focus on these parts as well as the conflicts.

Sorry, I didn't realize it had already been decided. It wasn't clear from Richard's original posting.

I still think ther are important topics which stretch back before the 20th Century, but agree that if it's already been decided, it would be a waste of time and effort to reopen an old discussion.

So, prune off the bits of my suggestions that go back to 1492, etc... I still think it would be a good idea to look at religion and race as a source of conflict and on the history of social democracy/labour unions/the welfare state, etc might be useful...

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Don't you think that the fact that history is an optative subject in different countries has provoked that teachers tend to teach some subjects that are attractive for students (violence, evil, passion, massacres...)?

Evidently enough, we have to teach fascism, Hitler, Stalin... new generations should learn what Europe must not do again, but almost sixty years have passed from Hitler killed himself in the bunker. It means a couple of generations. A lot of my students have a quite vague idea about the Soviet Union... Spanish Civil War finished 65 years ago...

I think that the world has changed so dramatically the last fifteen years that we, history teachers, are having serious difficulties to deal with the main point: what sort of historical knowledge is really helfpul and meaningful for our students to understand the current world.

Apart from European integration and women's history I think that other interesting topics are Nationalism in Europe after WWII or Immigration. This last topic opens up an exciting field of debate and research: comparing American and European experience and ways of dealing with immigration.

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I still think it would be a good idea to look at religion and race as a source of conflict and on the history of social democracy/labour unions/the welfare state, etc might be useful...

I agree with Mike that we cannot completely isolate the Modern World from other eras. But I also agree with Anders that the Modern World should remain our primary focus.

I think that the world has changed so dramatically the last fifteen years that we, history teachers, are having serious difficulties to deal with the main point: what sort of historical knowledge is really helfpul and meaningful for our students to understand the current world.

Apart from European integration and women's history I think that other interesting topics are Nationalism in Europe after WWII or Immigration. This last topic opens up an exciting field of debate and research: comparing American and European experience and ways of dealing with immigration.

Good points Juan Carlos. We need to constantly ask this question: "what sort of historical knowledge is really helfpul and meaningful for our students to understand the current world?"

We also need to consider the best way of studying these subjects. I think the old ways are no longer meaningful for young people as they reflect the ideas and values of 100 years ago.

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In June 2000 I took part in a Council of Europe Seminar Les technologies de l’information et de la communication au service de l’enseignement de l’histoire included in a project on Learning and teaching about the history of Europe in the 20th century

The projects produced different outcomes one of them was a voluminous teachers' handbook on Teaching 20th century European history.

As far as teaching history on the internet, I frankly think that we cannot find many interesting things for our project (four years in ICT and Internet is a long, long time), but it might be a good idea to have a glance at some material.

Some examples:

Teaching 20th century women’s history

Teachers' Training

The European home: representation of 20th century Europe in history textbooks

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Brussels has just produced a school textbook on the history of Europe for children (Histoires de l’Europe). Each of the 28 members and prospective members of the EU is allocated four pages. British newspapers have been complaining about the omissions from the pages on the UK. This includes the fact that the book fails to mention Britain’s role in the two world wars. However, it does mention the war in the pages devoted to other countries. In the French pages Britain is only because General de Gaulle led the French resistance from London.

The German section does not include the word Nazi. Instead it says “1929 saw a surge in extremist movements… and in 1933 Hitler became chancellor”.

The Sunday Times claimed that the book is an attempt to placate the Germans who have been claiming that they are badly treated in British textbooks.

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Brussels has just produced a school textbook on the history of Europe for children (Histoires de l’Europe). Each of the 28 members and prospective members of the EU is allocated four pages. British newspapers have been complaining about the omissions from the pages on the UK. This includes the fact that the book fails to mention Britain’s role in the two world wars. However, it does mention the war in the pages devoted to other countries. In the French pages Britain is only because General de Gaulle led the French resistance from London.

The German section does not include the word Nazi. Instead it says “1929 saw a surge in extremist movements… and in 1933 Hitler became chancellor”.

The Sunday Times claimed that the book is an attempt to placate the Germans who have been claiming that they are badly treated in British textbooks.

I guess when given four pages for your national history you are unlikely to include much reference to its dark side :cheers

I don't imagine, (but don't know) that such a book is intended as a History text or reader for students of history - far more likely it is in the context of a celebration of European Unity and to be used in Citizenship type lessons - hence the lack of focus on conflict??

Sounds like a great source for lessons on interpretations of history though :cheers

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I teach a twentieh century history class. It covers a history of the world and a part of that coverage is that of Europe.

Europe gets much more play in its era of world dominance through 1945 than it does in the second half

These are the European topics I include

Victorian Culture

Imperialism

the pre war I Alliance system (with Balkan crises explained some)

World War I

Treaty of Versailles

Russian Revolution (1905ish thru non-agression pact

Interwar Democracies

Rise of Fascism (Italy, Germany, Spain)

World War II (& Holocaust)

Cold War

Decolonization

Environmentalism (briefly)

Brief postwar histories of France (Age of DeGaulle), Germany, and Great Britain

European Unification

End of the Cold War

Disintegration of Yugoslavia as an issue of nationalism

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