Discussing History Education through Heritage: How to deal with moral perspectives in secondary education

01/16/2024 | by Roland Deurloo (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences) | Cologne Language and Culture Mobility Students Teacher Education

In the EUniWell Blended Intensive Programme (BIP) “Discussing History Education through Heritage”, students from Sweden, Germany, Spain, Ukraine, and the Netherlands collaboratively navigated the challenges in history education, emphasising diverse perspectives and the impact of societal developments. Embark on an insightful exploration of history education with Roland Deurloo, a student of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, who shares his experience.

A group picture og the BIP students in a library at the University of Cologne.
A group of students sitting and standing in a nautical musseum space.
Students sitting in different groups in a museum space. The wall and ceiling are decorated with vintage furniture and everyday objects.

Blended Intensive Programmes are a great opportunity to bring students from different universities together to gain new knowledge and competences in an intensive on-site phase combined with online lessons. This format allows students who are not able to spend a whole semester abroad to gain some international experiences while mainly studying at their home campus. During this BIP on  “Discussing History Education through Heritage”, twenty-eight teacher training students from the EUniWell member universities of Cologne, Konstanz and Murcia as well as Linnaeus University and Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, plus students of the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam, came together to learn and work on history education that emphasises the handling of heritage from the past in contemporary history education.

After a first online session in September 2023, we spent a week in Cologne and Amsterdam at the end of October, focusing on differences in perspective and why we sometimes see developments and events in the past from a different perspective than we did before. These shifts in viewpoint are often influenced by societal developments. The dynamic and varied perspectives imply that actions of the past are interpreted through a moral lens aligned with individual beliefs and cultural backgrounds. The question we wanted to be able to answer after this course is: How do we design history education that does justice to this?

Meeting on-site in Cologne

The start of the on-site phase in Cologne on Monday was primarily about getting to know each other. During online meetings in preparation for this week, we already had our first introduction, and working groups of 4 or 5 students were formed. Coming together in person, we got to know each other better and the teachers from Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands showed the differences and similarities between education in their countries. Afterwards we started working on a self-chosen topic related to the overarching theme of history education and heritage. Each group had the task to create a lesson that could be taught to students from each of our home countries.

The interactive lessons and our group work were combined with several excursions related to the topic of the BIP. On Tuesday, we expanded our educational knowledge by visiting an inclusive school where teaching takes place at three different educational levels. Students - including students with educational special needs - teachers and several educational support staff worked and learned together in one room, often in a circle.  Both teachers and students looked more relaxed in this open setting compared to a regular school. Among the questions we discussed and tried to answer in the afternoon were:

Is this a good example of how we can shape our education in the future, with a greater focus on students not only in terms of education but also on a personal level? Is it a realistic vision of the future or is it more utopian? The financial and personal challenges are significant, especially when the school expands from around a hundred to a few hundred students. Will the sense of security be maintained? The next day we had the opportunity to  visit the former Gestapo (Secret State Police of Nazi Germany) prison in Cologne. After visiting the exhibition, the museum educators asked us to contribute to the new layout of the permanent exhibition, which had remained unchanged for over twenty years. What struck us the most was the abundance of information. We recommended making it more concise and approaching the story of the Gestapo building from different perspectives (e.g. from countries like Poland or Russia or from the perspective of an employee). The idea is that storylines like these are more memorable because the personal narrative from different perspectives engages students and visitors more in understanding the how and why. After these two insightful excursions, we continued working on the assignment of designing an engaging and multi-facetted history education lesson. The preliminary designs were presented in newly formed groups to receive peer feedback. 

Educational visit to Amsterdam

At the end of the week, the programme continued with an overnight stay in Amsterdam where further workshops and visits were planned to give us more examples of heritage education - this time from a Dutch perspective. We went there together by bus and had an enjoyable evening out! 

One of our visits in Amsterdam led us to Imagine IC, a cultural organisation that highlights the culture and identity of migrants as seen from their own perspective, where we had a workshop on dealing with heritage through emotional networks. Using emojis, everyone expressed their thoughts on the how and why of an asylum seekers’ centre. We then discussed these feelings in the group. It was a fantastic inspiration for how to address sensitive topics in the classroom.

Finally, we visited the Maritime Museum in Amsterdam where, during a visit to the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie/ Dutch East India Company) ship ‘De Amsterdam’, we contemplated the questions posed by the museum: How to deal with flags and symbols representing the oppression, exploitation and enslavement of people? Should they be removed or displayed? The general consensus was not to remove the flags and symbols but to use them as a subject of conversation with students.

An outstanding programme

After a pleasant closing reception, everyone went their separate ways to their hometowns. Fortunately, the blended format allowed us to keep in touch automatically by continuing working together during the semester. Some of us had the opportunity to practically test our developed lessons in class or to receive feedback on the concept and materials from experienced teachers at schools. We exchanged this feedback and experiences during our final online course meeting on 10 January. Paul Maijstré (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences)mentioned: “Thanks to our discussions in Cologne, we received new opinions and perspectives in class.” The test in practice showed that the developed material worked well in class and the high school students - in some cases including students with special needs - were able to change their perspective on different heritage related questions. Another experience was shared by Filippa Hasselgren (Linnaeus University): “I did not have the chance, yet, to teach the lesson myself, but I was able to receive feedback from an experienced teacher who used our material and mentioned that the discussions in class became very interesting.” School teachers were thankful for new impulses and agreed with some university students to check if it could be included into the curricular or alternatively if it could be used for specific projects. 

We all look back on a fantastic week in Cologne and several online meetings in which we worked intensively on the theme “Discussing History education through Heritage” and explored different ways of dealing with heritage. “This was a really nice and inspiring seminar. The outcomes are really good. Well done.” were the words with which Prof. Dr. Sebastian Barsch (University of Cologne)closed the final online meeting and the two other teachers fully agreed.  

Further information

This BIP was coordinated and taught by University of Cologne (Prof. Sebastian Barsch with organisational support from Department 93 - International Mobility) in close cooperation with two Professors from Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (Prof. Albert Logtenberg) and Linnaeus University (Prof. Niklas Ammert). The programme and the on-site stay were funded under Erasmus+ Blended Intensive Programmes and Erasmus+ Short-term mobilities. 

EUniWell is planning further Blended Intensive Programmes on different well-being related topics in the future. New programmes will be published on our EUniWell website. 


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