CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY AND RECONCILIATION IN SOUTHEAST EUROPE

Lighting up the dark history of Southeast Europe: JHP presented at American Universities

09October

Lighting up the dark history of Southeast Europe: JHP presented at American Universities

“History teaching can play two opposing roles. On the one hand it can contribute to the reproduction of conflict if it hushes up the dark sides of the past, by propagating a one-sided teaching of the controversial dramatic events. On the other hand, history teaching can be used as a tool for healing traumas and overcoming painful memories” argued Professor Christina Koulouri, Chair of the History Education Committee of the Joint History Project. Professor Koulouri addressed the second aspect of history education in a workshop entitled ’Sharing Dark History in Southeast Europe’, that took place on October 6th, at Princeton University. The workshop focused on the pivotal role of history education in the construction of national memory in light of the controversial historical events, following the Yugoslav wars, that triggered the so-called ’memory wars’.

By presenting the Joint History Project workbooks as a paragon to be replicated in history teaching, Professor Koulouri attempted to answer questions such as “Can history teaching contribute to the reproduction of the conflict? Or might it be used as a tool for healing traumas, for overcoming painful memories and for reconciliation between former enemies? How could history teaching function as part of a major project of peace education? Ultimately how efficient could such a project be in a region ‘suspicious’ of nationalism?” As part of the workshop, the Joint History project was used as an example of alternative education material produced and disseminated in 13 countries across Southeast Europe; a concrete manifestation that high quality historical research and multi-perspective history teaching can act as a shield against deep-rooted animosities, stereotypes and blind nationalism.

The event was organised by the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies at Princeton University, where Professor Koulouri currently serves as a Visiting Research Fellow. Historian Professor David Bell, Director of the Center for Collaborative History joined Professor Koulouri on the panel.

On October 11 Prof. Koulouri gave a second lecture entitled “Teaching History in Post-Conflict Society: The Case of the Balkans”. In her speech, Prof. Koulouri elaborated on the importance of creating alternative educational material in post-communist Balkans and especially in the states which emerged after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. By introducing the Joint History Project as a significant contribution in the reform of history education in the region, Prof. Koulouri explained how educational reform functions as a precondition for democratization and a long-term policy of conflict prevention. In a region ‘suspicious’ of nationalism, the revision of history teaching is also embodied in the reconciliation process and has been promoted through bilateral, multilateral/regional and international projects. The underlying assumption behind this activity was that a change in the teaching methods of history might have a long-term effect on the way neighbouring people see one another. On the other hand, contesting memories – a global phenomenon of the last decades- generated fierce disputes and even violent confrontations related to the traumatic historical experiences of the recent past. The victims have claimed the ‘duty to remember’ as part of their identity, also aiming at a moral recompense via history.

The lecture, which was met with great success, was also attended by fellow historian and Chair of the JHP Academic Committee Prof. Maria Todorova as well as a number of academics from the Balkans. The event took place at the Linguistics Department of the University of Illinois and was co-sponsored by the European Union Center, the Program in Modern Greek Studies and the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation. 

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