by Dr Erin Bell

On 12 March this year, 14 undergraduate and postgraduate students from several UK institutions attended an event held here at Lincoln. The event offered training opportunities for those interested in going into History teaching, and especially those students with some existing experience. Held as part of the E-Story: Media and History from Cinema to the Web international research project, the UK team behind the event is led by Dr Erin Bell of the Department of History, alongside Dr Florian Gleisner, a teacher, and Dr Barbara Sadler, an FE teacher, university lecturer and media scholar. It enabled those present to hear about, discuss and participate in, simple film making methods; the use of apps such as Ingress in History teaching; and the potential uses (and problems relating to the use of) digital material in the classroom. Armed with these skills and a realistic sense of when and where it may be possible to use them, these teachers of the future were able to gain a very good sense both of the practical aspects of the use of AV material, as well as a wider sense of the representation of the past in Europe: an overview was offered of the research side of the project, which includes the production of 3 reports within the 3-year lifespan of the project (from early 2016).

The reports, which the E-Story partners UK, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Hungary and Poland produce, reflect on the representation of the past in history television programming and on the internet. This is in order to get a sense of the shape of public history in each of the nations: which events, people and approaches to the past are used, and why? Although this offers some fascinating areas of comparisonit can also make for sobering reading: whilst we might expect there to be more history programming from a relatively well-funded BBC in the UK, compared to a smaller nation, the situation in Hungary is dire. The government has effectively banned all representation of the past from television (except the German language channel) or Hungarian-language websites. Truly, to control a nation’s present and future, its past must be erased from all but official sources such as (government produced) school textbooks.

Although initially the intention of the project was primarily to engage school teachers, in the UK, due to the onerous workloads of most history teachers, it was decided in Spring 2018 that the best route was also to engage with teachers of the future, specifically postgrads and undergrads with some existing experience who could bring their experience and ideas together for fruitful discussion. UK-based teachers, trainee teachers, and later students, were therefore given the opportunity to attend 4 training events: the first in Logrono in Italy in April 2017, the second in Hilversum in the Netherlands in February 2018, the third in Lincoln in March 2018, and the fourth and final event in Bologna in Italy in May 2018. Although no individual teacher, trainee teacher or student could attend all 4 events, many attended at least one. At the events, attendees were offered training in, for example, film making using free, downloadable software; contributed to discussions on what constitutes technology; and considered how to use various educational and non-educational apps in history teaching and learning. One of our undergraduate historians, Craig Holmes, after attending the Lincoln event, applied successfully to go to Bologna and participated in training there. The event focussed on audio-visual archival material from the First World War, and Craig worked at one point alongside a Polish student to make a film about the war: the experience of working alongside others to create a useful outcome certainly will stand him in good stead in his future career as a history teacher.

Participants at the Bologna training event watch one of Lincoln’s students, Craig Holmes, present the film he made as part of the project.

The final activities of the project in the UK, in Summer term 2018, will involve history teachers and school students in local schools working with, amongst other material, a short film created by some of the team alongside a Hungarian archivist, Balazs Varga, at the Bologna event, in order to encourage reflection on stereotypes relating to women and Black soldiers during the Great War. It is intended to complement existing teaching as an additional resource, to be used as teachers from across Europe see fit, if appropriate, in their own history lessons – unsurprisingly, the World Wars are two of the few events which are taught across the continent, hence the choice of the Great War as a topic for the Bologna event. Another resource, which seeks to demonstrate, in response to a discussion in Hilversum earlier this year, that mass media can refer to the pre-C20th, considers newspaper reports from the C18th, and particularly those which stereotyped religious minorities.

In conclusion: School teachers, in the UK at least, are often unfairly treated as if they are not ‘proper’ historians, and this is certainly not the case. Italian teachers have embraced the opportunity to be involved in the training events and production of AV material, and in the UK, if History graduates with good degrees from Lincoln (and elsewhere) go into the profession, of course they are proper historians. In my experience over the past 2.5 years, teachers have been willing to engage with the project as far as the situation in each of their countries has allowed, whilst working with teachers from across Europe has been a fascinating and eye-opening experience.