Historical memory is the study of how societies remember the past and in what form. What do we collectively remember, and what do we choose to forget? How do these collective memories shape our understanding of the present and the way we create the future?
Historical memory is an important part of how individuals, nations and communities construct their identities and understand their relationship to each other. However it isn't currently part of the school curriculum across Europe.
On this project I worked with colleagues in Spain, Italy, Norway, Poland and Slovenia to develop a methodology for bringing the concept of historical memory into classroom teaching. Each country piloted the methodology with a group of students, exploring their chosen subject area through the lens of historical memory. Together with oral historian Tracy Craggs, I worked with a Year 9 History group at the Co-operative Academy in Leeds to explore the history of D-Day and the Second World War through the memories and experiences of the people who were there. As part of this work students interviewed Second World War veterans and visited the Royal Armouries Museum to see and handle weapons and uniform. They explored the nature and purpose of remembrance, the way in which the Second World War has affected subsequent generations, and how politicians and the media use Second World War imagery to manipulate public opinion.
The project was a challenge for the students (and for us!) but feedback was very positive, particularly about interviewing the witnesses and their day exploring the Royal Armouries Museum. Here are some of the things teachers and students have said:
"[The most valuable aspect was] the use of huge amounts of primary sources to develop a context and a narrative. Meeting and interviewing the veterans helped to put a different context/ slant on it for students. The outcomes which led to an understanding developed through students' work not teacher led interventions" (Head of History).
"You can't really get emotions of World War Two out of books. You can read about the emotion but you can't feel the emotion. Interviewing the people, you felt the emotion and you took the emotion with you" (student).
"We just sit in a classroom normally and do work and then look at the board and occasionally a little movie whereas when we were doing this project it was like a little bit of everything including trips, which made it more fun" (student).
"You taught me in a way that I'd be interested in" (student).