Conflict and co-existence in Britain

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
Connections - A Hidden History is a website and online exhibition dedicated to taking students and teachers beneath the veneer of tolerance and understanding to discover what and who the components of modern Britain are - their histories, cultures, parallel paths and convergences.

The site deals with the history and experiences of African Caribbean, Asian and Jewish people in this country - their inter-connectedness, conflicts and co-existence, their various experiences of oppression and the diverse ways their pluralistic communities have dealt with them.

It is a complex story which the Jewish Council for Racial Equality's Black-Jewish Forum and the Parkes Institute at the University of Southampton have been working on for five years to dispel myths and stereotypes of blackAsianJewish relations.

The website is designed for use in key stages 3 and 4 history and citizenship, but it also sheds light on the present as well as the past.

For instance, the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled to this country from persecution in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were derided as diseased undesirables unwilling to integrate into British society, unlike the French Huguenots of the 17th century.

The frenzy of anti-refugee opinion led to the Aliens Act, which put tight controls on immigration. A century later, asylum seekers from Africa, Asia and Central Europe are being vilified for being diseased, for not integrating - and for not being more like the Jews who came as refugees before them.

The stringent regulations in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 follow a recent hardening of public opinion against refugees. Links to the social, commercial and cultural contributions of the three groups chart the transformation of British life, particularly since the war, and highlight the way writers such as Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie have dealt with issues of British identity.

John Simkin, who runs the Spartacus history website for schools and is co-director of the Association of Teacher Websites, sees Connections as providing "a great collection of articles on the subject that would benefit from a teachers' section on how the material relates to the national curriculum and how they can use it in the classroom".

www.connections-exhibition.orgThe Spartacus black history site is at Connections exhibition, based on the website, opens at London City Hall in spring 2004, before touring nationwide

* Historical records of Liverpool's Jewish community dating back to the early 18th century are being made available online. The Liverpool Jewish Archive Collection is on Liverpool council's website at

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