History in the making;Opinion

5th March 1999 at 00:00
Jim McGonigle previews the first UK assembly of the European Standing Conference of History Teachers' Associations

NEXT WEDNESDAY sees the culmination of almost two years' work, with the opening of the annual conference and general assembly of the European Standing Conference of History Teachers' Associations (EUROCLIO) in the Royal Museum of Scotland. The conference, which runs until March 13, has been organised on behalf of EUROCLIO by the Scottish Association of Teachers of History, and it is the first time it has been held in the UK.

National identity and heritage play an important role in history curricula and history textbooks in many European countries. Look at what has happened here as a result of the so-called Braveheart effect on the study of and interest in Scottish history.

This has been further stimulated as a result of two recent publications from the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, one focusing on the role of Scottish history in the curriculum, and the other looking at Scottish culture. If this were not sufficient evidence of the upsurge in this area, the elections to the Scottish parliament have added yet another dimension to the debate over national identity.

With all of these in mind, the theme of this year's conference - "Heritage and national identity - key concepts in history education?" - is most apt. The conference will give delegates the opportunity to reflect on the fact that most European teachers work within multicultural societies and they must recognise that any emphasis on national identity can lead to the exclusion of several groups in society.

The need to assess the implications of national identity for both history curricula and classroom practice has never been greater.

It was in 1993 that EUROCLIO, encouraged by the Council of Europe, was established as a non-governmental organisation to unite all European history teachers' associations. Today, it represents about 65,000 teachers in more than 40 European countries. Among its aims then, and now, are the need to defend and promote history teaching as an essential subject in the education of young people - no easy task in some of the emerging countries of Europe - and to ensure that the teaching of history truly embraces a European, and indeed a world dimension, while not neglecting national and regional histories.

To this end, EUROCLIO has been an active organiser of bilateral and multilateral projects, in which Scottish representatives have been able to participate. An example was the recent programme that looked at the promotion of democratic values through the teaching of history, a theme that also formed the basis of the conference three years ago.

The keynote address to the 100-plus delegates will be given by Professor Tom Devine, of Aberdeen University, on the role of history in the formation of Scottish national identity. Other contributions will come from Louise Yeoman, of the National Library of Scotland, and representatives of Historic Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the National Museums of Scotland.

The European dimension will be provided by Spain, Ukraine, Germany and Malta. The Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network will look at how the proliferation of information technology affects national identity. Delegates will assess how the concepts of heritage and national identity are applied in the European context, how they contribute to the historical awareness of pupils and how young people's view of the past influences their self-identity.

Friday's activities, which are open to Scottish teachers, will centre on the new Museum of Scotland, and will feature interactive workshops in the Discovery Centre. The conference ends with the general assembly of EUROCLIO, in effect the annual meeting when new board members and a new executive are to be elected.

Further details can be found on the Scottish Association of Teachers of History homepage, www.sccc.ac. uksath, or from Kelvin Sinclair, SATH president, at the High School of Glasgow, or Jim McGonigle, vice-president, at Hermitage Academy, Helensburgh.

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