Unity in Europe

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Ben Walsh looks at a rich website resource all about European integration after 1945

European Navigator: the Authoritative Multimedia Reference on the History of Europe. www.ena.lu

This website has a slightly misleading title, in that what it really means by Europe is the European Union, or the process of European integration since 1945. I think it is best to forgive this little point as the resource is interesting, well organised, easy to use and, above all, timely. At a time when referenda have been taking place all over Europe about the proposed EU constitution, and some pretty heavyweight "No" votes have appeared, a resource which helps us to chart the whole European project in a sober and informed way has to be welcomed.

The whole set up is fascinating. The site is based in a chateau in Luxemburg and an army of researchers create content which they hope will be of use to students, historians, lawyers, journalists, authors - anyone, in fact, with an interest in the history of Europe, and particularly European integration, since 1945.

The site itself is impressively comprehensive. It is fair to say that this is not what is traditionally considered to be an interactive site. There are no games, friendly characters, irritating noises or animations. What we do have is a comprehensive library which is organised chronologically but can also be searched by types of media. This approach is thoroughly recommended.

As a film enthusiast myself, I was instantly drawn to the film sources.

These are low resolution and mostly in French, but there are helpful captions and the content of some is marvellous. My favourite was the delightfully silly public information film on the European Customs Union.

Who'd have thought customs could be funny? There are also some really excellent cartoons, including unusual Soviet cartoons making sarcastic or even caustic comments on the process of European integration as being clearly a component of some dark capitalist plot.

The main body of the site is a collection of narrative articles chronicling the integration process, along with a wide-ranging selection of key documents, including treaties, letters, profiles of key players and more.

So what of the value of this site beyond mere curiosity? As I browsed, I saw its potential to help teachers create resources of their own. There is a handy "album" facility which allows the user to collect material relevant to a particular issue and then use it. The site could be used to support what I often call "real" interactivity, in which students can discuss thorny issues and try to support particular viewpoints; the site either inspires new ideas or provides information to help them test their ideas.

I looked at it from the perspective of the history teacher. It contains the potential to digress a little and give the Cold War some European context for A-level students. If history teachers at key stage 3 or GCSE could spare a lesson, it could be used to present a much needed reappraisal of the actions of Germany after 1945. The Northern Ireland nationalist leader John Hume once pointed out that if you had stood on a bridge over the Rhine in 1945 and predicted the process of integration which was under way 10 years later, you would have been locked up. Yet, as this site shows, that is what happened. It would be good to spend one lesson getting students to see that, after 1918, it is Nazism which was the aberration on German history, not democracy. The European Union is our most graphic demonstration of that under-studied reality.

Ben Walsh is a history teacher, textbook author and member of the Historical Association secondary education committee

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