History and the learning of history in Europe

Reply to Recommendation 1283 (1996)

 

Doc. 7639

12 September 1996

 

COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS

adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 5 September 1996 at the 572nd meeting of the Ministers' Deputies


            The Committee of Ministers noted with interest Recommendation 1283 (1996) of the Parliamentary Assembly on history and the learning of history in Europe.  This is an issue of major educational significance, not only for coming generations but also for civil society as a whole.  This is why the Council of Europe has for many years paid close attention in its activities to history teaching and to the textbooks used to familiarise young people with their own historical and cultural heritage and those of other peoples and cultures, extend their horizons, develop a tolerant yet critical approach and instil mutual understanding and confidence between the peoples of Europe.

            In its recommendation, the Assembly draws member states' and the Committee of Ministers' attention to a number of problem areas on which the Committee of Ministers would offer the following comments:

            With regard to history teaching in member states' educational systems (paragraph 14 of the recommendation), in addition to its earlier work on school textbooks, the Council of Europe has in recent years initiated a number of activities, particularly following the 1993 Vienna Summit of Heads of State and Government of the member states of the Council of Europe, including:

-           the project "History Teaching in the New Europe", whose conclusions will be considered by the Standing Conference of European Ministers of Education at their next session (Kristiansand, Norway, June 1997), with a view to adopting a resolution or declaration on history teaching; these will naturally take full account of Recommendation 1283;

-           the seminar on "the Reform of History Teaching in Schools in European Countries in Democratic Transition", held in Graz, Austria, from 27 November to 1 December 1994, attended by civil servants and specialists responsible for such

-           the seminar on "History Teaching and the Development of Confidence - the case of central and eastern Europe", held in April 1995, in Smolensk, Russian Federation, and attended by historians and curriculum designers from Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, to discuss how they should handle sensitive and controversial issues in the teaching of their common history;

-           the Baltic school history book project, initiated in 1996, which is an interesting example of practical co-operation between historians and history teachers from majority and minority groups.

            Apart from the interchanges to which they have given rise, these projects and meetings have led to a number of international projects and extracurricular activities on history in the spirit of the Vienna Declaration.  More specifically, the project on "history teaching in the new Europe" has lead to the drawing up of a history teaching check-list for curriculum designers, history teachers and teacher trainers, and a practical guide for teachers.

            The Education Committee will be sponsoring a new project from 1997 to 1999 on the teaching of twentieth century European history in secondary schools, which will also draw on the proposals in Recommendation 1283 (1996) on the handling of controversial, sensitive and tragic events, women's history, the media and the educational use of museums.

            The Committee of Ministers shares the Parliamentary Assembly's concern about the dangers of nationalism in history teaching.  National history is not synonymous with "nationalist history" and should be taught using an open-minded approach that reflects the origins, diversity and experience of all the members of a national community, while remaining rooted in a European and global context.  It recalls that "history, memories and heritage" is one of the strands of the CDCC project "democracy, human rights, minorities: educational and cultural aspects", and that the Higher Education and Research Committee held a conference on "Tolerance in Higher Education in Europe" in Ljubljana in October 1995.

            Turning to international co-operation in the field of history (paragraph 15 of the recommendation), the Committee of Ministers wishes to draw attention to the importance of cultural routes, art exhibitions, school exchanges and in-service training for teachers, all of which are included in Council of Europe projects and continuing activities, for acquiring a tolerant and open-minded approach to European history and civilisation.  It also recalls that the Fourth European Conference of Ministers Responsible for the Cultural Heritage (Helsinki, 30-31 May 1996) adopted a declaration which emphasised inter alia that "cultural assets are tangible, authentic sources for the history of culture and of human civilisation" and that "heritage education should underline the community values inherent in the cultural heritage, teaching respect for multiple identities, the development of tolerance and opposition to inequality and exclusion".

            The Committee of Ministers can also assure the Assembly that the European Standing Conference of History Teachers' Associations (EUROCLIO), set up with the support of the Education Committee, is regularly involved in the latter's activities.  The Committee of Ministers is also fully aware of the valuable role played by the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in the fields of history, geography and social studies and refers to its own Recommendation No. R (88) 17, which calls on member states to "make teachers and textbook authors aware of the work of the Georg-Eckert-Institut" and to "encourage publishers of educational material and publishers' associations to send, free of charge, copies of their main history, geography and social studies textbooks to the library of the above-mentioned institute".

            Regarding issues connected with the financing of historical research and co-operation between historians, the Committee of Ministers considers that historians, as indeed all academics, should conform to the highest standards.  Like other researchers in the social and human sciences, historians have a special responsibility for disseminating their research findings to the widest possible audience, including school teachers and the media.  The above-mentioned Ljubljana conference recommended that the publication of results should be a contractual requirement of the funding of research from the public purse.

            The Committee of Ministers recalls that, as it has already noted in its reply to Assembly Recommendation 1264 (1995), the Higher Education and Research Committee intends to give history an important place in its new activities concerned with developing research in the social and human sciences.  Both the Higher Education and Research and the Education committees recognise the potential of new communication technologies (paragraph 16 of the recommendation), both as a tool of history teaching and learning and for establishing what might be called an "on-line library of European history".  Feasibility studies into the establishment of such an "on-line library" will naturally depend on the availability of funding and the willingness of the CDCC to take the relevant decisions.

            In conclusion, the Committee of Ministers wishes to inform the Assembly that Recommendation 1283 (1996) has not only been transmitted to the governments of member states but has also been brought to the attention of the Education Committee and the Higher Education and Research Committee, so that they can take it into account in their respective areas of activity.