16 Oct | PhD defense Pieter de Bruijn

Pieter de Bruijn

Public defence: October 16, 2014, 3:30 PM, Senaatszaal - Erasmus University Rotterdam
Supervisors: Prof. Maria Grever and Prof. Carla van Boxtel

Beyond the experience of the past
Detached reflection crucial in using heritage for history learning

Traces of the past are increasingly used in educational activities, often designated by the term 'heritage education'. Policy makers and education officers have argued that historical objects, monuments, references in the landscape and oral traditions would have the ability to render the past more tangible, which could motivate pupils and stimulate their historical consciousness. Furthermore, they have often emphasised the idea that heritage can contribute to identity development amongst youngsters. The past can, however, also be rendered too close in a way that it obstructs actual reflection on history. In addition, there is a risk that some perspectives are emphasised more heavily, while others are being excluded. These are problematic aspects when learning history is considered to be the main goal. In my PhD Thesis, therefore, I have studied what strategies and techniques are used by museums, archives, memorial centres and other heritage institutes to bring the past closer or set it at a distance.
This research is based on the analysis of heritage educational resources on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery, the Second World War and the Holocaust, developed by 15 English and Dutch heritage institutes. Not only the educational materials (teacher packs, exhibition trails, projects and programmes) were studied, but also the activities (guided tours, workshops) and heritage presentations (exhibitions, memorials, historic sites). I examined these resources for the different ways in which they use, approach and present heritage. Furthermore, I studied how they arranged and structured the story about the past and through whose perspective this story was told. Was the past connected to the present? Was the story framed in a broad global or national narrative or did it zoom in on regional or local events? Was the story told through the eyes of a single individual or were there multiple perspectives?
This research shows that heritage educational resources not necessarily bring the past closer in a simplified form. Instead, they display a great diversity in how an experience of both the nearness and distance of the past can be stimulated. An important outcome of this study is an analytical framework for heritage educational resources that could be of value for education officers and designers of exhibitions to reflect on their own practice. For example, this framework provides insight into the effect of different narrative structures on the experience of the nearness of the past and shows different ways in which historical objects can be used in educational resources. Furthermore, the comparison between the two countries and three topics reveals that heritage educational resources are strongly shaped by the specific aim and mission of the institute that offers them, which in turn is influenced by changes in how certain histories are dealt with in society. This awareness is of great importance if heritage education wants to offer more than a coloured experience of the past. For, when elements of nearness and engagement are combined with detached reflection, heritage education can actually enrich history learning.

About Pieter de Bruijn
Pieter de Bruijn (1986) studied history at Erasmus University Rotterdam from 2004 to 2009. During his Master's he specialised in the fields of historical culture and cultural heritage. He graduated with honours on a thesis dealing with museums of national history in the Netherlands and the UK, ca. 1800-2008. In his position as a PhD Candidate he delivered lectures at several (inter)national conferences. In addition to his research activities, he taught a few courses in the History bachelor programme. In October 2014, De Bruijn will start on a small research on citizenship education at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam.

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