Key Debates & Implementation Challenges

Last Updated: March 11, 2009

Controversial versus consensual memories

Memory and history work is based on the progressive construction of narratives that may not always be congruent; this is both its strength and one of its key challenges. Moreover, other dimensions of the peacebuilding process also contribute to the production of narratives about the past. For instance, a national or international judicial mechanism, or a 'truth and reconciliation' commission also provides a certain account of what happened.1

In any country, in any given moment and place, it is impossible to find one memory, or a single vision and interpretation of the past shared throughout society. There may be moments or historical periods when a consensus is more pervasive, when a single script of the past is widely accepted, or even hegemonic.  But "normally, the dominant story will be the one told by the winners of historical conflicts and battles."2 In other words, what is generally sanctified as a 'consensual' vision may be nothing more than the imposition of one version of history upon the others, as tragically illustrated by the history of many countries and regions (like in the Balkans and the African Great Lakes region).3 Yet, "there will always be other stories, other memories, and alternative interpretations."4 The space of memory is thus an arena of political struggle that is less to be conceived in terms of a struggle of 'memory against oblivion' or 'memory against silence' but an opposition of 'memory against memory.'5 Reaching a minimally shared vision of what constitutes "the common good and the programs to achieve it" takes time, presupposes the existence of different arenas of debates in the society, and "is precisely what is lacking in many post-conflict societies."6 Meanwhile, "ethnic or national groups that have achieved supremacy want to make certain that their victory is represented in terms that show the rightness of their war and their victimization.  Those groups that lost want to be seen as victims as well or at least as having fought...and still fighting to preserve a history or culture that they valued highly."7 

History and history education are clearly in the middle of that contradiction. "While we recognize, in this postmodern age, that there are limits to those facts that can be established and broadly recognized in any society, nonetheless truth-seeking and truth-telling mechanisms are now widely demanded and increasingly established, due to the recognition that some threshold level of agreement about the past is necessary after conflicts or severe human rights violations."8 As a consequence, there is a risk of constructing a falsely positive narrative and thus a historically inaccurate account of the past. There is also an ongoing, almost worldwide, debate on whether the history curriculum should define a body of knowledge, unquestioned values, and moral judgments that represent the shared historical memory of a given society or whether students should be trained in skills that allow them to compare different interpretations, to develop critical thinking, and to form their own judgments. "Generally speaking, the debate on textbooks concentrates on contesting a multicultural or multi-perspective approach on the one hand, or an ethnically/nationally centered view on the other."9 Yet, in specific post-conflict contexts, the different actors (in particular students, teachers and parents) may have little confidence "that the creation of a multi-perspective curriculum is possible, nor do most participants feel that their schools are set up to teach critical thinking about the reporting of historical events."10 Some scholars also consider that "a strong multi-perspective approach from the outset is, in most cases, not feasible, for teachers cannot implement it, scholars are not sufficiently trained to develop it, and politicians are not ready to accept it." 11 Therefore, many would stress that it should be a goal that requests both adequate understanding of the specificities of each context and appropriate needs to address it. "The formula is highly context-dependent and includes such considerations as whether the oppressed group was a minority or a majority of the population, whether there is a new government in power that does not identify strongly with the one under which abuses occurred, how long ago the conflict was, whether the former enemies still live side by side, and how strong the possibility is of renewed conflict. All of these practical and political considerations exert influences on how, when, and to what degree historical narratives are revised in the direction of the standards of good academic history."12 Before being able to reform history education and draw on viable research or documentation, "governments often anticipate the challenge of an open, serious, and in-depth historical debate and either prescribe a new core narrative or put aside history instruction altogether."13 This latter option has been chosen by a number of governments in recent post-conflict settings.

Similarly, assuming consensual memories where they may not exist may also be counter-productive in memorial work, as illustrated by different museums that retain an authoritative voice and present a simplified didactic version of events.14 Also, picking out a commemoration date, a monument place, etc. is always a delicate process as implications may be perceived very differently not only by different groups but also individuals. Here, holding together the individual AND collective dimensions of remembering is often a very practical challenge that can be addressed only through a careful planning and involvement of all the actors concerned from the very beginning of a project.15
Go to Implementation issues specific to memory work

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The constant rewriting of history and transformation of memorials

The dynamic nature of any history & memorial work is another key element to consider. The way history is treated and studied has changed dramatically. History is no longer considered as "simply a collection of facts, [...] a politically sanctioned listing of indisputable 'truths,' but an ongoing means of collective self-discovery about the nature of our society."16 It is instead subject to interpretation and has become a space for contesting perspectives.17 "The weight given to different voices, and the evaluation of claims, draw continually on judgmental reasoning and are rooted in a historians sense of political decency. No matter how 'judicious', such a history will be provisional, which is not equivalent to saying that it must remain partisan or biased. Histories can be both authoritative and provisional: they are authoritative in that they impose what for broad (though not all) segments of opinion can be accepted as a plausible narrative. They are always provisional in that they remain subject to amendment as new evidence is mobilized and as new political values become established..."18

One obstacle to a dynamic, analytical, and transformative understanding of history education is "the fact that history education is the most conservative area of education."19 The revision of history textbook content also depends on larger political debates about which narratives of history are true or politically acceptable. "Secondary-school history textbooks rarely, if ever, play a pioneering role in tackling highly sensitive issues or changing historical narratives that are not widely accepted in society."20

The conscious transformation of memorials provides another illustration of these processes. Many states are left with symbols of a violent past. Left untouched, such symbols can breed violence and impede reconciliation as reminders to previously contentious parties. While many states elect to obliterate these symbols, others transform these memorials to yield a new message. How to transform such memorials so as to satisfy the needs of all actors interested in the memorialization process is a key challenge. In Pretoria (South Africa), though still controversial, the decision to let the Voortrekker Monument stand, integrate it in a new understanding of the collective history of South Africa and transform its meaning was a decision to mark the past, to learn from it and to integrate it into a new and democratic South Africa.

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The politicization of history and collective memory

The distortion of history takes place intentionally and unintentionally both through acts of commission as well as omission.21 It can appear in history books or in the choice of explicit political sites, specific dates, specific names, etc.22

Too often, "memorials honor ruling parties or victors in a conflict at the expense of 'losers' or marginalized communities." Memorialization can use memories "to fan the flames of ethnic hatred, consolidate a group's identity as victims, demarcate the differences among identity groups, and reify grievances." Parties use memorials to "seek absolution, lodge accusations against their enemies, establish competing claims of victimhood, or promote ideological agendas."23 The African Great Lakes area and the Balkans have provided many recent examples of such processes. In Rwanda, "there have been continuous re-readings of the genocide and the outcome seems more likely to further social and inter-group polarization than reconciliation and social peace. A visiting journalist noted that the first genocide commemorations in 1995 had been a genuine exercise in collective mourning for all Rwandans, but by 2004, the frank recollection of the events of the genocide had been overtaken by an officially elaborated rhetoric, an officially sanctioned version of the genocide. This story of the genocide is hegemonic in the sense that it defines who should be considered 'true' victims and villains of the genocide, and ultimately transmits the meaning of the genocide for the present."24 In Kosovo, "the struggle over identity, power and legitimacy [...] revolves, among other things, around 'memory sites' and commemorative practices."25 In Bali (Indonesia), the 1965/1966 massacres have been commemorated in ways that have caused much frustration among survivors as well as the next generation and inhibit psychosocial repair. Public monuments like the Crocodile Hole and the Museum Pengkhianatan PKI (Museum of the PKI Treachery) in Jakarta and the state-produced film Pengkhianat G/30/S (The 30 September Movement Traitors) are illustrations of politicization processes related to memorialization efforts.26

Political and state actors' involvement is needed as it lends legitimacy and support to the memorialization process. But, there is always a fine line between involvement and manipulation. "It is significant to note that since many initiatives are government funded they often become tools to further political agendas and consolidate the power of a ruling party."27 "Often uncoordinated and unmonitored memorialisation efforts [...] serve only the needs of specific groups, often rendering memorials political mechanisms of the state that are unable to achieve its full potential as a peacebuilding mechanism."28

Political and state actors' involvement is equally important on history education as education authorities, in particular, must approve any reform. Moreover, "the ambitious goal of building tolerant societies within schools is doomed to failure if the sociopolitical environment is not supportive of these endeavors."29 Some observers even consider that the commitment of the political elite is "one of the most important political preconditions." They must find the promotion of reconciliation through education "a rewarding political capital and a source for legitimacy."30

Yet, this mere involvement may also be the main source of manipulation of the history. Despite common claims about the importance of history education, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine exactly what effect a politically manipulated history education and public discourse on the war may have on people and their mentality. "Reliable methods of measuring the influence of education on historical consciousness are rare, and empirical evidence is difficult to extract. In addition, even where hard data can be collected, any correlation between education, historical consciousness, and political behavior is highly speculative. Simple explanations should therefore be avoided.

This notion is especially evident with respect to ex-Yugoslavia. The dissolution of Yugoslavia and the bloody war were not caused by historical memory or by education."31 However, "the omissions of historical education in dealing with the war [the Second World War] in the classroom as well as in the general public under Tito [...] paved the way for historical memory to be used for nationalist mobilization. The fragmented and selective memory, with all its hidden and ignored stories, left niches for 'subversive' memories, which, under the circumstances of political disintegration and economic and social crisis, were vulnerable to manipulation."32

Historians, philosophers and psychiatrists have long discussed how public narrations of the past, official or authorized accounts (in their inclusion as in their exclusion) can either give meaning to individual memories or, on the contrary, deny them. The French philosopher Paul Ricoeur has written extensively on what he called "hindered memory", "manipulated memory" and "obliged memory".33
Go to  Actors: the ambiguous role of state and political actors

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Remembering and forgetting

Both memorial and history work also raise paradoxes in terms of the needs of individuals and communities to both remember and forget in order to build peace. For example, in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, actors may often disagree about the need to teach history. "While some argue for history to be taught to secure a public memory of the violence in order to prevent its recurrence, others want simply to forget and move on.  They see a danger in teaching about the past and in the likely manipulation of the 'truth.'"34 The same is true with respect to memorialization. Whereas it may seem critical by many individuals to remember the past which, among other aspects, is important to forge identities, facilitate reconciliation, and allow communities to heal, others may be uncomfortable with a focus on 'negative' representations of the past. In some communities, "there may be a strong desire to forget or move on versus an impulse to remember and document. Should the former be true, it is important for outsiders to honor that sentiment and not push memorialisation on a community."35 This apparent paradox may be understood if one considers that it may also be part of the demands of victims to enter a healing process, to have the possibility of understanding the past as past, to put it behind, and move away from their identity as victims. What is true for individuals is also valid for communities and societies. 36 In that perspective, "both remembering and forgetting the past" are important and part of memory work.37
Go to Trauma, Mental Health and Psycho-Social Well-Being

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The sociopolitical conditions of memorial and history work

More than any other peacebuilding initiative, memorial and history work highly depends upon a supportive sociopolitical environment. This does not mean that very valuable and helpful contributions cannot be provided even though the political context is not favorable. But this must be carefully assessed in order to design programs that have the best chance to succeed and positively contribute to peacebuilding even in the most inauspicious circumstances.

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A knowledge gap

Both memorial and history fields are relatively still in their infancy. This is particularly true of history & history education.38 Educational change after mass violence "suffers from untested assumptions, a dearth of focused research, a gap between broad concepts and practice in the field."39 Scholars and practitioners who have been working in that particular field stress the need for "much more detailed knowledge about processes of positive history education reform in the aftermath of violence: different societies' experiences of history education reform; how it differs in different contexts; what the roles, the successes, and failures of different actors have been; and how it should be evaluated."40 So far, "we remain at the beginning of understanding how to effect curricular and school environment changes that can contribute positively to rebuilding efforts."41 The exact role textbooks can play in the process from war to peace is also insufficiently documented. "And more than that we know relatively little when, how, and under which conditions the attempt to improve textbooks and education should be started and can be successful."42 The fact that generally speaking, memorial and history work is not considered as a priority does not help either to measure the full capacity of these programs to contribute to specific peacebuilding processes.

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In both history and memory work, there is a strong sense that timing is a key element for programs that need to be approached in long-term perspectives.


Timing is a key factor that determines outcome and impact as it can bring parties in a conflict together or further alienate them.43 Appropriate timing can vary according to the actors initiating the memorials, the ultimate objectives pursued, the context as well as other measures taken in favor of victims. Indeed, the forms that memorials take often reflect the time that they were initiated and the people who built them. "Survivors often build memorials when new mass gravesites are discovered or human remains are removed for reburial elsewhere. Larger, formal memorials by states generally do not appear until at least five to ten years have passed."44 Immediate symbolic gestures may help and clearly manifest a change as well as a wish to provide symbolic reparations. But it takes a long time for national memorials to be built as "survivors often feel that other needs should take priority - caring for victims; rebuilding political, judicial, and economic institutions; reestablishing the rule of law; and engaging in truth-telling and legal accountability processes."45 The articulation with the question of reparations is, indeed, often mentioned as a key element for the success of memorial programs.46 Another factor of delay for national memorials is the fact that "decisions about what should be depicted, where and how, and how much the memorial should cost usually are marked by lengthy, contentious, and exhausting debates."47

History and history education

"History education potentially can promote reconciliation, but a certain stage of reconciliation needs to be reached before textbooks can be revised, the public can accept these revisions, which challenge narratives held dear by certain sectors of the population, and teachers can challenge discredited narratives and stereotypes and risk controversy in the classroom."48 The situation of teachers, students and parents is difficult when they have to deal with "the reality of everyday life [which is] a maelstrom of on-going conflict, the emotional consequences of trauma, the promulgation of stereotypes, the fear of violence in classrooms, and fractured attempts to find a way to live together with former enemies."49 Last but not least, key political issuessuch as questions over status, sovereignty, territory, constitutional rights for ethnic minorities, also need to be minimally settled.50 All these factors explain why time may be needed. Here also, a sense of sequencing seems possible: "Secondary-school history education revision would seem to fit into, complement, or deepen certain reconciliatory processes and stages...Changes in history textbooks and curricula would function as a kind of secondary phase, which reflect and embody the states commitment to institutionalizing earlier processes such as truth and historical commissions and official gestures and processes of acknowledgment, apology, and repair."51

Time also must pass before developments in other spheres of social life filter down to classrooms.  "An example is the work of the historical and history textbook commissions: Findings from the Polish-German Textbook Commissions, considered one of the best in Europe in terms of its academic quality and apolitical character, took ten years to reach Polish and German history programs and textbooks.  A similar time lag usually exists between the work of academic historians and the development of secondary-school history texts based on their scholarship."52 The case of the Franco-German historical commissions shows even longer delays. The first meetings between French and German historians in the form of historical commissions took place in 1950.53 But it was not until 2006 (more than half a century later) that a joint French -German history textbook came to light.  Entitled Histoire-Geschichte: Europe and the World After 1945, the textbook covers the period since 1945, but addresses such controversial topics as the Vichy regime in France and Hitler's popularity in Germany.  The book was written by 10 historians, five from each country, and is being used in secondary schools in both countries. The main lesson of this example is that reforming history education takes a very long time even under the most favorable circumstances.   Furthermore, official reform projects carried out either between states or within a state frequently adhere to a hierarchy of implementation measures: from curriculum to textbooks to teacher training. "If authorities strictly follow this hierarchy, reform efforts reach schools with a delay of up to five years. Such a long process can cause the reform to be diluted and prevent practical teaching from ever being brought into line with the curriculum or vice versa."54

On their side, international organizations refer to a gradual model of education reform. For instance, a study by the World Bank suggests several starting points (while emphasizing that "there is no golden rule regarding the question of sequencing in post-conflict reconstruction"):

  • "First, focus on the basics to get the system functioning so that the return of children and youth to school can be seen as an early 'peace dividend' that will help to shore up support for peace.
  • Second, acknowledge the importance of symbolism in education and provide bold symbolic actions (such as purging textbooks) that signal that the reform of the system has started.
  • Third, build recognition that reform of education is a long-term, incremental, and ongoing process that takes decades and that must be led from within the country as consensus develops on the wider development vision of that society.
  • Fourth, focus from the beginning on building reform capacity, which includes supporting the participation of communities, local authorities, and other stakeholders in the educational reform dialogue. This can be initiated in early phases when there is a general anxiety about reform of the system, but not the political coherence, administrative capacity, civil society commitment, or financial and institutional resources required to implement systemic reform."55
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Implementation issues specific to memorial programs

Community ownership and sustainability

It is widely agreed that community ownership is essential to achieve effectiveness as well as maintenance of memorialization sites. Memorials will be vandalized or ignored if there is no local ownership and owners don't identify with memorialization efforts and don't pay attention to them. International actors need to seek involvement with local partners, bring in local media to inform and raise awareness in the community, organize workshop with survivors, dialogue with Truth and Reconciliation Commission representatives. Widespread consultation and assessment of options are also important before taking any decision. In this kind of program, process may be as important as outcomes.56 Yet, it is important to remember that outsiders, both from the international community and nationals from outside affected conflict areas also bring with them their own agendas and can often manipulate local people and communities.57

Involvement is not necessarily ownership:Community involvement cannot start only at the implementation phase. While locals may recognize that they have been consulted, if they do not identify with the memorialization effort, i.e. recognize its appropriateness in their lives, have access to it, feel that it fulfills community needs, etc., they will not feel ownership just because they were involved in the planning process. Community will be less likely to take care of it if they think it's a government project, not something for them or what they need and can relate to. Also, survivors can feel that their stories have been kidnapped - they may feel re-traumatized/affected again deeply as they do not identify with the memorial in place and their stories and memories have been used and abused. As indicated, memorials can become a source of division, especially if survivors feel that they were not consulted.

Consultations: Consultations are therefore a key for success. Feasibility studies can help determine the interests, needs, and desires of local communities vis-à-vis memorialization efforts. Diverse audiences also need to be considered (e.g. schoolchildren, victims families, foreign visitors.) The results of feasibility studies should be widely available to government officials, community stakeholders, local and international NGOs. Those findings help set major goals and desired outcomes.58

However, because of the way they are often conducted, many argue that consultation processes may "undermine local capacities by using a top-down approach to 'rubber stamp' pre-determined agendas. Such approaches result in a lack of local ownership of the initiative as well as potentially undermining peace building and reconciliation efforts." The consultation process can become a means to fulfill government agenda. One should make sure that alternative perspectives and narratives (and not just an NGO's own agenda) are heard.59

Managing expectations and financial needs: Expectations that arise in the community from the consultation processes need to be managed.60 According to Ereshnee Naidu, this can be done by emphasizing that discussions are merely for consultation purposes and for gathering information. If the rules of the game are clearly set and presented, expectations can be properly managed.61

This is complicated by the fact that raising funds for memorials (in particular in the earliest stages of the post-conflict) may be viewed as inappropriate as it may compete with other reconstruction needs, sometimes more immediate for the improvement of the everyday lives of victims and survivors. Therefore, many practitioners maintain that it is necessary to link developmental issues and survival needs with memorialization. Tourism (and even what is called "genocide tourism") and the commercialization of memorial sites may help in that respect but they can also have negative effects on society. In too many cases, money designated for the museum or the commercial benefits do not benefit the community. "When poor survivors do not reap any personal benefits from lavish lucrative memorials it can also breed resentment."62

Choosing the location: Location is also important in that it may make a difference as to whether or not the community can identify with the memorial. For example, if a memorial is located in the capital city, people will not necessarily travel there. Even if community members contribute significantly to a memorial, if it is not located in a place where they would visit, the site becomes meaningless to them. For instance, in South Africa, the District Six Museum is frequented by many visitors but not by members of the community. Many in the community note that the museum has substantial funds but does not invest in the very needs of the community there.

The process of design: "The process of determining what shape a memorial project should take and how memorial space should be used is essential-- more important, ultimately, than the physical edifice itself. Moreover, the process remains essential even after a memorial is built."63

Selecting the materials: Considering whether or not to use local materials is also important. Some locals want a fancier construction for a memorial or museum but if construction is too fancy or foreign, locals may not be able to identify with the site. Outsiders can make a lot of mistakes here as to determination of what people want it to look like.

Memorial programs as a dynamic process

Process remains essential even after a memorial is constructed. "To ensure that memorials continue to evolve with different generations, whether it means transforming the meaning of divisive memorials, or ensuring that post-conflict memorials accommodate for identity shifts within the society, it is necessary that ongoing reflection and evaluation is undertaken. While this may imply physical changes to the memorial itself, it could also be undertaken through programming and outreach programmes that are more flexible in adapting to evolving societal needs."64

Memorial as a place for dialogue and education

Memorials need to engage visitors in dialogue and promote dynamic performances of civic engagement.65 "Memorial projects that encourage survivors to explore contested memories of the past, promote learning and critical thinking, and facilitate ongoing cultural exchange are more likely to advance social reconstruction. They are also more likely to retain meaning for rising generations than static memorials of long-past conflicts and heroes that fail to interpret their meaning in ways that have contemporary relevance."66 Museums which do not have an actual educational component present problems for both local visitors and foreigners. "Genocide tourism is far from being just a bizarre and morbid, but ultimately harmless, phenomenon. It can be highly problematic in the following two respects. Genocide tourists' perceptions of the countries and regions they visit are often distorted since their interests are extremely limited. [...] The local populations' coping with the consequences of genocide and war, the social reconstruction of Rwandan society, the everyday life that has to go on, remain obscure."67

Supporting the role of local actors and building local capacity

Whereas indigenous actors play a decisive role in the process, they need support to develop their capacity and expertise. Local actors may lack access to funding for in-country training (on different aspects of memorialization, including in collection and preservation of documents, artifacts, and sites). Support to coordinate and consult regularly with stakeholders involved in transitional justice mechanisms and education and education reform initiatives may also be required. Last but not least, support to establish relationships and exchanges with counterparts in other countries who have addressed similar issues, and share technical information, best practices, challenges and strategies is of great benefit.68 Today, many memorialization efforts are part of an international network, and receive support accordingly. UNESCO also designates many memorialization sites.69 However, not all stakehoders are concerned and additional efforts are needed.

Training of international staff

Few international actors - international mission staff and peacekeepers, humanitarian aid workers, foreign NGOs, international organizations, and others - involved in postwar reconstruction are prepared to deal with memorialization. International actors must recognize sites and other resources (such as document collections) of cultural, historical, or symbolic significance, clarify how they can protect these resources in an effort to promote social reconstruction, and understand the importance of memorialization in societies emerging from conflict.70

International staff needs to be trained specifically on: 71

  • Local and national political dynamics driving memorialization processes;
  • The nature of memorialization processes;
  • Their potential either to support or undermine efforts to promote social reconstruction/reconciliation; 
  • Appropriate responses to local memorialization efforts, including a greater cultural awareness of local practices, beliefs, and rituals relating to conflict resolution, death, and burial.


Evaluation in post-conflict settings is necessary at all stages of a memorialization process to respond to evolving socio-political needs of still very fragile societies.72 According to Randi Korn, an expert in the field of museum visitor studies, different questions should be posed at different evaluation stages. For example:

  • "Planning the Project: What cultural, political, and gender differences divide the community? How do these differences affect peoples interaction, learning, and emotional responses, and their views about what should be memorialized and how? How much do people know about the subject or event addressed by the site? What are the projects goals and objectives?"
  • "Evaluating the Implemented Project: What have visitors experienced or learned? What parts of the visit were confusing, understandable, upsetting, or the most compelling? How do people use the memorial and its educational materials? Has the project achieved its goals and objectives?"
Evaluations methods need to rely on a combination of different tools, including standardized questionnaires, interviews, observations of visitors, and focus groups.73

"Determining what contributions memorial initiatives make toward reconciliation or social reconstruction is difficult in part because of the complexity and contested meanings of those terms. Memorial initiatives describe evolving, long-term social, economic, cultural, and political processes that are difficult to measure. Assessing the impact of memorials and museums is possible, but doing so requires careful planning, investment of resources, and willingness to track changes over time. Understanding what effect a memorial project has on promoting social reconstruction also requires being clear up front about the goals the project is trying to achieve. Effective evaluation also requires assessments before, during, and after project implementation, as well as the understanding that future generations may form entirely different, unanticipated opinions of a memorial. Researchers seeking to link changes in attitude and behavior to a specific initiative may find it difficult to do so in relation to broader social and political change, but consider it worth trying nonetheless."74

The lack of empirical research around memorialization as a process in relation with other peacebuilding efforts (in particular transitional justice) has resulted in ad-hoc, often uncoordinated and unmonitored memorialization efforts that may serve only the needs of specific groups and not achieve their full potential as peacebuilding mechanisms.75

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Implementation issues specific to history programs

The destructive effects of conflict on education systems

Schools rarely escape the ravages of violent conflict. "The first and most obvious impact of conflict on education is the loss of life and physical and psychological trauma experienced by teachers and students, parents, siblings, and community members either directly as targets of war or indirectly as victims in the crossfire...Teaching forces are often severely debilitated by conflict. In Rwanda, more than two-thirds in primary and secondary schools were either killed or fled; in Cambodia the carnage was even greater, leaving the system with almost no trained or experienced teachers. In Timor Leste [...] in primary schools, 80 percent of the teachers were Timorese and remained; however, almost all secondary school teachers were Indonesian, and their failure to return left Timor Leste with almost no trained or qualified personnel for its secondary system and no access to tertiary education."76 Most post-conflict contexts are characterized by a shortage of qualified teachers and the presence of a large number of under qualified or unqualified teachers. A key challenge is therefore to improve the quality of the teaching force in terms of qualifications, experience, and competence.77

The impact of the educational program is also tempered by the influence of extra-curricular inputs, what is sometimes referred to in the literature as the "hidden curriculum." The boundary between school and society is permeable - particularly in the area of ethnic socialization. "Children do not come to the classroom as blank slates. They bring with them the attitudes, values and behaviour of their societies beyond the classroom walls."78 Of course, this is true both ways: "if the border between schooling and society is indeed permeable, this opens up the possibility that students may carry non-confrontational and tolerant attitudes from the classroom into the broader community. Just as teachers may be role models to the students they teach, so students may play an active role in shaping the attitudinal and perceptual environment beyond the walls of the school."79

However, in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, the reality of everyday life often constitutes a serious obstacle to that transformation capacity of both students and teachers: "the reality of everyday life is a maelstrom of on-going conflict, the emotional consequences of trauma, the promulgation of stereotypes, the fear of violence in classrooms, and fractured attempts to find a way to live together with former enemies."80 Educational reform alone is unlikely to have a significant impact on children unless it is complemented by an array of societal changes (including changes in popular culture, the attitudes of influential people in their community), concrete improvements of the daily reality in which children lives as well as political changes.

The need for coherent, participative and long-term perspectives

The lack of coherence of the reform processes over the long term and consideration of the specificities of each context in the design of school policy and curricular changes are common limitations.81In haste, after the conflict has ended, textbooks may be purged of 'objectionable material,' teachers fired and curricula quickly rewritten. In other cases, international non-governmental organizations would import programs from elsewhere because they are said to have worked.

Also, in most cases, educational change occurs from the top down and reflects political power or international perspectives on what will effect change, not the perspective of the main actors. To answer those limitations, a real inclusion of and support to teachers is key to the success of any program. Parents also need to be included in programs designed to address divisions among their children.82

A better connection with transitional justice processes

Last but not least, the connections between teaching history and transitional justice need to be better understood and explored. "More research is needed on the design and impact of educational initiatives growing out of truth commissions. Moreover, transitional justice experts should address how future interventions might be designed to mesh more effectively with educational systems. In addition, international donors interested in promoting transitional justice should put educational reform on their funding agenda."83 
Go to Memory and History Work and Peacebuilding Processes: To assist survivors and support transitional justice efforts

Greatest Challenges to Revising History Education Programs

  • Hidden agendas and residual structures in schools that reproduce divisions even after violence ends;
  • Insecure environments in which teachers feel unsafe to address controversial subjects;
  • Ubiquitous politicization of the history curriculum;
  • Negative influences outside school walls (the media, religious institutions, popular culture, parents, etc.) promoting conflict;
  • Low priority of history education in contrast to focus on math and science;
  • Short attention span of the international community;
  • Inadequate efforts to measure long-term impact.
Source: Elizabeth A. Cole and Judy Barsalou, Unite or Divide? The Challenges of Teaching History in Societies Emerging from Violent Conflict (United States Institute of Peace, June 2006), 14.

1. Beatrice Pouligny, Bernard Doray and Jean-Clement Martin, "Methodological and Ethical Problems: A Trans-Disciplinary Approach," in After Mass Crimes: Rebuilding States and Communities, eds. Beatrice Pouligny, Simon Chesterman and Albrecht Schnabel (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2007), 31.
2. Elizabeth Jelin, State Repression and the Labors of Memory (London: Latin American Bureau, 1993), xviii.
3. Beatrice Pouligny, "The Forgotten Dimensions of 'Transitional Justice' Mechanisms: Cultural Meanings and Imperatives for Survivors of Violent Conflicts," Paper presented at the Global Justice, Local Legitimacy International Conference, University of Amsterdam, January 2005, 9.
4. Jelin, State Repression and the Labors of Memory, xviii.
5. Ibid.
6. Elizabeth A. Cole and Judy Barsalou, "Unite or Divide? The Challenges of Teaching History in Societies Emerging from Violent Conflict" (Washington, DC: USIP, June 2006), 13.
7. Harvey M. Weinstein, Sarah Warshauer Freedman and Holly Hughson, "School Voices: Challenges Facing Education Systems After Identity-Based Conflicts," Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 2, no. 1 (2007), 62.
8. Elizabeth A. Cole, "Introduction: Reconciliation and History Education," in Teaching the Violent Past: History Education and Reconciliation, ed. Elizabeth A. Cole (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 20.
9. Falk Pingel, "Can Truth Be Negotiated? History Textbooks Revision as a Means to Reconciliation," in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 617, no. 1 (May 2008), 182.
10. Weinstein, Freedman and Hughson, "School Voices: Challenges Facing Education Systems After Identity-Based Conflicts," 67.
11. Pingel, "Can Truth Be Negotiated? History Textbooks Revision as a Means to Reconciliation," 192.
12. Cole, "Introduction: Reconciliation and History Education," 19.
13. Pingel, "Can Truth Be Negotiated? History Textbooks Revision as a Means to Reconciliation," 184-185.
14. See for instance the critical analysis by Melissa Strauss, "Museums and Memory: Contact History and Contemporary Issues." Presented at The Politics of Cultural Memory conference. Manchester Metropolitan University 4-6 November 2004, 51.
15. On the articulation between individual and collective memories, see Maurice Halbwachs, The Collective Memory (New York: Harper & Row, 1980) and Ed Cairns and Micheal D. Roe, "Introduction: Why Memories in Conflict?" in The Role of Memory in Ethnic Conflict, eds. Ed Cairns and Micheal D. Roe (VA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 11.
16. Eric Foner, cited in Cole, "Introduction: Reconciliation and History Education," 21.
17. Elazar Barkan, The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustice (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 10.
18. Charles S. Maier, Doing History, "Doing Justice: The Narrative of the Historian and of the Truth Commission," in Truth v. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commissions, eds. Robert I. Rotberg and Dennis Thompson (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000), 275.
19. Elizabeth A. Cole, "Transitional Justice and the Reform of History Education," International Journal of Transitional Justice 1, no. 1 (2007), 127.
20. Cole and Barsalou, "Unite or Divide? The Challenges of Teaching History in Societies Emerging from Violent Conflict," 9.
21. Kenneth D. Bush and Diane Saltarelli, The Two Faces of Ethnic Conflict: Towards a Peacebuilding Education for Children (Florence, Italy: UNICEF Innocenti Research Center, 2000), 12.
22. Elazar Barkan, "Engaging History: Managing Conflict and Reconciliation," History Workshop Journal 59 (Spring 2005), 231.
23. Judy Barsalou and Victoria Baxter, "The Urge to Remember: The Role of Memorials in Social Reconstruction and Transitional Justice" (Washington, DC: USIP, January 2007), 4.
24. Helen Hintjens, "Post-genocide Identity Politics in Rwanda," in Ethnicities 8, no. 5 (2008), 22.  
25. Valur Ingmundarson, "The Politics of Memory and Reconstruction of Albanian National Identity in Postwar Kosovo," History & Memory 19, no. 1 (2007), 95-123.
26. Leslie Dwyer and Degung Santikarm, "Speaking form the shadows: Memory and mass violence in Bali," in After Mass Crimes: Rebuilding States and Communities, Pouligny et al., eds., 190-214.
27. Ereshnee Naidu, The Ties that Bind: Strengthening the Links Between Memorialisation and Transitional Justice (South Africa: Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, 2006), 2.
28. Ibid.,1.
29. Weinstein, Freedman and Hughson, "School Voices: Challenges Facing Education Systems After Identity-Based Conflicts," 49.
30. Wolfgang Höpken, "History Textbooks and Reconciliation: Preconditions and Experiences in a Comparative Perspective" (World Bank conference, Washington, DC, 11 November 2001), 5.
31. Wolfgang Höpken, "War, Memory, and Education in a Fragmented Society: The Case of Yugoslavia," in East European Politics and Societies 13, no. 1 (Winter 1999), 203-204.
32. Ibid., 204.
33. Paul Ricoeur, La mémoire, lhistoire, loubli (Paris: Seuil, 2000). See also his previous work more specifically on the link between memory and history, Paul Ricoeur, Temps et récit, vol. 3, (Paris: Seuil, 1983-1985).
34. Weinstein, Freedman and Hughson, "School Voices: Challenges Facing Education Systems After Identity-Based Conflicts," 62.
35. Barsalou and Baxter, "The Urge to Remember: The Role of Memorials in Social Reconstruction and Transitional Justice" 18-21.
36. Pouligny, Doray and Martin, "Methodological and ethical problems: A trans-disciplinary approach," 36.
37. Naidu, The Ties that Bind: Strengthening the Links Between Memorialisation and Transitional Justice, 1. 
38. Cole, "Transitional Justice and the Reform of History Education," 137.
39. Weinstein, Freedman and Hughson, "School Voices: Challenges Facing Education Systems After Identity-Based Conflicts," 42.
40. Cole, "Introduction: Reconciliation and History Education," 22.
41. Weinstein, Freedman and Hughson, School Voices: Challenges Facing Education Systems After Identity-Based Conflicts, 49.
42. Höpken, "History Textbooks and Reconciliation: Preconditions and Experiences in a Comparative Perspective," 2.
43. Naidu, The Ties that Bind: Strengthening the Links Between Memorialisation and Transitional Justice, 3.  
44. Barsalou and Baxter, "The Urge to Remember: The Role of Memorials in Social Reconstruction and Transitional Justice," 8-9.
45. Ibid.
46. Brandon Hamber, "Public Memorials and Reconciliation Processes in Northern Ireland," Paper presented at the Trauma and Transitional Justice in Divided Societies Conference, Airlie House, Warrington, Virginia, USA, March 27-29, 2004.
47. Barsalou and Baxter, The Urge to Remember: The Role of Memorials in Social Reconstruction and Transitional Justice, 8-9.
48. Cole, "Introduction: Reconciliation and History Education," 18.
49. Weinstein, Freedman and Hughson, "School Voices: Challenges Facing Education Systems After Identity-Based Conflicts," 57.
50. Höpken, "History Textbooks and Reconciliation: Preconditions and Experiences in a Comparative Perspective," 4.
51. Cole, "Introduction: Reconciliation and History Education," 15.
52. Cole and Barsalou, "Unite or Divide? The Challenges of Teaching History in Societies Emerging from Violent Conflict," 5.
53. Alice Ackermann, "Reconciliation as a Peace-Building Process in Postwar Europe: The Franco-German Case," in Peace & Change 19, no. 3 (July 1994): 229-250.
54. Pingel, "Can Truth Be Negotiated? History Textbooks Revision as a Means to Reconciliation," 192.
55. Peter Buckland, Reshaping the Future: Education and Postconflict Reconstruction (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2005), 36.
56. Barsalou and Baxter, "The Urge to Remember: The Role of Memorials in Social Reconstruction and Transitional Justice," 18-21.
57. Naidu, The Ties that Bind: Strengthening the Links Between Memorialisation and Transitional Justice, 2.
58. Ibid., 15.
59. Ibid., 2.
60. Ibid., 3.
61. Interview with Ereshnee Naidu, New York, 7 May 2008.
62. Barsalou and Baxter, "The Urge to Remember: The Role of Memorials in Social Reconstruction and Transitional Justice," 9.
63. Ibid.
64. Naidu, The Ties that Bind: Strengthening the Links Between Memorialisation and Transitional Justice, 3.
65. Barsalou and Baxter, "The Urge to Remember: The Role of Memorials in Social Reconstruction and Transitional Justice," 14.
66. Ibid., 2.  
67. Dominik J. Schaller, "From the editors: Genocide Tourism - Educational Value or Voyeurism?" Journal of Genocide Research 9, no. 4 (2007), 513-515.
68. Barsalou and Baxter, "The Urge to Remember: The Role of Memorials in Social Reconstruction and Transitional Justice," 15, 18-21.
70. Ibid.
71. Ibid.
72. Naidu, The Ties that Bind: Strengthening the Links Between Memorialisation and Transitional Justice, 3.
73. Barsalou and Baxter, "The Urge to Remember: The Role of Memorials in Social Reconstruction and Transitional Justice," 16.
74. Ibid.
75. Naidu, The Ties that Bind: Strengthening the Links Between Memorialisation and Transitional Justice.  
76. Buckland, Reshaping the Future: Education and Postconflict Reconstruction, 13.
77. Ibid., 14.
78. Bush and Saltarelli, The Two Faces of Ethnic Conflict: Towards a Peacebuilding Education for Children, 3.
79. Ibid., 4.
80. Weinstein, Freedman and Hughson, "School Voices: Challenges Facing Education Systems After Identity-Based Conflicts," 57.
81. Ibid., 43.
82. Ibid., 51.
83. Cole and Barsalou, "Unite or Divide? The Challenges of Teaching History in Societies Emerging from Violent Conflict," 15.

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