Memorialization, Historiography & History Education: Case Studies

Below are presented a few suggestions for developing case studies. Comments and suggestions are welcome. We want in particular to give concrete elements about what has been implemented so far in different contexts, including why, how, what the main outputs & outcomes have been, what are the different points of view on each particular experience, where visitors can find more resources useful for their own context, etc. By giving access to a vast array of perspectives and experiences, the portal should enable users to create the knowledge they need for their own context. As an evolving platform, we will continue to expand this database of experiences as the project progresses.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: The challenges of history education in postwar

History education and textbook reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina has attracted a lot of attention in recent years. A crucial element in that case is the way the nature of Dayton agreements shaped the form and content of history education (in particular, the agreement essentially created over ten educational systems whose contents mirrored and reinforced societal divisions based on ethnicity).

The 1995 Dayton Accords decentralized not only the political structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also its education system. The 14 cantons had their own ministries of education, with authority to develop their own curricula and textbooks. As a consequence, post-Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina not only had no central state education system but it was also divided along ethnic lines. Bosniak students use history textbooks developed by Bosniak institutions, whereas Croat students use history textbooks developed in Croatia. In some areas, although Bosniak and Croat children attend the same schools, the schools are essentially segregated in physical, pedagogical, and curricular terms. Such a situation is known as "two schools under one roof." As a result, history education is also defined by ethnicity.  Students of a particular ethnicity are taught the history of their ethnic group: Bosniaks are taught Bosnian history, Croats are taught Croatian history, and Serbs are taught Serbian history.  Accordingly, history teaching is about telling one ethnic group's version of history (or "truth").

EUROCLIO (European Association of History Educators) is currently undertaking a project aimed at developing new history curricula in the former Yugoslavia. The project brought together a group of historians and history educators from Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia, who were interested in developing an innovative history curriculum to be used in secondary schools in all three countries.  The group prepared a series of 20 active lessons on the modern regional history of the former Yugoslavia. The new history materials were developed following EUROCLIO's methodology, "which requires the participants to observe rules such as to be aware that history is based on facts and sources as evidence but that a story is always an interpretation. That the profession has to strive for truth and objectivity, however there is not one single truth as the past is multi-perspective and complex. And that history is not only high politics but also the story of ordinary people, including women and members of minority communities."1 The project has resulted in the development of a teacher resource book entitled Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Country: Everyday Life in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia, 1945-1999. Yugoslavia Between East and West in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. 

For more information:

About EUROCLIOs project:

For further information about the schools system and history education in the former Yugoslavia, see Sarah Warshauer Freedman et al, "Public education and social reconstruction in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia," in My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Mass Atrocity, ed. Eric Stover and Harvey M. Weinstein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004): 226-247;

Watch a short documentary film entitled "Teaching History - How Do They Do It In Bosnia," available online:

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Burundi: Popular tales and theatre to tell a silenced history

In Burundi, the non-governmental organization RCN Justice & Démocratie has supported the gathering, writing, publication and dissemination through different media of popular tales supporting positive values in the history of the Burundian society. It also produced three theatrical pieces including "Si Ayo Guhora" ("We cannot be quiet") and "Habuze Iki" ("This that has lacked") played by actors from the three ethnic groups - Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. The pieces were written on the basis of the narratives of the actors themselves but also from several groups of the population, including prisoners, refugees, ex-combatants and inhabitants of the hill country who have participated in theater improvisation workshops. The theater productions took place all over the country, at schools, in the middle of villages, in prisons, in displaced and refugee camps, in demobilization centers. Extensive focus groups were set up for the spectators after the show, with the facilitation of psychologists. Field research has shown that these performances played a great role as they offered different narratives about the history, representing history and micro-histories from the point of view of different groups in the society, starting from the colonial period and including the successive wars and massacres.2 They also opened a space for discussions and encouraged many debates on history. This stands in contrast to the dominant approach espoused by Burundian state and society, which valorize silence. Whereas a commission of historians had to discontinue its work as the matter was still too sensitive, these theatrical productions have contributed to the writing of a new history that reflects a multiplicity of narratives rather than an imposed consensus. The process of creation has included many elements to facilitate that writing.3 The performances have also played an important educational role for the young generation, as confirmed by the testimonies of many parents and teachers.

For more information:

Béatrice Pouligny, Théâtre et Justice au Burundi. Recherche menée en collaboration avec RCN Justice & Démocratie au Burundi (Paris/Bujumbura, 2007). The report includes many photos of theatre representation and focus group discussions.

Théâtre et Réconciliation

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Rwanda: Official narratives and silence

Kigali Memorial Centre - The Kigali Memorial Center is a memorial to the 1994 genocide. Interesting issues to explore in this case study include issues related to silence in this memorial, i.e. what is not said and its effects; Rwandan policy prohibits classification by ethnicity and as a result, Hutus are nearly omitted.

Murambi Memorial Centre - Another interesting issue to explore is genocide tourism: the museum includes preserved bodies lying where they were found.

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Rwanda: Moratorium on history teaching, official history, and new history curriculum

Shortly after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the Rwandan Patriotic Fronts (RPF) coming to power, the Rwandan Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) placed a moratorium on teaching Rwandan history in schools. Intended to be a temporary measure, the moratorium on history education is still in effect fourteen years later. This decision stemmed from the fact that history education had previously been used to cement ethnic divisions and incite ethnic hatreds. The ultimately deadly effect of an ethnically-driven educational system led the post-genocide Rwandan to abandon history education.

In addition to the moratorium, the Rwandan government has been actively constructing and imposing an official account of Rwandan history, one which eschews ethnic categories (Hutu, Tutsi, Twa) and instead emphasizes a single, national group--banyarwanda.  This new version of Rwandan history also idealizes a pre-colonial past when ethnic divisions did not exist, and attributes the emergence of ethnic divisions to the colonial period. Although this new national narrative is meant to promote reconciliation and unity, some question the wisdom of constructing a single, official version of Rwandan history. As Marian Hodgkin notes, "the construction of one unchallenged history, which the population has received from above rather than participated in creating, allows no capacity for critical thinking and independent analysis on the part of those being educated. Rwandans often argue that it was the lack of these very same skills that allow the genocidal ideology to take such strong hold. Many people did not analyze orders to exterminate all Tutsi 'cockroaches': they did not question the authority of those in power...Any history that is not multifaceted, analytical and inclusive of all opinion, and arrived at through challenging myths and critically deconstructing received truths, could easily mutate into an absolutist history of the kind that motivated and perpetuated past violence."4

The Rwandan government has made considerable progress in reforming the education system, in particular by instituting a merit-based educational system and thus expanding access to education. Though history education remains the key weakness of the system, a recent initiative gives some hope that the situation might evolve soon. In 2003, the Human Rights Center at the University of California at Berkeley, in collaboration with the National University of Rwanda and the Ministry of Education, as well as Facing History and Ourselves (a Cambridge-based organization), undertook a history curriculum development project for secondary schools.  The project convened a series of working groups comprising a variety of stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, government official, non-governmental organizations, and historians) from different ethnic groups to develop a new history curriculum. The result was the development of a resource book for teachers that provides materials and sample lessons for four historical periods: pre-colonial, colonial, post-colonial, and the 1990s. This initiative is a first step in the process of rethinking history teaching in post-genocide Rwanda in a participatory way.

For more information:

Marian Hodgkin, "Reconciliation in Rwanda: Education, History and the State," Journal of International Affairs 60, no. 1 (Fall/Winter 2006): 199-210;

Sarah Warshauer Freedman et al., "Confronting the past in Rwandan schools," in My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Mass Atrocity, ed. Eric Stover and Harvey M. Weinstein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004): 248-265;

Sarah Warshauer "Freedom, Education for Reconciliation: Creating a History Curriculum After Genocide in Rwanda"

The main project output (the new history curriculum) is also available online at the Human Rights Center's website:

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South Africa: Memory community projects

Several post-apartheid memorialization efforts have been undertaken in South Africa. Two community projects would be documented here.

District Six Museum: The District Six Museum is dedicated to the memory of the neighborhood of District Six in Cape Town, South Africa, which was declared a "whites-only" area in 1966, forcing the relocation of over 60,000 people by 1982 and the destruction of the community. The Museum was founded in 1994, when the Central Methodist Church showed a collection of street signs that were secretly salvaged from the demolition and a floor map where visitors could mark could sites that previously stood in the district. It has grown to house three memory rooms and a gallery exhibiting the life and culture of District Six. Additionally, the Museum engages in a variety of projects to preserve the memory of District Six, provide a community atmosphere for the relocated residents, as well as create a space for South African historical awareness. But some limitations have also appeared, in particular in terms of the community sense of ownership.

Trojan Horse Memorial: The Trojan Horse incident occurred in Athlone on the afternoon of 15 October 1985, when armed police, hiding in crates stacked on the back of a railway truck, driving down Thornton Road towards Lansdowne Road, opened fire on a group of youths. Three young people, Michael Miranda, Jonathan Claasen and Shaun Magmoed, were shot and killed. The memorial aims to honor those who were killed and the memory of the young people who felt so serious about democracy that they were willing to take their commitment to the streets of Cape Town. Designs of the memorial and community involvement are interesting issues to explore with respect to these memorials as the victims families were also consulted in the memorialization process.

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Norway and South Africa: Museum and storytelling

This case study will feature the exchange program of story tellers between Stiftelsen Arkivet in Norway and Robben Island Museum in South Africa.

Stiftelsen Arkivet is an institution working with information, documentation, education, research and culture related to a common goal of securing the foundation of lasting peace and democracy. The institution is based in a building which served as the headquarters of the German secret police (Gestapo) in the southern part of Norway during World War II, with the basement functioning as a detention and interrogation centre. Before the Gestapo occupied the building, it was a regional archive. The building was known as "Arkivet." After the war the building returned to its original function as a regional archive until a group of people with a vision of turning the place into a "peace house" took over the building in 1999.  The prison cells and torture chambers from 1942-45 have been reconstructed and the events that took place in the basement are illustrated by installations and human-size mannequins. Each year about 7,000 school children take a guided tour in the reconstructed prison and torture cells. The tour is narrated to serve an instrumental purpose: shaping attitudes, values, reflection and awareness related to the stories of what happened at "Arkivet."

Stiftelsen Arkivet is involved in an exchange program with Robben Island Museum in South Africa. One of the storytellers from Stiftelsen Arkivet spends one year working at Robben Island Museum, while one of the storytellers from Robben Island (a former prisoner) spends one year working at Stiftelsen Arkivet. The role of storytelling in those two cases shows how personal story telling can complement the visit of museums.

Stiftelsen Arkivet has also a collaboration with the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

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South Africa: 'Breaking the silence: A luta continua.' Visual arts, writing and telling a different history

In South Africa, the traveling exhibition 'Breaking the silence: A luta continua' documents a process involving over one thousand Khulumani ('to speak out', in Zulu) Support Group members in the Western Cape province who used scrapbooks, body-maps, photographs, memory cloths, drawings, paintings, art banners and film to tell the stories of their lives under Apartheid. The organization gathers survivors of violence and torture, and the project was initiated and led by the Human Rights Media Centre (HRMC), a local non-governmental organization. Research undertaken in collaboration with HRMC and the Khulumani Support Group has shown that survivors shared a strong sense of "writing history" for the next generations, of documenting their own story but also the story of their community "so that visitors would know exactly what [they] went through" and could relate to it in some way.5 Almost all visitors' comments on the exhibition books in Johannesburg and Cape Town echoed that perception. They expressed in many ways how much they were touched by the personal accounts. Many schools had their students visit the exhibition. These young visitors stressed how more "real", "visual", "alive", "inspirational" the history of Apartheid had become for them. In Johannesburg, in particular, where the exhibition was part of the Apartheid Museum, many visitors commented how crucial it was to get to these personal accounts and the micro-history. Many adult visitors recognized themselves in those stories but many also stated that they had "discovered" narratives they did not know and which did not directly echo their own experience or the official history, even in post-Apartheid South Africa. This is especially true for the stories told by the young veterans of the Bonteheuwel Military Wing Association who, through their art work (in particular their body maps) offered a counter-narrative to the official history, which continues to deny their role in the struggle as child soldiers.

Parents and educators who visited the two exhibitions also stressed the importance of that form of expression for educational programs. Two elements appeared to be of particular importance: the use of illustrative art itself and the personalization of the history. "History books containing lists of facts only tell us the 'skeleton' while these personal stories are the 'flesh' of our troubled and sad history." But visitors do not think that only the youth can learn from art-based or visual history. Many stressed that it should be "a must for all South Africans." Foreign visitors also stressed the importance of having that approach of the story, beyond global facts, figures and narratives that they have read in the press or in history books.6

For more information:

Béatrice Pouligny, Shirley Gunn, Zukiswa Khalipha, Breaking the Silence: A Luta Continua. An art project about memory and healing in post-Apartheid South Africa. A collaborative field research project with the Human Rights Media Centre (Cape Town, South Africa, 2007), pp. 28-33. The report includes photos of the art produced and the workshops with the participants.

1. Jok van der Leeuw-Roord, "Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Country, Every Day Life in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia 1945-1990. Yugoslavia between East and West. Modern regional history in 20 active lessons," (ClioHIP).
2. Béatrice Pouligny, Théâtre et Justice au Burundi. Recherche menée en collaboration avec RCN Justice & Démocratie au Burundi (Paris/Bujumbura : CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, RCN Justice & Démocratie au Burundi, 2007).
3. Ibid., 27-32 and 38-43.
4. Marian Hodgkin, "Reconciliation in Rwanda: Education, History and the State," Journal of International Affairs 60, no. 1 (Fall/Winter 2006), 205.
5.. Focus groups in Cape Town, February 2, 7 and 10, 2007. See Béatrice Pouligny, Shirley Gunn, Zukiswa Khalipha, Breaking the Silence: A Luta Continua. An art project about memory and healing in post-Apartheid South Africa. A collaborative field research project with the Human Rights Media Centre (Cape Town, South Africa, 2007), pp. 28-33.
6. All the quotations are from the comment books in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The news, reports, and analyses herein are selected due to there relevance to issues of peacebuilding, or their significance to policymakers and practitioners. The content prepared by HPCR International is meant to summarize main points of the current debates and does not necessarily reflect the views of HPCR International or the Program of Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. In addition, HPCR International and contributing partners are not responsible for the content of external publications and internet sites linked to this portal.