The study of history, according to David Willetts, is crucial to the operation of a ‘free society’. But what should be taught, and how? Which interpretations of contested histories should be given priority? And how should traumatic and upsetting histories be imparted constructively?

In the UK the row over the history curriculum is far from over. It is too important an issue to get wrong. The way we teach history to the next generation will influence their understanding of their place in the world and the decisions and assumptions they make for the future. Yet many of the histories that cause such controversy in this country are removed from immediate social realities. In other parts of the world, post-conflict societies have to negotiate very recent contested and traumatic histories with direct implications for the present, be it for peace-making, reconciliation or trauma recovery. At the heart of both lies a concern about the transformative effect of the past on the present.

Should the UK incorporate the lessons of history teaching in reconciliatory societies to the benefit of debates here? After all, the UK is as much a post-conflict society – if chronologically more distant – as others. Should community and fraternity take a more central role in our curriculum? What can we learn about teaching traumatic histories from societies that must do so in intense and immediate situations? And what can the UK’s world-leading emphasis on historical reasoning in education contribute to history teaching in divided societies?


Professor Jackie Eales, President, Historical Association; Professor of Early Modern History, Canterbury, Christ Church University

Sir John Elliott, FBA, Regius Professor Emeritus of Modern History, University of Oxford

Professor Jonathan Glover, Professor of Ethics, King’s College London

Dr Richard Harris, Lecturer in History Education, University of Reading

Jim Kosem, Director, Halfman Design

Gareth Mann, Head of History, Westminster School

Dr Gary Mills, Lecturer, School of Education, University of Nottingham

Canon David W Porter, Canon Director for Reconciliation Ministry, Coventry Cathedral

Paul Schulte, Senior Associate, Carnegie Europe and Carnegie Endowment Nuclear Policy; Senior Research Fellow, Centre of Defence Studies, King’s College London
Resource Type
Published Date
18 March, 2013