Although little is known about the ways in which pupils learn history during museum visits, people have many expectations of it. Museum visits would bring the past alive for pupils through the presentation of historical objects and audio- and video fragments and pupils’ valuation of a particular heritage would increase. However, do such processes actually occur and in which ways do pupils’ identities and backgrounds play a role in these processes? This mixed methods multiple case study examined the ways in which pupils imagine a particular history and attribute significance to this history while engaged in heritage projects including a museum visit. I conducted a case study regarding the history of slavery and a case study regarding the history of the Second World War. The data were collected using questionnaires, individual interviews and observations of pupil group work and museum educators. The study revealed that the heritage projects enriched the pupils’ images of the past and made them more concrete. Also, many pupils were stimulated to empathise with the people from the past. However, they had little attention for the historical context of these people and they had difficulty to take other perspectives than their own present-day perspective. The heritage projects provided insight in the different ways in which significance is attributed to the past in current Dutch society. The projects enabled the pupils to explore their own ideas regarding significance and how these were related to their identity. However, the possibility to find the heritage unimportant remained undiscussed, although many pupils found this an interesting perspective and did not necessarily attached great importance to the preservation of the heritage. Heritage projects provide an ideal context for contributing to pupils’ insight into the attribution of significance to the past by themselves and by others. This type of critical reflection – why something is preserved and what this preservation reveals about our society – would be a valuable contribution to the current school history curriculum. To accomplish that, however, it is indispensable that history teachers and museum educators are willing to question their own relation to a particular heritage as well.

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C.A.M. van Boxtel (Carla) , M.C.R. Grever (Maria)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC)

Savenije, G. (2014, October 9). Sensitive History under Negotiation: Pupils’ historical imagination and attribution of significance while engaged in heritage projects. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1765/77453