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Personalising History

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Personalising History

Image from Suzanne’s Story by Carol Adlam

University of York

Project summary

Personalising History explores and develops the use of testimony in Holocaust Education. Working with existing archives and creating new resources, the project seeks to adapt recent interdisciplinary perspectives in Holocaust Studies for the classroom. In collaboration with a local state school, Personalising History has produced two video video interviews with Holocaust survivors Edith Jayne and Suzanne Rappaport-Ripton. The interview with Edith was conducted and recorded by sixth form students who had undergone a short course in Oral History, Holocaust and testimony studies taught by postgraduates at the University of York. Working with the interview, the sixth form students developed learning materials to be disseminated with the videos. The interview and resources provide a prototype for testimony-based Holocaust education which the Personalising History team believe to be a uniquely valuable tool. Building on these ideas, the team recorded a second interview with Suzanne, and have developed a graphic novel based on her testimony in conjunction with professional illustrator Carol Adlam.

  • Audience
    • There are two main audiences: The postgraduates delivering the project in the classroom are receiving training and experience in Testimony and Holocaust Studies, and Oral History techniques, as well as in delivering classes on these areas. The postgraduates then deliver the package to KS3-5 pupils.
  • Project aims
    • The aims of the Personalising History project are:
    • - To deliver a package of training to current humanities postgraduates to develop skills in public engagement and teaching, tailored specifically to the challenges of teaching about the Holocaust through testimony.
    • - For the postgraduate volunteers to deliver a series of workshops and short courses on the Holocaust to KS3-5 pupils in local state schools with testimony as a key component.
    • - To assess the effectiveness of testimony as a teaching tool and, over the course of the project, develop methods and resources based on the findings.
    • - To produce two or more new video testimonies specifically for educational use, with learning materials and lesson plans for dissemination with the video
  • Planning
    • A pilot project at the Huntington School, York was completed in January 2014 with sixth form students producing an oral history video interview with Austrian refugee Edith Jayne. Four postgraduates delivered the sessions to a group of 16 sixth form students. The project was planned by the postgraduates, taking into consideration teaching guidelines published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and with advice from Holocaust Education and public engagement specialists at the University of York. The postgraduates involved all have an interest and/or specialism in Holocaust Studies, Memory Studies, or oral history, ensuring that they bring a certain amount of expertise into the project. Personalising History then conducted a second interview with Suzanne Rappaport-Ripton which has been adapted into a graphic novel for use in the classroom. The illustrations were made by Carol Adlam.
  • Outcomes and outputs
    • Arguably the most important resources produced by the project so far are the two video interviews. The 40 minute interview with Edith Jayne contains fascinating accounts of fleeing Europe and growing up as a refugee which have not hitherto been recorded. Suzanne’s testimony about living in hiding as a child in France is also very moving and challenging. The interviews are freely available through the project website and are useful for researchers and educators alike. In addition to the videos, the learning resources have been developed (including the graphic novel) and are freely available for educators. The project website will host the videos and learning resources produced by the project, utilizing free platforms such as Youtube, Prezi and Wordpress. The project has also created and developed relationships between the Humanities Research Centre at the University of York and Huntington School, York, York City Council and the Anne Frank Trust.
    • Watch the first part of Suzanne's interview here.
  • Mutual benefits
    • The postgraduates involved have gained valuable teaching experience as well as working with difficult materials. Writing a blog post for the project website, MA student Emelia Quinn describes the experience of overseeing an oral history interview conducted by sixth form students: ‘it was rewarding to see the confidence they had developed in the previous sessions.’ The interviewee has also expressed her pleasure at being involved in the project, in particular the opportunity to share her story with young people in York, the city where she is resident. In the interview itself she discusses the importance of sharing her story. The benefit for the sixth form students who undertook the interview has been particularly striking. The three students were selected because they indicated that they wished to be part of group of interviewers. One writes on the project website: ‘The interview we did was an amazing opportunity, and has highlighted for me both the versatility of this technique [oral history] and its profound importance.’ Another has stated “I was surprised by how different her life story is compared to the ideas I already had about the life of a refugee, especially from the Holocaust.” Other students in the class expressed their enjoyment of the project and that it had enriched their understanding of the Holocaust. They found that watching the interview, to which they had contributed during the planning stages, was particularly rewarding. The project has also been able to develop relationships with partner institutions such as Huntington School, York. As the project develops the hope is to build upon these relationships and add quantitative data to the qualitative and subject experiences already documented.
    • Personalising History seeks to bridge the gap between academic research and secondary education. Using an interdisciplinary approach, taking into account perspectives in history, literature, Holocaust and Trauma Studies, and comparative genocide studies, the classes are rich and diverse. The involvement of postgraduates with an interest and/or specialism in the focus areas brings cutting edge thinking into the classroom. The participatory approach to producing oral history makes a number of interventions which the team are continuing to pursue as potentially highly effective pedagogical tools. It encourages the pupils to consider the ways history is written and re-written, and the value of subjective and experiential accounts of history. The entire group was involved in the process of planning and conducting the interview, giving them a sense of ownership over the final product. By handing production to students, the interview produced might be more accessible and thus more effective as a teaching tool. The project’s outputs – videos and learning resources – are being produced and disseminated specifically with education in mind. This adds to the body of pedagogically focussed testimony already available, a much smaller cache than the wider Holocaust testimony archive, much of which was not created with the classroom in mind.