Wiesenthal Education Weekly
For Educators, Parents & Students
July 23, 2020
How can educators help students engage with history outside of the classroom? Look no further than your local community archive!
Unprecedented times call for innovation and creativity. As educators and parents, no one is more aware of this truth than you and we have heard from lots of community members who are scratching their heads about how to engage the young people in their lives in meaningful learning opportunities while they are outside of the normal classroom environment. This is particularly true for history and other humanities subjects which are, in many cases, falling by the wayside right now. Studying history should never be viewed as a frivolity. History provides us with the tools to think critically about the world around us, to broaden perspectives, and to recognize injustice when we see it with the ultimate goal of building a future where the crimes of the past are not repeated. Beyond all of this, history helps shape our own identities and sense of connection to the physical space around us. So, how can we create meaningful lessons around history while we are alienated from our normal learning environment? How can we enrich our understanding of the landscape we live within? What tools are at our disposal?
One seldom-explored resource is Ontario’s local community archive or historical societies, many of which have extensive digital collections and are free for public use. County and municipal archives around the province are incredible repositories of information and preserve the detailed fabric of small-scale local histories that are completely ignored in “big picture” narratives about Canada. The unusual times we are living in and our need to limit travel may be inconvenient but it also creates space for us to take time to look closer at the details of our scenery we so often ignore and to ponder the forces that have taken us from the “then” to the “now” in communities around Ontario.
The Ontario Historical Society (OHS), first founded in 1888, is a great starting point on this journey. The OHS serves as an umbrella organization with a network of over 350 affiliated local historical societies, archives, and heritage organizations around the province. They also maintain a database of over 1,600 contacts that are dedicated to helping connect your classroom to local history in a variety of ways. Of course, many of these services and facilities have been impacted by Covid-19, but many also maintain online resources and are beginning to reopen.
Here are just a few ideas for ways you can engage with local history right now:
- Use internet research and archival resources to learn more about Indigenous communities that once lived on the land presently occupied by their town or city before European Imperialism.
- Encourage students to do their own genealogical research. Have them consider their family roots in their community, regardless of whether those roots go back one month or 200 years, and consider the journey that led them to where they are today.
- Have students use the OHS’s online directory to locate nearby historical sites including monuments and plaques and engage them in a critical thinking exercise.
- Use archival resources to look for information about African Canadian history in Ontario, including the existence of the slavery in Canada and the process of its eventual abolition. For example, did you know that the rural town of Amherstburg, Ontario, was one of the principal terminal sites for the Underground Railroad in the early 19th century?
- Visit a local cemetery and have your students make grave rubbings with paper and crayons. This may seem morbid but cemeteries are one of the best public resources for local history and the stones can reveal a lot about the history of a community and its people (for instance, how long an area has been inhabited). This is also an activity that can be done with younger children (ages 7+) and is a safe in that it is outdoors in areas that tend to had few visitors. Please remember: if you decide to visit a local cemetery with a child or group of children, make sure your group behaves with respect and remind them that you are in a place where people honour lost loved ones.
- OHS also provides access to professional development webinars for educators in partnership with the Ontario Elementary Social Studies Teachers’ Association (OESSTA) and the Ontario History and Social Sciences Teachers’ Association (OHASSTA). These sessions were designed for teachers wanting to learn more about new approaches to teaching within Ontario’s newly revised History and Social Studies and Canada and World Studies curricular standards.
4 Questions With..
Maddie Aucoin | M.A. Wilfrid Laurier University
I have a Masters degree in History from Wilfrid Laurier University, where I focused my research on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). I am currently working as an administrative staff member at Nipissing University.
1.How did you develop your interest in the Holocaust? What is Holocaust tourism?
As an undergrad student at Nipissing University, I got the opportunity to travel to Poland on a study abroad course which focused on the Holocaust in Poland. Before that course, I had little idea that Holocaust tourism even existed. On that trip, I remember saying to my professor (who is also my mentor) that I was going to do my masters’ degree in History and study Holocaust tourism. Holocaust tourism is any site of memory that allows visitors to come see the impacts of the Holocaust on various populations and areas. These sites could include areas impacted firsthand by the Holocaust, such as concentration camps and other sites of perpetration, or memorials and museums outside of areas directly impacted by the Holocaust, such as the USHMM in Washington, D.C.
2.How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic is going to impact how people work with and learn about history? What advice might you give to someone who prefers ‘hands on’ historical learning rather than reading?
I think the COVID-19 pandemic will digitize and publicize a lot of content to be available for those in academia but also those outside of the ivory tower. In that sense, more content will likely be available for those who cannot make the trip to visit archives or museums to do research. Thankfully, there are so many amazing opportunities available due to COVID-19 that will allow visual learners to understand more about the Holocaust and history, broadly. Many museums and historical sites are offering virtual tours, which will allow for more and more learners to have access to these institutions without actually going to these sites.
3.As someone working in the sector of higher education and is passionate about Holocaust studies, what advice would you give to an adult who is looking to learn more about the Holocaust?
There are so many different lenses to approach the Holocaust that it can be overwhelming at first glance. Spend some time thinking about what exactly you want to learn about the Holocaust. Take some time to write down some questions, and then take the time to look up the answers. Remember that you’ll never know everything there is to know, but know that you can always learn more as you go. There is no competition to know the most, but instead focus on growth over time.
4.Why do you think it is important that future generations learn about the Holocaust?
Learning about the Holocaust is important for future generations for a few key reasons, but I strongly believe one of the most important is so we can remember both those who survived and those who perished. One of the keys to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive is also keeping alive the memory of those who were affected by the events. Additionally, it’s important to recognize that Holocaust remembrance is for everyone! Learning about individual testimonies of those who experienced violence at the hands of Nazis, such as children, can help even the youngest learners start to conceptualize what happened during the Holocaust.
What is... Dark Tourism?
While many of us plan our stay-cations or watch travel documentaries from the safety of our own homes this summer, we remain hopeful that there will be a day in the near future where we can once again travel and explore the world beyond our living room couches. In recent years, one of the major types of tourism that has begun to see a major proliferation in interest is that of dark tourism.
From sites of natural disasters like Pompeii or New Orleans, to places of infamous murders like the grassy knoll in Dallas where JFK was assassinated or the cobbled streets of London where Jack the Ripper sought out his victims, tourists of all ages and backgrounds have long been drawn to sites where tragedies have taken place. Coined in 1996, the term “dark tourism” refers to tourism where visitors are drawn to a location due to its association with “death, disaster, and depravity.” In Canada, sites in Nova Scotia commemorating the Halifax explosion or the sinking of the Titanic are frequently top destinations for travelers.
In the decades after the Second World War and the Holocaust, sites where Nazi atrocities took place became of particular interest to not only veterans and survivors, but to many individuals who were not linked to this history at all. With nearly two million visitors a year travelling to Omaha beach to pay their respects to those who died on D-Day, to the 1.3 million people a year who the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, it is clear that people today still feel a strong connection and curiosity for these sites of tragedy.
Concentration camps, ghettos, and transit camps are also frequently included in European travel plans. In 2019 alone, the memorial museum and site of memory at Auschwitz-Birkenau received 2.3 million visitors. For the vast majority of individuals who visit the largest concentration and death camp of the Holocaust, the physicality of the site is a critical aspect of fully understanding the gravity of this history. Holocaust museums and non-profit organizations, including our own, occasionally offer tours for students, community leaders, and law enforcement officials to these sites to ensure that the message of “never again” truly takes hold. For the proprietors and organizations that manage these sites, however, there is sometimes a difficulty ensuring that visitors remain appropriately respectful of their surroundings. For some, the seriousness of the tragedies that haven taken place in these locations is simply not acknowledged or valued. This can be seen in countless social media posts and photos taken at concentration camps and memorials. Some critics have pointed to the apparent emotional disconnect between egocentric tourists and various sites of Holocaust remembrance, a distance that grows as the years progress. Even more troubling, these sites also attract those who obsess and mythologize Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Era. In Germany, authorities took it upon themselves to collapse the site of Adolf Hitler’s last stand, the Fuhrerbunker, in part to ensure that it would not become a site of pilgrimage by white supremacists or a distasteful tourist trap.
While there may be some less than ethical reasons behind people’s attraction to these sites, most academics who study this field believe that people are largely drawn to these sites out of genuine curiosity, empathy, and remembrance. Scholars who study dark tourism generally have found that the dark tourism sites most frequented are those that continue to bear significance to present day and our cultural understanding of the past. For example, films like Schindler’s List and the Imitation Game attracted visitors to the factory in Krakow and the buildings at Bletchley Park, respectively. When HBO released its wildly successful docu-drama “Chernobyl”, there was a massive influx of visitors to the infamous (and still radioactive) disaster zone. For historians who study these subjects, depictions in popular culture can be both a blessing and a curse, often depending on the content creator’s desire for accuracy.
The commitment of travelers including these sites in their itineraries is an important part of preserving this history for future generations as well. However, the kind of respect, dignity, and maturity needed at these sites often require a certain level of educational and empathetic groundwork to ensure a full impact.
Teaching Students to Have a Critical Eye
Media representations are multifaceted, but they can also help foster an interpretation of the world, society, inequality, multiculturalism, and discrimination, and injustices. Educators need to teach critical literacy so that students can have the power to interpret such representations and know how to identify and analyse any messages, biases, or assessments within the media. In doing this, students can construct their own meanings of such representations and reach their own conclusions about culture and society which can be empowering.
FSWC’s educators often discuss the power of propaganda and the media during the 1930s to foster antisemitism in Germany. The Nazi Party was able to mobilize the hatred or indifference to Jewish people among the nation through propaganda. In doing this, we place a consideration on videos, documentaries, the 1936 Berlin Olympics, children’s books, and more. We talk about the censorship laws put into place by Nazi regime to make it easier that their political messages were conveyed as fact with no alternative perspective or interpretations offered.
With news at the fingertips of anyone with internet access and a smart device 24/7, all people must know how to properly interpret what they read and see, critique the representations presented, spot misinformation and biases, consider the target audience, and critically think about how other people may interpret the media too. We must teach students to be critically thinking about the messages presented to them in the media as non-transparent. The conceptual definitions adopted by the Center for Media Literacy (CML) provides strategies and approaches for teachers to utilize within the classroom or learning environment to challenge the media and media representations. Hall further discusses issues of representation and that it can carry several definitions that people need to be aware of and know how to measure the gap between the true meaning of an event, subject, or person and how it is represented.
At FSWC, we understand the role that educators have to teach students about social justice issues, making judgements, and oppression. Thus, educators must give students the tools and the opportunities to make their own decisions based on the information that they are given and seek themselves. Educators must be committed to the journey of life-long learning so that we can ensure that all students are prepared to think critically about the world around them, and hopefully become enabled and inspired to intellectually speak out against injustice.
Learn more here
Human Rights @ Home
FSWC educators will facilitate one-hour programs via Zoom. Public workshops take place from 3:00pm - 4:00pm EST Monday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register today. Zoom invitations will be sent out prior to each workshop.
What Our Education Team is Reading & Watching
FSWC's Education Team is constantly working to broaden their collective knowledge. Here's what we've recently been reading and watching:
Stay in Touch
Although FSWC's Education Team is practicing social distancing for the health and safety of themselves and those around them, you can reach us remotely at any time at email@example.com