Using history to combat old stereotypes and foster citizenship

Historical stereotypes, xenophobia and prejudices have acquired new vigour and support in the face of economic problems in a growing and expanding Europe. Selective and unquestioned attitudes among historians can underpin pervasive ideas about identities, and national, religious, gender and political stereotypes. Researchers recommend a transnational understanding of EU ‘history’ to help achieve a more inclusive European citizenship., a very large-scale and dynamic research network, has resulted in a new understanding of the relevance of history and how it works. Its results have been taken up by partner networks to support and inform the teaching of history worldwide. The project shows that humanities and history, in particular, are powerful forces in forming people's attitudes and determining how we relate to our neighbours. involved 180 researchers from 45 universities in 31 countries, primarily in most EU Member States and EFTA (Norway, Switzerland and Iceland), but also in Turkey, Serbia, South Africa and the Russian Federation. The project aimed to achieve a greater understanding of how history is understood (and practiced professionally) in different countries today. brought together historians, geographers, art historians, linguists, theologians, philologists, sociologists and philosophers to explore how both conflicts and positive interaction have developed in the past and how they might develop in the future. Fully one half of the researchers were doctoral candidates, making the network a trans-generational - as well as a transnational and trans-disciplinary - laboratory.

Research was conducted along six themes - states, legislation and institutions; power and culture; religion and philosophy; work, gender and society; frontiers and identities, and Europe and the wider world. In addition, the project studied transversal themes that cut across all nations, of citizenship, identity, gender, migration, discrimination and tolerance.

The researchers brought to light cases where there is disagreement within individual Member States on the way history should be taught in schools and cases of 'divided' or 'missing' memory, where opposing loyalties and evaluations resulting from 20th century conflicts have not yet been brought into the public forum, where they might be resolved. Processes of reconciliation, e.g. in Ireland and South Africa, were investigated to see if they had worked or if they had acted to reproduce existing narratives of conflict. found that people, including professional historians, are reluctant to address certain issues, and highlighted that special efforts are required to address sensitive historical experiences. For example, significant parts of many histories have been ‘swept under the carpet’ in recent decades. The researchers point out that different ways of understanding history are deeply embedded - people really care about them. History is not just about the past, but rather a way of dealing with the present and the future. The project stresses that there is no single, unified history of the European Union, but rather multiple histories at the national, regional and European levels, each with many variants and attendant controversies and disputes. was designed to address the novel historical challenges emerging today, to build and strengthen the foundations of a peaceful, productive European community of citizens. In collaboration with other important European projects and networks, such as CLIOHnet21, the Erasmus Academic Network CLIOHWORLD2, the Network of Networks HUMAN PLUS3 and TUNING Educational Structures in Europe4, has made a difference to the future structure of popular and academic historical research.

Among the tools created by, and further developed and disseminated by the other networks, are learning/teaching materials for topics where teachers have difficulties in finding texts. For example, materials were - and continue to be - produced on Balkan history, Baltic history, the history of the Mediterranean, language and history, the development of EU-Turkey dialogue, and the European Union itself. has provided input into key policy areas, such as the Bologna Process5 (which influences higher education policy and practice in the European Higher Education Area), most recently by helping to develop guidelines and examples for degree profiles as models for social science and humanities programmes across Europe.

Among some of the project’s findings and recommendations were:

  • Understanding the national context - People in the various Member States were found to understand terms such as ‘citizenship’ and ‘democracy’ in strikingly different ways. An awareness of the impact of national contexts is highly relevant to any policies that depend on common attitudes for their success.
  • Networking model - The project resulted in a successful large-scale networking model linking learning/teaching and research. This model can be replicated in other situations where different ways of understanding could potentially lead to conflict. The model is a key tool for researching situations where the knowledge that will result cannot be defined at the outset.
  • Religion and fundamentalism – The research gave firm support to the view that no religion is ‘fundamentalist’ by its nature. Policy makers should recognise that all faiths show a range of different attitudes, and that fundamentalism is not exclusively associated with Islam.
  • Environment – The working group on religion found that there is a long history of people respecting the environment, the biosphere and resources, through religious rituals. By addressing people’s inherent ethical concerns, policy makers can tap into a more powerful factor for encouraging citizens to act in a responsible way than through purely economic motivations.
  • Greater understanding of immigration and emigration - Both short and long term migration was found to be a universal factor in the human experience, and much more common than most people realise. Policies should encourage people to ‘make the connection’ between the experiences of their forefathers/mothers and the migrants who require their support today.
  • Continuing changes in attitudes toward discrimination and tolerance - The research found that definitions of what is acceptable, and sensitivities and degrees of empathy towards others, have changed markedly over the centuries. Policy makers should be aware that this trajectory is still ongoing, and the current ways of conceiving and attempting to build equality and wellbeing for humankind will need to be further developed if they are to be relevant for a greater part of the world’s inhabitants.

The research has resulted in the publication of 51 volumes on a range of topics, including two on citizenship, which are all available for free download via the project’s website ( as well as in book form.


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5 See:; - Creating Links and Overviews for a New History Research Agenda for the Citizens of a Growing Europe (duration: 1/6/2005 – 30/11/2010) was a Network of Excellence funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 – Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society.


Contact: Ann Katherine Isaacs,