Lärdomar av folkmord
Undervisning och lärande som historisk tolkning och orientering

Professor Jenny Berglund, HSD, Stockholms universitet.

Professor May-Brith Ohman Nielsen, Universitetet i Agder och Karlstads universitet.

Professor Sverker Sörlin, Kungliga tekniska högskolan.
Biträdande professor David Ludvigsson, Linköpings universitet.
Professor Inger Eriksson, HSD, Stockholms universitet. 
Suppleant: professor Johnny Wijk, Stockholms universitet.

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The overarching purpose of this dissertation is to explore possible ways of designing history teaching about genocides to enable learning that develops both knowledge of the history of genocides and the students’ ability to use history for orientation in everyday life. Previous research shows that there is disagreement about what characterises a desirable learning outcome from studying genocides. While some emphasise the importance of students acquiring solid historical knowledge of the genocide in question, others emphasise the question of basic human values as the primary intent of the learning. This source of tension is typical of history as a school subject. On the one hand, we hear the declarations Never again! and We must learn from history! in line with the democratic values on which the curriculum is based. On the other hand, the subject of history is expected to rest on a scholarly basis, which means that the complexity of history needs to be included in its interpretations. This, in turn, means that the discipline of history only rarely can offer unambiguous lessons. An extension of this reasoning leads to the problem focused on in this thesis: How can teaching history be designed to allow students to independently draw lessons that help them orient themselves in their everyday life without sacrificing the basic values of the discipline when interpreting the facts?

This dissertation assumes that a comparative perspective on genocide offers particularly good potential for students to consider what they have learnt. The dissertation’s theoretical framework is based on the concept of historical consciousness, which in the present study is applied with closely related concepts like narrative and the use of history. Questions concerning the development of students’ disciplinary knowledge and historical consciousness are based on the narrative competence model.

Three upper secondary school history teachers and 150 upper secondary school students participated in this intervention study. The empirical material of the dissertation, which was collected over a five-week period, consists of the following individual written assignments: two questionnaires, logbooks, an examination assignment and an evaluation. Additionally, the analyses are based on field notes and notes from planning meetings with the history teachers. The students’ written responses have been analysed as narratives and considered as use of history. Special focus has been on identifying the primary question that the history teaching led to among students and how they used the resources from the discipline of history to formulate the lessons from this teaching.

In particular, the following four findings were made: First, a carefully selected popular cultural movie about genocide is a powerful resource for establishing a need among students to orient themselves in the subject, that is, to raise issues relevant to their lifeworld. Second, a comparative analysis has the potential of highlighting both the unique features and patterns of genocide. The students’ conclusions from this interpretive effort provide them with good opportunities to use history in the present to orient themselves. Thirdly, focusing on the learning perspective in history teaching also seems to encourage interpretation, if the question of  lessons has gained relevance in the student’s lifeworld. In light of the above findings and the potential for and obstacles to in-depth learning about genocide that could be observed in this study, four guiding design principles were formulated. These principles can be used to advance the teaching of history about genocides in a way that enables learning about both historical interpretation and orientating themselves in their lifeworld.