History events at the IHR

To "learn lessons" or to think critically?: a history of Holocaust consciousness and education

07 November 2013, 17:30 - 19:30

Event Type: Seminar


Dr Andy Pearce (Institute of Education London) 


In a provocative recent essay, Alon Confino argued ‘a period of Holocaust consciousness’ is ‘coming to end’. For Confino, this transformation is measured by the ‘moralizing tone’ which characterises much contemporary Holocaust discourse, for ‘moralizing is the proof of a memory culture that acknowledges the evil of extermination’. This paper departs from the belief that the recent history of Holocaust consciousness in Britain offers much grist for Confino’s mill. Understood in the vein of Jörn Rüsen and Peter Seixas as a mode of orientation, the foundations of modern historical consciousness are challenged by the presence of the Holocaust in recent history. It follows that the way we “think with” and “think about” history and the Holocaust should necessarily be different than before. In actuality, this has not always been the case.

To illustrate and explore this point, this paper will focus on the history of “Holocaust education” in Britain. Through reference to the National Curriculum and to Holocaust Memorial Day, it will argue that at a political and institutional level, Holocaust consciousness has calcified around the notion of “lessons”. This approach is marked by a lack of reflexivity and piety, and is underpinned by behaviourist understandings of teaching and learning fundamentally out of synch with trends in educational thinking of the past generation.  Where the Holocaust could and should make a contribution to inculcating criticality and rethinking education then, the opportunity has tended to be missed. This has consequences, both for the next “period” of Holocaust consciousness and education more broadly.

Venue: Room G21a (Ground Floor)

South Block, Senate House 
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU 

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