Early programmes of international co-operation at the Council of Europe focused on the promotion of the European heritage of cultural and linguistic diversity. History and history teaching were given prominence in the Council’s work on education because of their importance in establishing mutual understanding and confidence amongst the peoples of Europe.
A first step was to encourage fairness and honesty in the representation of historical events and actors, through the reform of history textbooks to eradicate bias and prejudice.
Activities soon went beyond the textbooks, looking at ways to make history learning relevant to young people’s education and encouraging innovation in history teaching and teacher training. Progressively, in history teaching as in the teaching of other subjects, the emphasis was put on learner-centred approaches with major impact on syllabus content, curricula and teacher training.
In the 90s, following the upheaval in Eastern and Central Europe, initiatives aimed at supporting the transition to democracy increased the level of bilateral and regional activities. Based on previous experience gained in the field of history teaching, the confrontation with the new settings meant a revival of interest in teaching history in Europe and provided new opportunities to develop new concepts and priority areas.
While continuing the reform of textbooks and curricula, more recent projects have increasingly addressed the social and political dimensions of educational programmes, focusing on skills and competences needed for democratic citizenship, respect for diversity, and social inclusion. They have also sought to provide history teachers and educators with practical, concrete material to use in the everyday practice, in support of nationally defined materials.
Driven and supported by its statutory bodies, sometimes even foretelling concerns expressed by the political powers of the Council of Europe, the division of history teaching has accompanied the changes that took place in Europe in the last 50 years.
One can say that the history of Europe is reflected in the way our activities evolved.