What is Challenging History?
Challenging History is a manifesto for change in the way museums and heritage sites engage with contentious and sensitive histories. It is, at once, a community of like-minded individuals, a forum for discussion, a programme of ongoing professional development for practitioners and an advocate for change in the way our audiences engage with our shared history.
It originated with the Challenging History series of seminars in 2009, held at the Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces). The programme was conceived to explore the role, aims and outcomes of heritage and museum learning programmes in relation to difficult and controversial subjects.
For more information about the seminar series, please see the resources section below.
What is the manifesto?
The Challenging History network operates with the following (emergent) manifesto in mind:
The museum and heritage sector has an important role to play covering contentious issues in their spaces and programmes, and must do this work to stay relevant to our audiences.
- Acknowledge history is complicated and that we need to take risks in delivering it.
- Build our confidence in delivering contentious issues by creating a process, supported by peer review, for sector staff to develop their expertise.
- Recognise successful practice and agree what produces quality programmes.
- Create a forum for dialogue across the sector and beyond, about best practice.
- Facilitate conversations at subject and audience level online and in person. Support mentoring and develop skills profiles. Advocate for this work across the sector and beyond.
- Conduct rigorous evaluation and research of delivery of contentious history in museums and heritage sites, how it works and what it does.
- Coordinate a central programme of pilot projects, evaluations, case studies and body of evidence, Identify and track the training offer.
The Seminar series was just a start point, and members of the network are actively engaged in pursuing further opportunities to get challenging histories on the agenda.
Challenging History Grundtvig Partnership 2010-2012
This is a project to exchange ideas and best practice between UK organisations and the Forum for Contemporary History in Germany, the Lidice Memorial in the Czech Republic and their partners.
Challenging History Conference, 23-25 February 2012
23 to 25 February 2012 saw the first Challenging History conference jointly hosted by City University London and Historic Royal Palaces, the Tower of London. It was the culmination of three years work and partnerships looking at museums, heritage sites, and their work with difficult and sensitive issues (examples in the UK include work around the Holocaust, slavery, identity, terrorism and war). The Challenging History work has sought to provide a forum for debate and the exchange of ideas and 'best practice' in this particularly knotty area of heritage interpretation.
These projects have been funded with support from the European Commission.
An overview of the seminars and their outcomes can be found in the following documents
- Challenging History Executive Summary (pdf): a short introduction to the scope and priorities of the network
- Challenging History Summative Document (pdf): A detailed overview of the seminar series, outlining areas of conversation and contention. Includes sections on theoretical debates, practical considerations, and constraints identified in the day-to-day practice of Challenging History.
- Challenging History Appendices (pdf): including a bibliography and a mapping document
- The Challenging History 2009 seminars were designed by Sparknow: they suggested many of the innovative approaches and tools used and brought a fresh, non sector, perspective to the project which added a great deal of value.
If you are interested in joining the Challenging History network, or would like to find out more, please contact one of the following