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17th - 18th October 2019

University of Oxford, UK


About the Conference

Exploring the role of history education in pre-conflict, at-conflict, and post-conflict societies.

Whether explicitly or implicitly, the humanities subjects have always played an important role in forming identity. Yet, in increasingly diverse societies and classrooms, the question of identity continues to pose challenges for pupils, teachers, textbook writers, and curricula developers alike, as well as for historians of education and childhood. This is especially true in communities where deep national, racial, or religious divisions exist, such as those enduring or emerging from conflict.  

This two-day conference will explore the evolving relationship between conflict and identity. It will focus on how teachers and lecturers present history; how such choices shape identity; and how history education has been used for the purposes of promoting or undermining peaceful societies. Throughout the conference we wish to consider how dominant/minority/alternative narratives, memories, and cultural representations of history are used to mediate difficult pasts and create social cohesion. We will also consider the advantages and challenges of different approaches to historical learning, and we are particularly interested in papers that speak to the roles and effects of history education at various stages of conflict.

As well as research presentations, we invite academics to join us in a series of outreach workshops and round-tables with history teachers and A-level students, where we hope to create spaces of sharing, collaboration, and mentorship.


This conference has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.   


Conference Themes


The conference is organised around three themes in order to identify and compare the role and usages of identity in history education at the different stages of conflict.  

Theme 1: Education in polarised societies

The rise in global connectedness has been matched by a concerning increase in social segregation and intolerance. Income inequality, economic displacement, immigration, and forced population transfer have all contributed to ethnic, religious, and identity-based tensions, challenging national identity and exacerbating pre-existing prejudices. At best these tensions undermine social cohesion, marginalising certain communities and weakening trust; at worst they manifest as acts of violent extremism. 

In the wake of the First World War, education with the explicit purpose of preserving international peace emerged from a newly professionalised group of teachers. The relationship between education and social cohesion has taken new forms in post-colonial Britain and France, and following the Civil Rights movement in the United States of America. History curricula initiatives such as Black History Month, genocide education, the emergence of anti-racism programmes and religious education have explicitly emerged to promote national unity and cohesion. However in other settings education has only served to intensify polarisation and can be seen as a precursor to violent conflict. 

Theme 2: Education amid conflict

Education has increasingly been considered a vital component of humanitarian responses, providing at-conflict communities with stability and structure, offering child protection, and reducing psychosocial damage. Examples of education in this form included that which was provided in the Displaced Persons and Internment Camps across Europe in 1945-1948, during the Siege of Sarajevo in 1992-1995, and within official and unofficial refugee camps such as those run by the UNHCR or the Calais Jungle.

However studies which compare the efficacy or pedagogy of these humanitarian educational responses are limited. As history education is often regarded as political, and as an extension of the state, aid agencies are at times reluctant to engage in approaches which may be perceived as supporting the agenda of political actors in the exercise of state-building. In other cases, the education system, infrastructure and administration has been used to facilitate mass murder, both ideologically in the case of Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa, and directly in the case of the Rwandan genocide and Boko Haram in Nigeria. In Lebanon, the separate education of Syrian refugees serves to actively prevent integration into their host country.  

Conflicts relating to identity pose particular challenges for educators, who must negotiate the violence and trauma surrounding their students’ experiences. Who is teaching and what is taught to children and youth during conflict is of vital importance and varies significantly between conflicts.

Theme 3: Education in post-conflict societies

Societies can be considered post-conflict for generations after violence. In the immediate aftermath of conflict, formal and non-formal education structures are often destroyed, fragmenting communities and threatening educational inputs. Recovering states may suffer from insufficient funding and resources, insufficient qualified teachers, and students who are affected by war, sometimes including large numbers of youth without basic education and those who served as soldiers. The return of young people to school is often heralded as a ‘peace dividend’ and some societies have symbolically purged inflammatory textbooks to signal that reform has started. 

In societies with a more distant memory of conflict, social relations and power hierarchies may still be strained. History lessons in particular may be either shunned or highly contested, yet are often considered by government and civil society as an important site of memory, reconciliation, and even forgiveness. 

Whilst many have argued that a model for post-conflict education is unachievable due to the particularities of individual conflict settings, we hope to explore the role of identity and history education in post-conflict education. Textbooks and curricula can maintain existing social and economic power structures and norms relating to the role of 'the other', while educators must negotiate students pre-existing conceptions, national politics and the real possibility of trauma.


Organising Committee

PhD Candidate, University of Oxford, Department of Education


Natasha is an ESRC scholar in the Department of Education, where she is completing her PhD. Her thesis, entitled Developing historical consciousness in the post-apartheid history classroom is an ethnographic study of how Grade 9 history students in Cape Town understand the contemporary effects of apartheid. Alongside her PhD Natasha has worked as a consultant for the OECD, where she helped to design the 2018 PISA framework for Global Competence. She is currently engaged in a study with the Harvard School of Education, looking at how history education in South Africa develops citizenship.

PhD Candidate, University of Oxford, Department of History


Heather is currently completing her PhD in History at the University of Oxford on the subject of teachers and the Holocaust, where she holds the Sloane-Robinson scholarship and is a Senior Scholar at Lincoln College. Her thesis, ‘mediating Holocaust memory in British and French schools’ uses oral history to analyse the historical memory of teachers who have taught between 1992 and 2018, to understand the evolution of Holocaust memory, its relation to national mythology, identity and to ideas of citizenship. Heather spent part of her studies working in the office for Holocaust Education and the prevention of genocide at UNESCO. Heather completed her PGCE in 2012 as part of the Teach First programme and has taught in secondary schools in the United Kingdom and Germany. 

Lecturer, University of Oxford, Department of Education


Jason currently works on the History PGCE programme and the MSc Teaching and Learning course. He obtained his first degree in Cultural Studies from University of East London, followed by a MA in History Education from the Institute of Education. He completed a PGCE in Social Studies at Goldsmiths in 1992. He has worked in a variety of London schools, including middle management and senior management roles. In 1999 he was awarded AST status with specialism in History Education and Inclusion, he combined this role with part time teaching at Kingston University. He joined the Department of Education in 2010 as a Teacher Education Research Fellow (TERF).

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Natasha Robinson

Department of Education

15 Norham Gardens



United Kingdom

Key-Note Address

We are delighted to announce that the key-note address will be given by Sarah Dryden-Peterson.


Sarah is an Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her work focuses on the connections between education and community development. She examines issues such as the role of social institutions in immigrant/refugee integration, the connections between education and family livelihoods, and transnational institution-building. Her work is situated in conflict and post-conflict settings in sub-Saharan Africa and with African Diaspora communities in the United States and Canada. She is concerned with the interplay between local experiences of children, families, and teachers and the development and implementation of national and international policy.