New website makes history classes more attractive

Photo: archive of Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes

The Czech Republic’s Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes has launched a new project to help teachers in primary and secondary schools make history classes more engaging. Called Obrazy války or Images of War, it focuses on the period of the Second World War and provides teachers with alternative study materials, based on photographs and film clips.

Photo: archive of Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes

Czech teachers are often criticised for teaching history in an old fashioned way, still based mainly on memorizing facts. Historian Čeněk Pýcha, one of the authors of the project Images of War, says that while traditional textbooks are still an important source of information, they fail to use engage modern-day children.

Čeněk Pýcha,  photo: archive of Masaryk University Brno
“We decided to do this project because we think that communication in our society is based on an exchange of images. It’s obvious from the popularity of platforms like Instagram.

“The website is intended for school teachers to make history education more accessible for children, because communication through images is something children know from their everyday life. So in a way, we are trying to use their own language.”

The website Images of War is divided into two parts. The first one, called Events, focuses on key moments from the period between the years 1938 – 1945.

The authors deliberately chose events with a long-standing effect on the country’s history, such as the establishment of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia or the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi governor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

The second, more experimental part of the project, is called Images, and offers sets of photos and film clips that enable students to see the historical events from the Second World War from a different perspective.

Photo: archive of Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes
Mr Pýcha says that with direct witnesses of the Second World War gradually dying out, historians have been searching for alternative methods how to speak about the event and how to mediate the experience to school children.

“We have records of the witnesses, which is very important, but we think film clips and sources from popular culture are also important in teaching about WWII.

“There is still a lot of discussion and a lot of emotions surrounding the Second World War. We want to prepare children and students for these discussions and make them better oriented in this topic. It is still a really important topic which remains relevant to this day.”

Apart from teaching students about the key events of their country’s history, the project Images of War also focuses on teaching them how to interpret historical texts and images and how to recognise propaganda.

Images of War is just one of a number of educational projects prepared by the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes in recent years. Two years ago, for instance, historians launched a website called Socialism Realised, focusing on English-speaking audiences with no experience of what it is like to live in a communist regime.