Parallel Histories stems from my own past, both my childhood and more recently my experience as a high school history teacher over nearly twenty years. Over this time as a teacher a few things became very clear to me. First, students love learning controversial history which challenges them to engage with more than one perspective, second, they really enjoy discussing and debating these different historical perspectives and third, they don’t get enough opportunities to learn this way.
I set up Parallel Histories in 2017 to make it easier for teachers to teach controversial history in a lively and engaging manner, emphasising speaking and listening as much as writing. We have focused on doing three things; making educational resources which are innovative, challenging, and fun, providing teachers with training on how to teach controversial history, and running inter-school online debating.
Our programmes are open to everybody, but we ensure that our schools as a cohort have significantly higher levels of students on Free School Meals or with English as an Additional Language than the national average.
Looking further back, I spent formative years in Northern Ireland as the Troubles began. I have a very clear memory of my father taking me aged nine to see the aftermath of the previous night’s rioting on Bombay Street in Belfast. The sight of a family carrying their furniture out of their terraced house with its smashed windows and loading their possessions onto a lorry to make the move out of a mixed area, made a profound impression on me. I simply couldn’t understand how people growing up in the same neighbourhood had turned against each other. Later when I understood how history plays an important role in fostering identity politics, I realised that it is essential school students study these contested histories of conflict as part of their preparation to be active citizens in flourishing pluralistic democracies.
It took me quite a while to realise that Parallel Histories was what I wanted to do. Before becoming a teacher aged 40, I ran the US arm of a management consulting business and before that I worked in sales and marketing for big businesses with global brands. All interesting jobs but the one I’ve got now is the most important!
I became interested in learning about why people think the way they do about the past while studying History at Oxford University.
Parallel Histories’ emphasis on teaching history through contested narratives seemed a natural extension of this early interest. Its focus on understanding the narratives of others is a useful corrective to a world already noisy with opinions.
The dual narrative approach we take can be applied to many historical conflicts, but for me the outstanding example of history being deployed to support each side in a long running conflict is the contested history of Israel and Palestine. I was hooked early during a school visit to Israel and Palestine, and I’ve returned many times to the Middle East to learn more. There are a number of articles I have written about the footprint European powers left behind in Jerusalem here. I’ve lived in Cairo and Amman to improve my Arabic and I’m looking forward to learning Hebrew next. My work for Parallel Histories allows me to continue learning about the history and politics of the Middle East, through creating our videos, and in addition I get the chance to observe in workshops how students respond and learn from our new way of studying conflict.
I’m delighted to have been awarded a Churchill Fellowship and a Fellowship of the Royal Society of the Arts to keep developing the work of Parallel Histories.
I studied history for my undergraduate degree, but I then I moved away from it for some time. I completed a Master’s degree in South-Eastern European Studies and then went on to work for international organisations in the former Yugoslavia, including the EU and the UN Development Program. I also wrote articles and worked in the field of risk analysis, which involved investigating conflicts in countries all around the world.
I found myself pulled back towards history as I realised that lying at the core of many political struggles are opposing historical narratives. I was able to explore this through a study of the national museums of Kosovo and Serbia, a topic on which I published several opinion pieces.
Very often both sides in a conflict will claim that their cause is right based on a particular view of history, while being unaware of the other side’s historical perspective. I believe that Parallel Histories’ unique approach can help to address this by exposing people to at least two different interpretations of the same events, thereby encouraging them to think more critically about their own preconceptions about history.
I’m a native English speaker, with decent Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin and basic Welsh.
Growing up and living in Belfast, where dual narratives can be a daily topic of discussion, brought me to Parallel Histories and its aim to encourage teachers not to shy away from controversial histories into the classroom.
After my undergraduate degree, I spent 10 years as a classroom teacher, in the south of England. In the early stages of my career, I knew students were keen to learn about conflict-related topics, especially those that were featured heavily in the media.
I was once challenged to face my own misconceptions of my own nation’s past when planning ‘The Troubles, 1968-1998’ scheme of work for my year 9 historians. It inspired me to take a different approach from teaching key turning points from 1968– 1998 and instead reach out and engage with people from both sides of the divide and collect oral testimonies and adapt a dual narrative approach to the topic. This not only changed how I delivered ‘The Troubles’ in the classroom, but it showed my students the importance of investigating evidence from different perspectives, critically, and formulate their own opinions.
As Programme Manager for Parallel Histories, it is exciting to capture the voices of young people from across the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and beyond. Through our digital debating programme, it is refreshing to see students being challenged to defend perspectives opposite to their own and hear their fascinating opinions and views of the past using historical evidence to support their arguments.
I joined Parallel Histories because I was drawn to the way in which parallel narratives provide an accessible way of navigating the study of difficult and controversial history. I believe that the way we teach and understand History is of paramount importance because our understanding of the past fundamentally shapes our understanding of the world we live in, whether we realise it or not. Coming from an international background, I am especially drawn to way in which different understandings of history help shape the cultural and political identities of different groups of people; history is undoubtedly something that is both deeply personal and deeply political, and it is important that we are able to effectively study the intersection between these different facets of the subject. Studying History at undergrad, I became particularly interested in Early Modern History and the ways in which cultural and political developments in this period continue to impact the world today. Here’s a link to an article I wrote about Mary I and Elizabeth I which explores how a parallel narratives approach to studying the history of Mary I and Elizabeth I can help challenge preconceptions about Tudor history.
I am excited to be working at Parallel Histories and I enjoy making programmes which highlight for students how different historical narratives are constructed. I’m also enjoying the challenge of putting more and more reliance on primary sources to do the job of telling the historical story – it’s something that’s routine at university but less so at secondary schools.
I’m a native Estonian speaker with fluent English and moderate French.