European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results

Programme Category


Article available in the following languages:


Improving mutual understanding among Europeans by working through troubled pasts


Research should comparatively explore evidence and narratives of critical reflection and engagement with troubled pasts across Europe. Research will examine phenomena such as commemorations, apology, reconciliation and reparations and will identify major gaps or divergences in historical discourses and representations which might make it difficult to understand and overcome past conflicts or troubled historical legacies. The research to address this challenge should in particular focus on the following key dimensions. It is expected to either comprehensively address one of these dimensions or to combine them. The research may also cover other issues relevant for addressing the specific challenge.

1) Formal education, curricula and teaching practice

Research will survey and compare school curricula in a good range of relevant states with a view to identifying patterns and trends in presenting and interpreting difficult periods of history in a European perspective. It will also analyse whether, and at which stages of formal education, how, and with which intensity, openness and criticism troubled and uncomfortable historical heritage resulting from inter alia wars, conflicts, oppressions, genocides and dictatorships are covered in curricula by educational institutions at the levels of primary and secondary education and in cultural institutions providing services to education. The comparative approach could contribute to exploring differences between historical imageries of neighbouring countries, state majorities and minorities or communities considered as autochthonic or immigrant. Research will not focus solely on history teaching, as historical interpretations might be conveyed by many other disciplines from geography (e.g. implanting symbolic historical geographies) to sciences through arts and especially literature. Research should pay particular attention to primary and secondary education, because of their overwhelming importance in transmitting historical interpretations, bearing in mind that vulnerable or disadvantaged groups may be less represented in higher levels of formal education. Apart from the curriculum, research should also assess the actual practice of teaching such topics, and determine whether there is any discrepancy between the curriculum and its implementation with regard to covering troubled heritage. Crucially, research should develop criteria and indicators to measure how discursive, reflective and critical teaching is and assess teaching practices according to these criteria. Furthermore, it should be explored how these educational efforts, to the extent they exist, influence and impact upon national self-understanding and identity as well on perceptions of European integration.

2) Civil society, informal education and political discourses

Research under this strand should investigate how troubled periods of history are related to informal forms of education. Of particular importance is to survey and investigate comparatively how discourses in civil society and the media, including social and digital media, are informed by such legacies, and how in turn civil society and the media conduct such discourses. Research needs to unearth how national narratives are influenced by difficult pasts and how civil society, politics and the media constructed discourses, and which factors and acts such as commemorations, apology, reconciliations, reparations but also non-action informed both the construction and the evolution of such narratives. The gender dimension of these discourses and their transmission should be also considered. Interconnections between and disparities of national and European historical narratives and symbolical geographies equally ought to be studied. Of interest are also discourses in the profession of historians in the post-war/post-authoritarian period and how they might have evolved over time. Also artistic appropriations of memory in relation to troubled pasts and their receptions by the media and wider public should be explored. In addition to this, research should investigate whether and how such discourses and narratives have impacted upon Member States governments' and citizens' attitudes to European integration and EU membership, both before and after accession to the EU.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU in the order of EUR 2.5 million for each dimension would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. This does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

The European integration project was conceived as an antidote to a troubled past, especially during the first half of the 20th century. In fact, its very raison d'être was to overcome this burdensome heritage and to avoid once and for all future wars and authoritarian regimes. This was true not only in relation to and in the aftermath of WWII and the Holocaust, but also with regard to the Southern and Eastern enlargement rounds, which were inter alia motivated by embracing European countries that had left behind the yoke of authoritarian and/or totalitarianism - right wing and communist regimes respectively.

In times of crisis, this original telos of European integration is often lost from sight, even though it seems particularly opportune to bring it back into focus when reconsidering the fundamentals of integration in order to overcome the crisis. This integration is not limited to the expansion of the union, migration and global conflicts mean the narrative of troubled pasts in the context of Europe is continually evolving. At both a national and European level we have to look at how we accommodate co-existing narratives on the past. Historical discourses can contribute to cultural dialogue, mutual understanding and enhanced inter-comprehension between European states, nations, communities, minority and migrant groups and individuals. However, they might also be used to deepen perceived divisions and legitimate radicalisation or exclusion. Commemorating and teaching the past as well as preserving and cultivating the memory of troubled pasts are important in this regard. A critical engagement with negative heritage may also facilitate the construction of more value-oriented identities. More knowledge is needed on whether and how such discourses occur in various European countries. The specific challenge is to explore how uncomfortable histories are reflected and reappraised especially with a view to enhancing mutual understanding (and reconciliation when relevant) among Europeans.

A deeper knowledge base - on the significance of memory, interpretations and teaching (or silencing) periods of troubled pasts for the construction of historical narratives in contemporary Europe - will inspire and inform specific initiatives. These include appropriate changes in national educational curricula – and innovative educational material on how to critically and constructively reflect and act upon troubled historical heritage and facilitate the development of more nuanced and reflective approaches to interwoven local, regional, national and European histories. Research will also deepen the knowledge base on the significance and impacts of commemoration and cultural representation as well as public discourses on these for civil societies. This will help European policy makers and citizens to re-connect if and where necessary with the raison d'être of European integration.