The History Teachers Association of Northern Ireland held its launch event on 23 September 2016. The content below is written by leader of Press output of the association, Alice Johnson, and serves as a report of the event, the contextualisation of history teaching in UK’s educational environment, and the creation of HTANI.
Northern Irish history as a front runner for teaching sensitive pasts
The History Teachers Association of Northern Ireland (HTANI), affiliated with EuroClio, has successfully launched in Belfast. The new association has been warmly welcomed by local teachers who look forward to having a forum to help foster learning and enjoyment of history, as well as raise awareness of its importance as an academic discipline.
An inaugural event attended by teachers and educators on 23rd September followed an initial feedback exercise in late June. At the September event, held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast, Dr Alan McCully, Senior Lecturer in History Education at the University of Ulster and an early supporter of the new organisation, drew attention to the need for HTANI to help plug the gap in the provision of Career and Professional Development for history teachers. At the same time, he stressed that history teachers in Northern Ireland should appreciate that they are considered world leaders in teaching the past in the context of a post-conflict society.
“The quality of Northern Irish history teaching has been recognised as innovative and risk-taking in other areas of the world that have experienced conflict including Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Georgia, Cyprus and Sri Lanka,” Dr McCully said. We have much to offer others in the teaching of the sensitive past. It is important that teachers here have their achievements recognised by having an outlet to share their work with others.”
A challenging climate in a STEM-dominated educational environment
In May, history made headlines in Northern Ireland when the vice-chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast declared in an interview that “society [did] not need a 21-year-old that’s a sixth century historian”. He later apologised for the comment, but the remark is indicative of the challenges that the subject faces in a UK educational environment increasingly dominated by STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).
Some may dismiss the importance of history, but in a decade of centenaries, it is certainly not being ignored. Ireland, like much of Europe, is commemorating its own Decade of Centenaries. High-quality, innovative and sensitive educational resources on the First World War and the 1916 Easter Rising were showcased at the two HTANI events. Future centenaries, for example the partition of Ireland in 1921 or the Irish Civil War (1922-3), will undoubtedly prove even more challenging.
In the face of all these challenges, HTANI is more necessary than ever. It has been several years in the works. The idea for the association was raised in 2013 at a conference run by EuroClio in Corrymeela, Northern Ireland. Discussions there helped decide on Belfast as the location for the annual EuroClio Conference, held in March 2016, and it was hoped that the 2016 conference would help kick-start the new association.
EuroClio Conference as a foundation of the History Teacher’s Association
And so it has proved. HTANI steering committee chairman, Denver Charles, one of the main driving forces behind the association, recalled:
“One of the key goals of the EuroClio Conference was the foundation of the History Teachers’ Association. After the March conference, an interim committee was formed to build towards an information finding event that would test the viability and support for such an association in Northern Ireland. This event was held in June.
“Credit must be given to Jim McBride, a former history teacher and senior history examiner, who acted as a conduit with several projects who had showcases at the June event.
“The feedback from teachers present emphasised the strong need for this association in Northern Ireland, with lots of requests for support in resource sharing, sharing of best practice and expertise, and preparing students for exams.”
Creation and a surge of momentum: official launch September 23rd
At the official launch event in September, new members welcomed the announcement of future plans which will include revision talks, regional workshops, social events and teacher-tailored courses in partnership with organisations experienced in the innovative delivery of history, such as the Public Records Office, the Linen Hall Library, and the Nerve Centre. The HTANI plans to hold its AGM in 2017, where an elected committee will take office in order to guide the organisation forward. Speaking after the September event, Mr Charles commented on the ‘positive vibes’ and the enlistment of more teachers who will help lead the venture forward.
“The HTANI is beginning to develop roots,” he said. “It is becoming a reality, thanks to everyone who is now getting involved.”
Sinead Fitzsimons of Queen’s University, expert on history curriculum and EuroClio board member, paid tribute to the steering committee which “had the expertise, vision and network to successfully get this off the ground”.
“We have great momentum now,” she said. “Everyday, we have more and more people behind HTANI’s mission. We have support from a growing number of teachers, schools, heritage groups, universities, community groups, government bodies, and of course, EuroClio.”
Get in touch with History Teachers Association of Northern Ireland on Facebook by clicking the following link: HTANI Facebook page