Addressing the 1990s in two workshops

January 3, 2020

Although the feeling that 1989 was the end of history still prevails in Czech society, voices calling for reflection on both the revolutionary changes that the 1990s brought and the longer continuities with late state socialism are growing stronger. In the majority’s view of history, an uncertainty on how to approach this period reigns, even as historians are coming up with novel interpretations of the post-socialist transformation and pop culture images from the 1990s are becoming more and more popular even among the generation that doesn’t remember them anymore. With this in mind, we held a workshop in December of 2019 that focused on work with audiovisual sources in the teaching of history and its related subjects and that involved reflections on late state socialism and the 1990s as related to that. History students from three universities (Charles University, CEU, and Oxford) who study this period thus came together with teachers from history and other related subjects, other students, and others interested in the issue to think about what images and stories this period offers and how to take advantage of them in teaching contemporary history.  

Before the traditional workshop with teachers, we held a morning project-based learning session at the community elementary school Our School in Liteň u Berouna. Students worked in small groups on activities in which they used written sources and audiovisual material chosen and prepared by the workshop’s instructors. The instructors succeeded in bringing about a very complex image of the end of the ‘80s and the early ‘90s among the students. In the introductory part of the workshop, the students were introduced to memory culture connected with the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, that is, the events that were going on at the time of the workshop. In this section, the students analyzed, among other things, an advertising campaign using nostalgia connected to the Velvet Revolution that was all over the public space. In the second part of the workshop, students were introduced to the phenomenon of voucher privatization. 

The instructors managed to explain this theme to students very well and to bring it closer to them through period propaganda materials and advertisements. In the third part of the workshop, which dealt with restitution, students worked with clips from Czech films and TV shows (The Inheritance or Fuckoffguysgoodday [Dědictví aneb Kurvahošigutentág] and Life at the Mansion [Život na zámku]). Right at the end, students tried to create a campaign for their fund in a voucher privatization situation. In this creative way, they showed that they understood the privatization mechanism and the period methods of promoting voucher privatization. The concluding activity proved that, thanks to the workshop, 9th grade students effectively managed to adopt the presented theme and use the findings they gained in a practically-oriented task.

On the basis of these practical experiences from the elementary school, a workshop in our familiar format then took place at Campus Hybernská back at Charles University. Among the participants there were high school teachers, university students of history and political science, and other people interested in the issues, for example from the National Gallery. The first part of the workshop dealt with reflections on the participants’ own recollections, collective memory, and the question of how to teach recent history to people who didn’t live through it themselves. The next part was about the 1989 revolution, similarly as in the elementary school workshop. Participants individually analyzed the symbols present in the ads connected to the anniversary and discussed the values that November 1989 evokes in the current discourse — and also which of these are then further used for marketing. 

Next, the participants divided themselves into groups, and each one of these got to choose from a wide range of audiovisual sources that were connected with the given themes: restitution, voucher privatization, protest and violence, and the West. They then prepared their own recommendations for pedagogical work with the sources, which they presented to the other groups. Throughout the workshop, the instructors reflected on their own teaching experience from elementary school, which helped to support a productive discussion about the possibilities for using the presented sources and the applicability of the participants’ ideas. At the same time, interesting situations arose, like for example when a group dealing with privatization completely independently suggested just about the same pedagogical approach that the instructors had previously chosen for the project at the elementary school. The last part of the workshop thus organically transformed into an exchange of sources in which individual participants and the instructors traded their own experiences, observations, and ideas.