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Encountering the past in the present: An exploratory study of educational heritage tourism

  • 18 January 2017

Volume 63, Issue 1, pp 51–70

Authors: Magdalena H. Gross (College of Education, University of Maryland); Ari Y. Kelman (Graduate School of Education, Stanford University)

Abstract

This article presents an educational programme designed to explore the multicultural history of Poland. Targeting Jewish and non-Jewish students of Polish heritage, the Polonia Programme (PP) was conceptualised with the aim of applying the tools of experiential education to initiate a new approach to examining one of the world’s most challenging and fraught historical narratives. The programme, piloted in the summer of 2014, takes two groups of young people from the United States to Poland each year. It features a combination of formal lectures and interactive tours, complemented by structured and semi-structured discussions. The destination of this particular tour, with these particular participants, both challenges and reinforces accepted notions of “heritage tourism” within an experiential educational framework. This framework enables a sense of group connectivity which allows students to be, perhaps, more open to alternative narratives about the past. The authors of this article, who were involved in evaluating the pilot launch of the Polonia Programme, found that the programme’s experiential approach succeeded in encouraging participants in the pilot cohort to challenge ideas about their definitions of and preconceptions about “who and what counts as Polish”. For many, the experience shifted their understanding of Poland towards one which took its multi-ethnic and multicultural history into account. Several discovered new perspectives on their own identity and heritage, while others reached a new understanding of the shared histories of Poles and Jews. The experiential nature of this programme also allowed students to encounter difficult histories: experience, then, became a vehicle for more challenging conversations and deeper learning.

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