Event 3: The Empathy Effect: Teaching literature about the world wars and the Holocaust

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Photos courtesy of  Steven Haywood Photography

Teachers across the world use literary texts and creative writing exercises to teach about conflict, whatever historians may say about this practice. Such use of literary texts is not limited to literature classes, but extends to history lessons, albeit with slightly different aims and framing, and it extends to questions of remembrance, too: how literary texts shape the teaching of certain narratives about the past and why we should continue to value and appreciate these.

This workshop, which took place at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum in Exeter on 12 September 2018, explored the use of literary texts in teaching about the history and the remembrance of the First and Second World Wars and the Holocaust. Contributions were made by researchers and educators across different contexts and institutions, with particular emphasis on a secondary goal in teaching about conflict: the development of students’ capacity for empathy in the broadest sense, as opposed to the specific development of historical empathy. In their March 2017 report, Literature in Britain Today, the Royal Society of Literature concluded that one of the three most important benefits of reading literature, in the eyes of the British public, was to help readers see other points of view. We interrogated this claim in relation to the use of war writing in the classroom to shed light on the practice of and rationale behind using literary texts and creative writing exercises in teaching about war and genocide.

Contributions from researchers, educators and authors across different sectors:

  • reflected on the use of literature and/or creative writing in the teaching or commemoration of either WW1, WW2 or the Holocaust
  • discussed practical examples of using literary texts/creative exercises to teach about the world wars
  • considered specifically the link between literature/creative writing and the development of empathy in young people.
  • reflected on the interrelation between literature and history, and/or whether authors have a responsibility to historical accuracy.

Our confirmed keynote speakers were:

The programme is available here: Empathy Effect programme.

Click here for a wakelet collection archiving the live tweeting from the workshop (#empathyeffect18)

A special edition of the English Association’s Issues in English (13) edited by Ann-Marie Einhaus (Northumbria) and Catriona Pennell (Exeter) was published in July 2019 based on some of the papers delivered at this event.

Podcasts of the keynotes: