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Liberalism, Liberal Democracy and the Populist Challenge


  1. HEIRNETTo report and disseminate scholarship, research, pedagogy and praxis into and about all aspects of History Education.
  2. To campaign to make Thinking Historically an entitlement of all 3-21 year olds.
  3. To support History Education as a pillar of ‘Open Society’[1] liberal democracy in an age of populist ‘dictatorships of the proletariat’. [2]
  4. To provide historical, social, cultural, political and ethical perspectives on History Education.
  5. To serve as an international open-source for publications, resources, news, links, social media and information about History Education
  6. To develop a worldwide network to promote all aspects of History Education.
  7. To act as an objective source about History Education, national identity and citizenship for the creation and implementation of history and related curricula and policies. [3]

Liberalism, Liberal Democracy and the Populist Challenge

As its main theme the HEIRNET 2019 VIENNA CONFERENCE focuses upon Liberalism, Liberal Democracy and the Populist Challenge: an issue with deep historical roots of almost overwhelming current significance and concern.

From c. 1918 to 1945 Fascism, Communism and Liberalism became locked in a deadly struggle. 1945 saw the defeat of European and Asiatic Fascism. Almost immediately from 1945 Communism and Liberalism became bitter enemies during the ‘Cold War’ that lasted until 1989. The tumultuous events of 1989-92 witnessed the collapse of the apparent Communist threat to Liberalism with the disintegration of Soviet communism’s Russian empire and China’s adoption of communism with a capitalist face.

The HEIRNET 2019’s title reflects the post 1990s resurgent threat to Liberalism from Populism – a hallmark of nationalistic, sectarian, discriminatory and extremist ‘dictatorships of the proletariat’, no more so than in their 21st century Trumpite and Putinesque mutations.

Populist educational policies and nationalistic history curricula are often ideologically and religiously rooted within extremist beliefs that contemptuously dismiss Liberal democratic principles, values and policies.

Crucial in the struggle between Populism and Liberalism is digital age Public History and Historical Culture that influence and shape collective and individual consciousness and Identity. Public History and Historical Culture are extremely vulnerable to Populist extremism that the mass media fuels and proselytizes

Educationally Populism stresses assimilation of personal atavistic, vernacular master narratives that draw upon a canon, of dogmatic, unquestioned and incontestable factual historical knowledge. Such knowledge helps shape pupils’ personal Identity as citizens and the militant, jingoistic nationalism that fuels extremism, intolerance of the ‘other’, civil and international wars, conflict and even genocide

An antidote to Populism and its ‘fake news’ is a Liberal Pedagogy based on history’s critical disciplinary thinking grounded in history as an academic discipline of enquiry. Historical critical disciplinary thinking has at its heart know how knowledge [procedural/syntactic] that underpins and provides the provenance of know that knowledge [propositional/substantive]:

  • questioning and investigation;
  • the discovery, processing and analysis of sources, their provenance and evidence in relation to the investigation;
  • discussion, debate, logical thinking, speculation and the informed imagination;
  • the framing and testing of hypotheses against the evidence enabling;
  • the construction of evidentially based conclusions;
  • the communication of historical knowledge and understanding using appropriate genres.

As such, Liberal pedagogy helps empower citizens to challenge Populist autocracy from the perspective of informed scepticism. A Liberal pedagogy enables pupils and students:

  1. to learn that to think historically involves social, emotional as well as cognitive development. It involves, holistically:
    – developing arguments based on evidence,
    – listening to the views of others,
    – understanding that often there is no single right answer,
    – sensitivity and open-mindedness
    – the ability to understand the complexity and sophistication of argument as an antidote to polarisation of judgment and opinion;
  2. to see and consider that people in the past, like us, individually, communally and socially responded to their current circumstances;
  3. to make affective and cognitive connections with the past (often not considered in debates about the processes of historical enquiry and assessment issues);
  4. to develop awareness and understanding of different cultures;
  5. to see themselves and their culture, communities and society as part of a continuum from past to present;
  6. to know that historical understanding empowers them to influence the future;
  7. to understand that curiosity about the past
    – is an exciting and highly enjoyable dimension of enquiry, challenge, creativity and,
    – importantly,  of  awareness of personal identity and ‘others’’ identities involving causes and effects, similarities and differences, temporal awareness, multicultural and diversity issues;
  8. to develop historical awareness and understanding of different cultures and their import;
  9. to see themselves as part of an interacting global community and the issues and responsibilities this involves.