Summary of the 'Teaching the Ancient Past' -seminar

The last AMME seminar of the season was held 5.5.2022, and the theme was ‘Teaching the Ancient Past’. We heard interesting presentations by Dr. Heinz Felber and Dr. Aris Politopoulos.

First, Dr. Heinz Felber (The University of Cologne) presented the Cologne Aswan Summer School in Heritage Studies (CASSHS) which he has been organizing with Dr. Monica Hanna (College of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage at the Arab Academy in Aswan). Dr. Felber gave us a short overview of each of the five summer schools that have been organized since 2015. 

First CASSHS took place in 2015 and last 2019 – summer schools of 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to the global pandemic. The starting point of CASSHS was in the University of Cologne Research Forum “Cultural Heritage in Africa and Asia – Discourses and Practices” in May of 2014. It took about a year to develop it into a summer school that brings together students from Egypt and Germany to learn more about different aspects of cultural, religious, and environmental heritage. The approach is multidisciplinary and combines history, archaeology, and anthropology. The goal of the summer schools is to offer the students a chance to experience true cultural exchange and provide new insights into how memory and the past are being performed.  Dr. Felber reflected the meaning of heritage studies through Sharon Macdonald's 2013 book ‘Memorylands. Heritage and identity in Europe today’ (London: Routledge) and her three core points: selling the past, telling the past and feeling the past. 

The summer schools consist of classroom teaching, field projects and visits to relevant archaeological sites and museums. Circa 15-18 students get to spend one week in each city, learning about fascinating themes such as environmental and heritage law, cultural diversity, biocultural heritage, and human rights with the help of lecturers from both Aswan and Cologne.  

Second speaker at this seminar was Dr. Aris Politopoulos (Leiden University). He focused on learning through video games with a topic ‘Virtual Past, Playful Present: Video Games and Learning about the Past’.  

In the past two years, tools of digital learning and online education have been forced upon us. Nevertheless, the potential of video games and virtual reality as a learning experience has been underestimated both in formal and informal education. Dr. Politopoulos sees archaeology and education in general as a playground just like video games and calls the meeting point of those three ‘the sweet spot of superfun!’  

As an example of this ‘superfun’, Dr. Politopoulos presented the RoMeincraft, a project conducted by the VALUE Foundation since 2017. By playing RoMeincraft, people of all ages can learn about Roman limes in the Netherlands in an interactive way.  Players can create Roman cultural heritage sites in the popular video game Minecraft. Other implementations of video games as tools of learning include the ‘Culture Arcade’ interactive exhibition and ‘Streaming the Past’ -channel on Twitch, where students of Leiden University are playing historical video games with scientific comments from the experts.  

Even though Dr. Politopoulos recognizes the risk of possible misrepresentations in video games, they have an indisputable impact on the past. Playing is a social event that can change viewpoints of the past.  

Both presentations clearly gave food for thought and were followed by a lively discussion. It is important to think about what, why and how we teach – and learn – about the past.