University of Gothenburg

Mission: History and Democracy – Perspectives on study trips to Holocaust memorial sites

The purpose of the research project is to contribute knowledge in the international research field of teaching and learning about the Holocaust (TLH). Four studies will shed light on and problematise how the relationship between education about the Holocaust and the school’s democracy mission takes shape in teachers’ and students’ practical work of preparing, carrying out, and following up trips to Holocaust memorial sites. Despite the fact that study trips are a frequent practice in Swedish schools, they have so far been unexplored. Thus, the research project also aims to generate new knowledge with practical relevance for teachers who conduct study trips to Holocaust memorial sites.

The research project consists of four studies that form the core of a compilation thesis in educational science. The study trips were placed in an educational science context and regarded as a method for teaching and learning. The discussion departs from the educational philosopher Gert Biesta’s conceptualisation of the dimensions of qualifying, socialising, and subjectifying education. Theoretically, the research project was anchored to critical discourse analysis (CDA).

The project has three preliminary research questions:

  • RQ1: What didactic content and which teaching strategies are applied to the work with the study trips, and how do these relate to perceptions of teaching about the Holocaust and its significance for the school’s democratic mission?
  • RQ2: How do intellectual, emotional, and social processes of learning about the Holocaust and democracy affect the work of study trips?
  • RQ3: Which subject positions are created and prevented for the students in the work with the study trips?

Study 1

The empirical material of the first study consists of nine semi-structured in-depth interviews with strategically selected teachers who have varying but extensive experience in conducting study trips to Holocaust memorial sites. The study shows that the teachers’ didactic strategy focuses on the victims’ suffering, at the same time as the perpetrators’ agency is absent. The strategy is prominent in the material, as is its purpose of promoting democracy through recurring journeys. In this study, it is argued that teachers’ way of talking about study trips is regulated by a discursive order which is termed ritual democratic catharsis. The discourse order regulates what is legitimate to say about the study trips, but also sets limits of what is not possible. The discursive order also creates expectations which play out during a study trip.

Study 2

The second study provides insight into how a study trip unfolds over time from a student’s perspective. A total of 474 reflections were written by 49 students before, during, and after two different eight-day study trips. The study shows how the students’ preparations and expectations serve as a resource for how they make themselves vulnerable to the didactic content and the group’s impact on their meaning-making processes during the study trip, and how they afterwards articulate their change in accordance with the pre-trip expectations. The results indicate that the discursive practice of the two study trips is regulated by the discursive order of democratic pilgrimage. The study also indicates that the two study trips differ in comparison with what previous international research has shown in terms of the teaching balance between focus on victims and perpetrators. The students were not absorbed by victims’ suffering. On the other hand, tension arose between victim and perpetrator focus within the students, which was resolved through the articulation of democratic values.

Studies 3–4

The empirical material of the third and fourth studies will consist of field notes from participatory observations, interviews with teachers and students, and written material. The material is collected and generated through an ethnographic approach by contrasting two study trips with regard to how teachers and students jointly produce and reproduce study trips’ social practice. The analysis of the study trips will be based on Gert Biesta’s above-mentioned concepts.

So far, the research project has generated the following publications:

Flennegård, O. & Mattsson, C. (2021). Teaching at Holocaust memorial sites: Swedish teachers’ understanding of the educational values of visiting Holocaust memorial sites. Power and Education, 13(1), 43–57.

Flennegård, O. & Mattsson, C. (2021). Democratic pilgrimage: Swedish students’ understanding of study trips to Holocaust memorial sites. Educational Review (Birmingham), 1–18.


Stiftelsen Natur & Kultur

Project time

Participating institutions and researcher
Ola Flennegård, PhD-student, The Segerstedt Institute, Department of Education, Communication and Learning, University of Gothenburg