History Foundation provides a new perspective on history

History Foundation (Tarih Vakfı) is one of the recipients of the 2020 core fund and aims to provide a new perspective on the history and historiography for the individuals in Turkey and to protect the historical heritage and wealth with the participation of large segments of society. For this purpose, the foundation works to support and promote critical and alternative historical works, sources, and references among different target audiences such as students, teachers, and academics. History Foundation also publishes books and the monthly magazine “Social History” (Toplumsal Tarih) to provide resources for researchers.  

Below is an interview with History Foundation about their work.

History Foundation promotes and develops an awareness of history in Turkey. Can you tell us about the scope of your work?

Our foundation defines history as the perception of the day, interpretation of the past, and expectations for the future. It considers the dissemination and deepening of historical knowledge as an important tool to build a society’s capacity towards finding solutions to their problems. We believe that conducting historical studies with this perspective will make a significant contribution to the development of participatory democracy in our country and enable solidarity in society.
The basic principles of the History Foundation are the establishment of social equality within the framework of historical knowledge that includes the past, present, and future and the rewriting of history accordingly. Looking at history from the perspective of social equality and uncovering historical knowledge that strengthens underrepresented groups is the basis of all our work.
While conducting its work, History Foundation stays away from all kinds of discrimination, prejudice, and chauvinism such as religious, ethnic, cultural, sexual orientation and adopts an approach based on mutual understanding and acceptance of people from different countries. There is a need for the dissemination of critical, alternative, and multicultural work, sources and references to be created in the field of history for different target groups such as students, teachers, and academicians. This need brings the necessity to hear the voices of the groups whose rights are systematically violated in society and to convey their stories to larger audiences. For this purpose, the History Foundation delivers the stories of the groups that have been disregarded in historical studies; aiming to establish an alternative understanding of history that will enable a democratic and human rights-based social structure.  History Foundation conducts several works in the fields of research, education, and librarianship-archival such as publishing printed and/or electronic resources, documentary films, radio and television programs, the production of art and literary products in the field of history, museum and exhibition studies, organisation of culture and scientific meetings. The Foundation also organises competitions; provides grants, scholarships, awards; and campaigns for the public to be better informed. The History Foundation works in solidarity with all individuals, groups, initiatives, and organisations, especially with science, education, and arts institutions in Turkey and abroad who carries out similar work. Joint projects and studies with these institutions are realised to spread the work outside of big cities and to create a volunteer base that will help create public support.
In these activities, our foundation aims to develop a critical and alternative understanding of history on the basis of human rights. We provide training, communication and visibility support and create cooperation and solidarity in the fields of the right to peace, equality and to non-discrimination, women’s rights, children’s rights and minority rights.
History Foundation carries out activities in five different cities of Turkey. During the last two years, 172 events were held in these cities. At these events, presentations addressed the history of minorities, workers, women and other oppressed groups, made their voices heard and aimed to build awareness of history that will enable different social groups to live in peace without discrimination.
The field of education in Turkey, especially history education, is shaped around political intervention and thus it has become extremely polarized ideologically and politically. Discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities and gender-based inequality constitute fundamental human rights problems in history education. According to several projects we have conducted in the field of education, publications and trainings have been produced to reveal the inequalities in this field and to ensure equality.
The projects we carry out for young people, who constitute one of the most important segments of our target audience, emphasise social equality. It has been one of the main aims of the History Foundation to meet young people with different historical perspectives and to create safe space where they can analyse social and political events with a critical eye. The Youngsters Write the History project, which is carried out by the History Foundation for this purpose, have different subjects every year such as migration, personal life narratives and peace. Regardless of the main theme, the social equality perspective becomes a fundamental approach in addressing the issues.
In addition to our projects in the field of education, our Foundation also carries out projects and studies on Corporate and Sectoral History, Democracy and Human Rights, Cultural Heritage and Local History and Oral History.
Document Information Centre, founded by the History Foundation in 1992, aims to contribute to the economic and social history of Turkey by keeping all kinds of materials within the country, arranging, storing, protecting, providing them to those who want to to use access them in our building in Eminönü. Almost all of the collection in the Centre was created with donations. There are more than 20,000 books, nearly 900 periodicals and 140 shelves-long archives material (paper, audiovisual, iconographic, cartographic…etc.) donated by around 700 individuals and institutions since its establishment.
History Foundation Yurt Publishing House (Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları) is one of the most important publishing houses of the country in the field of history and social sciences. The History Foundation carries out activities to create public awareness and visibility with a holistic interpretation of human rights through the books of History Foundation Yurt Publishing House and Social History Magazine (Toplumsal Tarih). “Social History” is a history magazine that takes into account the different dimensions of time and change in history, goes beyond the boundaries of ordinary event-telling and places emphasis on theoretical explanations and analyses. The Yurt Publishing House specialises on the economic and social history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire geography.

In your opinion, how does the understanding of history and historiography affect social and political life in Turkey?

History, historiography and the perception of history are related not only to the past but also to the present and the imagined future. Our current social problems, our approach to these problems, our choice of problems on the agenda, are determined by how we see history and which events, people and problems we deal with in history.
Similarly, how we look at and what we see in history sheds light on our social problems and affect our way of dealing with them and potential solutions. From this point of view, history, historiography and the perception of history itself emerge as direct social, cultural and political problems. It becomes a determinant in both education and popular culture for the upbringing and socialisation of generations. Today both history and historical approach has been extremely ideologised in Turkey; the narrow and short-term political and ideological interests impacted these subjects. This perception of history, which is not democratic, biased and insensitive to human rights, manifests itself from education to media, from historical sciences to everyday popular culture. This is one of Turkey’s biggest problems.

The History Foundation is an organisation that aims to change this anti-democratic and narrow perspective, thus make historical knowledge sensitive to all fundamental rights and freedoms. Our foundation is a civil society organisation that aims to develop and spread awareness of historical knowledge, contribute to the establishment of human rights, the right to live in peace and equality; prevent all kinds of discrimination.

History Foundation is a prominent organisation that has carried out important work on civil society development in Turkey. What do you think about the the current state and development of civil society in Turkey and the History Foundation?

Civil society organisations in Turkey (CSO) and the History Foundation experienced inevitable changes in the last 10 years. These changes are also often associated with the political climate in Turkey. The 90s and 2000s were a period of quantitative and qualitative growth for CSOs. Especially with Turkey being more integrated into the international system, the increase and diversification of international funding opportunities thanks to the European Union accession process has brought mobility to the activities of CSOs in Turkey. Nevertheless, recent changes in the political climate and the weakening of Turkey’s ties with international organisations negatively affected the activities of CSOs. Like other organisations that call themselves free from the political affiliations and try to exist with their own resources, History Foundation also faces the challenges brought by the time.

On the other hand, when we look at the field our Foundation works on, we can see that it has a unique position. There are a large number of CSOs carrying out activities in the field of human rights and social issues in Turkey and in some cases the work they do is connected with the field of history and historiography. However, the History Foundation has a unique position since it focuses solely on history. As the History Foundation, we learn from the work of other CSOs who are engaged with activities on history and we continue to solely focus on
the field of history in the work we do.

Founded in 1991 with its 12-person Initiative Board (Girişim Kurulu) and 264 Founding Trustees (Kurucu Mütevelli), our Foundation tries to achieve its goals by organizing hundreds of projects, exhibitions, congresses, conferences, symposiums, workshops, interviews and panels in its nearly 30-years old history. Our journal Social History, which has been the only history journal that has been published for 25 years in Turkey, and History Foundation Yurt Publications, which has become one of the most prominent social sciences publishing houses in Turkey, are among the most important components of our Foundation. In addition, our foundation which operates as an information and documentation centre, continues its activities with its own resources despite increased financial problems.

COVID-19 outbreak caused major changes in the work and operations of civil society organisations. How did the outbreak and precautions affect the work of the History Foundation?

In accordance with the warnings regarding the COVID-19 outbreak made by the Ministry of Health and the Institution of Higher Education (Yükseköğrenim Kurulu), we closed our office in Istanbul on March 16, 2020 and started to implement all our activities through online platforms. In this context, we broadcasted our Marxism 202 events live on our YouTube channel. We held online seminars and conducted two separate online lecture series in Oral History and Historiography. Additionally, we organised online concerts throughout May in order to reinforce the relationship between history and arts and to boost the motivation while trying to fit our whole lives into our homes due to the COVID-19 outbreak. These videos can be accessed on our social media accounts and YouTube channel. We also made our Social History magazine available on online and e-reading platforms. They can now be accessed through Issuu, Google Play and Kobo.

On the other hand, we went through a difficult adaptation process in switching to online platforms because we lacked the necessary infrastructure. In addition, the cancellation or suspension of many national and international funds to which our foundation planned to apply negatively affected our financial sustainability.

As the History Foundation, you have been awarded a grant under the 2020 period of our Core Fund with the financing of the Turkey Mozaik Foundation. In what areas and how do you plan to strengthen the capacity of your organisation with this grant?

The main financial resources of the History Foundation are the revenues from the institutional history projects, research project funds, membership fees, donations and revenues from the sales of books and magazines. Since we operate with a limited human resources capacity, we have not been able to build a fundraising capacity systematically.

In order to guarantee the financial independence of the Foundation today and in the future, we need to develop new resource models that are not project-based and that reduce our dependency on sponsors. The ultimate goal we aim to reach with this grant is to achieve financial sustainability. For this reason, our priorities are covering the basic expenses of the foundation by increasing the number of our individual regular donors, applying for more core grants to strengthen our organisational capacity in several subjects, increasing the number of advertisers and sponsors for our publications, developing technological capacity of the Foundation and activating potential resources such as the archive and library of the Foundation.

In line with these objectives, within the scope of this grant we will work on improving the financial and institutional infrastructure of the Foundation. Since the Core Fund will give us the financial means to employ a team member who will work on fundraising, we will work on diversifying and increasing the fixed income sources of the Foundation. In addition, new projects will be developed and grant applications will be made to find additional resources for these projects. Thus, it is expected that the projects based on human rights, especially in the fields of history and education, will increase. At the same time, we will use this grant to strengthen the Foundation’s communications’ infrastructure which will help us disseminate further the broadcasts and products of the Foundation. As a result, with this grant, the Foundation will be able to promote a democratic and human rights-based understanding of history more effectively.