In 2009 the Department of History, University of Colombo launched its History and Community Project with undergraduates from the University of Colombo and the Eastern and South Eastern Universities. At the beginning a number of other universities also participated in this project, however it now focuses on working with students majoring in History from the University of Colombo and the University of Jaffna. The project is facilitated by GIZ- FLICT and has now been in progress for seven years.
The objective of the project is to introduce students to the History of Sri Lanka through multiple narratives and interpretations. Different ethno-religious communities and identity groups have varied approaches to the past, history and historical spaces. The dominant mode of historical interpretation in Sri Lanka has played a definite role in fueling Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict. It was therefore imperative to expose students to contemporary knowledge of history which was not only relegated to the classroom but also through visits to historical sites. Thus this project brought together Sinhalese and Tamil students (as well as those from other backgrounds) in order to expose them to different ways of thinking about history and also to give them the opportunity to share their different views and ideas about history as well.
This project is carried out in three phases. Under the first phase workshops are conducted in the Universities of Colombo and Jaffna with the objective of introducing the students to a greater understanding of the diverse approaches in Sri Lankan History. The second and third phases unite students from both universities at specific historical sites where a residential workshop is conducted for a minimum of four days. Students are exposed to recent texts and research on the History of Sri Lanka and the different sessions of each workshop are conducted by experts in the field. Students are able to interact with each other, develop their critical thinking and analytical skills, work in teams and forge friendships with those from different ethnic, religious and language groups.
Over the past seven years the programme has brought together students and lecturers from opposing ideological camps and created a platform for dialogue and discussion.