The Department of History, University of Colombo, in partnership with Facilitating Initiatives for Social Cohesion and Transformation (GIZ-FLICT) and the American Institute for Sri Lanka Studies (AISLS), hosted an inaugural three day residential workshop for young academic historians from a number of leading universities in Sri Lanka.
At the opening ceremony the key note speeches were made by Prof. Lakshman Dissanayake, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Colombo, Prof. Athula Ranasinghe, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Prof. John D. Rogers, the US Director of AISLS, Johann Peiris, the Programme Coordinator for FLICT and Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, Senior Lecturer of the Department of History. At the opening ceremony Prof. Lakshman Dissanayake, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Colombo observed that this seminar was important in order to revive interest in learning history, which has been neglected at the cost of creating course modules which concentrate solely on the employability of young graduates. He advocated that universities should not completely deviate from their classical roles as repositories and disseminators of knowledge. The lack of historical memory is parallel to the loss of individual memory which makes history essential for a greater understanding of the traditions, conflicts, ideas and values of the nation.
Prof. Athula Ranasinghe, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Colombo, commended the Department of History at the University of Colombo for teaching an Analytical History programme instead of simply listing out history as a chronological narrative. He noted that the Social Sciences were based on historical references, without which the field would be incomplete. The Dean also spoke about the current concern in higher education which simply focuses on producing employable graduates and tends to neglect the broader themes of good citizenship and critical social skills, which are of equal importance.
The workshop was attended by lecturers from the Universities of Peradeniya, Jaffna, Ruhuna, Eastern, Rajarata and South Eastern University of Sri Lanka. Foreign and local resource historians and social scientists conducted the workshop and conference. Harini Amarasuriya (Open University of Sri Lanka), Zoltan Biedermann (University of London), Neilesh Bose (University of Victoria), Melia Belli Bose, (University of Texas, Arlington), Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri (University of Colombo), Janaki Jayawardena (University of Colombo), Harshana Rambukwella (Post Graduate Institute of English, Open University of Sri Lanka), Kalyani Ramnath (Princeton University), John D. Rogers (United States Director, AISLS) and Alan Strathern (University of Oxford), presented and led discussions during the workshop.
The workshop thematically discussed the nature of the discipline of history, problems with historiography, global and world history and pedagogical approaches to history. Resource persons presented their own research and work on diverse areas within the discipline as well as multi-disciplinary projects that they had undertaken. Topics dealing with Literature and History, Anthropology, Gender and History, Art History and Legal and Social History were covered in the workshop and conference. Participants also presented research that they had undertaken or hoped to engage with in the future and were thereby able to receive critical feedback and analysis from the resource personal at the workshop.