The Petnica Science Centre is an independent educational institution for professional and extra-curricular education of secondary school and university students and teachers, interested in widening their scope of knowledge in the fields of science and humanities. In October 2000 the Centre established a Seminar on Social History (SDI), which runs courses for first-time participants – secondary school students and for returning participants, i.e. the best participants from the previous year.
The course for first-time participants begins with an introductory 6-day winter seminar. It gathers between 25 and 27 secondary school students from Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and hopefully, very soon, from other parts of ex-Yugoslavia. The participants are selected after the selection committees have carefully examined the application forms. The aim of the seminars is to bring history as a science closer to the participants and to familiarise them with all its aspects. This is, in a way, a necessary step away from history taught at schools and, at the same time, the best preparation for future research work. The programme comprises highly interesting lectures given by renowned historians, as well as broadcast of motion pictures, which are a modern, easily obtainable and appealing learning tool used to develop critical thinking. At the end of the winter seminar, the participants are given a deadline until which they are expected to submit their suggestions for individual research works. The selection criteria in this phase include participants’ work during the winter seminar, quality of the suggested research project and eagerness to conduct the research project.
The spring seminars are focused on teaching the participants how to write papers on historic subjects. It is worth noting that the papers written by our participants, though small in number, are completely in accordance with all postulates of writing a scientific paper. In order to achieve this, we spend all four days of this seminar practising work with sources, bibliography and citations. After the seminar, the participants are left to conduct research in their hometowns, gather sources and write their papers. We help them by suggesting the broadest possible scopes for their research work in the following areas: Small Man and Great History, Local Heroes, Family History, My Small Hometown, Monuments in the Region I Come from, Entertainment and Information Technology in the Past and Rock’n’Roll Pioneers. Most topics are adapted to suit participants coming from smaller places and their possibility to conduct research into such places. Our focus is on having a true research work by the end of the year, not on the exclusivity of the topic.
The summer seminars are the longest, since they are held during summer school breaks and they 13 days. These seminars are oriented towards working with sources and reference books, and they are a sort of introduction to the Petnica Students' Science Conference, held in December. We talk to our students about rules of visual and oral presentations of results and a great part of the seminar is dedicated to analysing the selected works of our students. At the end of the seminar, the students are given a new deadline until which we expect them to submit their papers and accounts of professional editions they have read. Participants for the autumn seminar are selected on the basis of the submitted works.
The autumn seminar lasts four days and are specifically dedicated to certain topics, since we wish our students to tackle certain processes from the past, thus helping them get a comprehensive picture of “yesterday’s reality”. The revised papers are once again analysed, graded and new tasks are presented to students. This seminar is also the final selection round and the best students become returning participants and attend an advanced course the following year. Such frequent selections are necessary, since we place focus on quality, rather than quantity.
The programmes for returning participants are different: there are fewer lectures, more workshops, fewer participants, the research work is conducted at the Centre and we work with selected materials. There is more individual and group work and students-junior associates are involved in mentoring. This type of seminar has been organised since 2004.
The winter seminars for returning participants last four days and deal with atypical historic sources of visual character. Such seminars have so far covered photography, posters and caricatures. Apart from historians, these seminars include theoreticians and people working in individual media.
The summer seminars for returning participants last ten to thirteen days and are also held during summer breaks. Due to their length and experience of participants from previous years with regards to working with historic sources, these seminars tackle more overwhelming sources, such as newspapers, novels, memoirs, as well as archives. The collected works from this seminar are most often presented at the Petnica Students' Science Conference.
The final seminar for returning participants is held in autumn, lasts four days and for most participants it is the last programme within the scope of the Seminar. This particular segment focuses on topics from the past with strong political and ideological connotations. So far, we have covered the Constitution of 1921, political parties’ programmes and press releases, as well as conflicts between traditionalists and modernists in Serbia. In a way, this means going back to the beginning, to the topics covered at history lessons at schools. Hopefully, after six seminars such topics can be comprehended and processed at a higher level.
If we take a look at all the seminars held so far, we can notice quite a few changes in the structure of the programme. Is this the final version now? I am not sure. Or to be perfectly honest, I am convinced more changes will follow. Not because it is fashionable to change programmes, but rather because our constant striving to improve our Seminar and make it more open for the generations to come.
head of the Seminar on Social History