The International Students of History Association (ISHA) is an international non-governmental organization of students of history. ISHA’s goals are to facilitate communication and provide a platform of exchange for students of history and related sciences on an international level. ISHA believes that international perspectives constitute an important part of every student’s education. Membership is open for students (undergraduate through PhD) from all disciplines and backgrounds with an interest in history and historical science.
I met Mišo Petrović, the outgoing president of the International Students of History Association, some years ago, at a ISHA event, and now I provoked him to a conversation about history, volunteering and youth.
Who is Mišo Petrović?
I was born in 1989, and currently I’m in my last months of master studies of Medieval history in combination with teacher degree. Besides that, I’m also the outgoing president of the International Students of History Association (ISHA International).
What does your activity in ISHA mean for you to you? Tell me about ISHA Zagreb and about your role in the organization.
It’s hard to divide these questions from another. It all started some four years ago when a group of visiting history students from Finland visited Zagreb. Socializing and discussing with them exposed me to things outside of my everyday university life. It made me consider travelling, meeting new people, and got me interested in how other countries regard and teach history, and what I could learn about them and from them. Soon after that I went to my very first ISHA event (the Annual Conference in Pula, 2011, “East and West: Bridging the Differences”), and I got hooked up ever since. It made me more involved in the everyday life of ISHA Zagreb, of which I eventually became president, and soon after that the president of ISHA International for the year 2013/2014.
In the local organizations you start small with helping at organising various cultural or academic events within your faculty. You begin to meet and talk with many new people like students of history from various years and courses, students from other organizations within your faculty, professors from the department, until eventually you can get in charge of that organization; when you are the main organiser of the aforementioned cultural evenings and try to motivate as many people as possible into participating; when you can become the main coordinator of an international seminar of your association and develop projects and write proposals to get funding from faculty and/or university. I think I was more often successful than not and sometimes had more luck than not, but in the end, everything was a journey.
Why did you apply for the Presidency of ISHA? What have you changed during your mandate?
I felt like I should use the skills I developed to give back something to the organization that helped me acquire those skills – but on a larger scale, going from one smaller city or faculty based organization to an international level. Spending a good part of your student life in one organization makes you appreciate it a lot, and it makes you feel personally attached to it and its success. Even though we are relatively small and a European based student organization, we span across more than twenty countries.
ISHA has an International Board and its board members come from so many different places like Iceland, Belgium, Germany, Romania or Croatia. But so many people from such diverse places mean that we are involved in a lot of communication, careful planning and negotiating. Most of the work is made months in advance of one of the four to five international events per year which bring together the international community of ISHA. The results are hard to measure because they manifest in new publications, new members, personal gain for both participants and organisers and much more in sense of promotional gain for ISHA. One year is not that much time to leave a changing impact with the association, but the key is always in communication and getting people interested in history and participating in events. Sometimes it is much more important to try to inspire people to excel beyond their limitations than to personally succeed in something. There are not many things that can compare with the thrill of traveling across Europe to meet students of your age from different parts of the world and engage with them in vivid debates about history or any other topic to agree or disagree upon.
General Assembly International Students of History Association, Budapest – April, 2014
What is history’s role in the 21st century society? Why is the knowledge of the past important for today’s youth?
One of the crucial things we face in life is the transfer of knowledge, from one society to another, from one generation to another, or even from one individual to another. We also like to call it history. As we can see from some contemporary events, if you forget history it tends to repeat itself. A student organization like ISHA is a good example: Since the officials from the IB change every year sometimes information gets lost, and it can cause problems if old mistakes are repeated. Taking this to a bigger level, like everyday life, preserving knowledge and adding to it is crucial to understand today’s society, such as our own individual role and the role of student organizations in them.
It is important to remember that we tend to interpret history and slightly change it due to our own interpretation. Here, our ability to critically think about the past comes into play. We passed learning facts and numbers in elementary and high school, and in university we learn how to critically approach things. How to doubt, how to test, how think for ourselves and share that knowledge and engage in discussion. The problem I see is that we tend to lock our knowledge in our own small world. Take for example the academic community and a lot of knowledge that never breaches the border of this community to the public. What I’m interested in is how to surpass this and share that knowledge and make an impact on the entire community. Here is where I see the role of history and the role of student organisations: By setting up open forum, not just in school and faculty, but in everyday life and discourse. How to make it? While I don’t have all the answers, I do know one thing that can help. And that’s the answer to the next question.
Why are student organizations and volunteering important for a youngster’s development?
The biggest strength of most student organizations, but also its biggest weakness is that it’s mostly voluntary work. You put time and effort for which you don’t get material reward. The usual problems that any voluntary organization faces is the amount of work everyone will put in the project. There are bound to be a few who will carry out most of the tasks at hand. Voluntary work is usually connected to primary study and research interests and people will go beyond that through that work. In the end there is a sense of joy and accomplishment.
Student organizations and volunteering take you outside of your secure zone into something new and challenging. The set of skills and knowledge that you will need for a professional future is not just automatically acquired with the diploma you receive at the end of your studies. The key is to write, research, travel, meet new people, engage in lengthy discussions with them, and constantly challenge yourselves with new things. Here is where student organizations and volunteering can help. Sometimes you will sense the progress and gain from it, but mostly it is something that you cannot really put your finger on… The experience itself slowly changes you for the better. In the end I think that this also answers the question on what ISHA means for me, and why I decided to actively work in it. This is also the type of feelings and thoughts I try to inspire in other.
What are your plans for the future?
After finishing my on-going tasks with studies in Zagreb and ISHA, my plans are to move to Budapest for the next year to continue with my specialization and personal improvements. It’s time to implement those skills, while at the same time challenging myself to try to find my place outside of the student way of life and step into a new world. As with everything else, another challenge and another opportunity to improve myself.