The Appeal of the Nation in History Education of Postcolonial Societies

Both professional history and school history have been grafted onto the “spiritual body” of the nation, as presented in the chapter by Berger (Part I). From the late eighteenth century onwards, the nation was a powerful social framework that fuelled the grand narrative of historiography for more than two hundred years. With the challenges to the nation-state by processes of Europeanization and globalization, the practices of cultural transmission and history education based upon notions of nation have become the issue of often hot disputes (Grever, 2007). Hence, recent academic debates about history and history teaching in many parts of the world have been characterized by high levels of politicization around strongly contested calls to develop a common (often national) body of historical knowledge. Seemingly, the debates are about the control over historical contents, but their true object is to remedy the decomposition of national identity in an age of Europeanization, globalization and mass migration (Carretero, Asensio, & Rodrfrguez-Moneo, 2012). Part II focuses on the continuing strong appeal of the nation in history education today. The authors analyse how even in contemporary postcolonial societies the national framework still shapes history curricula and history textbooks often without deconstructing their colonial and racial contexts. That is not surprising, as national historiographies of Western countries for a long time have excluded colonial experiences and ignored the colonial bias of concepts such as the “free citizen” (Stoler, 1995). Several chapters deal with contested or disintegrating nations, such as Argentina, Greece, Morocco, South Korea and Quebec. In his chapter on the teaching of national history in Quebec, Jocelyn Letourneau argues that for many stakeholders the production of a cohesive narrative about the past, its dissemination among the population and its transfer to young people in particular appear to be an excellent way to inoculate the nation against the germs of its potential disintegration. According to Letourneau the challenge is to construct cohesive and recognizable national narratives that still offer openings for other perspectives and options. See also Rosa and Bresco and Carretero in Part III for debates on this issue of goals of history education.

Tina Van der Vlies, in her chapter on the persistence and change of national narratives in English and Dutch history textbooks, points to the intrinsic dynamic character and the intertextuality of textbooks. In this sense, she shed new light on history textbook research. Apart from influences of national governments and academic historiography, history textbooks also incorporate fictional products such as poems and other literary genres, which perpetuate stories generated by older narrative templates (Wertsch, 2004; see also Carretero in Part III on master narratives). The chapter scrutinizes the overlooked diverse forms of “echoing” in history textbooks, and the role of fiction as a mediator in national remembrance (Rigney, 2010).

Susan Grindel subsequently argues that history textbooks form “a normative order” that structures the teaching of history. Until now, the normative order of many European textbooks is that national histories obliterate how Western nation-states are built on colonial exploitation, violence and atrocities. If textbooks do pay attention to colonialism at all, then they usually construct it in dichotomous terms of European modernity versus African tradition. One of Grindel’s empirical cases is how East German and West German history textbooks have dealt with colonial and postcolonial approaches. Whereas West German textbooks focused on development aid to former colonies and other “Third World” countries, East German textbooks labelled colonialism as a fascist legacy and supported the new African nations’ quest for independence. Only from the 1990s did the unified Germany start to acknowledge its own painful colonial past.

Nicole Tutiaux-Guillon analyses the history curriculum of another former—much more powerful—colonizing country: France. Traditionally French history teachers and textbook writers in secondary education avoid sensitive issues, certainly about the colonial past in North African countries. Although particularly the Algerian war of independence had an enormous impact on society, generating various political movements related to that war, it took a while before these events were somehow integrated into the French history curriculum. Since the late 1970s, the nationalistic narrative regarding colonization disappeared. History textbooks started to insert written documents and other sources on French or European colonization, which also presented negative effects. Current textbooks mention that the French army used torture in dealing with Algerian patriots. Nevertheless, although the official curriculum includes topics about European and world history, the underlying focus remains on France and French discourses of universalism and human progress. In contrast to Germany, postcolonial theory has had little impact so far. But Tutiaux-Guillon shows that the relations between school history, youth identities and social memories in France are currently of key importance for deciding what to teach and how to teach it. It seems that the terrorist attacks and murders of Charlie Hebdo journalists and Jews in January 2015 and also the terrorist murders in Paris of November 2015 have reinforced the relevance of these relations. In her view there are opportunities for didacticians to stimulate curricular changes which introduce contested issues related to the past in a context of apparently growing diversity.

From an opposite viewpoint, that of the former colonized people in North- Africa, Norah Karrouche explores the construction of national narratives of “decolonized” societies. Recent developments in the Maghreb known as the “Arab Spring” have put the new national narratives high on the region’s political agenda. She questions to what extent those “new” national narratives in Morocco are truly decolonized by focussing on the persistence of the “Berber issue” in national historical culture and history education in particular. After independence in 1956, the Moroccan nationalist movement and monarchy imposed a national identity that was both Arab and Muslim, but failed to incorporate Berber identity because the Berbers had become too closely associated with the colonizer’s legacy, more specifically with its policy of divide-and-rule. In contemporary history and social science textbooks, the narrative about the Berbers’ origins has been changed. Berbers are no longer referred to as “Barbar” or “Barbarians” but solely as Imazighen, as “free people”, a narrative that grants them the status of indigenousness and replaces the story of the Arab origins of the Berbers.

In the following chapters, the authors elaborate how national histories and national identities are constructed in contested nations that currently experience latent or explicit violent conflicts. They propose alternative educational approaches to overcome nationalist history education that is all too often based on the exclusion of cultural and ethnic minorities Karina V. Korostelina analyses the role of conflicting mythic narratives in the construction of identity and power in Ukranian history education. She presents the research results of semistructured interviews with history teachers, observation in classrooms and textbook research. In the Ukraine, mythic narratives give meaning to national identity and legitimize the power of the ingroup. The outgroup, on the other hand, is an illegitimate agent of nation building, alien to the nation, representing a narrow corrupt subculture. In her chapter Korostelina distinguishes four groups that promote different meanings of ethnic and national identity, involving different positions of power. The dual identity group defines national identity as comprising two ethnic groups to justify the equal status of Russians; the pro-Soviet group promotes Soviet identity as the most positive national identity, justifying a return to Soviet order and paternalism; the pro-Ukrainian group sees national identity rooted in an authentic Ukrainian culture, justifying the power of the Ukrainians and either the exclusion of the Russians or their complete assimilation; the multicultural group endorses the civic meaning of national identity to validate the formation of civic society and liberal democracy. The spread of competing concepts of national identity and structures of power by history teachers and textbooks in the Ukraine contributes to the development of conflict in society and increasing structural and direct violence. However, Korostelina also convincingly argues that history education can be a powerful tool in promoting a culture of peace. It can create a meaning of national identity that is tolerant and inclusive and can support the structure of power that is based on equality and justice. In short, she offers approaches to a more reflective form of national history education.

In her chapter about history teachers in South Korea, Sun Joo Kang shows that the Korean public at large associated the term “colonialism” for a long time with Japanese sociocultural suppression and economic exploitation. During the Japanese occupation (1910-1945), the Korean language and the teaching of Korean history were banned. Japanese colonialists attempted to destroy Korean culture and constructed distorted images of Korean historical development. Hence, in Korean history scholarship, colonialism as a subject has primarily been explored in relation to Japanese colonial rule and its production and dissemination of distorted knowledge. In the 1960s, South Korean historians formally proclaimed the need to approach critically the Japanese colonialist historiography. Two decades later, the minjung historiography (historiography of the people’s history of Korea) used the term “new colonialism” also to criticize the US political and economic interference. In the 1990s, postmodern and postcolonial theories challenged the construction of national history in South Korea. The history textbook system shifted from a state-controlled system to a state-approved system, resulting in the diversification of historical interpretations of events, teaching methods and learning materials. Textbook writers have revised Korean history textbooks. They included diverse analytical categories such as gender and class, and added the historical texts used in the studies of new cultural history and everyday life history. Nevertheless, according to Sun Joo Kang few alternative grand narratives or organizing themes in Korean history have been developed to challenge the “canonized” version of Korean national history. By and large, many textbooks still ignore the multifaceted and ambiguous aspects of bygone eras and in particular they avoid the issue of multiculturalism. They also do not present multiple perspectives on specific historical events thereby limiting the students’ ability to analyse issues and develop a more problem-oriented learning.

Hercules Millas’ chapter focusses on two countries that have coconstructed their national identities on the negative image of the “demonized” other: Greece and Turkey. Here the (post)colonial context is related to the rise and decline of an old empire. In 1830 the Greeks had rid themselves of the “Turkish yoke” and were intent on state-building using nationalism as an ideology of integration. The Turks adopted nationalism amidst the crumbling Ottoman empire to build a powerful state in the ruins of that former empire. Despite the enormous differences in historical contexts—not the least religious differences—both countries have adopted similar practices in history teaching aimed at the construction of a strong nation-state. The similarities in the fields of historiography, history teaching and national identity result from adaptations of comparable developments in Western Europe. The emerging history narratives in both countries focussed on the supposed “historical truth”. This focus on what was “real” and what was “true” could, however, neither secure a harmonious agreement about the past between the two countries nor within each country. Despite some attempts in both Greece and Turkey to make the history curricula in the 1960s and 1970s less antagonistic, the historical role of the Ottomans is to this very day an issue of fierce debate between “patriots” and “liberals”. Millas proposes in his chapter several practical approaches to transcend a narrow-minded nationalist history education: do not avoid sensitive topics, challenge the discontinuity of the nations, pay attention to the differences within each nation and use the other nation as an example. The chapter by Maier (see Part IV) presents studies about the impact of common textbooks in nations with present violent conflicts.

Alicia Barreiro, Jose Antonio Castorina and Floor van Alphen focus on the portrayal of colonialism in Argentina on the basis of a historical event: the “Conquest of the Desert”, a military campaign of the government that lasted from 1874 to 1885. This campaign has played a pivotal role in the construction of the official national master narrative in Argentina. However, recent scholarly insights have questioned this master narrative. Although the traditional view is still present in history textbooks, museums or monuments, it conflicts with a revisionist narrative that emphasizes the slaughtering and enslaving of indigenous people perpetrated by the Argentine State. Indeed thousands were massacred while others were sold to the new landowners. The survivors were forced to neglect their culture and to assimilate to the dominant power. To be able to understand how Argentine people deal with these contradictory representations of the past, the authors use a theoretical framework related to the social representation of history. Within this framework they discuss the contribution of the concept of “cognitive polyphasia” (the dynamic co-existence of distinct, sometimes incompatible modalities of knowledge and views in one person or collectivity) in formal and informal learning and in understanding controversial processes of the past. According to the authors, the new narrative constructed by historiography and other scientific disciplines has hardly influenced Argentine collective memory, which is built upon the traditional hegemonic narratives that, for more than a century, have been built into most school textbooks used by history teachers. They argue that academic knowledge of this violent event does not guarantee the transformation of individual and collective remembering. The authors advocate interventions in students’ history learning that would transform common sense knowledge into a disciplinary knowledge of history. Becoming aware of various perspectives can help students (and teachers) to critically reflect on the national past. Yet, the denaturalization of their national past involves a transformation of social identities. An analysis of the impact of historical concepts and narratives on these identities can also be found in chapters by Rodriguez-Moneo and Lopez as well as Carretero (see Part III).

In the last chapter of this section Andrew Mycock evaluates the impact of national historiography on curriculum content and textbook production, pedagogical development, and the politics of identity and memory in the current postcolonial world. A common feature amongst many postcolonial states in the immediate period after decolonization was cultural amnesia. They developed national historiographies without any critical exploration of the end and perceived failure of the “mission civilatrice” (civilizing mission) and its coercive and exploitative motivations and practices. Probably, this is the reason that national and colonial history have remained largely segregated. This compartmentaliza- tion continues to fracture the resonance of colonial past while also reproducing racialized exceptionalisms that exclude many postcolonial migrants (Bijl, 2012; Legene, 2010). For instance, in the Netherlands, World War II is a significant element and a moral benchmark of national history, whereas colonial violence, often accompanied by racialized ideologies, is written out of nationalized historical narratives that seek to sustain liberal forms of citizenship and nationalism. Until recently, Dutch history textbooks continue to draw on a Eurocentric master narrative framed by social forgetting of slavery and scientific colonialism (Van Stipriaan, 2007; Weiner, 2014).

It is striking that history education in several postcolonizing states focusses on the transatlantic slave trade and slavery rather than colonial violence, as responsibility for the slave trade is framed in transnational rather national terms. According to Mycock, this should be seen as an exception to the rule, as most postcolonial states rejected the centrifugal framing of transnational colonial history education in favour of reductive centripetal national approaches. A “selective myopia” continues to allow postcolonial states to disseminate nostalgic and largely uncritical versions of the colonial past. The dark pages of colonial history, such as colonial violence and the origins of slavery, are overlooked in favour of perspectives that seek to nourish the proposition of civilizing, progressive colonialism and, where possible, peaceful decolonization. Particularly after WW II, the colonial past was considered a closed past.

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