History textbooks as historical representations: A critical analysis of curricula

Year: 2012

Author: Sharp, Heather

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Chair: Nicole Mockler

History curriculum has in recent years, particularly 1993-2008, been the topic of much public interest; from debates framed within the context of the history/culture wars to issues related to content and pedagogical approaches within the proposed Australian national curriculum. This, in turn, has had an impact on History teaching within the school context. Within these debates, it is apparent that many people-as evidenced, for example, in public discourses surrounding history education-struggle with the concept that history is a contested area of learning, one where multiple realities are presented, with one, ultimate truthful answer to a question in history not always apparent, appropriate or even possible to find. This struggle appears to be compounded by the simplified conservative binary perspectives taken by popular news media (see, for example, Bolt, 2000). This paper rejects neo conservative viewpoints of a single truth being paramount for students to learn, and rather asserts that it is important for students, in studying narrative constructions of history, to also understand that history is both a contested area of study and a study of contested social memory and remembering.


Textbooks, as one curriculum tool that constructs history in particular ways, are used widely by teachers can provide an historical insight into what History has been taught in the past to school students. This paper analyses widely used school textbooks, in order to ascertain how history is represented, including the ideological understandings of history communicated to students and teachers through content. Apple's (1993, 2000) concept of official knowledge is applied in the analysis of textbooks. The importance of textbooks cannot be ignored, in terms of shaping and informing the official knowledge of the school curriculum, with Davis stating:


Textbooks derive their power not from their ubiquitous presence in classrooms...textbooks are powerful because they contain the information that society expects students to know...As Michael Apple has so aptly noted, the knowledge in almost all textbooks, however written, compiled and published, properly may be classified as "official knowledge. (2006, p. xiii)


This paper, then, is based on an acknowledgement that there are connections between official curriculum content and core and dominant socio-political values, even if they are not always explicitly articulated. This paper asserts that textbook research is an important component of education research when considering the direction of History in schools, particularly in the current neo-conservative educational environment.