Globalization and the politics of history school textbooks

Year: 2012

Author: Zajda, Joseph, Zajda, Rea

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Continuing public and political debates globally about the role of historical explanation and the development of historical consciousness in schools when dealing with popular understandings of a nation's growth has given history a significant role in re-positioning competing and ideologically-driven discourses of historical narratives and processes The main aim of this paper is provide a new insight into understanding the nexus between ideology, the state, and nation-building-as depicted in history school textbooks. It focuses on the interpretation of social and political change, significant events, and examining possible new biases and omissions in school textbooks.There has been a degree of 'Europeanization' of history textbooks in EU member states, since the 1990s. The new generation of Russian, French, German, and the Ukrainian history textbooks contain a manifest European dimension, as well as increased emphasis on 'wider European ideals', such as democracy, human rights and social justice. A vivid example of this 'Europeanization' is the case of the Ukraine. From 1996, onwards the Council of Europe, together with the Ministry of Education held a series of seminars that aimed to reform the teaching of history, urging textbook writers to write textbooks that reflect the EU ideals of cultural diversity, social justice, and inclusive pedagogy. The multiple-perspective approach to historical narratives, advocated by the Council of Europe, resulted in the introduction of the new standard in teaching History of Ukraine in the restructured 12-year school system. It includes the cultivation of tolerance and respect for other nations, and the importance of critical thinking.

The paper shows that new ideological biases and omissions have been detected in textbooks globally. The 'Europeanization' of history textbooks in the EU is an example of western-dominated Grand Narrative of pluralist democracy, multiculturalism, and human rights, according to the canon of a particularly European dimension. Recent public debates in the USA, the UK, China, Japan, and the Russian Federation, dealing with understandings of a nation-building and national identity, point out to parallels between the political significance of school history and the history debates globally. The paper demonstrates that the issue of national identity and balanced representations of the past continue to dominate the debate surrounding the content of history textbooks.