Nietzsche perspectives on a national history curriculum: what should we do with Gallipoli?

Year: 2013

Author: Parkes, Robert, Sharp, Heather

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

For almost two decades, History education in Australia has been a site of struggle over collective memory of the colonial past. Since the injection of Indigenous perspectives into History and Society and Environment curricula, conservative historians, politicians, and media commentators have been fighting to see an end to ‘black armband’ history – or what they see as an excessively mournful view of our collective history – and its replacement with what they argue is a more ‘balanced’ celebratory vision of the national past. The new national history curriculum, which has sought to get beyond so-called ‘black armband’ and ‘white blindfold’ histories, has recently come under fire for its perceived lack of attention to one of the nation’s founding mythologies, the battle of Gallipoli. To engage with this debate, we will draw on a framework first presented by Friedrich Nietzsche for thinking about the uses and abuses of historical discourse, particular his concern with nationalistic histories.

Nietzsche has not been an uncontroversial figure in studies of nationalist history, having had selective aspects of his work posthumously co-opted by the National Socialist movement in Germany during WWII, via the mediation of his sister and editor, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche. However, as his disappointment with his one time friend, the nationalistic composer (and favourite of the Führer) Richard Wagner shows, Nietzsche demonstrated caution and concern with history as national mythology. Nietzsche's argument, written around the time of his breach with Wagner, was that there were three types of history: (1) the monumental (in which past events and deeds were valorized and venerated); (2) the antiquarian (in which attempts were made to preserve the past as cultural heritage and source of identity); and (3) the critical (in which aspects of the past were challenged from the standpoint of present “truths”). According to Nietzsche’s scheme, each of these uses of history was subject to abuse (by being used exclusively, or to excess), in which case historical discourse would lead to human subjugation rather than freedom. His answer was to pit the various forms of history against each other in a complex balancing act. Coupled with a brief exploration of the way ‘Gallipoli’ gets represented in the history textbooks of both Australia and Turkey, Nietzsche’s framework will be used to consider what we should do with Gallipoli in the national curriculum.