Representing the October 1917 Russian revolution in school history textbooks

Year: 2013

Author: Whitehouse, John, Zajda, Joseph

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

History school textbooks continue to exert a powerful influence on learning and teaching historical knowledge and historical understanding. Using discourse analysis and historical-comparative research methodology, this paper offers a comparative analysis of the ways in which key events of the Russian Revolution have been depicted in Russian and Australian school textbooks. The paper pays particular attention to the use of historiography and historical knowledge in school texts and the implications for the classroom. How do different historians, from diverse ideological backgrounds, depict the same events? To what uses are these interpretations put in history textbooks? What does this reveal about the ideological and socio-historical contexts of these materials? What are the implications for the practice of teachers? The paper adopts as its focus three key elements of the Russian Revolution: leadership, the October Revolution of 1917 and the hegemony of War Communism.
It is argued that history pedagogies, grounded in constructivist, metacognitive and transformational paradigms, have the power to engage the learner in significant, authentic, and meaningful learning experiences, concerning multiple discourses employed in constructing historical narratives. Currently, in the Russian Federation, our analysis of prescribed history school textbooks by the Ministry of Education, demonstrates that the depiction of the October 1917 event and of the roles of various major revolutionary leaders in school textbooks has changed, according to shifting political contexts. Although the October Revolution of 1917 played a crucial part in the nation-building process in the USSR after 1924, its significance is minimized in current Russian history textbooks. The treatment of War Communism has also shifted as a result of the different ideological imperatives. The paper critiques the impact of dominant ideologies on representations of the Russian Revolution.

The paper discusses different models of pedagogy in history education, ranging from traditional teaching methods focusing on ‘the facts' to progressivist and transformative pedagogies based on historical understanding and thinking, and their relationship with history textbooks.