History Teaching, Identities, Citizenship (CiCe)

Editor(s) Luigi Cajani, Alistair Ross
Publisher Trentham Books Ltd
Published 2005
Pages 228
Price £17.99
ISBN 1858563666
Reviewed by Dr Robert Guyver
University College Plymouth St Mark & St John
Review published 26 September 2008

This is a significant publication which raises and discusses serious issues associated with identity, citizenship and the history curriculum. All of the case studies show a remarkable sensitivity to the dangers and opportunities that arise. They are drawn from Germany, France, Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Sweden, and Palestine and Israel. Most are set in the broader framework of developments in the European Union and situate the individual countries in the dual contexts of internal and European citizenship. Although outside the strict borders of Europe, the Palestinian and Israeli project sits well alongside the other studies as it has some aspects in common with many, as well as much in common with the Cyprus case which itself is strongly linked with the Greece study.

The chapters all describe and analyse societies in transition, all having experienced various forms of post-colonialism whether it is Western European post-imperialism or Central and Eastern European post-Soviet, post-communism, where a changing political situation is reflected in changing perceptions of the key topics in the title. Common themes are well-anticipated in Chapter 2 by the philosophical father of this educational enlightenment, Jörn Rüsen. The tension between the Self and the Other is at the very heart of the problem and appears in different forms but essentially within a recognisable template, in the other chapters. Rusen also examines how memory is used to create identity. He subdivides memory into various forms: communicative, collective, cultural, responsive and constructive. He also stresses the importance of historical consciousness and its relationship with memory and how this can provide motivation for action as well as perception, interpretation and orientation. Thus he examines the great influence that beliefs about history can have in the formation of identity, values and attitude to self and others.

Another theme is the tension between ethnocentric (or just plain ethnic) views of the nation and of citizenship, and the civic view (well discussed in the chapters on France and Spain, the latter really getting to grips with the development of different views of citizenship). Culture itself is strongly associated with views of the Self and the Other, often in tandem with religion. The chapter on Cyprus clarifies most helpfully the difference between multicultural and intercultural frames, but also realistically recognises fears about loss of identity in situations where a dominant culture might prevail.

The chapter on the Palestinian and Israeli project by Sami Adwan and Dan Bar-On outlines and exemplifies efforts to write and appreciate parallel narratives of the same years, seen from the two different perspectives. The difficulties of sustaining this project during times of conflict are considerable, and the reader is left with a sense of great admiration for the participants. The procedural rules and rules about content on pages 151 and 152 have strong potential currency for other fraught situations. Interestingly, a bridging narrative although considered was delayed as the time was not thought to be ripe for this. However there were interesting links with some of the other chapters by the inclusion in the Palestinian narrative of a critical awareness of the role played by colonial powers, especially Britain and France; whereas the Israeli narrative saw the intervention of colonial powers and the Balfour Declaration of 1917 much more positively in the context of a strong link between anti-Semitism and the birth of Zionism.

A bridging narrative may well prove to be possible, and may indeed be a key factor in determining the possibility of a peaceful solution. Future efforts could draw on criteria set out by Rüsen and in the conclusion sections of other chapters, especially the emphasis on intercultural understanding and shared civic values, particularly in the area of the recognition of international consensus on the meaning of human rights for both sides, but set in an historical appreciation of ways in which such civic values and structures of representation have developed in different cultures, embracing a fusion of Western and Eastern political horizons.

The case of Romania is set out with great clarity by Mirel-Luminiţa Murgescu and Cătălina Mihalache. The fluctuating emphases of text-books in the face of political change is well-documented as well as a recognition that new concepts of European citizenship require reorientations towards the aspirations and histories of minority ethnic groups such as Hungarians and Ukranians. This is all part of the wider picture of the Self and the Other. Their final paragraph summarises well some key concerns that appear frequently elsewhere:

In the last decade there were serious efforts to diminish the potential of history education to foster conflict. This was politically meaningful and was also generous but, while societies continue to prefer to teach only their own version of history in schools, it is inconceivable that the nationalistic pattern will be replaced by a civic and more democratic paradigm. Unfortunately, there will always be someone who will try to persuade us all that the enemy is at the gates. (p.76)

In chapter on Greece by Panayota Papoulia-Tzelepi and Julia A. Spinthourakis, and in Mary Koutselini’s chapter on Cyprus there is a recognition that a celebration of Greek culture through the ages needs to be modified because of one of Jörn Rüsen’s key rules, that the celebration of one’s own culture and achievements should not automatically diminish those of others or emphasise only the positive achievements of one’s own and the crimes and outrages of others. This of course is not always easy and history teachers should ideally be in a creative relationship and constant dialogue with academic historians. Objective teaching about the Ottoman Empire and indeed Turkish history continues to be difficult in Greece (where there was a period of Turkish occupation) and in Cyprus, and realistically two factors, i.e. the help of historians and the initiation of intercultural projects such as the Palestinian-Israeli one, are much needed. The same might indeed be said of how French history is taught or merely neglected in England.

Nicole Tutiaux-Guillon’s chapter on France shows some of the potentially harmful effects that arise when teachers experience a collective schizophrenia about their neutral role in sustaining the civic nation. Traditional reluctance to promote or even critique certain values now seems like a form of escapism in the wake of the emergence of European citizenship and the increasing hybridisation of cultural identity in France.

The chapter on Spain by Concha Maiztegui Oñate and Maria Jesús Cava Mesa examines the historical development of different models of citizenship. Much of their concern is with inclusion, of women’s history and of the histories of minority and disaffected groups who might be outside traditional views of citizenry which they challenge. There is a realisation that attitudes can be affected by pedagogy – by the very way that history is taught. There is so often a link between transmission (chalk-and-talk) styles of teaching in history and ethnocentric orientation. However where there is discussion, opportunities for independent and critical thinking as well as active learning, many of the inclusion aims are made more accessible, and both teacher and students are less likely to commit the deadly sins outlined by Rüsen in his chapter on memory, history and the quest for the future. The writers summarise their priorities about changing the practice of teachers in Spain in these 5 key areas:

  • using new methods of education that lead to independent learning;
  • strengthening active methodologies that allow the development of critical thought;
  • developing values and local and global feelings of pupils;
  • coordinating with other departments or areas;
  • coordinating with other social agents. (p.126)

A chapter that is slightly different is a review by Lars Berggren and Roger Johansson People meet history – a Swedish television production in a medieval milieu. It gives an example of how many current concerns are projected on to the television production and examines some problems that are universal in all history teaching. These are well-summarised on pages 141 – 142, and this list consists of reminders that facts are always set in an interpretive frame; that history is met in two ways both genetically and genealogically, i.e. from then to now and from now to then, and these functions need to be connected; and that history was lived by people of flesh and blood and students and adults now have an existential need to develop their historical consciousness. This is an interesting gloss on Jörn Rüsen’s philosophy and a real example of it in action.

What might be said about most of the situations examined in this book is that good history and good citizenship go hand-in-hand, and that problems with identity often reflect interpretational problems with history. Openness in history teaching and the very process of engaging in debate about history touch on the essence of democratic citizenship. However, presentism and exceptionalism make for poor history, in that the past should not always be seen through the lens of the present, especially if views and the various forms of Zeitgeist contemporaneous with the periods being studied would be neglected and situation inflated out of proportion without an awareness of other units of comparison. Exceptionalism gives the history or some of the history of any nation a special status. This is often, though not always, bad history. Most nations will legitimately find a great deal that is distinctive about their development and their narrative. But nevertheless to set the distinctiveness in context, selections from regional and world history as well as comparative history can offer insights that will perform the function of moderating and balancing lenses. Histories, like people, need to have dialogue in meeting rooms, not just studied in separate rooms. The same goes for cultures and identities. Civic identity and the civic values of citizenship can embrace hybridity and reduce ethnocentricity; enlightenment will take place where there is a fostering of scholarly pluralism in intercultural and international dialogic space.

This is a much-needed volume and should be read by teachers of history, by social studies teachers and by all those teaching aspects of citizenship. It must also be essential reading for teacher educators. Here are some universal problems with several detailed case studies of changing practices written with great sensitivity. The editing of this volume is masterly, as is the summary of chapters in the synopsis and Luigi Cajanis’s examination of the burden of the past and the challenge of the present in Chapter 1.