Slavery and Race As "Wrongs" of Western History: Reflections Based on Portuguese History Textbooks

Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:20 AM
Room 205 (Hynes Convention Center)
Marta Araujo , Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal
Silvia Rodriguez Maeso , Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal
In this paper, we will present a work in progress of an on-going project entitled: ‘Race’ and Africa in Portugal: a study on history textbooks’. This research will demonstrate that the effectiveness of Eurocentric ideology does not lie exclusively on bias representations of the ‘other’, but rather on the depoliticisation and naturalisation of power relations. Therefore, this study disregards the traditional opposition between European/National, regarded as ‘we’, and the ‘other’ as a framework of analysis. Accordingly, we also discard the common analysis of how ‘Europeans’ see the ‘others’ and focus, instead, on understanding Europe as producer of History and provider of criteria to define modernity, development and knowledge.

To date, an examination of the most commonly used history textbooks in Portugal (an average of 12 to 15 years old) has revealed the use of three key narratives devices to address the relationship between ‘Europeans’ and the ‘others’: 1) The chronopolitics of representation, through which history textbooks subsume the ‘other’ into a linear narrative and locate the later and the former in a radically different times; 2) The (democratic) National State as the paradigm of ‘society’ and ‘civilisation’, shrinking the scope of the political; and 3) History as a ‘moral success story’, producing a depoliticisation of crucial historical processes.

From this starting point, we will focus on the later narrative device by examining how textbooks explain interrelated political processes and relations such as slavery, racism and the history of ‘others’. More specifically, we will explore the prevalence of an humanist and moralising approach to History, which emphasises the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of History, but locates all exploitation practices related to race exclusively in the past and is incapable of engaging with the subtle ways in which ‘race’ pervades contemporary social relations.