Histories of Violence and Historical Thinking:The Civil Rights Movement in International Comparison

Saturday, January 8, 2011
Ballroom C (Hynes Convention Center)
Alexandra Binnenkade , University of Basel, Switzerland, Basel, Switzerland
Histories of Violence and Historical Thinking:
The Civil Rights Movement in International Comparison
If it is true that a shared future needs a shared past, how then do post-conflict societies present the past as riven by conflict and violence to their students? What do such narratives imply when it comes to patriotic identification? And what can be learned about these issues from second-generation post-conflict societies? This poster presents results of an ongoing comparative case study on contemporary history teaching in the United States, Germany and France. Drawing on a rich set of materials, it discusses general questions on the formation of national memory-cultures, analyzes different approaches adopted in the three different countries, and identifies a range of approaches used with different grades. It shows how teachers and pupils work with the narrative and didactical strategies of textbooks.
There is hardly any society that is not compelled to deal with memories of disputed acts of violence committed by its own governing bodies at some point in its past. Dealing with diverging traditions of memory within and outside the country, acknowledging that injustice has been committed, and questioning, which understandings of a common past, and thus of identity, are transmitted to future generations, is a highly political task of great cultural importance.
International organisations and NGOs are engaged worldwide in reforming or transforming the educational systems of former post-conflict areas such as former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union, or individual Asian or African countries. They develop recommendations with a clear agenda: the transfer of modern teaching and learning concepts on the one hand and the provision of new accounts of the respective conflicts on the other hand. In this way they intend to contribute to the peaceful and democratic future of these countries. Post-conflict education has become an established field of academic as well as of political interest. Current research in this field has analyzed the impact of this kind of globalized export of educational paradigms to „the South“ or „the East“. Studies addressing the issue of these practices have to date tended to focus on the receiving side. But what about the practices originating in the export cultures?
The first phase of this study involved a comparison of contemporary US, German and French textbooks. Initial findings clearly show two main tendencies: even though the events described clearly belong to the history of the respective nation state, the past described in the textbooks first exterritorializes the disputed history by narratively attributing it to a distant place, a distant time and by othering the individuals involved in the acts of violence as part of a distant culture. Secondly, the discursive strategies by means of which this is done become visible through their visual representations of violence in (i) the Civil Rights Movement, (ii) the Algerian War and (iii) the German Democratic Republic. Biases, that might be thoroughly avoided in texts become evident on this level and reveal additional evaluation. Interviews with pupils and teachers, conducted in a second phase, bridge the textual analysis with classroom practice.
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