Narrativizing Decolonization: Exploring the Changing Needs of Decolonization in Classrooms in the United States, Canada, and Australia

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 9:40 AM
International Ballroom 5 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Stephen Jackson, University of Sioux Falls
This paper will explore representations of imperialism, anti-colonial nationalism, and decolonization through a survey of secondary level history textbooks produced in the United States, Canada, and Australia from 1935-1970. Texts from all three countries generally lauded imperialism in the 1930s and early 1940s, extolling the virtues of imperial governance. This was particularly surprising in the case of the United States, where textbook authors promoted the benefits bestowed to colonial peoples including literacy, good government, and peace. Anti-colonial nationalists were therefore caricatured in textbooks as both irrational and ungrateful. Following the Second World War, textbook narratives diverged in these countries as European empires began to crumble. In the United States, textbooks in the postwar period argued that nationalism was a product of Western ideas and values, and therefore anti-colonial nationalism was in fact a triumph for Western Civilization. In Canada, by the 1960s decolonization came to be incorporated into national narratives of the civilizing influence of the British Empire. In effect, decolonization was proof of the British ‘genius’ for political governance and wise stewardship. Australian textbook authors eventually also created a highly positive view of decolonization, but they did so in the mid-1970s rather than in the 1960s. In the process of constructing this Whiggish narrative of the spread of Western values, authors from all three countries largely marginalized colonial actors, promoted stereotyped and unflattering views of African and Asian peoples, and de-emphasized the extreme violence inherent to the process of decolonization.
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