History Textbooks: a collective memory of a national past

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Each country has its own unique history. There was an article in the Washington Post stating that the Chinese Communist Party took 16 years to complete 1,074 pages of its history account (2011, May 27). Like China, many countries try to compile each history and present themselves to the nation and even to the world. History education at school plays not only the role of providing information about the past but also of forming the values of the society (Korostelina, 2008). A history textbook is a form of collective memory of a nation. Even though a textbook alone cannot represent an individual’s memory and reflect everyone’s witness, it is one recognized national memory of the country’s past. A history textbook tells how that country reflects on its past and what it wants the younger generations to think about the nation. Most countries should focus on shaping the “new generation’s positive image of their own people in its long or short history, while not disregarding any sinister, dark, at times frightful pages of its past” (Danilov, 2010, p.38). However, a nation with dark pages of its past faces difficulties of creating positive image of history. Some countries such as Rwanda chose not to teach their history; others see history education as a tool to reconcile with the past. When a nation chooses to teach its history, the country needs to examine what to include or exclude in the textbook and how to present the conflict and groups involved in it. This paper sheds light on the content of textbooks to understand how countries describe the past conflict and how they present the national identity through history education. This paper argues that even though each country has different approach towards teaching their own history, there are some commonalities across countries through extensive literature review including history textbooks and government documents. Thus, this paper takes a content-focused approach in order to examine different countries’ history education. By finding these commonalities, other countries can take the foundation of the work and use it as a template of presenting their own past for the future.