BBC: Textbook Diplomacy

05/02/2010 § Leave a comment

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History textbooks, either officially or unofficially, pass on deep political messages to the next generation. They can tell lies, they can distort, they can vilify and marginalise. Equally they can – if challenged and changed – become agents of peace and tolerance.

The second programme looks – two months after the signing of the Lisbon Treaty and twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall – at the disputed role of history textbooks in the process of European integration.

Bosnia is an example of how reforming the way in which history is taught is a vital part of the process by which countries become eligible for EU membership.

Fifteen years after the end of the civil war in Bosnia, each of the different ethnic groups still hangs on to a separate history curriculum that conveys hatred and mistrust of the others. There are even schools where two separate histories are taught. We look at the work being done by the likes of the Council of Europe and the OSCE to create ‘multiperspective’ textbooks.

European history today

We then move to the heart of the European Community and analyse the continent’s first transnational history textbooks – two volumes covering 1815 to the present that have been written by teams of German and French historians and which contain the same text in two languages.

Leading historians from both countries who have been part of a unique project give their views on how the project is working.

But is this a model for the future of history teaching in Europe? Should the nation-state remain the focus in different member countries, or should some sort of common European curriculum be developed?

In the third part of the programme we hear from people who think ‘nationalist’ history should be consigned to the past; from those who are thinking about what a core European history curriculum might be; and from those, especially in Britain, who argue that an emphasis on national history is important for the integration of minority communities.

As long as the extent of European integration is a subject for debate so will be the sort of history that should be taught in Europe’s schools. The programme is recorded in Bosnia, Germany, Holland and the UK.

Textbook Diplomacy is written and presented by Mark Whitaker.

First broadcast on 3 February 2010


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