Teaching the Post-Empire State in Europe: National Historiography and History Education

Image of globe map of Europe

June 2011

Project led by:  Professor Paul Ward (History) and Dr Andrew Mycock (Politics)

Co-researchers and their affiliations: Dr Marta Araujo (Universidade de Coimbra), Professor Stefan Berger (University of Manchester), Professor Luigi Cajani (Università La Sapienza, Rome), Professor Antoon De Baets (University of Groningen), Professor Maria Grever (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Dr Susanne Grindel (Georg-Eckert-Institut für internationale Schulbuchforschung), Dr José María Faraldo Jarillo (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, ESF rapporteur), Professor Hercules Millas (University of the Aegean), Professor Alexei Miller (Russian Academy of Sciences), Professor Uffe Ostergaard (Copenhagen Business School), Jean-Pierre Titz (Head of the History Education Division of the Council of Europe), Professor Stuart Ward (University of Copenhagen)

Project externally funded by the European Science Foundation

Objectives:

In examining the legacy of empire on historiography and history teaching, we sought to compare a range of states not usually brought together on this theme, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Russia, France, Denmark and the UK. As the impact of the end of empire has not proven uniform across the formerly colonial states of Europe, the workshop explored how the experience of imperial withdrawal has influenced national historiography and how post-empire identity is promoted by government through school history.

The workshop was intended to lay the foundations for further exploration of the relationship between national historiography and school history. There was, prior to the workshop, no research active community on this subject.

The aims of the workshop were:

  • to explore how the experience of imperial withdrawal has influenced national historiography in post-colonizing European states
  • to assess the influence of national historiography after empire on debates about citizenship and identity.

Methods:

The workshop was staged in various parts of the University over three days, as well as at Huddersfield’s Town Hall; to ensure that formal and informal dialogue was made possible. There was also a visit to the Royal Armouries (the UK’s national museum of arms and armour) in Leeds hosted by Professor Graeme Rimer, the museum’s academic director and a visiting professor at the University of Huddersfield. Such activities allowed for an open meeting, described by participants as ‘an inspiring experience’ and a ‘superb intellectual meeting’.

Participants’ papers were circulated in advance and participants summarised them at the workshop, allowing maximum time for discussion.

We encouraged contributors to develop country-specific approaches that reflect the diversity of post-empire experiences. The link between debates about national-imperial historiography and the content of national school history curricula and textbooks is an area in which we were keen to develop comparative analysis.

Outcomes:

The workshop explored how the experience of imperial withdrawal has influenced national historiography in post-colonizing European states. It looked at the interplay between post-imperial and post-colonial constructions of the national past in plural societies. It considered orthodox and revisionist approaches to national-imperial historiography.

It also assessed the influence of national historiography after empire on debates about citizenship and identity. In particular, it explored how empire and its demise have affected constructions of identity promoted by government through state-sponsored school history. It focused on the extent to which the politicized debates - the so-called ‘history wars’ or ‘history politics’ - concerning national historiography and school history link to broader narratives framing citizenship and identity in post-empire European states.

The workshop laid foundations for further exploration of these relations. It elaborated on the complex legacies of empire and the tensions in articulating national identity amongst citizenries with markedly different views on the imperial past. It identified ways of developing common methodologies to comparatively evaluate common and distinct challenges amongst the colonising states of Europe after empire. The workshop successfully outlined plans for further conventions, the development of research agendas and academic publications and the identification of other engagement and knowledge-sharing activities with politicians, policy-makers, scholars, educational practitioners and the general public.