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A Joint Past for Europe’s Future: National Memory, Bilateral Reconciliation and the German-Polish Textbook Initiative
November 3, 2016 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Panel Discussion at the GHI
Speakers: Lily Gardner Feldman (AICGS), Igor Kąkolewski (Polish Academy of Sciences), Simone Lässig (German Historical Institute)
In cooperation with the German and Polish Embassies, Washington DC.
School textbooks in general, and history textbooks in particular, are widely considered to be ideal instruments for the formation of collective identities and to be media that have tremendous power to shape young people’s understanding of the world. They thus frequently become the object of controversy, extending well beyond the field of education and centering on the question of what knowledge is to be passed along to future citizens and thereby inscribed in the nation’s cultural memory. But how we teach history does not necessarily need to create divisions; the conviction that history schoolbooks contribute in an enduring manner to counteracting stereotypes, overcoming mutual hostility and promoting reconciliation between formerly hostile groups or nations dates back to the first decades of the 20th century.
Against the backdrop of this dual nature of schoolbooks, in 2007 the foreign ministers of Germany and Poland spurred scholars, teachers and textbook producers to jointly develop a German-Polish history textbook that would be used in the classroom to promote greater understanding between the two countries. Given the fact that the Poles and the Germans have a complex history and must grapple with the legacy of Nazi crimes perpetrated during the Second World War, this was a particularly ambitious, but important, idea.
As it marks this year’s publication of the first volume of the textbook series Europe – Our History, this panel will address the background and the broader themes of the project, and also the main challenges of writing a joint history textbook. Is it possible to forge a path toward a common understanding of history? How important will a distinctive national narrative be in the future? What is the role of politics and of academia in a project that serves an educational as well as a political purpose? And how might differing didactic methods between the two countries affect reception of the book?
This panel is part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the signing of the Treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Poland on Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation on June 17th, 1991.