History Education and (Post)Colonialism. International Case Studies – POPP et al (IJRHD)

POPP Susanne1 Colonialism
Susanne Popp. www.researchgate.net /

POPP S History Education and post colonialism ColonialismPOPP, Susanne; GORBAHN, Katja; GRINDEL, Susanne (eds). History Education and (Post)Colonialism. International Case Studies. Peter Lang, 2019. Resenha de: HAUE, Harry. International Journal of Research on History Didactics, n.40, p.245-252, 2019.

This anthology on colonialism discusses the reasons for its upcoming in different parts of the world as a fundamental contribution to the development of modern times, and the substantial impact the decolonization process has on the new modern era after World War II. In the introduction the editors make an overview of the content of the book, which has the following structure: Part 1: Two essays, Part 2: Three narratives, Part 3: Five debate contributions and Part 4: Three approaches.

The editors also present the fundamental problems in the study of colonialism and postcolonialism, and quote UN resolution 1514 from 1960: All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Consequently, one of the questions raised in education is to what extent actual history teaching in schools represents and communicates the items of colonization and decolonization as well in the former colonies and in the countries of colonizers. The process of globalization has in the last decades made this question urgently relevant and moreover inspired to formulate the question of culpability.

In the wake of decolonization and globalization, especially Europe and the US have experienced a migration movement, which inspire classes to reflect on questions of inequality, and the former subordinates right to travel to high developed countries. This challenge to the national history might lead to fundamental changes in syllabus and teaching, which prompt a focus more on global history and postcolonial studies. As the editors point out: history educationalists need to take the issue of the ‘decolonization of historical thinking’ seriously as an important task facing their profession.

It is not possible in this review to refer and comment all 13 contributions in detail. However, I will present a thematic discussion of the four parts.

In part 1 Jörg Fisch, professor of History, University of Zürich, Switzerland, discusses the concepts of colonization and colonialism. He presents and reflect on the conceptual development on from the Latin idea of ‘colere and colonus’, in the late renaissance changed into ‘colonialist and colonialism’. The last concept is ‘aimed at making political, economic, cultural and other gains at the cost of his competitors and is often consolidated into colonial rule.’ Whereas the colonus occupied contiguous territory, the colonialist thanks to his technological superiority conquered land distant from the colonizer’s own country. The result was foreign rule, which required a new theoretical basis: Francisco de Vitoria postulated in 1539 that all peoples had the right to free settlement, trade and free colonization.

Another theory was that the indigenous populations had the right to be fully sovereign. Above those two theories, raw power was to decide to what extent the one or the other should be respected, if any of them. When the national state in the 19th century came into being in Europe and when ideas from the French Revolution gained impact in the Americas, independence was the answer. But this was not the end of colonialism which developed in the same period in the not yet unoccupied areas of Asia and Africa. Colonies became in the period from 1850 to 1914 part of European based empires divided between the big powers at the conference in Berlin in 1884-85. The process was called imperialism. World War I changed this development fundamentally, Germany lost all its colonies and the indigenous elite in the colonies began to question their subaltern status. After World War II the process of decolonization began, and the concept of anticolonization gained momentum in the aforementioned UN declaration form 1960. As Fisch underlines, the postcolonial world was not synonymous with a just world. In ‘Colonialism: Before and After’ Jörg Fisch has written a well-structured presentation of the main lines of this complex phenomenon and the conceptual development. His article is an appropriate opening to the following chapters in the anthology.

Jacob Emmanuel Mabe, born and raised in Cameroon, now a permanent visiting scholar at the French Center of the Free University of Berlin, has written a chapter on: ‘An African Discourse on Colonialism and Memory Work in Germany’. His aim is to demonstrate the significance of the concept of colonialism in intellectual discourse of Africans and to show how the colonial question is discussed in Germany.

It was the intellectuals among the colonial peoples who formed the critical discourse against European colonial rule in Africa, which Mabe calls a ‘ruthless territorial occupation’. The first materialization of this opposition to European rule was the formation of the ‘Pan- African Movement’ maybe inspired by the US-based initiative: ‘Back to Africa Movement’, which culminated in the founding of the Republic Liberia in 1879. On African soil, however in the interwar years a new concept was developed by especially Leopold Sédar Senghor, who was to become one of the most dominant voices among African intellectuals. He and his followers used the concept ‘Negritude’ and the aim was to create a philosophical platform for the promotion of the African consciousness by means of a literary current, a cultural theory and a political ideology. Mabe gives a short description of the reasons for the many barriers for the fulfilment of Senghor’s program.

Mabe ends his article with a discussion of the German attitudes to its colonial past. When the decolonizing process took off after World War II, the Germans were mentally occupied with the Nazi-guilt complex, which in comparison to the regret of the brutal treatment of the Africans, was much more insistent. Nonetheless, Mabe indicates that researchers of the humanistic tradition in the two latest decades have ‘presented some brilliant and value-neutral studies which do justice do (to) both European and, in part African epistemic interest. However, a true discipline of remembering which is intended to do justice to its ethics and its historical task can only be the product of egalitarian cooperation between African and European researchers.’ Florian Wagner, assistant professor in Erfurt, ends his chapter with a presentation of African writers in modern post-colonial studies. In competition with the USSR Western historians invited African writers to contribute to a comprehensive UNESCO publication on the development of colonialism. Wagner’s aim is to underline that transnational historiography of colonization is not, as often has been thought, a modern phenomenon, but has been practiced by European historians over the last century. His main point is that although nationalism and colonialism went hand in hand, transnational cooperation in the colonial discourse has been significant. It is an interesting contribution, which partly is a supplement to the chapter of Fisch according to use of concepts about the colonial development. It brings a strong argument for the existents of a theoretical cooperation between the European colonial masters, notwithstanding their competitive relations in other fields.

This statement can give the history teacher a new didactical perspective, as Wagner emphasizes in his conclusion: ‘Colonialism can provide a basis of teaching a veritable global history – a history that shows how globality can create inequality and how inequality can create globality.’ Elize van Eeden, professor at the South West University, South Africa, has written a chapter on: ‘Reviewing South Africa’s colonial historiography’. For more than 300 years South Africa has had shifting colonial positions, and consequently the black and colored people had to live as subalterns. The change of government in 1994 also gave historians in South Africa new possibilities, although the long colonial impact was difficult to overcome. For a deeper understanding of this post-colonial realities it is important to know African historiography in its African continental context. Elize van Eeden’s research shows that the teaching in the different stages of colonialism plays a minor role in university teaching. Therefore, new research is needed, exploiting the oral traditions of the subaltern people, and relating the local and regional development to the global trends. As van Eeden points out: ‘A critical, inclusive, comprehensive and diverse view of the historiography on Africa by an African is yet to be produced.’ Van Eeden’s contribution gives participant observers insight into especially South Africa’s historiography and university teaching and provide a solid argument for the credibility of the former quotation.

In the third chapter on narratives, written by three Chinese historians: Shen Chencheng, Zhongjie Meng and Yuan Xiaoqing: ‘Is Synchronicity Possible? Narratives on a Global Event between the Perspectives of Colonist and Colony: The Example of the Boxer Movement (1898-1900)’, the aim is to discuss the didactical option partly by including multi-perspectivity in teaching colonialism and multiple perspectives held by former colonies and colonizers, instead of one-sided national narratives, partly teaching changing perspectives, instead of holding a stationary standpoint. Another aim is to observe ‘synchronicity of the non-synchronous’ inspired by the thinking of the German philosopher Reinhard Koselleck. The chapter starts with a short description of the Boxer War, which forms the basis for an analysis of the presentation of the war in textbooks produced in China and Germany, i.e. colony and colonizer. Then the authors provide an example to improve synchronicity in teaching colonialism, followed by didactic proposals.

The Boxer War ended when a coalition of European countries conquered the Chinese rebellions and all parties signed a treaty. Germany in particular demanded conditions which humiliated the Chinese. This treaty is of course important, however at the same time, one of the Boxer-rebels formulated an unofficial suggestion for another treaty, which had the same form and structure as the real treaty, however, the conditions war turned 180 degrees around, for example, it forbade all foreign trade in China. The two treaties were in intertextual correspondence and expressed the demands of the colonizer and the colonized. The question is whether the xenophobic Boxers in fact were influenced by western and modern factors or whether the imperialistic colonizers were affected by local impacts of China? The ‘false’ treaty was used as a document in the history examination in Shanghai in 2010, with the intention of giving the students an opportunity to think in a multi-perspective way, and to link the local Chinese development to a global connection. Nonetheless, the didactical approaches in history teaching in schools are far behind the academic state of the art. It is an interesting contribution to colonialism, but it is remarkable that the authors do not use the concept of historical thinking.

In the third part of the anthology, there are five contributions. Raid Nasser, professor of Sociology, Fairleigh Dickinson University, discusses the formation of national identity in general and its relations to cosmopolitanism. The idea of a global citizenship conflicts with nationalism and the differentiations according to social, economic and ethnic divisions, and Kant is challenged by Fanon.

Nasser’s own research concerns the history textbooks in the three counties where the state has a decisive say in determining the content of those books and therefore it might have a decisive influence on the identity formation of the pupils, in this case from the year four to twelve. How much room is there for cosmopolitanism? This is a question which Nasser has thoroughly addressed in this chapter.

Kang Sun Joo, professor of Education, Gyeongin National University South Korea, discusses the problems with the focus on nation-building in the history teaching in former colonies and the need for new ‘conceptual frames as cultural mixing, selective adoption and appropriation.’ She gives an interesting view on the conformity of western impact on Korean history education.

Markus Furrer, professor of History and History Didactics, teacher training college Luzern, examines post-colonial impact on history teaching in Switzerland after World War II. He has the opinion that we all live in a post-colonial world, including countries with no or only a minor role in colonial development. He emphasizes that there are ‘two central functions of post-colonial theory with relevance to teaching: (1) Post-colonial approaches are raising awareness of the ongoing impact and powerful influence of colonial interpretive patterns in everyday life as well as in systems of knowledge. (2) In addition, they enable us to perceive more clearly the impact of neo-colonial economic and power structures.’ He analyzes six Swiss textbooks and concludes that there is a need in this regard for teaching materials which enable students to understand and interpret the construction and formation process which eventually end with ‘Europe and its others’.

Marianne Nagy, associate professor of History, Karoli Gáspar University, Budapest, has made an examination of history textbooks used in Hungary in 1948-1991 on the period between 1750 and 1914 when Hungary was under Austrian rule. This is an examination of Hungary’ s colonial status seen from a USSR- and communistinfluenced point of view. In the communist period only one textbook was accepted, and in this book, Austria was perceived as a kind of colonial power which controlled Hungary for its own benefit. The communist party had the intention to present Habsburg rule in a negative light, with the wish to describe Hungary’s relation to USSR as a positive contrast. Today the Orbán-led country uses the term colony in relation to the EU.

Terry Haydn, professor of Education, University of East Anglia, has made an explorative examination of how ‘empire’ is taught in English schools. His findings are somewhat surprising. In the history classes of the former leading colonizing country, most schools taught ‘empire’ as a topic, however with emphasis on the formative process of colonization and not ‘the decline and fall’. Haydn has with this short study focused on an item which should be the target of more comprehensive research.

The last three chapters concern the teaching of colonialism in a post-colonial western world. Philipp Bernard, research assistant at Augsburg University in Germany, discusses the perspectives in teaching post- against colonial theory and history from below. His basic assumption is that: ‘No region on the earth can evade the consequences of colonialism’, therefore, ‘A post-colonial approach emphasizes the reciprocal creation of the colonized and the colonizers through processes of hybridization and transculturation.’ The aim of teaching, in this case in the Bavarian school, is to achieve decolonization of knowledge. The author gives interesting reflections from his teaching which could be of inspiration in the schools both of colonized and colonizing countries.

Dennis Röder, teacher of History and English in Germany, writes about ‘visual history’ in relation to the visual representation of Africa and Africans during the age of imperialism. The invention of the KODAK camera in 1888 brought good and cheap pictures, which could be printed and studied world-wide. Soon those pictures could be used in education, and thereby history teaching got a new dimension, and a basis for critique of the white man’s brutal treatment of the natives. These photos were used in the protests against Belgian policy in Congo. Röder emphasises that the precondition for the use of photos as teaching material is the need for some methodological insight both on behalf of the pupils and students. Moreover, it is important to select a diverse collection of photos so that all sides of life in the colonies are represented. Then it would be possible to make a ‘step toward the visual emancipation and decolonization of Africans in German textbooks.’

Karl P. Benziger, professor of History, State University of New York, College at Fredonia, in the last chapter of the anthology has reflected on the interplay between the war in Vietnam as a neocolonial enterprise and the fight for civil rights in the US. Benziger discusses different approaches to teaching those items in high schoolclassrooms. An interesting course was staged as a role play on the theme: The American war in Vietnam. The purpose of the exercise was ‘to develop students’ historical skills through formulating interpretations and analyses based on multiple perspectives and competing narratives in order to understand the intersection between United States foreign and domestic policy from a global perspective.’

The editorial team should be acknowledged for its initiative. The anthology could be perceived as a didactical patchwork which gives inspiration to new research in the subject matter as well as innovations in history didactics. The current migration moveme would prompt to include colonialism and post-colonialism in history teaching and moreover these aspects are part of any pupil’s/student’s everyday life.

Harry Haue

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