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History Beyond Borders: The International History Textbook Revision, 1919-2009

Research project Today history wars rage all over the world. National views promoted in history textbooks provoke sharp protests from neighbouring countries in Asia and the Balkans. Since 1919 bilateral and regional revision projects work for history textbook reform.

To prevent future wars, in 1919 reform pedagogeus and peace activists wanted history textbooks to be cleaned of all instances of militarism, nationalism and prejudiced descriptions of neighbouring countries' peoples, cultures and histories. Studying the revision projects conducted by the Norden Associations, League of Nations, UNESCO and Council of Europe, the project sheds light upon the encounter between national history cultures and an increasingly internationalised educational culture. Besides aspects of the history of science, organisational, ideological and didactical perspectives are applied to European efforts to reform history education.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2008-01-01 2011-12-31


Finansår , 2008, 2009, 2010

huvudman: Daniel Lindmark, finansiar: Vetenskapsrådet (UVK), y2008: 1600, y2009: 1750, y2010: 1850,

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies

Research area


Project description

At the end of the First World War, pacifists and reformist pedagogues initiated a comprehensive study of history textbooks. The militarism and nationalism expressed in these texts were seen as significant reasons for the outbreak of the War. In order to spare the world from future hostilities, the textbooks were to eliminate all expressions of militarism, nationalism and prejudiced descriptions of neighbouring peoples, cultures and history. At an early stage, the Norden Associations introduced a system of mutual examination of history textbooks, including the circulation of manuscripts to neighbouring countries for examination, which model would soon be adopted by the League of Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. To this very day, a large number of regional and bilateral revision projects are being conducted under the auspices of UNESCO and the Council of Europe. In recent decades, international efforts to reform the subject of history have increasingly shifted their interest from history textbooks themselves to perspectives and methods of teaching history.

The international history textbook revision and its evolution toward recommendations and instructions for history teachers comprise but one of many examples of the internationalisation of pedagogical culture. During the 20th century educational matters became international issues via new networks of individuals and organisations. However, within the field of history textbook revision, internationalisation went further than the organisational level. One also strove for increased ideological internationalisation by complementing the national focus of history textbooks and history teaching with more elements of Scandinavian, European and global perspectives. In its study of international history textbook revision, the present project will thus illuminate the encounter between national history cultures and an increasingly internationalised pedagogical culture.

In four subprojects, the project will deal with organisational, ideological, didactic and scholarly aspects of the international reform of history teaching and textbooks. Two of the subprojects will examine the organisation and ideology of textbook revision in the Scandinavian countries and the rest of Europe, respectively, partly by employing network analysis in order to chart the individuals and organisations involved in the revision and their relationships. By investigating the various actors´ connections with individuals and organisations in other fields, the project will also illuminate how the revision related to other pedagogical, political, and religious ideologies.

The efforts of UNESCO and the Council of Europe have resulted in a number of recommendations and instructions. As early as the 1950s pleas for European and global history, social and economic history, cultural history and the history of ideas and contemporary history recurred. A third subproject will thus study the impact of international reform efforts on Swedish steering documents, textbooks and teaching in the post-war era, partly by conducting interviews with history teachers.

The fourth subproject will illuminate the significance of international reform efforts for the development of textbook research and history didactics as scholarly disciplines. What has it meant to textbook research that a large proportion of its activity was developed within an ideologically-motivated revision project? How has this European collaboration oriented itself in relation to contemporary traditions in history didactics and what influence, if any, has this collaboration had on the development of history didactics in Europe and Sweden?

The present project will result in new knowledge in a number of fields: The development of the history textbook revision in Scandinavia and Europe; the internationalisation of pedagogical culture; the transformation of the subject of history in Sweden; and the development of history didactic research in Sweden and Europe. Hopefully the results generated by the project can even contribute useful knowledge for dealing with future history textbook controversies.

The project will serve to further enrich the competence existing and cooperation ongoing between Umeå University, Karlstad University and the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in Braunschweig, Germany.