History education will relate to the modern age – or there will be no history education: this appears to be the rule for most Western societies. In the humanistic educational tradition, the past served to present pupils with concrete exempla for decent behaviour in contemporary society. And ever since history became a separate subject in secondary education in most European countries, from the late 18th century onwards, the present has functioned as a form of social security for history education. The history lesson is supposed to guard against errors from the past and offer insight into the attainments of contemporary society. But does the present also throw sand in the eyes of educational historians? The longing for up-to-date history education is so powerful that it seems to colour historians’ views. They do not always succeed in placing this longing in a historical perspective. Did enlightenment thinkers have in mind the same sort of focus on the present as the architects of the nationally organised history education of the late nineteenth century, for example? Or how have the two world wars affected the longing for modern history education in the twentieth century? And has the period since the 1960s seen unprecedented use of history education to serve the needs of contemporary, post-colonial democracy? How has each of these longings been translated into a specific, time-related history education?
The aim of the ‘Longing for the present’ conference is to historicise the longing for modern or contemporary history education – not only by examining the existing historiography of secondary education (1), but also by exploring new forms of research into the history of history education (2 and 3).
(1) The history of the school subject tends to be read as a story of increasing progress, of education that became more and more open and true to life. Erroneous views in textbooks are identified, outmoded teaching methods are scrutinised. Do contemporary social and educational ideals serve in such a reading as the measure by which the history of history education is assessed? In other words, does the historiography of education and history education share the premises of the contemporary approach to the school subject? From this point of view, at what stage did history education become ‘modern’, and what exactly does such modernity consist of? Do historians of education think in terms of what had ‘not yet’ been done and what had ‘already’ been achieved?
(2) The central question of this conference implies an urgent need for a new reading of the classical media of history education: textbooks, curricula and other texts and discussions in which expectations about the ideal history education were made explicit. These sources are often considered in terms of the view they imply of a given theme. However, it is far less common for them to be studied as texts with a specific, time-related narratio and a corresponding (or incongruous) rhetorical approach. In the light of the conference’s theme, it would for example be worth investigating the status of the end of history in textbooks. The time-scale within which historical explanations were sought for phenomena may also throw interesting light on the changing position of the present in the history of history education. Studies of the expressed or implied views of specific themes have thusfar failed to take sufficient account of the way in which history education has come about through a complex dynamic of didactic choices. For example, the growing didactically inspired paratext in a textbook is just as much a part of the historical content that is presented as the classical ‘reading text’. Didactic choices colour the content and form of history education. This seems obvious, but the historiographical significance of this point is rarely considered by historians.
(3) This conference not only aims to read the classical media in a new fashion way. It is also intends to encourage the exploration of new sources. How have ideals concerning socially relevant history lessons been translated into contemporary educational practice? What role have current affairs and the present played in actual history lessons? Have pupils been asked about the present or the future in their final examinations, or have these ambitions – to the extent that they have been made explicit – remained confined to curricula and institutionalised educational rhetoric? Research based on archives and oral history gives an insight into the tension between normative discourse and everyday practice. A more anthropological approach of this kind to history education may serve to make concrete the historical multiplicity (or partial absence) of the longing for ‘modern’ history education.
We welcome proposals for 20-minutes presentations in English. Please send your proposal (300 words), together with your contact data, in a separate Word or PDF document to firstname.lastname@example.org, before October 15, 2009. Notification of acceptance will be given by December 18, 2009. The speakers who have been selected will be asked to submit a more elaborate abstract of their lecture (1500 words) before June 1, 2010. For more information, check http://longingforthepresent.wordpress.com/. The conference website will be updated regularly, as more information becomes available. A selection of the conference papers will be published.
Annie Bruter, Institut national de recherche pédagogique de Paris
Eckhardt Fuchs, Georg-Eckert-Institut für internationale Schulbuchforschung
Maria Grever, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Evelyne Héry, Université de Rennes
Ed Jonker, University of Utrecht
Daniel Lindmark, University of Umea
Peter Seixas, University of British Columbia
Longing for the Present c/o Matthias Meirlaen
University of Leuven
Department of History
Blijde-Inkomststraat 21 – postoffice Box 3307
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