ERG SES G 11, Social Justice and Education
What paradoxes may occur in the wake of a Eurocentric History Education about the First World War? And what challenges does the Eurocentric worldview pose to history teaching in multicultural classrooms? The object of this paper is to discuss Eurocentrism in the construction of historical knowledge, in the Social Studies subject at a lower secondary school in Bergen, Norway. Data were collected through observation in three different classes over a period of three months during a more extensive period of fieldwork, and through interviews with students about how they experienced the Social Studies subject. The classes observed focused on the period leading up to the first world war, and the war itself. Early in my fieldwork one of the teachers told me that it was problematic to teach about the First World War, without covering themes related to European imperialism and colonialism. Still, this was topics they seldom or never found the time to cover, which was also the case this year.
This observation points towards the first of two paradoxes of Eurocentrism discussed in this paper; despite the teacher’s awareness of the problematics of excluding Europe’s colonial history, it wasn’t considered important enough to spend time on. The example illuminates one way of silencing European imperial and colonial history. The second paradox is related to the colonial contribution to the First World War, and the way the pupils understand and create pictures of Africa. The narratives constructed about the colonies in the period mainly focused on the colonies as a resource for the European nations. Firstly, the colonies were presented as sites of imperial rivalry, and as such, a cause of the war. Secondly, the natural resources the fighting nations brought out from the colonies was of great importance for the industrial production and war machinery. Despite this, the main picture the pupils were constructing of Africa was as a continent without recourses.
The postcolonial concept of Eurocentrism serves as an important theoretical lens in the article. Eurocentrism refers to: "a model of interpreting (past, present, and future) reality that uncritically establishes the idea of Europe´s historical progress, and political and ethical superiority, based on scientific rationality and the construction of the rule of law”(Araújo & Maeso, 2013). This means that I am studying how colonialism, post-colonialism, and imperialism is constitutive of Western modernity. In the last decade, we have seen an increased debate about the role of the Nordic countries in colonialism (Keskinen, Tuori & Mulinari, 2009; Loftsdóttir & Jensen, 2012). Research showing the Nordic countries participation in colonial practices and processes of globalization (Eidsvik, 2012, Mikander, 2015) challenges the idea of Nordic Exceptionalism. Several studies of textbooks used in Nordic schools (Helgason & Lässig, 2009; Lorentzen & Røthing, 2017; Mikander, 2015; Røthing & Svendsen, 2011) points towards how the Eurocentric perspectives are vividly present in today’s history textbooks. Loftsdóttir (2009, s. 21-22) highlights the importance of considering how history texts are being used in classrooms, to be able to grasp how people use textbooks, and how images are interpreted and conceptualized in the classroom context. Observation and ethnographic studies of Social Studies and History education can increase the richness of textbook studies, giving a sense of the actual interpretation within specific social, cultural and historical settings (Loftsdóttir, 2009, s. 21-22). My paper might shed light to some of the many ways of interpreting and constructing history, as a dialogue between curriculum, text, teacher, and pupils.
The empirical material for this paper is an excerpt of data collected for my PhD.-project. In the project, I examine how Norwegian identity and Norwegianess are conducted and handled in diverse and multicultural Social Studies classrooms. In this article, I discuss how the nation-state can be recast in a variety of European frameworks in the Social Studies subject (Jore, 2018 forthcoming, Schissler & Soysal, 2005). This means that I am investigating the role “Europe” and “the Colonies” are given in teaching, textbooks, and curricula regarding Europe’s Imperial past and the First World War. Working within the epistemological perspective of critical pedagogy (Apple, Au & Gandin, 2009; Freire, 2000), one central goal is to critically examine and expose how unjust power relations are manifest and challenged within educational narratives. When engaging in critical studies of the social, I aim to produce knowledge that can contribute to social change. The “political-intellectual work” these fields aspire to stretches across established academic disciplines (Svendsen, 2014), and the methodological approach is multidisciplinary. This PhD.-project is situated within a qualitative framework and presents theoretically informed interpretations of data (Røthing, 2017) where postcolonial perspectives (Said, 1978, Chakrabarty, 2008) and theories of affect (Ahmed, 2000) are important points of reference. Data for the PhD.-project was collected through observation in three different classes at a lower secondary school in Bergen Norway, over a period of 6 months, and through interviews with 36 pupils concerning their experience whit the Social Studies subject. Teaching material, such as textbooks, powerpoint presentation, and student works, was also collected during the observation. In the analysis of the current paper, I use observation from history classes in combination with interview data. By looking at constructions of narratives and imaginaries in a postcolonial perspective, a deconstructive methodology is used (Andreotti, 2011). In the analyses, I looked for representations of Europe, and the European imperial and colonial past. By some extent, I carried out what Sleeter & Grant (1997, p. 283) calls story-line analysis. This was done by focusing on questions such as; which groups got the most attention, whose story is being told, which group(s) resolve problems, how other groups appear, the extent to which these other groups cause or resolve problems, and who are the teachers or the authors.
The paradoxes of Eurocentrism in the history classes all points towards how the constructions of historical narratives in the classroom can be part of and contribute to (post)colonial complicity (Vuorela, 2009:19). By doing so, the paper discusses how we read our history and situate “us” and “the Other” in historical moments. The preliminary analysis shows how the master-narratives of the First World War excludes the colonial contribution. This discursive pattern may contribute the construction of Western Modernity as exceptional. The paper, therefore, discusses how Eurocentrism can appear as a mode of knowing and a hegemonic representation, deriving from Europe´s position as a center that claims universality for itself (Andreotti, 2011, s. 67).
Ahmed, S. (2000). Strange encounters: embodied others in post-coloniality. London: Routledge. Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (Rev. ed. ed.). London: Verso. Andreotti, V. (2011). Actionable postcolonial theory in education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Araújo, M. & Maeso, S. R. (2013). Discussion guide 'After all, it was Europe that made the modern world': Eurocentrism in history and its textbooks. Hentet fra http://www.ces.uc.pt/projectos/rap/media/RAP_brochura_final_en.pdf Chakrabarty, D. (2008) Provincializing Europe: postcolonial thought and historical difference New ed., Princeton, Princeton University Press Eidsvik, E. (2012). Colonial discourse and ambivalence: Norwegian participants on the colonial arena in South Africa. I K. n. Loftsdóttir, & L. Jensen (Red.), Whiteness and Postcolonialism in the Nordic Region: Exceptionalism, Migrant Others and National Identities (s. -28). Farnham: Ashgate, cop. 2012. Helgason, T. & Lässig, S. (2009). Opening the Mind or Drawing Boundaries?: History Texts in Nordic Schools (Bind v.122). Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Keskinen, S., Tuori, S. & Mulinari, D. (2009). Complying with Colonialism: Gender, Race and Ethnicity in the Nordic Region. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Kunnskapsdepartementet. (2013). Læreplan i samfunnsfag (SAF1-03). Oslo. Loftsdóttir, K. (2009). Deconstructing he Eurocentric Perspective: Studing "Us" and the "Other" in History Books. In T. Helgason, & S. Lässig (Eds.), Opening the Mind or Drawing Boundaries?: History texts in Nordic schools (Bind v.122). Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Loftsdóttir, K. & Jensen, L. (2012). Whiteness and Postcolonialism in the Nordic Region: Exceptionalism, Migrant Others and National Identities. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Lorentzen, G. & Røthing, Å. (2017). Demokrati og kritisk tenkning i lærebøker. Norsk pedagogisk Tidskrift, 02/2017, 119-130. Mikander, P. (2015). Colonialist "discoveries" in Finnish school textbooks. Nordidactica,(2015:4), 48-65. Røthing, Å. (2017). Sexual orientation in Norwegian science textbooks: Heteronormativity and selective inclusion in textbooks and teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education (67), 143-151 doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2017.06.005 Said, E. W. 1994 (1978). Orientalismen. Vestlige oppfattninger av Orienten. Oslo: Cappelen Schissler, H., Soysal, H. & Soysal, Yasemin Nuhoğlu, 2005. The nation, Europe, and the world: textbooks and curricula in transition, New York: Berghahn Books. Sleeter, C. Grant, (2011) Race, Class, Gender, and Disability in Current Textbooks. In Provenzo, E. F., Shaver A. N., Bello, M. (eds.), The textbook as discourse: sociocultural dimensions of American schoolbooks, New York: Routledge. Svendsen, S. H. B. (2014). Affecting change?: cultural politics of sexuality and "race" in Norwegian education. (2014:19), Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture, Trondheim.
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