Teaching the Violent Past: Questions for Further Discussion

Following are questions, based on Teaching the Violent Past, which are intended to help stimulate discussion on the various topics presented in the book. The set of general questions is followed by chapter-specific questions. These discussion questions are meant to be another resource for those studying and teaching issues related to history education and reconciliation. Additional resources related to the book and topic of history education and reconciliation can be accessed through the Online Companion's welcome page.

  • Textbooks are "sites of memory" (Ch3/p.92) and are seen as playing an important role in the various cases discussed in this book. Why?
  • Discuss the theory of historical consciousness (Ch5/p.163) and how it relates to any of the cases covered in the book.
  • In some transitional societies, why is there often an "official neglect of history"? (Ch6/p.223)
  • What role did the Cold War play in shaping history education and the process of reconciliation in Germany? Japan? Guatemala? The Koreas?
  • Is conflict always "an inevitable aspect of societal relations"? (Ch8/p.250)
  • Why is history education at the secondary-school level important to the development of a national identity? Is the formation of an official historical narrative also important? How are the two related?
  • How is reconciliation related to the concept of justice?
  • What is the main purpose of history education at the secondary school level?
  • How does history education relate to the long-term process of reconciliation?
  • Is there a relationship between the reconciliation process and democratization? Discuss using cases from the book.
Chapter 1
  1. Why do some observers feel that teaching materials are of great importance—especially in relation to gauging public opinion and popular attitudes?
  2. Why is Germany seen as a success story when studying reconciliation and post-conflict societies?
  3. In the 1960s there was a shift toward teaching a "social history" in Germany.
  4. How has this paradigm shift affected historiography and the shape of history education?

Chapter 2

  1. Discuss the ways in which Japan's wartime role in the Asia-Pacific is portrayed in Japanese history textbooks.
  2. How did the Vietnam War affect Japanese society? Discuss any occurrences in U.S. history that have led the United States to rethink its role in world affairs.
  3. What was the reaction to the teaching of a progressive/liberal interpretation of Japanese World War II history? What are some of the features of the New History Textbook?
  4. According to the author, has the Japanese government played a constructive role in the reconciliation process?

Chapter 3

  1. In Chapter 3, Penney Clarke discusses the historical context of Aboriginal/European settler relations in Canada, which she says has been one of "marginalization, misunderstanding, and tragedy," and notes that efforts on both sides have been made to develop a form of coexistence acceptable to both sides. She then asks, "Have these historic milestones made a difference to the ways Aboriginal people are presented in Canadian history textbooks?" Please discuss.
  2. What makes the Canadian textbook case different from some of the other cases presented in this volume?
  3. Describe the different ways in which Aboriginal people have been depicted in Canadian textbooks. Are there parallels with the way Native Americans are depicted in the United States?
  4. A study of Canadian history textbooks reveals a changing historical narrative, especially in relationship to Aboriginal people. According to the chapter author, what additional changes can be made to the teaching materials that are used and the curriculum?

Chapter 4

  1. Is a "balanced curriculum" enough to give history education a place in the reconciliation process?
  2. According to Robert Philips "children are 'consumers' of the past." In the context of this chapter, what are they consuming? What are some sources for the different versions of the past outside of the classroom?
  3. What are some of the challenges facing history education in Northern Ireland? Please discuss.
  4. What are some of the reasons teachers in Northern Ireland teach history?

Chapter 5

  1. What were some of the names given to the Agreement of 1977? Discuss the different implications these names had for different groups.
  2. How did the Franco Regime affect the development of textbooks? When do we see the introduction of the term "Spanish War" into textbooks? Can you think of other instances where history was represented to suit the needs of the authority in power?
  3. What is historical consciousness? How is this important to the teaching of history education?
  4. Discuss the importance of terminology in representing history; i.e., in Spain they often talk about a history of "amnesia" or "amnesty." Discuss the connotations between using the terms "Alzamiento" (p.158) or "civil war." Can you find similar examples in other countries?

Chapter 6

  1. What is the importance of "officializing history"(p.176)? In Guatemala what are the particular implications for providing an official history?
  2. What are some of the limitations of truth commissions? What are the implications of these limitations? Are truth commissions truly effective in creating an official history?
  3. Why was the Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) originally seen as weak?
  4. If one were to view the Guatemalan conflict in the context of a Cold War conflict, how would that affect the reconciliation process?
  5. Describe how alternative curricular materials and activities (plays, books, interviews, etc.) have come to play a role in teaching people about the reform process, the transition away from military rule, and history in general. Are these other means of obtaining information legitimate and useful?
  6. What is the "culture of peace"? How has it affected the reconciliation process? What are some of the problems with using the term "culture of peace" within the framework of the Guatemalan curriculum?

Chapter 7

  1. What is the importance of the Dolutskii case? Please discuss. What were some of the causes for censure of Dolutskii and other authors? What was the significance of Putin's attack on Dolutskii?
  2. Do the textbooks by Zagladin, or Sakharov, or Chubarian present alternative narratives of Russian history that could be adopted on a wide scale?
  3. Why are historical myths important? Discuss the various theories and any particular role historical myths might play in a society.
  4. How have modernization and the global economy affected the development of Russia's historical myth?
  5. Although some now view the Yeltsin period as a period of openness, at the same time there was an inability to reconcile the present with the Soviet past. How did this affect the Russian people? What did this mean for developing a new Russian identity in the post-Soviet environment?
  6. How has Russia's inability to come to terms with the past affected its relationship with non-Russian groups in the Baltics? Chechnya? Ukraine? How are changes to Russian textbooks helping to promote cooperation and reconciliation among different groups?

Chapter 8

  1. How can teaching history promote tolerance or change the perceptions of people on opposing sides of an argument?
  2. According to the author, what should be the objective on the Korean Peninsula as the North and South work toward reconciliation?
  3. Why is researching how the past is represented important to understanding the causes of a conflict and the conditions for peace and reconciliation? How does this apply to the Korean case?
  4. How has the generational divide affected the historical consciousness in South Korea? Do you think the same goes for North Korea?
  5. How do the authors suggest that a more tolerant notion of history teaching be advanced in South Korea? What are the possibilities for change within the North Korean educational system?

Chapter 9

  1. Name the two schools of thought that could be used to frame discussion on collective identity formation. Define each. Which approach is used in this chapter to study the India-Pakistan case?
  2. How are the education systems of India and Pakistan different? How are they same? In each country what seems to be the main objective for teaching history?
  3. How has India used its Hindu heritage in the post-partition development of a national identity?
  4. Pakistan describes itself as a Muslim state and begins its teaching of history with the introduction of Islam to the subcontinent. How has this affected the teaching of history and the development of a national identity?
  5. Define "negative nationalism." Although it may initially succeed in fulfilling one of its objectives—creating a sense of national identity or unifying a group—what are some of the unforeseen effects of a "negative nationalism" campaign?
  6. Madrassas were originally meant to provide an option for more conservative religious families. What sort of problems do we now see with people turning toward the Madrassa for education?
  7. Discuss some similarities between Indian textbooks and Pakistani textbooks. Discuss differences.
  8. The Indian curriculum has used negative nationalism to a lesser extent than Pakistan and has taken a multicultural approach to teaching in order to be all-inclusive. Has the Indian school system been successful in establishing a secular nationalism as the norm? Why or why not? Has Pakistan succeeded in promoting its ideologically based state? Please explain.