(Post-)colonial Myths in German History Textbooks, 1989–2015

in German Politics and Society
Florian Helfer Didactics of History, University of Bonn, Germany

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This article examines the evolution of textbook representations of colonialism in two North Rhine-Westphalian textbook series for the Sekundarstufe II since 1989. On the one hand, the article shows that the developing post-colonial discourse in the German public debate had a particularly strong impact on schoolbooks in the mid-2000s. Textbooks reacted quickly to changes in the public debate and have increasingly attempted to deconstruct colonial narratives. However, implicit mental conceptions of African “backwardness” continue to exert some influence even on today's textbook generation. On the other hand, the article identifies the distortions that appear when colonialism as a global phenomenon is discussed within a curricular framework that focuses on national and European history. Because of the close curricular link between High Imperialism and World War I, textbooks strongly focus on the global rivalry of the European powers, whereas other aspects of colonialism come up short.

Contributor Notes

Florian Helfer is currently a Research Associate in the Department for Didactics of History at the University of Bonn. His work concerns the relationship between national and transnational causes of the ongoing debates about colonial violence, post-colonial continuities, and responsibilities of former colonial powers. He studied History and English at the University of Bonn and Swansea University and is preparing a dissertation, titled “Koloniale Gewalt und postkoloniale Erinnerung im deutsch-britischen Pressediskurs 1989–2019,” which comparatively analyzes post-colonial memory discourses of the past three decades in Germany and the United Kingdom. He has held scholarships from the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (2015–2017) and the Heinrich Böll Foundation (2018).

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