Reflections on History Education

Easy and Difficult Histories

in Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society
Ed Jonker

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History education inevitably is a thing of the present. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it has always answered to problems that were urgent at the time of discussion. This has mostly taken the form of explaining and thus smoothing over painful ruptures in the past. Although nowadays we generally acknowledge this contemporary character of history education, the professional ideal of doing proper, authentic history remains—a desire that is understandable, but compatible neither with epistemological standards nor with public expectations. While teaching instrumental history is not an option, history education cannot live on criticism and deconstruction alone, we need a reflexive presentism that self-consciously confronts the present day—“difficult“ rather than “easy“ histories.

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