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“The Community is Everything, The Individual is Nothing”

The Second World War in Russian History Education

Dagmara Moskwa


This article reconstructs the historical narrative of the Second World War in Russian middle school textbooks published after the year 2000. The author shows how textbook narratives are linked with official Russian politics of history, which aim to “manage” the memory of the war and contribute toward the standardization of Russian history teaching. Additional empirical material from interviews conducted with middle school history teachers in Moscow shows how perceptions of the teaching community impinge on ways in which knowledge about the Second World War is imparted, revealing the extent to which Russian politics of history are socially ineffective.

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De-Orientalizing the Western Gaze on Eastern Europe

The First Soviet Occupation in Lithuanian History Textbooks

Barbara Christophe


Comparing narratives of the Soviet occupation in 1940 in current textbooks by two leading Lithuanian publishing houses, I claim that Lithuanian textbooks offer diverging accounts, which mirror to a large extent the opposing mnemonic frames supported by two rival political camps. I also show that the same textbooks tame those differences by transcending the politically charged frames they have chosen in the first place, presenting, for example, the USSR as both villain and victim of the war. Considering the relevance of these findings for our understanding of dynamics of remembering in general and in the Lithuanian culture of memory in particular, I point out that embracing the political inherent in all acts of recalling the past does not necessarily lead to politicized, i.e. narrow-minded memories, and I reflect on what these mnemonic practices mean for reevaluating the traditional role of Eastern Europe as the backward other of Western Europe.

Open access

Julie Fedor

This article explores a key claim underpinning Russian official memory politics, namely, the notion that Russia’s past (and especially the role it played in the Second World War) is the object of a campaign of “historical falsification” aimed at, among other things, undermining Russian sovereignty, especially by distorting young people’s historical consciousness. Although “historical falsification” is an important keyword in the Kremlin’s discourse, it has received little scholarly attention. Via an analysis of official rhetoric and methodological literature aimed at history teachers, I investigate the ideological functions performed by the concept of “historical falsification.” I show how it serves to reinforce a conspiratorial vision of Russia as a nation under siege, while simultaneously justifying the drive toward greater state control over history education.

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Remembering the Second World War in Post-Soviet Educational Media

Barbara Christophe

Analyzing representations of the Second World War in Russian—and in one case, Lithuanian—educational media, the contributions to this special issue respond to three important anniversaries: the eightieth anniversary of the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 2019, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Second World War victory in 2020, and the eightieth anniversary of the German invasion of the USSR in 2021. Moreover, they investigate the commemoration of historical events which clearly gained in significance after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was only in the mid-1990s that post-Soviet Russia first introduced annual parades on Victory Day, 9 May, which used to take place only every five years during Soviet times. And it was again the government of Boris Yeltsin that expanded the Russian mnemonic calendar and introduced the Day of Mourning on 22 June, the day Germany invaded the USSR in 1941. Finally, the articles in this special issue also intervene in a lively academic debate on the political and cultural significance of the single most important affair in post-Soviet memory cultures—a term used here explicitly in order to avoid invoking the idea of a culturally coherent social space, but rather to denote all the different forms and modes of recalling the past enacted by a broad range of different actors, at times openly competing with each other. In an attempt to carve out the specific shape of these interventions, I will begin with an outline of the main achievements and lines of argument in the impressive number of recent studies that have explored the dynamics of remembering the Second World War, usually referred to as the Great Patriotic War in post-Soviet Russia. I will then present an overview of the contributions to this volume.

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Memory Makers of the Great Patriotic War

Curator Agency and Visitor Participation in Soviet War Museums during Stalinism

Anne E. Hasselmann


In the wake of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet museum curators began to establish a museal depiction of the war. This article analyzes these early beginnings of Soviet war commemoration and the curtailing of its surprising heterogeneity in late Stalinism. Historical research has largely ignored the impact of Soviet museum workers (muzeishchiki) on the evolution of Russian war memory. Archival material from the Red Army Museum, now renamed the Central Museum of the Armed Forces, in Moscow and the Belarus Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War in Minsk documents the unfolding of locally specific war exhibitions which stand in stark contrast to the later homogenized official Soviet war narrative. Yet war memory was not created unilaterally by the curators. Visitors also participated in its making, as the museum guestbooks demonstrate. As “sites of commemoration and learning,” early Soviet war exhibitions reveal the agency of the muzeishchiki and the involvement of the visitors in the “small events” of memory creation.

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“Presentism” Versus “Path Dependence”?

Reflections on the Second World War in Russian Textbooks of the 1990s

Serguey Ehrlich


In the fifteen Russian textbooks of the 1990s examined in this article, the Second World War is subject to three levels of reflection: language, narrative templates, and the representation of contested events. The language used in the textbooks represents an amalgam of Soviet propagandistic clichés and uncritically adopted Western terminology. These textbooks also retain the same “schematic narrative template” of the Second World War, based on references to the expulsion of foreign enemies, found in Soviet textbooks. Significant transformations can be observed only in the representation of events, in which the authors’ harsh criticism of Stalin's crimes comes to the fore. Yet these superficial changes did not alter the basic structures of history learning, which was one of the main reasons why working through the past during the Yeltsin era almost failed.

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“Russia My History”

A Hi-Tech Version of an Old History Textbook

Olga Konkka


This article analyzes the presentation of the Second World War in the multimedia “history parks” of the Russian educational project “Russia My History.” In these exhibition complexes, modern digital technologies offer visitors a “revolutionary” way to discover Russian history. The article first explores the history and conception of the Russia My History project, as a pedagogical tool, a digital museum, a historical narrative, and a response to current memory policies. Next, I focus on the exhibition dedicated to the Second World War (specifically, on its technical, visual, structural, lexical, and historical aspects) and assess the impact of the digitalization and commodification of history on the traditionally rigid official Russian memory of the war. I attempt to show that instead of exploiting digital technologies to develop new approaches to the history of the war, the exhibition neglects the potential of multimedia and provides a narrative close to the one used in Soviet and post-Soviet textbooks.

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Ad Fontes Digitales!?

Margins of Representation When Incorporating Medieval Sources into a German Digital History Textbook

Andreas Willershausen


The publication of the first German-language digital history textbook, mBook: History for the Future (mBook: Geschichte für die Zukunft, Cornelsen Verlag, 2016), drew much critical attention. In 2018, the mBook was awarded the prize for best textbook in the “society” category by the Georg Eckert Institute for its focus on improving learner competence. This article begins by assessing the mBook's gradation feature (which allows for the linguistic gradation of sophisticated textual sources on several learning levels) and the textbook authors’ aspiration to convey methodological competence and foster understanding of unfamiliar topics (Fremdverstehen), with the help of work on documents, and an understanding of historical times far removed from our own. It quantitatively and descriptively assesses textual documents in the chapters about the Middle Ages, while focusing on their textual preparation and digital implementation.

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Haifaa Majadly and Aharon Geva-Kleinberger


This article analyzes the contents of Arabic grammar curricula authorized for the upper years of primary school by the ministries of education of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. The article aims to determine the attitudes and rationales behind these curricula, as well as their objectives, the grammatical materials they cover, the amount of time they allocate to the study of grammar, and their educational and pedagogical approach. Drawing on the results of a comparative analysis, the authors propose developmental alternatives to the current curricula. Arabic language instruction in Hebrew language schools in Israel is not addressed. The results of the study suggest that the examined curricula fail to achieve the functional standards for grammar instruction they set for themselves and to integrate the various domains of linguistic study, and that they suffer from other weaknesses that must be addressed.

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Raymond Nkwenti Fru and Johan Wassermann


This article explores the representation of identity in selected Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonian history textbooks via their coverage of the reunification of Cameroon. A far-reaching effect of the 1916 Anglo-French partition of German Cameroon and of the reunification of the territory in 1961 is that, in spite of the plurality of precolonial identities, it is the legacies of Anglo-French colonial heritage that seem to be the overwhelming identity indicators in contemporary Cameroon. This content analysis found that the Anglophone history textbook presented a clear Anglophone identity which stood in conflict with the identity promoted by the Francophone textbook, which was characterized by national and colonial Francophone assimilationism. Such representations suggest that the Cameroonian nation state as a colonial geopolitical construct is more imagined than real.