EXHIBITION "DIFFERENT WARS: NATIONAL SCHOOL TEXTBOOKS ON WORLD WAR II"

The first images of the past, which are formed by school education and history textbooks, are among the strongest. Textbooks bear the knowledge that a respective society wishes to pass on to the next generation. States use them as instruments for civic education, constructing narratives that foster identities, strengthen societal cohesion, or even legitimize the ruling powers. Textbooks, especially history textbooks, pursue the great questions of human history, such as ‘who are we?’, ‘where did we come from?’ and ‘where are we going to?’. For a large number of students, working with their history textbook in school will be the most intensive and lasting encounter with history that they experience in their lifetimes.

As they are state-controlled, textbooks hold the reputation of being particularly objective and reliable. However, if we pick up a textbook from the past or from another country, we soon realise that this is a delusion. Textbooks communicate the spirit of their time and express the culture they are written in. The exhibition “Different Wars” reveals the differences in the narration and perception of the history of the Second World War in modern high school textbooks of the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland and Russia. The choice of the subject is evident: WWII remains one of the most painful and conflicting episodes of the European nations’ memories. In Russia the victory in the Great Patriotic War is one of the most important pages of national
history.

The exhibition shows and contrasts these varying historical narratives found in the school textbooks on WWII. By presenting national and thematic posters, it aims to uncover significant aspects of remembrance. Visitors have a chance to “go through” the pages and learn about teaching methods of history textbooks of the different countries.

While the idea of the exhibition was born in October 2013, the project itself started in October 2014. We thank all institutions and individuals who contributed intellectually: experts from the Georg Eckert Institute (Braunschweig, Germany), the Geschichtsort Villa ten Hompel (Münster, Germany), the Lithuanian University for Education and Science (Vilnius, Lithuania), King’s College London (London, UK), the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (Prague, Czech Republic), the Leibnitz University (Hannover, Germany), and many other wonderful people. The exhibition is kindly supported by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, the European Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and the OAK Foundation.

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