Past Research on History Education in Europe

Research on the content of history education has become a well-established field with the focus on textbook research. Carried out in Europe as early as 1918, textbook research became more common since the end of World War II (Pingel, 2010:9) and started to receive institutional support by UNESCO, Council of Europe, and Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe (CDRSEE) as post-war needs in Europe necessitated revisions in textbooks with the aim of preventing extreme nationalist and xenophobic representations from being part of an educational discourse. Textbook research in post-War Europe was first and foremost carried out in order to re-write textbooks with a neutral if not positive understanding among nations in Europe for sustainable peace among nations (CoE, 2012a; 2012b; Laessig, 2009). These post-War endeavors led textbook research to develop as a multi-disciplinary academic field attracting interest among researchers on nationalism, national identity and conflict resolution. More recently textbook research was carried out in Southeast Europe to reach a common minimum in teaching the common past of the region (Koulouri, 2001; Koulouri, 2002, Köymen, 2003, UTK; 1998). In these and other international studies the Greek case was studied in terms of the representation of the self and others of the national identity, references to Europe (Antoniu & Nuhoglu Soysal, 2005, Dragonas, Ersanlı & Frangoudaki, 2005; Ozalay-Sanli, 2013, Petridis & Zografaki, 2002). The textbooks in Greece were also the subject of academic work mainly in Greece in the form of unpublished theses (Koulouri & Venturas, 1994).

Apart from the analysis of the content of history education that focused on textbooks as a representation of national identity, research has also concentrated on how Europe is represented in textbooks and education in peripheries of the European Union (Maier, 2005; Nuhoğlu-Soysal, 2002, Pereyra & Luzon, 2005, Pingel, 1995). The interest on the representation of Europe in the national history of member states and the neighboring countries is growing as the EU places common education programs in its citizenship design since 1990s (Bauböck, 1997; Mitchell, 2004; Morgan, 2005; Pepin, 2006; 2007) and the question whether people in and around Europe identify themselves with Europe becomes more important. In this parallel, the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research located in Braunschweig is leading a comparative project on how Europe is represented in schoolbooks. It is in this context that this research will be placed and will ask the question on what kind of a Europe is portrayed in the Greek classroom, especially after a recent revision of textbooks in this country (Kechriotis, 2010).


Methodology of the Study

Weinbrenner (1992: 23) has classified the textbook analysis under three main categories; process oriented, product oriented and reception oriented research. Process oriented research on textbooks is interested in how the textbook gets to the student and therefore is interested in the writing of textbooks to marketing and distribution. Product oriented textbook research is interested in the content of the textbook. Reception oriented textbook research is interested in how the textbook is used in the classroom. It is the third vein of textbook scholarship that this study will concentrate on.  The reception of the textbooks in the classroom will be complemented with ethnographic and historical anthropological methods (Herzfeld, 1987; Karakasidou; 1997). The researcher will be helped further by Christina Koulouri, a senior researcher on history education in Greece from the KENI Institute in her research design.

The previous study of the applicant has already analyzed the textbooks in 4 different cases and their differences in the relay of modern Europe along six dimensions of meaning: Europe as political entity, people and society, space, civilization, values and technology. One of the results of the study pointed out to the fact that in terms of textual representations of Europe in textbooks, Greece is the only case among others in which the “European dimension” has been incorporated in its textbook discourse on modern history. As the chapters start with major European events followed by accounts of national history within these pan-European settings, the textbook discourse is able to present an increased European dimension of Greek history to the pupils. In Cypriot textbooks, Europe is almost nonexistent apart from the British domination in the island as major events that had an impact on Europe do not find any mention in textbooks. This shows that in Cyprus, the locality of the island is pushed aside and a connection to Europe is made possible only through textbooks of Greece which are part of the curriculum in the Republic of Cyprus. In Britain, Europe finds little presence as modern European history is narrated from the perspective of a European power; that of Britain itself. In Turkish history textbooks, on the other hand, Europe is mainly portrayed as the main “other” of modern Turkish polity, society, civilization and space. Given this diverse textual discourse on Europe in its immediate periphery, the researcher is interested in the classroom discussion of the textbook material in these cases, especially that of Greece as it is the example which has recently incorporated a European dimension in its high school history textbooks like the examples of Germany, France and Spain. 

Looking at the history education in Greece, it is most striking that there is only one series of high school history textbooks approved, published and distributed free of charge by the Ministry of Education. This series comprises of three textbooks: one for each grade from the tenth until the twelfth in high school. These are mandatory school material for all high school students throughout Greece. In 2007, the textbooks for high schools dating from 1980s were revised. With detailed sections on European and world history of later centuries, the third grade history textbook of the previous series exceeded five hundred pages. When the high school history textbooks were revised in 2007, the content of mandatory history textbooks for high schools changed drastically. In all three textbooks, the emphasis was placed on world history not on the Greek history as it used to be. In the textbook on modern history, the chronology of Greek history is attached to the developments in the world, i.e. the Megali Idea and Greek ideals for expansion to Asia Minor at the end of the nineteenth century is linked with the general trend of rising imperialist trends in Europe (Koliopoulos et. al., 2010: 56). The revision of textbooks in Greece represented an increase in the representation of Europe. However, it is important to understand whether such a change is reflected in the classroom or whether the teacher takes a different perspective as he/she might not have received his/her teaching formation in this manner of teaching history. Given the fact that history is taught at an average of 2 hours from the tenth to twelfth grades, it is equally important to assess whether the teachers prefer some subjects over the others or touch upon each and every subject. [1] In addition to the mandatory textbook, the high school program in Greece offers the elective class on European identity with textbooks led by the famous Greek historian Antonis Liakos (1998). It is these two textbooks on modern history that this study will seek to situate in the classroom discourse on Europe.

The study will test the representation of Europe through participant observation in the history classes and interviews with teachers and students enrolled in private and public high schools.[2] The primary method of the field-work will be silent observation of classrooms during history lessons in which the use of Europe in the teachers’ and students’ comments, words and references to the two textbooks (Koliopulous, 2010; Liakos, 1998) will be noted along with additional material to be distributed and used in the classroom will be visually recorded. The material collected as a result of this method will be complemented by semi-structured interviews made with students after class hours on what they think of the relation between Greek and European history and with the teachers on their method of teaching European history and their idea of how it should be. 

The study will be carried out in a sample of high schools in Greece representative of the population living in urban and rural areas and population density of the regions. One third of teachers and students will be selected from Attica, the region including and surrounding Athens, as the area’s population accounts for more than one third of entire Greece and political and economic center of the country. Two more from the other 6 decentralized regions in Greece will be selected together with the supervisor to better represent the demographics of Greece. Last year high school classes and students will be selected as this is the year modern European history is taught and the year all students receive mandatory education in history before embarking on college education. A total of 15 classrooms will be visited, each for a duration of three consecutive history classes complemented with interviews of 15 teachers and 30 students after class hours on these days.

All the material gathered will be digitally recorded in the Nvivo software and coded according to the themes identified in the first reading of the data along the six dimensions identified by the researcher in her dissertation (Bazeley, 2007; Miles & Huberman, 1994). The computer aided analysis will lead to systematic administration of data as well as better schematization of the relationship between the textbook content and the classroom discussion.


Timeline of the Study

The researcher will apply for a permit from the Ministry of Education as soon as her research proposal is accepted. The study will commence following the announcement of this permission. The researcher will spend the first month of research in finalizing her interview questions and selection of schools. In this period, she will also visit two history classes in Athens and make changes in her research if it is found necessary after these interviews. The second month will be spent with observations of history classes in Athens while the third and fourth months will be her field research in other parts of Greece. In the fifth and sixth months, the researcher will enter her field data and interviews in the computer software and pursue the analysis and submit the results of the analysis to be published.


Dissemination of Results

The results will complement the previous study of the researcher in her dissertation work and will be submitted for publication in one or several of the peer reviewed interdisciplinary journals such as Journal of Southeast European and Black Sea Studies Journal of Educational Media, Memory and Society, European Journal of Education. The researcher will also present her findings at a colloquium organized by the Eurviews Project of the Georg Eckert Institute in Germany and will also make a presentation in the Euroclio meeting to the history teachers from different European countries.



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[1] As Petridis and Zografaki (2002) point out, at the beginning of each school year the Greek Ministry of Education announced which subjects the students will be responsible for the exams at the end of the year. The authors draw attention that these announced subjects contained less and less European history every year. In 2000 – 2001 the percentage of Greek history in the exam subjects was 90% while the subjects on European History remained at a 10%. That is to say in the previous textbooks, although the pages on European history were many, the teaching of European history was at a very low level and the greater emphasis was on the Greek history

[2] The researcher would like to conduct the interviews in the classroom, however, due to the uncertainty of permission to be obtained from the ministry of Education in Greece, the research might be conducted outside of the school with the teachers and students going over the subjects of history with the textbooks presented to them during the interview.