Tag Archives: history

Nicholas Walton, Genoa “La Superba”. The rise and fall of a merchant pirate superpower (London: Hurst and Company, London, 2015)

Genoa is just a name for a place; the Genoese are an interesting people. Liguria is arguably the most isolated region of Italy, along with Sicily and Sardinia. The Genoese tend to go their own way in their view, ahead of their fellow Italians, to whom this simply confirms the reputation of the Genoese for being an arrogant and aloof people. […] Genoa led in the rise of capitalism, slavery, and colonization in the Middle Ages, international public finance in the sixteenth century, poor relief in the seventeenth century, republicanism in the nineteenth century. […] Genoa marched to the proverbial beat of its own drummer.

These quotations, taken from the Preface of another book about Genoa, can easily represent all the topoi of Genoese history that can also be found in this short introduction to the Ligurian capital. Genoa “La Superba” is an enjoyable mix of history, analysis, anecdotes and portraits of some Genoese historical figures (Andrea Doria, Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Garibaldi). This is not (only) a tourist guide and clearly not an academic book. In less than 220 pages, Nicholas Walton provides a vivid portrait and an accurate short biography of a City – forgive me the oxymoron – well-known for being unknown. Or – if not unknown – at least underrated.

Genoa and his historical relevance seem to have gone unnoticed largely because of the pride (some would say arrogance) of its inhabitants. It may seem paradoxical, but it is probably true. Locked between a harsh orography and a deep sea, Genoa managed to rise from obscurity to one of the richest and most powerful European city-states. Devoted mainly to financial and commercial interests, the Genoese played a key role in European history until the 18th century. However, during this time, Genoa remained largely a Republic of families, based on clans and tribal relations, and on the primacy of the private over the public: a peculiar political body whose key institution was the powerful Bank of Saint George, a unique financial organization which combined government function and the running of a public bank. Perhaps because of this mix of pragmatism, economic soft power, near-Calvinist austerity and a characteristic egocentric pride, Genoa remained for centuries in the shadow of the other historical Italian cities, such as Rome, Florence and its secular nemesis, Venice. Today, even if its role has been recognized by historians, Genoa remains largely underrated by the broader public.

Genoa “La Superba” can be particularly appealing to those interested in discovering Genoa and its history, since it provides a useful and quick guide for beginners. The book spans ten centuries, from the rise of the Genoese thalassocracy, during the First Crusade, to the present days, including the financial golden age in the 16th century and the industrial era between the 19th and the 20th century. As Roberto Sabatino Lopez once said, a city is, first of all, a state of mind. In this sense, some excursus to “ethnological” aspects (such as a chapter devoted to the pesto sauce, a symbol of cultural identity, or another devoted to the Genoese attitude towards football) can be a useful way for introducing the reader to the “spirit” of the city. In the same way, some apparent oversimplifications (such as the definition of Andrea Doria as “the Steve Jobs of the Mediterranean”) can be considered as useful analogies for exemplifying – for a broader public – a much more complex historical reality.

Nicholas Walton sketches the history of a “merchant pirate superpower” with a brilliant, humorous and sympathetic style. Indeed, due perhaps to his familiar ties with Genoa, Walton shows throughout the pages of this book some display of Genoese pride, such as in the pages dedicated – not surprisingly – to the Museo navale of Venice, full of scale models from the golden age of transatlantic shipping:

Again and again, the ships catch the eye with their elegance and that special aesthetic only generated by mechanical and industrial ingenuity. The Conte di Savoia is there, as is the Cristoforo Colombo – the sister ships of the Rex and the Andrea Doria respectively. Other names are just as evocative, like the Virgilio and the Michelangelo. It was an era when Italy began to take on the industrialised giants of the Western world, and do it in style. But again and again, the ships displayed in the museum in that great Adriatic city carry the name of its Tyrrhenian rival across their sterns: GENOVA.

 

Maurizio Isabella & Konstantina Zanou (eds.), Mediterranean Diasporas: Politics and Ideas in the Long 19th Century (London, New Delhi, New York, Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016)

This book consists of ten case studies of politics and ideas in the Mediterranean region. They are innovative and thought-provoking, particularly because they reveal that, due to long-distance cultural exchanges, the region was more diversified than previous research has suggested. For the most part, these contributions are biographical explorations of prominent characters, intellectuals and political activists. Broadly speaking, all of them exhibit the influence of Western liberalism, the ideology that helped to shape political systems and political discourse throughout Europe and North America in the course of the long nineteenth century.

This new book focuses upon intellectual networks and the circulation of ideas. All the individuals who are examined in these new studies share a diasporic background, as they spent at least part of their life separated from their principal cultural milieux. That experience clearly influenced their political outlooks, as a number of contributions in this volume reveal. In other words, these are surveys of a cultural transfer, even over long distances, within and outside of the region. Given the title of the book, one might have expected a more comprehensive regional survey, with more detailed elaboration of political thought in the Middle East and North-Africa. However, a 200-page collection of essays is really too small to be able provide such a wide survey and the editors’ decision to concentrate on European areas between the Balkans and Iberian Peninsula is sensible.

Until the end of the medieval period, the Mediterranean Sea was Europe’s main highway for cultural and material exchanges. Following the opening of the Atlantic route and the rise of the European powers on the Atlantic seaboard, the Mediterranean lost its central role. Historiography has generally intimated that these changes turned Mediterranean populations into receivers, rather than sources, of innovation in the modern age, including political and cultural innovation, and not least the liberal ideology. As this new book exemplifies, that interpretation oversimplifies the role of southern European intellectuals, as they undoubtedly contributed to the development of the liberal movements of the Continent.

Liberalism is one of the most difficult ideologies to define, particularly if we also examine it from a North-American perspective, where its content has been expanded considerably. It goes without saying that all liberal thought takes the individual to be an essential unit of society. What varies, however, is how inclusive liberals consider their ideology to be and, in particular, to what extent they regard the less cultivated/educated, as well as members of the lower social strata, to be capable of becoming full-fledged citizens. In this volume, the term “liberalism” is on the whole used in an inclusive way, socially and culturally. Moreover, the authors generally posit a close relationships between liberalism and nationalism, comparing the self-determination of the individual, on the one hand, to the independence of (imagined) nations on the other. But a detailed scrutiny, and deconstruction, of the symbiosis between liberalism and nationalism is not what one would expect to find in a collection of essays like this one.

Finally, as in most examinations of intellectuals and political activists, these are studies of male characters. That reflects the gender system of the nineteenth century. The authors might have examined the absence of female characters, but, again, the compact size of the collection allows little room for the many relevant discussions that might have found a place in a larger work.

All in all, this publication is significant and substantial. By focusing on the dynamic and multiple interactions between different cultural regions, this book enhances our understanding of political culture in a trans-Mediterranean mode.

Nükhet Varlik, Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World. The Ottoman Experience, 1347-1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)

For the best part of the twentieth century, descriptions of the Black Death, 1346-1353, were a recurrent theme in almost all serious works on the general history of Europe and most European countries.

Continue reading Nükhet Varlik, Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World. The Ottoman Experience, 1347-1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Maria Sommer & Dion Sommer, Care, Socialization and Play in Ancient Attica. A Developmental Childhood Archaeological Approach (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2015)

Care, socialization and play in Ancient Attica: a developmental childhood archeological approach, by Maria Sommer and Dion Sommer, is an archeological study based on a collection of material relating to childhood in ancient Attica, dating back to 480-300 B.C. It reconstructs in front of our eyes a deeply human world of care and play in ancient Attica and empirically depicts how the growing field of childhood archeology with its historical contextualization can contribute important knowledge to developmental psychology.

Continue reading Maria Sommer & Dion Sommer, Care, Socialization and Play in Ancient Attica. A Developmental Childhood Archaeological Approach (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2015)

Caspar Jørgensen & Morten Pedersen (eds.), Industrial Heritage in Denmark: Landscapes, Environments and Historical Archaeology (Aarhus: Kultur Styrelsen & Aarhus University Press, 2015)

As stated in the preface of the current work, “Even though, with good reason, Denmark is often perceived as an agricultural country, industry is also a very important sector in the Danish economy, employing as it does a large number of people and having an appreciable influence on the Danish society in general”. This work is a manifestation of this statement, focusing on the history of Danish industry for (mainly) the last 150 years and how this legacy is today reflected in landscapes, urban planning and concrete structures.

Continue reading Caspar Jørgensen & Morten Pedersen (eds.), Industrial Heritage in Denmark: Landscapes, Environments and Historical Archaeology (Aarhus: Kultur Styrelsen & Aarhus University Press, 2015)

Teaching History in a multicultural society

Trends and tendencies in Nordic schools

 

Perhaps the most succinct explanation of the crucial role that history plays in the life of us humans is the Ingsoc slogan from George Orwell’s novel 1984:

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

We cannot, of course, control the past in itself – at least not as long as we presume that ‘the past’ has some kind of objective existence. What can be controlled, however, is how we construct and reconstruct our interpretations of the past. Which, when all is said and done, is what history is about.

The core content of Orwell’s wordings is reflected in the concept ‘Historical Consciousness’, which for the last 30 years or so has played a central part in the Scandinavian debate on history teaching and learning. Within that debate, the multi-faceted definition proposed by Karl-Ernst Jeismann in his article ‘Geschichtsbewußtsein’ (1979) has served as an obvious point of reference.

 

Jeismann’s definition starts with a quote from Theodor Schieder, which in itself is a definition of the concept ‘historical consciousness’ as an ever-present insight that every human being, and every form of social life, is embedded in time, i.e. has a past and a future that is neither stable nor unchanging or without conditions. He then goes on by stating what can be seen as one of the fundamental, perhaps the most fundamental, element of the concept:

 

More than being just knowing or taking an interest in history, historical consciousness comprises the relations between interpretations of the past, understanding of the present, and perspectives on the future (ibid. p. 42).

 

Linking together the past, the present and the future opens up for a corollary, namely, that history is not a mirror image of the past, but our (present) reconstruction of it. Historical consciousness, writes Jeismann, is thus a mode through which the past, as imagination and experience, is made part of our own time. This also means that the past as reconstruction is dependent on and formed by our present questions, needs, and interests. Jeismann here quotes the French philosopher Raymond Aron:

 

History is the reconstruction of the lives of the dead, by and for the living. The interests of times present are what make man – thinking, suffering, acting man – explore the past (Aron 1961 p.17).

 

If history is a reconstruction of the past that springs from the needs and interests of our time and our place – our lifeworld – it also follows that the form, the content, and the reflective depth of our historical consciousness will differ from person to person, from group to group. Historical consciousness can have the character of a cliché or watchword, or it can be reflected, thought-out, and open to new encounters and experiences. Implied is (a) that everyone has and makes use of (some kind of) historical consciousness, and (b) that one’s historical consciousness, situated in a social context, is constantly changing, added to, and passed on to others.

 

 

Jeismann finally stresses the importance of historical consciousness as shared, collective experiences – or as shared and collective stories of experiences. When elements that unite dominate over elements that divide, it will contribute to defining as a group those who share the stories. Historical consciousness as collective experiences can therefore be seen as ‘a necessary element for the creation and the upholding of human societies’ (Jeismann 1979 p. 43).

 

This aspect, which highlights the connection between, on the one hand, historical consciousness as an individual, personal relation to past, present, and future, and on the other hand as a collective relation, is what gives history its political and ideological charge and also explains why history has had its given place in the curriculum of the compulsory school, from the 19th century onwards. The education policy of the nation-state is one where the narrative of the ‘imagined community’ is honed, polished, and above all transferred to generation after generation of school children as part of ‘the skills and sensibilities which make them acceptable to their fellows, which fit them to assume places in society, and which “make them what they are”’ (Gellner 1983 p. 37). Through its monopoly of legitimate education the nation-state, controlling the present, has strived to control the past in order to control the future.

 

Intense battles over school history textbook content have recently been fought in Greece and Japan (Repoussi 2011; Ogawa & Field 2006). As late as 2013 the UK Department for Education published a proposal for a new history curriculum, aiming at ensuring that all pupils would know and understand ‘how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world’ (Department for Education 2013a p. 3). After heavy criticism from teachers’ associations and academic bodies the curriculum was rewritten and now aims at ensuring a knowledge and understanding of ‘how people’s lives have shaped this nation and how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world’ (Department for Education 2013b). Remaining from the first proposal, however, is the idea that British history can be told as ‘a coherent, chronological narrative’ (ibid.), which, apparently, is supposed to be shared by all as ‘our history’.

 

The dream, so dear to education policy makers, that school history ought to assimilate young people into a unifying master narrative has, however, become more and more imaginary. As pointed out by Andreas Körber (2011), history is, inevitably, affected by contingency:

 

…due to their multi-dimensional plurality, humans exhibit different needs for temporal orientation. Because of the different times, societies, social groups, cultures etc. they live in, they will quite naturally be using different concepts, operations, patterns of explanation and of narrating which in turn will result in different narratives […] And as for people living and acting within the plurality of today’s societies, it becomes vitally important to (be able to) handle this contingency of narrative orientations (ibid. p. 157).

 

Teaching history as an assimilation project, built on a single, unifying master narrative, is no longer possible, nor is it desirable. A multi-culturalist approach – to each his or her own history, not to be questioned or criticised – may at first seem to be an attractive alternative but runs the risk of developing into what Thomas Hylland Eriksen somewhat drastically has labelled ‘apartheid with a friendly face’ (Eriksen 2005), or at least into societal fragmentation rather than cohesion. Does this also mean that we must renounce Jeismann’s idea that some kind of collective historical experience is necessary for upholding a sustainable society?

 

One viable alternative might be to promote a common understanding, not of what history says but what it does. Or, in other words, a collective experience of history as form rather than as content. Or, yet again, to promote a cognitive awareness of one’s own as well as other’s historical consciousness, understood both as a state (something that we have) and as a process (something we use in everyday life).

 

In order to achieve this, the scholars involved in the research project FUER Geschichtsbewußtsein, launched in the year 2000, have suggested that four core competencies or fields of competence are crucial for the development of a reflexive historical consciousness, namely the competencies of inquiry, methods, orientation, and subject matter (Schreiber et al. 2006; Körber 2011). The first three can be seen as related to the procedural dimension of historical thinking, the fourth to the substantive dimension of historical ‘facts’.

 

Starting out from the understanding that historical consciousness as a process starts with an uncertainty, a need for orientation, and a question, the first dimension of competency is the Inquiry Competence (‘Fragekompetenz’). This is described as ‘the capability to transform [a] perceived uncertainty into some processable form of historical question in order either to reconstruct a historic narrative or to analyze given historical narratives of other people for their historical questions, and to understand them’ (Körber 2011 p. 149).

 

The second procedural dimension, Methods Competence (‘Methodenkompetenz’) comprises the subject-specific, i.e. historical, methods used for gaining and processing knowledge:

to categorise, to put bits and pieces in their chronological order, to integrate information into a narrative structure but also to identify and de-code the structure of existing narratives. Central to this field of competence is the capability to both re-construct and de-construct historical narratives.

 

 

The third and last of the procedural dimensions, Orientation Competence (‘Orientierungskompetenz’) contains the skills and abilities needed for using the knowledge gained from the re- and de-construction of historical narratives. Here four core competencies are discernible, and they all relate to the aim of the FUER project: developing a reflexive, and also a self-reflexive, historical consciousness. They are also of utmost relevance when considering the role of history and historical narratives in a pluralist society:

 

the ability to revise one’s own concept of history as a field of knowledge, including concepts and categories used in historical thinking;

the ability to revise one’s concepts of the past and the present world, i.e. one’s picture of other people and/or other times;

the ability to revise one’s own relation to the past and the present, i.e. to revise one’s own identity, including one’s relation to the actions (commendable or deplorable) of one’s ancestors or members of one’s own group/culture/nation;

the ability to revise one’s own ideas of what can be done in the present and hoped for in the future (Körber 2011 p. 150).

 

The three procedural dimensions are all linked to a fourth, somewhat improperly named Subject Matter Competence (‘Sachkompetenz’). Contrary to what may first come to one’s mind this dimension has nothing to do with the memorising of names, dates, or particular events. The FUER project nevertheless used the label:

 

…on the grounds that the ‘subject matter’ of historical teaching and learning is not the past, but rather ‘thinking about the past’. Therefore, in our model, this ‘subject matter competence’ stands for the command over/ability to use and apply rather abstract first and second order concepts, categories, knowledge of procedures and methods etc (Körber 2011 p. 151).

 

Waltraud Schreiber and Sylvia Mebus have sketched a graphic representation of how the four fields of competence are present in the process of historical thinking:

 

Figure 1: Historical thinking competencies

idin article kgha

after Schreiber & Mebus 2006 p. 13.

Being in possession of these competencies means being able to scrutinise and challenge established ‘master narratives’ handed down by authoritative (or authoritarian) institutions, among them the school. It also means being able to scrutinise and challenge narratives prevalent in one’s family or peer group, and, ultimately, to scrutinise and revise one’s own ontological narrative. Being in possession of these competencies therefore means being able to exercise a certain amount of control over how history is presently written.

 

That history can, and should be viewed as a process rather than a well-defined body of knowledge, and that this process is present not only as a cognitive activity in the classroom or the scholar’s study but also in our everyday life, is an approach that is reflected in the history curriculum in all Nordic countries, most markedly in Denmark and Sweden where the concept ‘historical consciousness’ was introduced in the 1990’s. In the Danish curriculum, history’s crucial role in human life is described thus:

 

People make decisions out of their experience and knowledge of the past, their ideas about the present, and their expectations for the future. That is to say that a time frame – history – is a prerequisite for being able to understand oneself and the world as an entirety, as well as to reflect on possible actions.

History is furthermore used to establish and strengthen the consistency of real and imagined communities.

History is thus an integrated aspect of our lives. It is a basic condition of human existence that we are shaped by, as well as co-creators of, history (Undervisningsministeriet 2014 p. 3).

 

The resemblance with the Swedish curriculum is obvious:

 

Man’s understanding of the past is interwoven with beliefs about the present and perspectives of the future. In this way, the past affects both our lives today and our choices for the future. Women and men throughout the ages have created historical narratives to interpret reality and shape their surroundings. A historical perspective provides us with a set of tools to understand and shape the present we live in.

[—]

Teaching should contribute to pupils developing their understanding of how historical narratives are used in society and in everyday life. By this means, pupils should develop different perspectives of their own identities, values and beliefs, and those of others (Skolverket 2011 p. 163).

 

To what extent have the curriculum aims been achieved? Has school history abandoned the long-standing tradition of transferring a canonical master narrative of the nation’s past? Thanks to recent studies from Denmark and Sweden, presented at the 28th Congress of Nordic Historians in 2014, we have at least a provisional answer: history education is undoubtedly heading towards its aims – but progress is slow and there is still a long way to go.

 

Nanna Bøndergaard Butters (2014) has performed a study built on observations of history lessons in three classes (4th, 8th and 9th grade) in an urban Danish folkeskole (compulsory school) with 60 % plurilingual students (42 different languages were represented among the students), followed up by teacher interviews. A central part of the study was to investigate whether teachers planned for discussions around concepts such as ‘culture’ and ‘identity’. All teachers declared that they had not introduced these concepts. One teacher mentioned lack of time and the demand to reach the curriculum’s learning outcomes. Another confessed that she never had thought about these concepts as related to the history subject. A third ‘solved’ the challenge of pluralism by simply denying it:

 

If their histories are given room in the course, you mean? But they too are part of this history… Actually, I’ve stopped thinking in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. For me, it’s important that no one is left behind, I am aware that they come from different places and different cultures, but a Danish home can be just as different as the home of a bilingual. I simply do not see veils, or ‘here’s a Somalian girl’ (ibid.).

 

More common was an approach where society’s heterogeneity and plurality were acknowledged in principle, but where a traditionally taught history of Denmark kept its role as a unifying narrative.

 

Butters’ results have been confirmed by Claus Haas’ findings from a nation-wide survey among History teachers in the Danish folkeskole, followed up by qualitative interviews with 20 teachers (Haas 2014a, b). Again, the interviewees at the same time acknowledged diversity and saw Danish culture and history as the obvious unifying factor:

 

In my opinion, education should prepare them for the multicultural society which they are about to enter as citizens. But I still believe that… what I like about the curriculum’s canon after all… is that somewhere… a tiny bit of common thread through something… that we all can feel that right here in our multi-cultural, heterogeneous society, there still is something that bind us together somehow. I think that is a very good idea (Haas 2014a.).

 

Borrowing a concept from Gregory Ashworth, Haas characterises the typical Danish approach towards pluralism as ‘Core +’. In Ashworth’s definition, this concept slightly resembles the classic ‘melting pot’ metaphor, but with the difference that a substantial core of history and heritage is preserved. To this core can be added ‘such other social groups as are seen to be unthreatening to the existence of the core and even contributing a useful addition

to its variety’ (Ashworth 2007, p.20). However, Haas stresses that this approach is not the outcome of a deliberate choice – when present in the interview answers, it is conceptually vague and marked by a lack of critical reflection.

 

A certain vagueness and lack of rigour is also present in the preliminary results from a Swedish survey carried out as part of a research project on interculturalism and history education conducted by the historians and educationalists Per Eliasson, Maria Johansson, and Kenneth Nordgren (Eliasson 2014). The survey results indicate that history teachers are interested and eager to promote ‘orientation competence’ of the kind proposed by the German FUER project. They clearly see the relevance of and the possibilities inherent in their subject, but it is uncertain whether they actually contribute with narratives challenging or adding to the textbooks’ ‘master narratives’. It is also uncertain whether they, tied up in the straight-jacket of a detailed curriculum, can find the time for classroom work focussing on multi-perspectivity and different interpretations and explanations in history.

 

According to a deceivingly simple but extremely fruitful explanatory model, outlined by the Swedish political scientist Lennart Lundquist (1992), Successful implementation of a reform or programme requires that those who are supposed to carry it out on the shop floor

have the understanding, the ability, and the will to implement the programme.

 

When it comes to the implementation of history education that is meaningful and sustainable in a society marked by a multi-dimensional plurality, we can therefore ask whether Lundquist’s three requisites are met. Interview answers suggest that they lack the ability due to a shortage of appropriate learning material and best-practice examples and also of time needed – curricula do not stress procedural knowledge only, there is a huge portion of factual knowledge that must be given time if the learning outcomes are to be fulfilled. They also lack a profound understanding, firmly grounded in theory and established practice. There is, consequently, much to be done in teacher education institutions as well as in the field of continuous professional development, e.g. developing and defining conceptual frameworks for inter-cultural teaching and learning (both generic and subject-specific) as well as integrating inter-cultural perspectives on teaching and learning in subject-related courses in teacher education programmes.

 

The good thing is that the perhaps most important factor, a willingness to teach for a pluralistic, multi-cultural society, is present.

 

 

References:

 

Aron, Raymond (1961): Dimensions de la conscience historique, Paris: Plon.

 

Ashworth, Gregory J. (2007), ‘Plural pasts for plural publics in plural places: taxonomy of heritage policies for plural societies’, in: Groote, P., Ashworth, G & Haartsen, T (eds.), Public Places, Public Pasts, Groningen: Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, pp. 13-26.

 

von Borries, Bodo (2008): Historisch Denken Lernen – Welterschließung statt Epochenüberblick. Geschichte als Unterrichtsfach und Bildungsaufgabe, Opladen: Verlag Barbara Budrich.

 

Butters, Nanna Bøndergaard (2014): ‘Når elever gør kultur og bruger historie’. Unpublished conference paper, the 28th Congress of Nordic Historians, Joensuu 14-17 August 2014.

 

Department for Education (UK) (2013a): History: Programmes of study for Key Stages 1-3. February 2013. London.

 

Department for Education (UK) (2013b): History: Programmes of study. September 2013. Internet: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-history-programmes-of-study

 

Eliasson, Per (2014): ‘Förutsättningar för en interkulturell historieundervisning’. Unpublished conference paper, the 28th Congress of Nordic Historians, Joensuu 14-17 August 2014.

 

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland (2005): ‘From obsessive egalitarianism to pluralist universalism? Options for twenty-first century education’. Keynote speech, NERA conference, Oslo 10 March 2005. Internet: http://hyllanderiksen.net/Obsessive.html

 

Gellner, Ernest (1983): Nations and Nationalism, Oxford: Blackwell.

 

Haas, Claus (2014a): ‘(Fler)Kulturelle paradokser i historieundervisningen – om en national kerne + kulturs hegemoni’. Unpublished conference paper, the 28th Congress of Nordic Historians, Joensuu 14-17 August 2014.

 

Haas, Claus (2014b): Staten, eliten og ‘os’: erindrings- og identitetspolitik mellem assimilation og livet i salatskålen. Århus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag.

 

Jeismann, Karl-Ernst (1979): ‘Geschichtsbewußtsein’, in Bergmann, Klaus et al. (eds.), Handbuch der Geschichtsdidaktik, Vol. 1, Düsseldorf: Schwann, pp. 42-45.

 

Körber, Andreas (2011): ‘German History Didactics: From Historical Consciousness to Historical Competencies – and beyond?’, in Bjerg, Helle, Lenz, Claudia & Thorstensen, Erik (eds.), Historicizing the uses of the past: Scandinavian perspectives on history culture, historical consciousness and didactics of history related to World War II, Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, pp. 145-164.

 

Lundquist, Lennart (1992): Förvaltning, stat och samhälle. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

 

Ogawa, Masato & Field, Sherry L. (2006): ‘Causation, controversy and condition: recent developments in the Japanese history textbook content and selection process’, in Nicholls, J. (ed.), School history textbooks across the cultures: international perspectives and debates, Oxford: Symposium Books, pp. 43-60.

 

Repoussi Maria (2011): ‘History Education in Greece’, in Erdmann, E & Hasberg, W (eds.), Facing, Mapping, Bridging Diversity. Foundation of a European Discourse on History Education, Schwalbach am Taunus: Wochenschau, pp. 329-370.

 

Schreiber, Waltraud et al. (2006): Historisches Denken. Ein Kompetenz-Strukturmodell, Neuried: ars una.

 

Schreiber, Waltraud & Mebus, Sylvia (eds.) 2006: Durchblicken. Dekonstruktion von Schulbüchern, Neuried: ars una.

 

Skolverket 2011: Curriculum for the compulsory school system,

the ­pre-school class and the leisure-time centre (Lgr11), Stockholm. Internet: http://www.skolverket.se/publikationer?id=2687

 

Undervisningsministeriet 2014: Læseplan for faget historie, København. Internet: www.emu.dk/sites/default/files/L%C3%A6seplan%20for%20faget%20historie.pdf

Per Eliasson, KG Hammarlund, Erik Lund & Carsten Tage Nielson (eds.), Historie didatik i Norden: del 1, historiemetvetanda – historiebruk (Malmö & Halmstad: Malmö högskola and Högskolan i Halmstad, 2012)

The challenge is tackled in two volumes; “historiemetvetanda – historiebruk” [history usage] rewieved here;  and “historisk kunskap” [historical knowledge], in a separate volume, not covered here.

The authors constitute a group who have a background in history teaching and research in history teaching. They cover all three levels of schooling, from compulsory school through upper-secondary and university level.

Continue reading Per Eliasson, KG Hammarlund, Erik Lund & Carsten Tage Nielson (eds.), Historie didatik i Norden: del 1, historiemetvetanda – historiebruk (Malmö & Halmstad: Malmö högskola and Högskolan i Halmstad, 2012)

C. Raudvere & J.P. Schjödt (eds.), More Than Mythology – Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2012)

 

More Than Mythology – Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions, asks this relevant question regarding the old Nordic belief systems and religions in a publication comprising together a vast array of scholars of Pre-Christian Scandinavian cultures and a handful of views on the Sámi-Finnish tradition. The 286-page book opens new horizons in the understanding of the past and the present of the Northern part of Europe.

 

Central to the diverse papers are the overarching themes of narrative studies, the role of rituals and the discussion of regional difference and distribution, and perhaps secondly also religion as a communal practice. Price opens the book with an in-depth and conclusive view on “Mythic Acts”, stressing the need of assessing burials, rituals and other practices as series of “performances” sometimes spanning over decades in the same geographical place, such as the gravesites in the Oslo Fjord. He refers to such a process as the “theatre of death” where these “performances” have taken place. Furthermore, in his splendid essay, he makes the case for the need to combine archaeological data with ethnographical, anthropological and other textual sources. He makes a strong case for diversification of views regarding the pre-Christian Nordic context, given the reported 500,000 different grave- and other dug sites, stressing the need to avoid any “unified view”. Price also proceeds to provide the reader with an eyewitness’ account of a “Viking” funeral along the Volga River in Russia, through the text of Arab geographer and historian Ibn Fadlan – such a description remains a pivotal text on the topic, despite the possibilities of misinterpretation and culture-specific lenses that Fadlan’s testimony gives rise to. Again, the notion of performatory function of the rituals comes to the fore.

 

Jackson investigates the merits and limits of comparative philology. He positions the crucial difference of nomadic and settled communities of the “pre”-Indo-European peoples of the Steppes as a topic worth paying attention to in the linguistic context. One can almost see the vast expanse of the pre-historic Indo-European society from India to the West Fjords in Iceland, spanning continents, nations, cultures, over time and space. Jackson investigates the rituals of the past using key linguistic possibilities, employing such concepts as the “blót” qua shared cultural heritage. Dumezils’ notion of an “Indo-European” ideology is mentioned, but Jackson stresses that the “present now” of any belief system makes the unique characteristics of such systems.

 

DuBois makes an excursion into the diets and deities of the Scandinavians and the Sámi. This is a good overview of the differences between the settler-farmers of Scandinavia and the hunter-gatherers belonging to various Sámi Nations. He positions different animals as a source of cultural-religious similarity and difference between the two cultures – as a result the Nordic communities hold in reverence mostly domesticated animals, as opposed to the Sámi, who have preserved other worldviews centred on “wild” animals, even though the reindeer, as a semi-domesticated herd animal falls between these categories. Within the Scandinavian life-world, the role of sheep and goat is very interesting. Differences come to the surface with regard to fish and their cultural interpretations in the communities. Interestingly, some animals, such as horses, have a meaning for both peoples, but they are of a very different kind – to the Sámi the horse possesses a demonic association. DuBois discusses the notion of a “mythic lag” on community change – how some attachments from “prior” systems [hunter-gatherer] manifest “still” or persistently in the “more advanced” life stage of a people.

 

As he is the only author who, to a certain extent, discusses Sámi worldviews and compares them to the Scandinavians, his text requires some reflection. The article has merits. At the same time, it has serious flaws too, for the viewpoint is fixed upon the Finno-Ugric side. According to DuBois, “both Scandinavians and the Sámi differentiated themselves from each other through the religious imagery related directly to the species they chose to consume”. It is true that the Sámi stress their connection with fish and reindeer as opposed to domesticated animals, but there is a set of reasons for this. DuBois avoids stressing the Scandinavian and, since the 1800s, the Finnish colonisation of the Sámi across the region; meaning the hunter-gatherer-herder systems as opposed to invading and expanding farming settlers. It is reasonably safe to assume that already the early historical meetings [while trade was certainly also a part of them] between the farmers and the Sámi in various parts of the region led to land use conflicts, as the subsistence rounds of the hunters required large, stable old-growth territories, as opposed to the needs of the farmers to clear forests for farms. As several Sámi scholars and leaders, such as Elina Helander, Jelena Porsanger, Pauliina Feodoroff and others have done, the emphasis in the cultural discourses on reindeer and fish, and other “wild” foods and animals, are also mechanisms of resistance against invasion.

 

DuBois utilizes some photographs from Eastern Sápmi (or Finnmark) in Norway in his article. They should be seen in a critical light. Especially the famous “Grease Stone” of Mortensnes (p.81) receives special attention. Having worked in the villages and areas around the stone since 1996, I have another opinion. My Sámi friends indicate strongly that the stone is, in fact, a Scandinavian imposition on their landscapes – while other stones and other sites of Mortensnes are indeed of the Sámi world. DuBois utilizes little-known and well-established sources from the Sámi side, but the big change and sites of resistance are not expressed clearly enough.

 

Raudvere establishes religion as a mechanism to interpret local reality. Cosmic histories and transcendental realities of past community life are a text for the scholars but a lived reality for the people themselves. She utilizes Völuspá to explore ritual and meaning. Readers could have benefitted from a more thorough discussion on the various versions of Völuspá.

 

 Nordberg presents a significant methodological paper on the study of Old Norse religion. Importantly, he stresses the need of geographical diversity and difference.A Map could have helped this article. Secondly, Nordberg importantly distinguishes between farms and coastal fishing villages, and stresses the shifts within religions in times of change. Some old colonial ghosts loom within the text with the references to “advanced religions” [of farming societies] – such terms having been deconstructed a long time ago to their proper place by postcolonial research.

 

Stark and Anttonen offer us the only views of the Finnish-Karelian tradition. They dwell little on the difference between the Scandinavian and the Sámi tradition; however Stark reminds us that “some elements of the Finnish folk practice…clearly have Finno-Ugric roots…[deriving from] Eurasian shamanism.” According to her, these constitute a “loosely structured ethno-theory for illness aetiology.” This is in line with the claims by Clive Tolley, who has not found evidence of shamanism in the Old Norse religion. Stark employs a strong feministic view on the recorded texts and identifies the year 1860 as a big change for the Nordic traditions and the complex cultural layers of religious imagery. Anttonen, by quoting at length the earliest Nordic folk tradition text by Agricola, investigates the influences and context of Finnish and Karelian deities in early times. He argues that no single coherent pagan system existed here and makes the case for the slow speed of religious change. Both texts are an important and distinct introduction to the Finnish tradition and its difference compared to the Sámi and Scandinavian ones. Stark’s conclusions could benefit a Finnish popular audience too.

 

Sundqvist investigates the sacral kinship and proposes a “religious ruler ideology” instead as a defining term. It would consist of relationships with the mythic world, its rituals, symbols and cultic organisation. He convincingly argues that there is a need of an all-inclusive rethink – and using empirical materials makes a strong case between the Swedish-Norwegian situation and the strongly independent Icelandic Commonwealth, leading to the conclusion that there was no uniform religious ruler ideology in the Nordic space.

 

Schjödt brings the far-reaching volume to its close by offering new aims and methodological discussions. Shortly stated, contemporary sources such as archaeology and the medieval sources, such as cultural texts of the time, need to go to together to widen the scope of studies on the Old Norse religion. Sagas and Eddas are to be viewed as a blend of skills of the author, oral traditions and influences of the time-space in which they were composed. Models, discourse analysis and comparative views will open the doors to new understandings. The hunt for the “original text” remains an enigma, even though, according to Schjödt, an Indo-European kernel of stories and myths existed – but, despite this and Dumezil, the “old” religion was not a coherent worldview, rather a “discursive space of diversity”.

 

Technically, this surprisingly good book could have benefitted from maps. Contemporary views of Norse religion, the role of Sigur Rós in Iceland and other followers would have enlightened the views expressed in the book too. A clear distinction between Karelian hunter-societies in the period 1600-1800 and the Sámi hunters, as opposed to the colonial impact of the farming societies of Scandinavia, would have made clearer the expanding nature of the Old Norse world. And lastly, what happened to the dragons?

 

And thus we come to a close of “More Than Mythology” – in the opening line I asked, borrowing from Schjödt, what kind of evidence is needed to propose convincing interpretations? The main problem with the critical study of religion is that it is often done by people that do not believe. Therefore the “materials” are seen as “texts” and interpretations abound, but yet the “source” is missing.

 

I am pondering this in the Karelian village of Selkie, one of the westernmost of our communities, where a hundred years ago Kalevala-style incantations and poems were collected by the scholars of that day. Snow has fallen on trees and our fishing season for open waters is at a close, boats are up and we eagerly await for the arrival of proper lake ice so that we can spread the nets under the ice again. As I reflected about the More Than Mythology, on the lake, the last of the migratory birds flew by on their way to the south – soon we will meet again, I said to them. And the realisation came to me – if we are to understand the views of our ancestors, we need to live in that nature, or remnants of that nature, that sustained them – that is the source. Then the scholar, removed from the yearly cycles of the European North with his analytical or even her feminist apparatus, can return to see that time and space are not a line, indeed many things remain, of the “old” and of the “new”, of the things the wind only whispers of, but which are already emerging.