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John Simkin

Nationalism and History Teaching

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It is 100 years ago today that the Wright brothers made history at Kitty Hawk. However, some people have claimed that this is just another example of Yankee imperialism and that the first person to fly machine through the air by its own means of propulsion was Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian who made this record breaking flight in Paris. It is claimed that he committed suicide in 1932 because he was wracked with guilt by being involved in creating a machine for military purposes.

http://www.rudnei.cunha.nom.br/FAB/eng/santos-dumont.html

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We all like to think we, or our country, is the best, that is why the recent upsurge in interest about the British Empire is so interesting. Actually, I think the British have a penchant for reviving the past when they think they are in decline - is it a common trait that past glories become more important when present becomes uncertain?

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It might be an interesting experiment for people from different nationalities to make their claims for playing an important role in aviation.

For example, the British could claim that it was an Englishman who made the first successful flight in 1853. He has not received the recognition he deserved because he was a humble servant living in England. The man worked for Sir George Cayley, who lived in Scarborough. By 1853 Cayley had managed to build a triplane that could carry the weight of a man. He was unwilling to take the risk of it crashing and instead ordered his coachman to be the pilot. On its first flight the plane flew 900 feet (275 m) across a small valley. This was the first recorded flight by a person in an aircraft and Cayley has been described as the "true inventor of the aeroplane". However, Cayley never bothered to record the name of the pilot and he has therefore not become an important figure in history.

What about the achievements of Alphonse Pénaud, Otto Lilienthal and Alexander Mozhaiski. Have we any French, Germans or Russians willing to comment on their role in the history of aviation?

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In Sweden the first living creature in the air was a cat! At the 17th of September 1784 a baloon (run by hydrogen gas) lifted from the "Observatory Hill" - Observatoriekullen in Stockholm. The baloon was found three weeks later on the ground outside Stockholm, without the cat. Not exactly a claim of fame - is it... :rolleyes:

When it comes to the construction of airplanes the Swedish scientist (philosopher and theologian) Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was very interested in this topic. In 1714, at the age of 26, Emanuel Swedenborg developed an interest in building a flying machine, which was documented in an article, "Sketch of a Machine for Flying in the Air," published two years later. Swedenborg's design looked like a classical flying saucer with flapping wings. It was never built...

In the beginning of the 20th century Carl Rickard Nyberg experimented with a steam-engine driven aircraft, but none of his designs proved flight-worthy. Other Swedish pioneers included Bror Berger, Oscar Gustavsson, and Tor Ångström. The experimental aircraft produced by these men during the early 20th century also were unsuccessful. The first successful flight in Sweden didn't occur until 19 July 1909, and it was achieved by a French aviator. Then, in 1910, Carl Cederström became the first licensed pilot in Sweden (and the 74th in the world) when he completed training at the Blériot flying school in France. Also in 1910, the first Swedish-built aircraft, the Grasshopper, took flight. The plane was a modified Blériot XI built in Landskrona in southern Sweden by Hjalmar Nyrop and Oscar Ask. That's how the Swedish exploitation of the air started...

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In response to Alf's point, the French Historian Theodore Zeldin talked of Britain's tendency to nostalgia:

'Imagining a Britain which was a green and pleasant land is one of those cliches which holds everything together and makes it seem as though it makes sense. In private, no-one believes in these cliches, in public, one needs to in order to make sense.' (from 'An essential history of Europe', BBC2 21 January 1993).

There are still some powerful forces of conservatism who want to make history all about national identity and pride. One example of this is John Stokes' speech in the House of Commons: ‘Why cannot we go back to the good old days when we learnt by heart the names of the kings and queens of England, the feats of our warriors and our battles, and the glorious deeds of our past?’ (Stokes, J. (1990) Speech in the House of Commons, quoted in Sunday Telegraph, 1 April.

As well as giving pupils knowledge and understanding of the substantive past, history can be taught in such a way that it helps them to handle information intelligently and sceptically.

In 1973, John Rae argued the case against an education for citizenship founded on ‘The Great Tradition’ of history teaching:

It is not a school’s task to produce good citizens any more than it is to produce Christian gentlemen. The school does not give people their political ideals, or religious faith, but the means to discover both for themselves. Above all, it gives them the scepticism so that they will leave with the ability to doubt, rather than the inclination to believe. In this sense, a good school is subversive of current orthodoxy in politics, religion and learning. Of course, by placing the emphasis on radical independence of mind, we run the risk of producing, for example, an intelligent traitor rather than a stupid patriot. But the risk of failing is so much greater because the result may be a sham democracy in which citizens do not have the independence to participate.

Rae, J. (1973) ‘On teaching independence’, New Statesman, 21 September.

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I wouldn't like to see History based on Nationalism, but I can see a problem when the nations history it's not dealt with very much. A few months ago I posted the following lines about Nationalism and History Teaching...

I can understand the problem with nationalistic history, but not with knowing more about your contries past. I have for several years felt that Sweden and Swedish schools is neglecting our own history. I wouldn´t like to bring in a nationalistic view, but I wish that the schools could focus a bit more on its own history. My experience when I do discuss these matters with other teachers of history is that in an 80 hour course maybe 15-20 hours is spent on Swedish history (Vikings, something about the establishment of the nation in the 16th century, the Great Nordic War... and maybe some short notices about the 19th/20th century). The short time spent on the development of modern Sweden gives the result that most students, even if they study history has very little historical comprehension on Sweden of today... That's also a problem!

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What about using history teaching as a powerful weapon to fight against nationalism?

As history teachers we know that nationalism has been, is, and, sadly, will be the main source of violence and misery in Europe and all over the world.

I try and try with my students to dismantle all the nationalistic cliches and stereotypes and I intend to show them how nationalist history is set up to deceive people into false images of themselves.

For instance, now in Spain politics turns around and around nationalist debates that bring people to think that in the 15th century there was a clear and distinct Spanish, Catalan or Basque awareness. Nationalist teachers invent a series of lies just to make their students hate their neighbours.

Catalonia, Ireland, Estonia, the Aland Islands or the British Empire... Please, let teach our students that states and nations are contingent products of history, nothing more. And that they have to be proud of what they have achieved in their life with their effort and wit. Nobody can be proud of being born in some place. A pure accident.

John Kenneth Galbraith observed in their childhood in Canada that the least brilliant members of his Scottish-origined community were the most keen on using kilts and playing pipes. There was a direct relation.

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I agree with the point Juan Carlos makes that History can en should be used as a weapon against nationalism. I do not know how it is in other countries, but I feel that nationalism is on the rise again. Why? Perhaps because people feel insecure in the big and unknown Europe??? Any thoughts on this?

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Marco Koene wrote:

Perhaps because people feel insecure in the big and unknown Europe
This might be true. I've just been to Dresden in Eastern Germany. Unemployment is high, young people move westwards looking for jobs. Living so near the Czech and Polish borders people feel that cheap labour, aids etc will flow the region. Economic insecurity feeds nationalism, even extreme forms there.

The economic recession in the 'western world' does not improve matters in other countries like The Netherlands.

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Going through the Elementary school and later on Upper Secondary School in Czechoslovakia I remember rather clearly how the history books ( and other schoolbooks too) told us that almost every achievement in human history was made by Russians (or Soviet people). True, there have been famous chemist Mendelejev, but I still remember that we learned that a steam engine was invented by Russian in 1600 century in a coal district of Ural. The same applied to flying and cars and motorcycles, you just name it!

This dogmatic teaching was due to devote cheering of The Great Russian revolution (and its superb humanistic achievement!) practised probably in every satellite country of Eastern Europe. To survive these continuous indoctrination we were telling jokes like: "Who do you think invented condoms? Of course the great Soviet comrade .....".

This is a slightly different focus at the subject discussed but I couldn't just let my memory stay silent.

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I feel that nationalism is on the rise again. Why? Perhaps because people feel insecure in the big and unknown Europe??? Any thoughts on this?
Economic insecurity feeds nationalism, even extreme forms there.

I think that the fact that nationalism is again on the rise in Europe has different causes. I agree with Nico Zijlstra that economic insecurite feeds nationalism, but...what about Basque or Catalan nationalism? Both regions or nations are richer than the average of European regions, and, in despite of the disruption of terrorism in Basque country, both areas are doing quite well from an economic point of view.

Apart from historical reasons, probably the most important the extreme Spanish nationalist dictatorship of Franco (the guy died 29 years ago), one of the main causes of the new rise of Basque and Catalan nationalism is a simple fact: Catalonia and Basque country do not need Spain anymore.

This point needs to be explained to. Basque and Catalan business people lead a problematic but successful process of industrialisation thanks to their having a closed and restricted Spanish market. The European Union and the common market permit them to be "independent" and try to leave a neighbourhood where they don't feel at ease.

Because of this new situation and to prepare the new generations, nationalist governments in Vitoria and Barcelona have established an educational policy that do not hesitate in constructing a new false history. Only one example: they try to teach that the Spanish civil war was a war in which Basques and Catalans fought against Spaniards... and, sadly enough, a lot of youngsters believe it. Probably, they don't know that the first attack on Madrid was carried out by general Mola with a lot of soldiers coming from Basque country and Navarre or that a big deal of Catalan businessmen financed decisively Franco's army.

Do you know any other recent examples of falsification of history by an indoctrinating government?

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I cannot answer Juan Carlos, but I think that nationalism unfortunately is on the rise and in a way the regional movements mentioned see themselves as nationalist movement and the people they want to speak for as nations.

Before the end of the Cold War and the ensuing breakdown of the Communist block most of us believed that nationalism in Europe was something of the past, that we were on our way to a new form of internationalism. I remember one article written by Peter Glotz a well-known member of the German Socialdemocrats (he used to be part of the party's thinktank) in which he expressed his belief that nations were a phenomenon of the 19th and early 20th century, that nationalism as a political movement had discredited itself. All this was before Jugoslavia errupted and the images of a besieged Sarajevon appeared on our TVs.

I think that nationalism once again is on the rise - as a feeling and as a political movement, if I like it or not.

I think nationalism can appear in two forms: one which says that your nation is a individual entity with typical features, culture, language, folklore etc and that your neighbour country is different from you in its language, culture etc., but that all nations are equal; none is better than the other only different.

The second form is the one which we have to overcome, it is the one which postulates that one's own nation is better than the neighbour and that nations cannot live next to each other peacefully and form political unions based on the principle of unity.

I think in our history lessons we should point out the different histories we share in Europe, we should point out, when and how nations started to develop their typical national characteristics and misconceptions, but at the same time we should point out how much the European nations have in common; think of the Middel Ages and the similarities you find when you look at the political systems, the social structure, the tensions betwen the Church and the worldly powers;tink of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment. Even though the times after World War II was characterized by the division of Europe and the world into two blocks we have exactly this in common. I think it is an important and rewarding task to find out how the experience of dividion has influenced our culture values, ethics, political theory etc.

European unity and real understanding can be built when it is built on accepting diversity and national diversity might be one element of it.

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Before the end of the Cold War and the ensuing breakdown of the Communist block most of us believed that nationalism in Europe was something of the past, that we were on our way to a new form of internationalism.

I was never convinced that the formation of the EU was a sign of a move towards internationalism. In fact, I believe it made the situation worse. The EU was for many years no more than an economic extension of Nato. It divided Europe rather than uniting it. Since the collapse of communism the EU could well be used as a vehicle to unite Europe. However, what impact will this have on nations outside Europe. Also, there are signs that it is the very attempt to create a united Europe that is encouraging a revival of nationalism. That is very much the case in Britain. Although there is some confusion about who the enemy is: Europe or the United States. The right-wing tend to think it is Europe, the left-wing, the United States.

It is always seemed to me that the best vehicle for internationalism is the United Nations. This was one of the reasons why I was so opposed to the invasion of Iraq. Like many people I was very worried by what impact the war would have on the United Nations. The Iraq War also highlights the role played by dominant nations in encouraging nationalism for its own benefits. The United Nations is indeed a flawed organization but it is all we have.

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"It is always seemed to me that the best vehicle for internationalism is the United Nations" wrote John Simkinin in the previous contribution

It is always seemed to me that the best vehicle for internationalism is us, individual human being.

I do have distrust of institutions which, as we have seen in the past, are almost always misused by different outside interest in the way we actually did not agreed upon. The United Nations are not any exception.

It is only when every one accept a profound international view based on humanity that we will achieve a better world. Therefore is education the first and most important step on the way away from nationalism and towards internationalism.

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"I was never convinced that the formation of the EU was a sign of a move towards internationalism." (John Simkin)

Nor am I or was I; what I wanted to express was the feeling a large part of my generation had. We believed that the ideas and ideals of nations, nation states and nationlism had been discredited by especially German history and so we saw ourselves as part of something new, something international. In the course of time I have lost this belief and I agree to your statement

"Also, there are signs that it is the very attempt to create a united Europe that is encouraging a revival of nationalism. "

Especially as the EU is perceived as a form of far away and incomprehensible mega-state or mega-adminstration which cannot really be influenced by the citizens of the different member states.

" It is always seemed to me that the best vehicle for internationalism is the United Nations. "

I agree but I think it is even more important to outline and stress the principles which led to the creation of the UNO and to show our pupils how important Human Rights are - on a national, European and international level.

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