History in Schools and the Problem of “The Nation”
Received: 8 October 2012 / Revised: 7 December 2012 / Accepted: 10 December 2012 / Published: 14 December 2012
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The article examines the enduring popularity of a form of school history which is based predominantly on the idea that the transmission of a positive story about the national past will inculcate in young people a sense of loyalty to the state;
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The article examines the enduring popularity of a form of school history which is based predominantly on the idea that the transmission of a positive story about the national past will inculcate in young people a sense of loyalty to the state; a reassuring and positive sense of identity and belonging; and a sense of social solidarity with fellow citizens. England is one of the countries which has to at least some extent moved away from this model of school history; but the past few years have seen suggestions for a move back to a history curriculum which focuses predominantly on the transmission of ‘Our Island Story’; and which presents a positive rendering of that story. The history curriculum in England is currently under review; and public pronouncements by politicians; academic historians and newspaper editorials suggest strong pressures towards a restoration of what is often termed ‘traditional’ school history; which was prevalent in English schools before the advent of what has been termed ‘New history’ in the 1970s. The paper questions some of the arguments which have been put forward in order to justify a return to a history curriculum based on a positive and unproblematic narrative of the national story and suggests that such a course of action is based on some unexamined assumptions and a limited understanding of pedagogy and learning. The final section of the paper outlines several weaknesses and flaws in the arguments for reverting to a traditional (i.e
. ‘nation-based’ and celebratory) form of school history; and some of the dangers inherent in such a project.