When the English Began to Hate: The Manufacture of German Demonisation in British School History Textbooks 1900-1930

Article excerpt

Introduction

There are a significant number of studies that argue that since the rise of mass education school textbooks have become essential instructional tools for curriculum delivery and that the school textbook holds a unique and significant social function: to represent to each generation of students an officially sanctioned, authorised version of human knowledge and culture' (original emphasis). (1) Constructed by real people with real interests school textbooks are products of ideological and political conflicts and compromises. (2) As instruments of socialisation and sites of ideological discourse history textbooks are designed to introduce young people to a particular, and historically located, cultural and socio-economic order with its relations of power and domination, textbooks represent the focal element in the process of cultural transmission'. (3)

In writing and re-writing their pasts nations rarely tell the truth about themselves and, therefore, in the manner in which they present national stories history textbooks are intentional, maybe even tendentious, literature. Selecting a national past for transmission through school textbooks is an intensely political and ideological process. Politicians of all persuasions have long recognised that controlling the present and shaping the future relies significantly upon controlling the manner in which the past is presented. One outcome is that the history which is presented to children through the textbooks they use is often a watered-down, partial, sometimes distorted, sometimes fictional, view of a national past based upon cultural, ideological and political selection.

Contrasts with the other' are particularly significant in teaching about the past and Hein and Selden have pointed out that 'the stories chosen or invented about the national past are invariably prescriptive--instructing people how to think and act as national subjects and how to view relations with outsiders'. (4) Within this context the enemy is a valuable evaluative concept because its use can lead to the systematic comparison, differentiation, and derogation of other groups'. (5)

The significance of the enemy as a concept is that it can provide a context whereby viewing them' in intrinsically negative terms offers a binary opposite through which a competing group can allocate themselves fundamentally different qualities. In order to protect a sense of self-worth and identity a group stereotypes an out-group, in this case Germans, as being responsible for a wide variety of national disasters. This process is abstracted and made easier by providing members of the out-group with a set of socially constructed traits and viewing them as a homogenous group rather than as individuals with personal sets of values and ideas, a process that makes demonisation commonsense. (6) This argument forms an important element in this article where contrasts and critiques of the other represent a fundamental element of defining national identity. (7)

This article seeks to develop the ideas discussed above by exploring how within a climate characterised by a national moral panic and an institutionalised imperialist xenophobia school history textbooks in the early years of the 20th Century came to present an intensely hostile discourse of Germans and Germany. The approach is multi-disciplinary as a single discipline approach would not provide a full and coherent understanding of the development of Germanophobia within school history textbooks. Consequently, the evidence base for this analysis is drawn from a variety of representations including political perspectives; popular culture; children's literature; newspaper and magazine depictions. The purpose is to provide a framework through which to link cultural depictions of Germans and Germany with how history was taught, what was to be learnt and how this was mediated through school history textbooks.

Hating without limits

On the outbreak of World War One there was universal agreement among British social commentators and politicians that blame for the war rested solely with Germany who had deliberately brought on the crisis that now hangs over Europe'. …