Re-Packaging Identities: History Textbooks, European Travel and the Untarnished Bulgarian 'Europeanness'

By Davidova, Evguenia | East European Quarterly, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Re-Packaging Identities: History Textbooks, European Travel and the Untarnished Bulgarian 'Europeanness'


Davidova, Evguenia, East European Quarterly


In the recent decades history textbooks attracted a great deal of scholarly attention. The pioneers in the field began in 1949 at Georg Eckert Institute in Germany by amassing a huge library collection, establishing wide international collaboration, and stimulating research on national and European identities. (1) The blooming interest towards the ideological power of history textbooks evokes Gellner's concept of education as self-reproducible "common conceptual currency." (2) Many factors contributed to this shift in the scholarly attention. First, the advanced processes of European integration prompted more awareness to education, re-examination of common historical past, collective and historical memory in promoting intercultural understanding and democratic citizenship. Second, the 1989 revolutions brought up additional reasons for re-evaluating the history textbooks: in Eastern Europe this was motivated by the urgent need for re-examination of the communist monochromatic interpretation of the past and justification of the new geopolitical re-orientation as return to the European home. In addition, the wealth of research on nationalism, postcolonial studies, and social constructivism in the last three decades attracted the attention to the school textbooks as means of control over the shared past, memory constructions and their multiple interpretations. (3)

Within this broad framework the Bulgarian historians became involved in the actual re-writing the textbooks after 1989, but the research on the history schoolbooks lagged. It is in the mid and late 1990s that two research projects on history textbooks began: the idea of the "Other" in the Balkans and the initiative undertaken by the "Southeast European Joint History Project" supported by the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe. (4) However, in both cases attention is primarily paid to the ethnocentric representation of national history, biased interpretation of the Balkan past and ambiguous treatment of the European history.

This paper will focus on history textbooks, written in the post-1989 period, as one of the modes for re-shaping the Bulgarian national identity as return to the natural home--Europe. The period of Ottoman domination is the foil against which the "Europeanness" of Bulgaria is being constructed. (5) The fifth centuries of foreign rule are conceptualized to attest the "kidnapping" of the Bulgarians from their natural development and belonging but at the same time the relationships with Europe (Western Europe) were kept alive and inherent Bulgarian "Europeanness" remained untarnished. More specifically, the paper will analyze the usage of European travel accounts as primary sources and will examine the selectivity of quotes from the travelogues that provide vivid narrative of coherent relationship with Europe. The paper will ask how and why foreigners' points of views are incorporated into the official narrative of national identity. I will argue that there is continuity in the search for European validation in constructing the national identity, which began in the 19th century by nationalist elites and some old rhetorical strategies are revived in the post-1989 textbooks. The paper will first provide a brief survey of the 19th century strategies; next it will analyze selected themes in the post-1989 textbooks that highlighted external (Western European) perspective and used extensively travel excerpts to prove uninterrupted European interest, and finally, it will examine some of the expected and unintended outcomes of these ideological operations for the fashioning of national self-image.

History of the History Textbooks

For the period between 1830s up to the Bulgaria's liberation 12 (8 new) textbooks on Bulgarian and 14 (10 new and multiple editions) translations on general history were published. (6) This ratio is interesting from various perspectives. It reveals almost equal interest among the Bulgarians in both national and general past. …

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