The Wiley International Handbook of History Teaching and Learning
Scott Metzger and Lauren Harris’s volume is an extraordinary testament to the robust growth and development of an international field that existed only in the most embryonic form three decades ago. The chapters herein are evidence of the remarkable number and quality of its scholars, publications, programs, and projects.
In recent years, a broad, international dialogue has developed, in part based on earlier, more insular movements in Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the United States, and elsewhere. Networks, communications, and conferences—including the American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) Teaching History special interest group—have vastly enlarged the scope of history education research, fostered its nuance, and facilitated its depth. From this point forward, this collection of reviews will be both the authoritative survey of where the field has been and the launching pad for what should be coming next. It is appearing, however, at a dangerous moment, globally, for the liberal arts, education, and research, for democratic values generally, and for history and history education specifically.
The deep forces of destabilization include increasingly polarized wealth, migrations from desiccated equatorial regions of the globe, and new modes of communication which are increasingly rapid, pervasive, dispersed, accessible, and open to manipulation. Perversely, ascendant ideologies foster public policies that may promote the acceleration of all of these trends.
While the threat to liberal traditions is global, nowhere is it more palpable than in the US after the surprise election of Donald Trump. Does the US represent just an endpoint on a global continuum, or—with its exponential supremacy in military expenditures, its outlier status from health care to gun ownership, and its vastly disproportionate concentration of the world’s wealth—is it, in fact, exceptional? In either case, Trump’s inauguration speech provided a benchmark for the wider populist phenomenon. “From this day forward,” he promised, “a new vision will govern our land” (Inaugural Address, 2017).
Of course, a diktat does not make the past vanish. On the other hand, Trump’s advent can be seen as the beginning of a new era in the US and beyond. Trump’s radical proposals and erratic modus operandi challenged domestic institutions of governance, the press, education, the economy, environmental protection, healthcare, and welfare—as well as long‐term relative international stability achieved through post‐World War II defense alliances and trade pacts. Moreover, his words appeared to resonate among populist politicians with similar proclivities in other historically democratic nations. Le Pen in France, Farage in the UK, and Wilders in the Netherlands challenged the progressive consensus that held the European Union together. On the borders of Europe, states that since the end of the Cold War appeared to be working toward inclusion in a larger, open, Western democratic project have embraced nationalist autocracy under the leadership of Erdogan in Turkey and Putin in Russia.
On the other hand, Trump’s inaugural promise to forget the past and look only toward the future was, in some ways, nothing new. The idea that we are living in an age when the future will differ from what came before us is the condition of modernity: All that is solid, as Marx famously wrote, melts into air. From the late 18th century, in the words of Reinhard Koselleck (1985), “it became a rule that all previous experience might not count against the possible otherness of the future. The future would be different from the past, and better, to boot” (p. 267; see also Clark and Grever in Chapter 7).
François Hartog (2015) takes a further step, offering an ongoing “crisis of the present” as the defining characteristic of the era since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union, where “the distance between the space of experience and the horizon of expectation [has] been stretched to its limit, to breaking point … with the result that the production of historical time seems to be suspended” (p. 17). Writing originally in 2003, Hartog anticipated the unease of our own moment.
Many of the modern, liberal traditions that have been challenged by Trump and his fellow travelers were recently so fundamental to the generations living now that we barely gave them a passing thought. Academics hardly needed to rally to defend the idea of truth because the only threat was from some of our own poststructuralist provocateurs, delivered in prose so tortured that it had little apparent impact on the broader public sphere. When the Trump administration began in 2017 with a flurry of unsubstantiated allegations and “alternative facts” rhetoric, the game changed and the stakes were raised.
The implications for history education and its scholars, internationally, are profound. If we need to revisit our stances on the concept of truth, so too do we need to re‐examine those on research and knowledge, interpretation and evidence, community and nation, identity and difference, and citizenship and solidarity.
|March 4, 2018
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