Tina van der Vlies will defend her PhD thesis Echoing Events. The perpetuation of national narratives in English and Dutch history textbooks, 1920 – 2010 on Thursday 21 November 2019. The defence is held at 3.30 pm at the Senaatszaal, Erasmus Building, Erasmus University Rotterdam.
Stories about the nation are very much alive and powerful nowadays. An example is the Brexit campaign, which is fuelled by the national myth of England proudly ‘standing alone’, as it did against Hitler in World War II and the Spanish Armada in 1588. This myth is strong and Prime Minister David Cameron knew that as well when he argued for Britain to remain a member of the EU on 9 May 2016: he tried to deconstruct the myth and remarkably also referred to 1588. Despite their differences, Bremainers and Brexiteers both generate ‘echoing events’. Apparently, the English victory over the Spanish Armada functions as a widespread national narrative to which various events can be linked.
Van der Vlies questioned national narratives’ perpetuation, actualization and canonization in English and Dutch history textbooks – books that have provided many people with meaning, memory and identity – in the period between 1920 and 2010. Changes and continuities in textbooks’ national narratives are often explained by direct state interventions, their specific policies and ideological agendas. This conviction is hardly problematized and other reasons for national narratives’ perpetuation in this genre are easily overlooked. Therefore, Van der Vlies selected history textbook series from England and the Netherlands – countries that do not have a system of approved textbooks unlike many others – and explored a new type of textbook research. She examined history textbooks as layered narratives in which stories overlap, interfuse and interact. The study of these ‘echoes’ revealed widespread frames of references and perpetuated schemata in the narration of national history. The study started after World War I, in 1920, when several initiatives were launched to reduce strong nationalistic visions in textbooks and ended in the new millennium, in 2010, when several countries witnessed a revival of national narratives in education.
Image: Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 8 August 1588 by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1796 – oil on canvas).