HISTORY textbooks are a test of a country's tolerance. Do they bristle with grudges, or do they see other countries' point of view? In Germany, for example, historians have worked successfully on joint textbooks with Polish and French colleagues.Created at the end of World War II, one of UNESCO's first efforts was to help the nations emerging from the war to rewrite their history texts. The Nazi and Fascist governments had sought to indoctrinate their youth with party myths rather than educate them, and there was an obvious need to revise those texts. Indeed, it was clear that education for peace required a more fair balance to the history books in use in Europe.
But in Slovakia, where relations with the former imperial power, Hungary, have deteriorated sharply since 2006, the mood has swung the other way. The education minister, from the Slovak National Party, has sidelined plans for a joint history textbook. That follows a decision by Slovakia's parliament last year to endorse the Benes decrees, which legalised brutal measures against the country's supposedly Hitlerite German and Hungarian populations in 1945-48.
In the six decades of its life, UNESCO has produced a number of series of historical reference books. In each case, it has established an advisory panel, not only composed of experts, but also representing a variety of nations and cultures. The effort has been not only to use the best sources and most up-to-date understanding of each historical topic, but also to define a history that avoids the biases of viewpoint that might be introduced within an given national tradition or political culture.
In recent years, UNESCO has launched a series of collected works - People writing their own history. Instead of just tracing the past of nations, these collections aim to provide a greater understanding of civilizations.
The collections aim to help readers gain a global understanding of the evolution of societies, flourishing of cultures, major currents of exchange and interaction with other parts of the world.
These collections also aim to provide a culturally relevant perspective. They provide the point of view of the populations concerned, whose past has often been distorted, discredited or treated as peripheral to the history of the colonizers and the dominant nations – those who usually write history. The idea here is to rediscover a people's consciousness and the vision it develops of its own destiny. This shift in perspective is reflected by the significant number of local historians, with impeccable academic credentials, who contributed to these collections as editors and authors.
To learn about UNESCO's these series, click on the following:
- History of Humanity
- General History of Africa
- History of Civilizations of Central Asia
- General History of Latin America
- The Different Aspects of Islamic Culture
- General History of the Caribbean
Note especially the volumes from the History of Africa.