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Remembrance education between history teaching and citizenship education

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Commemoration and remembrance are integral elements of postmodern western culture. Although academic historians are increasingly inclined to acknowledge that there is no hard and fast dividing line between collective memory and professional historiography, they do not always welcome the increasing pressure from national governments and international organizations to guide and even regulate collective memory through history education or through so-called ‘remembrance education’. The rationale of remembrance education is that modern nations have a certain responsibility for crimes or suffering that has been caused in the past, and that recognition of this forms a component of education in democratic citizenship. Remembrance education thus becomes a general umbrella for education about ‘dark chapters’ from the past, with the Holocaust as most evident example. This article focuses on a single (sub)national case. Within the Flemish Community, which is the body responsible for education in Flanders and the Dutch-speaking schools in the federal Belgian capital Brussels, remembrance education has, since 2010, been an official part of the cross-curricular final objectives of secondary education. Starting from the concrete context in which this initiative originated and is currently being developed, we examine the complex relationship between remembrance education and history teaching. The differences and affinities between both, we argue, become visible by comparing the position of the academic discipline of history in both fields, by comparing the position of the present, the role of empathy and of a pedagogy of activation and by analysing the way in which ethical questions are dealt with. The absolute moral standards and the present-centred character of remembrance education are, for instance, far removed from the ambitions to stimulate historical and contextual thinking that are central to history education. Many of the real tensions between both, however, reproduce in magnified form the equally real inter┬Čnal tensions that characterize contemporary history teaching, with its simultaneous scientific and civic ambitions. But unlike remembrance education, history education does not regard memory as the starting point for knowledge or attitudes, but as a subject of critical historical research in its own right.
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Keywords: Belgium; citizenship education; cross-curricular objectives; historical distance; historical thinking; history education; history wars; remembrance education

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: KU Leuven

Publication date: 25 April 2012

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