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Open Access Writing the Irish past: An investigation into post-primary Irish history textbook emphases and historiography, 1921–69

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This paper maintains a focus on textbooks published and used at post-primary level in the Irish Free State/Republic of Ireland between the 1920s and late 1960s, in the initial decades of the nascent Free State. Viewed by many as the closest way, after direct fieldwork, of finding out the content of teaching, textbooks have also been seen to act as condensed versions of the society that produced them. The textbooks used rarely changed during this period, for a number of reasons, both practical and ideological. Consequently, it can be accepted that a reasonably similar account of the Irish past was transmitted in print to post-primary students across the period. The article offers an investigation into Irish history textbook historiography, and highlights select examples of how this affected the version of the Irish past being transmitted in print in Irish post-primary schools. It provides the first quantitative analysis and comparison of the central Irish history textbooks in operation during this period. By establishing what textbooks were in use, discussing who they were written by, and then by analysing, cross-comparing and examining their respective emphases, this paper offers an understanding of the general narrative of Irish history as portrayed in secondary schools, from this textual perspective. It focuses predominantly on content inclusion and scope, as opposed to how this content was engaged with. Ultimately, this paper argues that a general narrative of Irish history was maintained across each of the textbooks, which tended to focus on a traditional 'great man' approach to history, with a strong emphasis on high politics. That said, this was not oppressive or rigid, as there was no single consensus view as to what aspects of Irish history were most important within this tradition, with different emphases being placed on various events and figures in Irish history. These differences varied according to the political, class and religious orientation of the author.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 26, 2018

More about this publication?
  • The History Education Research Journal (HERJ) is an international, open-access, peer-reviewed journal that focuses on the global significance and impact of history education. It covers all aspects of history education theory, scholarship, and pure and applied research. Articles illuminate contemporary issues, concerns, policies and practice, drawing upon the eclectic research methodologies of history education. The journal is published in partnership with the Historical Association.

    HERJ is a relaunch of the International Journal of Historical Learning Teaching and Research. All past issues up to and including vol. 15, no. 1 were published under this title. HERJ vol. 15, no. 2 is the first to be published by UCL IOE Press.
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