German-Czech Textbook Commission

Textbook conference in Breitenbrunn 2014 – excursion to uranium-mining-museum (photo: M. Mahdal)

The commission's aim is to improve the content of textbooks, render them more compatible, and ultimately work towards establishing better communication between German and Czech people by undertaking regular academic and didactic analysis of history textbooks on both sides. The commission meets annually, alternating between Germany and the Czech Republic. There is an academic conference every two years hosted by each country in turn, and in the years in between a small annual meeting is also held by each country in turn.

 

 

German-Czech Textbook Commission. Conference in Budweis. 5 October 2016. Photo: Hudičák (Photo studio Seidel in České Budějovice)
German-Czech Textbook Commission. Conference in Budweis. 5 October 2016. Photo: Hudičák (Photo studio Seidel in České Budějovice)

The thirteenth joint Czech-German textbook conference, on “People, Environments, Borders: An exemplary investigation of uranium mining in the German-Czech border region”, took place in November 2014 in Breitenbrunn in the German Erzgebirge region. A conference report can be found in the online portal Moderní dějiny at http://www.moderni-dejiny.cz/clanek/v-sasku-se-konala-konference-clovek-zivotni-prostredi-a-hranice/. The purpose of the conference was to initiate the development of binational teaching and learning materials on its topic, with the eventual aim of making them available to teachers in both countries on a bilingual website. The conference saw the commencement of work on the planned teaching modules, which is scheduled to continue into 2016. A proposal by Czech members of the commission that the issue of migration be the subject of a conference to be held in 2016 was adopted.

The German-Czech textbook commission has recently been attracting increased media attention. An edition of a programme produced by the German regional television broadcaster MDR, "Heute im Osten unterwegs", shown on 1 May 2014 and reaching a wide audience, featured Robert Maier talking about the commission’s discussions on textbooks. Further, the leading Czech educational journal Pedagogická orientace has offered to publish a detailed description of the commission’s work.

The History of the Commission

The discussion of German-Czech textbooks was launched in 1967 at the initiative of the UNESCO commissions from the ČSSR and the Federal Republic of Germany. In the same year, a conference took place in Braunschweig. The main topics discussed were the Reformation and the Hussite movement, as well as the renaissance of national feelings up until 1848. Following the repression of the “Prague Spring” in 1968, the conferences were broken off. At the initiative of two pioneers of German-Czech understanding, Professor Ferdinand Seibt and Professor Hans Lemberg, the History Commission for the Sudetenland regions addressed the topic of textbooks at two conferences in 1976 and1977 in order to “fill the gap” until official meetings became possible again. During this era of so called ‘normalisation’ in the CSSR, Czech and Slovak academics were only able to take part at these conferences if they were exiles living in the ‘West’. The results of these conferences are published as volume 28 of the Institute’s series.

It took another decade, until 1987, for the trilateral contacts to resume between Czechs, Slovaks and Germans. At a textbook conference in Prague in 1988, problems concerning the portrayal of shared relations during the 19th and 20th centuries in Czechoslovakian and German school textbooks were discussed. One year later, a conference in Braunschweig dealt with the Czech, Slovak and German national movements. At a third conference in Prague in 1990, “The Epoch of Imperialism, World War, and Revolution in Both Countries (1871-1918)” was examined.

Due to the personal and organizational restructuring which occurred as a consequence of the dissolution of the ČSFR, talks did not resume until 1994 (now in the form of a purely German-Czech partnership). At a fourth conference in 1994, which took place in Braunschweig and a fifth one 1995 in Prague, the chronological revisiting of German-Czechoslovak relations were resumed. The topics included “German-Czechoslovakian Relations until the Mid-Thirties,” and “Czechs, Germans, and World War II”. Following this conference series, it was decided to follow up on questions pertaining to “The Nation-State in School Textbooks”. Two conferences have dealt with this topic so far. The question addressed at the 1997 conference in Braunschweig was: “The Nation - Awakened, Born, Overcome, Destroyed, Revived…or simply Constructed? School Textbook Historiography and its Assessment of the Nation-State.” The seventh German-Czech school textbook conference, which took place in Prague in 1999, was entitled “Is the Nation Finally at Rest? Czechs and Germans Reflect on their Relationship toward the Nation-State.”

In September 2000, the Czech section of the Cooperative German-Czech Commission for School Textbooks was institutionalized. The Czech Minister of Education appointed several professors from the Charles University in Prague, and pedagogues from Pilsen to this commission. In 2002, the German-Czech Textbook Commission held its formal foundation meeting in Dresden after 35 years of joint work. The subject for the first joint conference under new auspices, the 8th German-Czech textbook conference in Podebrady, was ‘The Period of National Socialism in History Lessons’. The conference talked about similarities between the daily life of the Czechs and the Germans in the GDR at that time and the various relationships between Czechoslovakians and GDR citizens, as well as about the problem of bringing this part of history nearer to today’s pupils. This was also the first time that the commission focussed on a research field that was not directly connected to a history of conflict.

After a special request from the Czech side who were looking for possible synergy effects for lessons in literary and artistic school subjects, the topic ‘Parallels, Connections and Opposites in the Cultural Development of Czechoslovakia and Germany, 1918-1945: Examples and Suggestions for Interdisciplinary Teaching Projects’ was presented in Bautzen in 2005. Franz Kafka and his circle, for instance, show that this is also a very interesting subject for the German side as well.&

The tenth German-Czech textbook conference, held in October 2007 in Pardubice, marked both an end in what we might call a chronological “run through” of the two countries’ shared past and a new and exciting moment in the commission’s exploration of common ground. The proceedings of the conference on “Landmark Years 1968/1989: Political and Social Movements, Aims, and Results in a German-Czechoslovakian-European Comparison” [see report] were published in Czech and German.

December 2009 saw the commission hold a conference at the Thüringer Institut für Lehrerfortbildung, Lehrplanentwicklung und Medien (ThILLM; Institute for Teacher Training, Curriculum Development and Media, Thuringia) in Bad Berka on the topic of “History Lessons, Historical Awareness and Cultivating History in the Czech Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany” [see report]. A further conference, held in Prague in January 2012 and counted as the twelfth German-Czech textbook conference, followed up the issues discussed in Bad Berka, focusing on “History Teaching Between Mass Media, Textbooks and Teaching Materials”. A publication which will showcase part of the conference’s proceedings is currently being prepared, examining the relationships of history teaching in Germany and the Czech Republic to historical cultures and the factors determining these relationships.

Sponsored by

  • German Federal Foreign Office

Cooperation Partners

  • Prof. Dr. Volker Zimmermann (Collegium Carolinum München / Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf), German chairman of the commission;
  • Prof. Dr Zdeněk Beneš (Charles University, Prague), Czech chairman of the commission;
  • numerous German and Czech academic specialists, lecturers in teaching methods, and educationalists.

Every effort will be made to ensure close cooperation with the joint German-Polish Textbook Commission.

Contact

Robert Maier

Head / Department Europe

Branch Office B1.14.1
Phone: +49 531 59099-550
Send email

Publications

  • Denisa Labischova: Zpráva z XIII. česko-německé konference o školním dějepisu konané 20.–22. listopadu 2014. In: Pedagogická orientace/Journal of the Czech Pedagogical Society. Brno 2015, S. 302-305. Online unter: URL: https://journals.muni.cz/pedor/article/view/3426/pdf2. (Abrufdatum: 28.05.2015).
  • Robert Maier: Die deutsch-tschechische und die deutsch-polnische Schulbuchkommission. Eine vergleichende Betrachtung. In: Hana Kábová and Mikulás Čtvrtník (eds.): Bylo nebylo. Studie (nejen) k dějinám dějepisectví, vzdělanosti a didaktice dějepisu. Praha: Karolinum 2012, (52 Suppl.1)
  • Zdeněk Beneš (ed.): Dvojí rok 1968? Zlomové roky 1968 a 1989 v českých a německých učebnicích dějepisu. Praha: Casablanca 2010
  • Andreas Helmedach (ed.): Die Zeit des Sozialismus in deutschen und tschechischen Schulgeschichtsbüchern (= Internationale Schulbuchforschung/International Textbook Research Jg. 26 [2004], H.4
  • Robert Maier (ed.): Die Präsenz des Nationalen im (ost)mitteleuropäischen Geschichtsdiskurs, Hannover: Hahn 2002
  • Robert Maier (ed.): Tschechen, Deutsche und der Zweite Weltkrieg. Von der Schwere geschichtlicher Erfahrung und der Schwierigkeit ihrer Aufarbeitung, Hannover: Hahn 1997
  • Hans Lemberg and Ferdinand Seibt (eds.): Deutsch-tschechische Beziehungen in der Schulliteratur und im populären Geschichtsbild, Braunschweig: Westermann 1978
  • (no editor), Zur Geschichte der deutsch-tschechoslowakischen Beziehungen, Braunschweig: Albert Limbach Verlag 1968