Europe in Focus: A History Book for Germany and Poland

Copyright Eduversum GmbH

Copyright WSiP

On 20 November the Minister of Education, Youth and Sport for the State of Brandenburg, Britta Ernst, and the Polish Minister for National Education, Anna Zalewska, presented the second volume of the joint history textbook series Europa – Unsere Geschichte (Europe – Our History) at the Kreisau Foundation for Mutual Understanding in Europe. The project is coordinated by the Georg Eckert Institut for International Textbook Research (GEI) in Braunschweig and the Centre for Historical Research Berlin of the Polish Academy of Science. The entire four-volume series will be completed by 2020. The first volume was presented in June 2016 in Berlin by former German Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Polish Foreign Minister Waszczykowski.

‘Diverging perspectives on history and a lack of historical knowledge still lead to societal conflict today – disagreements that can even reach the political level and most certainly cause irritation between our societies. This is where Europa – Unsere Geschichte comes in: It enriches students’ knowledge about their neighbours, encouraging them to reflect upon the role of history in the formation of identity and to engage in dialogue about it. The textbook series thus teaches skills that are indispensible for Europe today if we expect to find common ground not only on the past but also on our shared future’, explained Prof. Eckhardt Fuchs, director of the Georg Eckert Institute.

The textbooks series, published by Eduversum und WSiP, is designed for identical use in both German and Polish classrooms; the only difference is the language of the text. Significantly, the volumes are complete history textbooks that comply with the curricula of both countries and are not conceived as complementary teaching material. The books are suitable for the lower secondary level (Sekundarstufe I) in Germany. Volume 2 emphasises similarities and contrasts among historical developments in Europe and around the world from the start of the modern era until 1815. It uses examples to highlight how historical events in our societies are remembered.

As early as 2008, the governments of both countries agreed to build the organisational foundations for the joint textbook project. On the German side, the project is coordinated politically and supported by the Federal Foreign Office and the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs under the aegis of the Brandenburg Ministry for Education, Youth and Sport. The Polish patrons are the Ministry for National Education, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry for Culture and National Heritage. Substantial support also comes from the Foundation for German-Polish Cooperation. The co-chairs of the joint German-Polish Textbook Commission were tasked with securing academic expertise on both sides. Two bodies make up the institutional framework of the project group: a steering committee and an expert advisory council. With its 2010 recommendations, the expert advisory council laid the conceptual groundwork for the German-Polish textbook series.

Each volume involves close collaboration between the publishers, authors, academic coordinators and experts for each period, from both countries. The completed chapters reflect a complex discussion process surrounding the question of how to introduce a perspective that sensitises pupils to the varying interpretations, points of view and didactic approaches involved in portraying the past. A range of measures such as workshops for teachers aim to support and promote the book’s broad implementation in schools in both countries.

The project to create a joint history textbook has benefitted greatly from the work of the German-Polish Textbook Commission, established in 1972 and coordinated by the Georg Eckert Institute. The group’s ‘Recommendations’ of 1976 provided important impulses for textbooks and history teaching in both countries. In June 2017 the Commission was honoured for its work with the Viadrina Prize.