Rūta Kazlauskaitė-Gürbüz received her Master of Social Science degree in Political Science in April 2011 from Helsinki University where she is currently a doctoral student at the Department of Political and Economic Studies. Her project focuses on the production of historical knowledge in school education in Poland and Lithuania and its relationship to the historical memory upheld by the minority groups in each country. Rūta Kazlauskaitė-Gürbüz is interested in history education, collective memory and the politics of history in Central and Eastern Europe.
The contested memory of the shared Polish-Lithuanian past and history education in Poland and Lithuania
In March/April 2013, I had the opportunity to spend three weeks at the Georg Eckert Institute on a fellowship programme. My PhD research examines the production of historical knowledge in school education in Poland and Lithuania and how this knowledge relates to the collective memory of the Polish and Lithuanian minorities in the two national settings. The work involves analysing how the official historical narrative(s) presented in school history textbooks in Lithuania and Poland engage with narrative diversity and issues of historical truth. This is a matter of particular relevance, as the differences in the official interpretations of Polish-Lithuanian history in Poland and Lithuania persist to this day. Likewise, clashing official historical narratives often fail to adequately take into account the variations in the historical memory upheld by the Polish minority in Lithuania and the Lithuanian minority in Poland. The contestation of memory and history over what constitutes “the historical truth” has important ramifications in the field of history education, which holds the role to convey an appropriate interpretation of the past. Given the predominant role of professional historians as active participants in and formulators of state policy on history education, I am interested in their views on the nature of historical knowledge, approaches to and the aims of history education. How do their professional identities and their views on the matters of historical truth, objectivity and the desired purpose of history education translate into a specific narrative in a textbook? How do they perceive this activity, given that school history textbooks are considered a crucial instrument of state politics of memory? Lastly, and most importantly, what is their approach to addressing the plurality of interpretations of the shared Polish-Lithuanian past in history education?
During my research stay, I made extensive use of the GEI library’s collection of Polish and Lithuanian history textbooks as well as academic literature on history education. I have read a number of Polish and Lithuanian textbooks, analysing how their authors approach the issues of narrative diversity and historical truth, which practices of historical research and analysis they present as appropriate to engagement with these issues, and the extent to and manner in which they present conflicting interpretations of the past. What caught my attention in particular was the fact that, while the textbooks clearly advocated critical engagement with historical events, acknowledged the inevitability of the plurality of interpretations of the past and stated that our relationship to the past is always embedded in the contemporary cultural context, the underlying notion of historical objectivity (as expressed by the majority of the authors) was not very far removed from its predominant 19th century understanding. The distinctions between the knower and the known and between facts and values were carefully upheld. The main purpose of historical research remained, as presented by the textbooks, to determine “what really happened”.
Encounters and conversations with researchers at the GEI presented me with a valuable opportunity to discuss and share insights on research interests we hold in common. The library staff was also extremely helpful, offering guidance and helping me to find the relevant materials in the library’s collections. I am very grateful for their contribution to what was a highly productive and academically stimulating research stay in Braunschweig.