Knowledge about Africa: Discourses and Practices of Textbook Development in Germany and England, 1945-1995

The project explores consistency and change in knowledge about Africa as it is represented in textbooks, as well as the processes of political and societal consensus-building related to this knowledge, in the Federal Republic of Germany, the GDR and England from 1945 to 1995. In the wake of decolonisation and against the backdrop of the Cold War, all three countries saw existing structures of knowledge on Africa called into question and new ones emerge and undergo negotiation and debate.

The project’s analysis takes place on three levels:

  1. ‘Official knowledge’ as reflected in textbooks – media that carry the aura of particular objectivity, impact and political relevance and that have for these reasons repeatedly been at the centre of public debate. History and geography textbooks, the focus of this project, are especially illuminating in this respect, providing us with access to the interpretive patterns and structures of knowledge that predominate in a society.
  2. Research on practices of textbook production primarily takes place through archival sources in the collections of significant textbook publishers. The material held in such archives, which includes correspondence with authors as well as textbook concepts, manuscripts, and assessments, enables us to draw important conclusions on the conditions of production for knowledge transmitted to students in schools.
  3. Societal debates on knowledge relating to Africa in textbooks. In all three of the countries in this study, there have been continual discussions around what knowledge about Africa is deemed relevant for students to learn and how it should be presented in textbooks. These debates are reflected in textbook recommendations, petitions, and decrees issued by institutions such as the Standing Conference of the Education Ministers of the German Länder and UNESCO.

The project seeks to cast light on the interconnections and reciprocal influences between these three areas of analysis. In doing so, it hopes to retrace the processes in which structures of knowledge around Africa are and have been produced, circulated and changed. We intend to harness specific examples to identify the stakeholders, processes and events that have generated the impetus for significant instances of recoding, effacing and subsequent rewriting and restructuring of textbook knowledge, and to uncover the ways in which knowledge about Africa has been the subject of debate and negotiation processes after 1945.

The project is part of the GEI’s research area on ‘Europe: Narratives, Images, Spaces’, within which it is located in the overarching ‘Global Dimensions’ project.

The project organised the workshop ‘Key Characters in the History of Knowledge: Production, Circulation and Transformation of African Knowledge since 1945’ from 18–19 June 2015 in Braunschweig. The conference programme can be found here.

Conference report


In addition, the project co-organised the conference ‘Knowledge Production in a Hybrid Age. Contemporary and Historical Perspectives on Producing Textbooks and Digital Educational Media’, 3–4 December 2015 in Braunschweig. Further information is available here:

Conference description

Conference programme

This project will also produce an archive guide, which will systematically outline the archive contents of textbook publishers in Germany and Great Britain. The guide will be completed in late 2016. More information here.

Project lead

Dr. Robert Maier (2015 - 2017)

Prof. Dr. Simone Lässig (2014-2015)


Lars Müller, M.A.



Funded by



Lars Müller

Knowledge in Transition

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