Ramona Caramelea

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Dr. Ramona Caramelea studied history at the University of Bucharest and the University of Aachen (Erasmus-Socrates Scholarship 2003). She received her BA in 2002, her MA in 2004 and in 2009 completed her Ph.D. with a dissertation on school buildings architecture in 19th century Romania. She is currently working as a teaching assistant for the Teaching Staff Training Department of the National University of Arts Bucharest. Her research focus in on the history of education in the 19th and 20th centuries.

A discipline serving the nation: Geography textbooks in Romania (1864-1947)

Ramona Caramelea

The three weeks I spent at the Georg Eckert Institute were very productive for me, both academically and personally.

My research aims to analyse Romanian geography textbooks for secondary education published between 1864 and 1947, in order to see the relationship between ideology, national identity and content. In 1864, geography was established as a subject in its own right (before then it had always been studied in combination with history) and was therefore introduced to the curricula of both primary and secondary state schools. Together, history and geography were disciplines with a political stake in the nineteenth century, they contributed to the political atmosphere of the period, nurturing patriotic feelings and helping to build national identity. At the same time, geography contributed to the construction of representations of Romania and the Romanians. The period covered by my analysis (1864-1947) was chosen due to its connections with the political process of building the Romanian national state and constructing a national identity (which took place around the same time). The geographic and ethnic structures of the state underwent radical changes during this period – changes reflected in the way textbooks were designed and in the political message they conveyed.

The sources used for my research are Romanian geography textbooks written between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth century. I will limit my research to textbooks for secondary education. The textbooks have a common structure combining different geographical approaches: physical geography, historical geography, political and economic geography. However, the chapters are given unequal emphasis, and are not always treated objectively. A common feature is also the manner in which the knowledge is encoded in textbooks: a descriptive, encyclopaedic style which abounds with numbers and information. Explanations, causal relationship, observation and investigation appear only in very few textbooks.

The theories presented in geography textbooks are rooted in the geographic national discourse. The theory of the organic unity of Romanian soil (a national state comprising a unitary geographic area) and the nationalisation of landscape[1] (the descriptions of Romanian landscape highlight national features and virtues) must be seen in the political context of the period. The only chapters which do not include major distortions and which are presented in an impartial manner are those on political geography. Providing information about contemporary political organisations, the administrative division of the country and the functioning of the most important institutions, these chapters reflect high political stakes.

I use a combination of methodologies from discourse studies and textual analysis for my research. Since the textbooks represent the main source of information for my research, I try to see how their design, language and images convey a certain political or cultural message. I use critical discourse analysis to investigate the relationships between texts, and discourses and social structure techniques in order to explain the ideological dominance. My research also focuses on the textbook as a means of visual communication, questioning the role played by images and maps. 

The fellowship at the Georg Eckert Institute was an excellent opportunity to consult academic books and journals on textbook analysis which subsequently served as the basis for my theoretical approach. I became familiar with the most reliable methods and instruments for investigations in the field of textbook research. The transdisciplinary approach, the reconstruction of discourse and the inquiry into concepts proposed by textbook researchers enabled me to critically analyse the perspective, discourse, and content of the textbooks. 

The results of this research will be used in two ways: for scientific articles to be published in academic journals, and for an exhibition “Geography in Romanians Schools 1864-1947” that I am currently working on. 

 I would like to extend my thanks to the librarians, who were extremely helpful in guiding me through the library and searching for the books I needed. Also to the researchers and the guesthouse staff, who did their best to make my stay in Braunschweig pleasant and productive. I also wish to thank Cristiana Murinha, Đorđe Stojanović and Helga Rietler, my guesthouse colleagues, for the intense discussions, cultural exchanges and enjoyable time spent together.

[1] Concept used by Oliver Zimmerman involving a symbolic analogy between landscape and nation. Kaufmann, E.; Zimmer, O., “In search of the authentic nation: landscape and national identity in Canada and Switzerland,” in: Nations and Nationalism, 4(4), 1998, pp.483-510, http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/4214/1/4214.pdf.

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