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Dr Aleksandra Kolaković is a historian and research fellow at the Institute for Political Studies, in Belgrade (Serbia). Aleksandra’s main areas of academic interest are intellectual history, the history of ideas, cultural history, the culture of remembrance, protection of cultural heritage and history teaching methodology. She is the author of several scholarly works and two history textbooks and has participated in numerous international conferences. Aleksandra speaks Serbian, English, French and some German.
In September 2016 I was a visiting research fellow at the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research. The subject of my research project was the Culture of remembrance and history textbooks in the former Yugoslav countries (2000–2015). The aim was to illuminate the role of history textbooks in forming a culture of remembrance among the generation born after the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century the states of the former Yugoslavia had left behind a tumultuous past and were engaged in the process of establishing links with the rest of Europe and the developed world. The issue of regional cooperation and good neighbouring relations were key to this process. The school curriculums in those states were changed in accordance with new socio-political and economic orientations and this was reflected in the layout and content of history textbooks. Wars and other conflict situations (Balkan wars 1912–1913, First and Second World Wars, civil wars of the 1990s) are typically associated with powerful images in collective memory. Therefore, it is very important to examine the veracity and origin of mental images, the formation of which may be have been influenced by textbooks.
The fellowship at the GEI was an excellent opportunity to consult academic books and journals on textbook analysis. During my research, I paid special attention to the origin of mental image in collective memory, to comparative analysis of history textbooks and to how a culture of remembrance in these states has been constructed through common experiences, particularly of wars and crises in the Balkans, as well as the attitude towards European values and the accession to the European Union. The extensive library at the GEI and contact with experts working at the GEI enabled me to expand my research on this topic and to analyse the history textbooks published in the states of the former Yugoslavia during the period from 2000 to 2015. This research is a development of my earlier research and work on the preparation of history textbooks and the organisation of seminars for history teachers. In terms of methodology, the research applies comparative methods and uses analysis of the ‘image of the Other’ through the ideas affirmed in theories of culture, modernisation, Europeanisation, symbolic anthropology and studies of images.
My research is dedicated to comparative explorations aimed at mapping the symbols of the culture of remembrance in textbooks. It is based on the analysis of narrative content, visual identity and the researching of data founded in scholarly research. Textbooks not only define ‘legitimate knowledge’ and desirable skills but also build and develop nationally and socially desirable identity concepts. The key questions were: how the presentation in history textbooks of monuments, memorial plaques and historical sites relating to recent history create the memory of one nation? I noted the deferent way in which memories of Jasenovac or Srebrenica were transmitted in Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian textbooks. My objective is to answer questions concerning the foundation of further relations between the countries of the former Yugoslavia that arose in my analysis of the contents of history textbooks.
The GEI is the leading centre for the study of the character of textbooks and other educational materials used in schools and I believe my study visit enabled me to hone my expertise and gain an insight into modern approaches to all aspects of textbook research. The aim of the research that I carried out at the GEI and the study I plan to write will be to throw light on the status and place of the culture of remembrance, the concept of identity formation and interpretation patterns, as well as the methods of building an image of the ‘Self’ and the ‘Other’ in history textbooks. This research would serve as the basis for new research, textbook analyses, lectures, empirical studies and workshops for history teachers, and the improvement of existing textbooks in Serbia – principally those authored by myself.
I would like to extend my thanks to the librarians and the researchers (Imke Rath, Cornelia Hagemann, Zrinka Štimac and Eva Fischer) at the GEI for their help in guiding me through the library and for the in-depth discussions. The colloquium and subsequent discussion with other colleagues (Divya Kannan, Germán Canale and Sergii Koniukhov) were also excellent opportunities for cultural and academic exchanges that made my stay in Braunschweig enjoyable and productive.