Joint German-Czech Textbook Commission
The German-Czech textbook discussions originated from a joint initiative by the UNESCO Commissions in the USSR and the Federal Republic of Germany in the mid-1960s. The political developments that began in 1968 meant that the joint activities were short-lived and could not be restarted until the late 1980s. At a joint textbook conference held in Prague in 1988, German, Czech and Slovakian academics addressed problems in the nineteenth and twentieth century relationships portrayed in school history textbooks in Germany and Czechoslovakia. In 1992, following the collapse of the USSR, bilateral conferences began between German and Czech representatives. They did not shy away from sensitive topics related to history, memory culture or politics. For example, the 1995 conference in Prague addressed ‘Czechs, Germans and the Second World War’.
In November 2002 the Joint German-Czech Textbook Commission was formally established in Dresden. Topics explored by delegates at the bilateral conferences in subsequent years have included: ‘The time of socialism in history teaching’, ‘Connections in the cultural development of Czechoslovakia and Germany between 1918 and 1945’, the ‘Epochal years 1968/1989’ in the context of Germany, Czechoslovakia and Europe and ‘Knowledge and images of America: Transatlantic relationships in textbooks and popular culture in Germany and the Czech Republic’ (German Version) (Czech version).
The overriding aim of the Commission’s work is to facilitate the improvement and harmonisation of textbook content in the two countries through regular academic and didactic analysis and consequently to contribute to a better understanding between Germans and Czechs. The Commission also provides impulses for new questions in didactics and research, such as addressing academically backed digital products for schools in both countries.
The Commission meets annually, swapping between locations in Germany and the Czech Republic each year. It also alternates each year between organising a major biennial academic conference, and a biennial working group meeting hosted alternately by Germany and the Czech Republic. Since 2021 the Commission has focussed more keenly on the creation of concrete products with direct applications for the target groups with which the Commission works. The format of a ‘dialogue forum’ was established in 2022, for example, which has an expansive three-year working programme exploring the ‘Politics and culture of history from a German-Czech perspective: Museum narratives and materialised historical awareness (memorials)’. The aim being to address a new circle of people involved in the Commission's work without them necessarily having to become members of the Czech or German sections. This circle includes teachers, educationalists and educational practitioners who are involved in the development of teaching materials, training courses and textbook analyses that are relevant to curricula or classroom teaching, and which focus on specific topics of the German-Czech relationship with regard to their relevance in both countries’ textbooks. The new ‘dialogue forum’ is a format that provides new stimuli for the Commission's activities that can be applied to teaching practice.
The Commission currently examines contemporary topics of relevance to both countries and global aspects that influence the region: In November 2016, the fourteenth joint textbook conference, held in České Budějovice, addressed ‘Migration as a subject in German and Czech school lessons’; the fifteenth conference, held in Bad Schandau in November 2018, focussed on ‘Knowledge and images of America: Transatlantic relationships in textbooks and popular culture in Germany and the Czech Republic’. The publication resulting from the conference is avalable online in German and Czech. In addition to teaching the history of the German-Czech border region in lessons and through educational media, minority and European policy aspects in the subjects of history, geography and social studies are also repeatedly discussed and researched.
The Commission produces concrete recommendations for the design of teaching projects and creates digital teaching materials for use in classrooms in both countries, such as a bilingual website on the history of uranium mining in the German-Czech border region.
The website on: Uranium on the German-Czech border. Classroom material (Website in German and Czech).
As a result of the Dialogue Forum held in Prague in November 2022, the Commission is currently working on a bilingual (online) guide to exhibitions and museums related to German-Czech historical and political education, which can be used when school and youth groups from the two countries meet.