Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education
SPICE Publications


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Divided Memories: Comparing History Textbooks

Full Unit

Author
Rylan Sekiguchi - Stanford University

For Secondary - Community College students.

Softcover - $49.95
includes CD-ROM


We study history, many say, to learn from history's mistakes. But what happens when our interpretations of history differ? Such disagreements have sometimes escalated into heated disputes or even conflicts.

Because the past continues to influence the present, and because our sense of history helps shape our perception of the world, debates over how history is taught in schools can become extremely controversial and political. History textbooks, too, have become arguably the most politically scrutinized component of modern education. In part, this is because school textbooks provide an opportunity for a society to record or endorse the "correct" version of history and to build a shared memory of history among its populace.

This unit examines prevalent history textbooks from five Pacific Rim societies and compares their coverage of certain sensitive historical episodes of the 20th century. How do textbooks from different societies treat such episodes? Do they present similar or dissimilar interpretations of history? Students answer these questions and more as they analyze, compare, and contrast history textbooks. Ultimately, Divided Memories encourages students to confront more fundamental issues-such as the possible bias of their own historical knowledge-and to become more critical consumers of information.

Lesson One introduces the topic of bias and asks students to consider how one's own perspective and biases can affect how he or she perceives information.  This lesson also introduces students to a framework for analyzing textbook excerpts and leads them through a guided practice.

Lesson Two engages students in a substantial comparative analysis of history textbook excerpts, where students revisit the analytical framework introduced in the previous lesson and apply it in their own textbook analysis, comparing excerpts from popular Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, Taiwanese, and U.S. history textbooks.  

Lesson Three concludes the unit by encouraging students to reflect on the causes and effects of textbook bias. Working in small groups, students analyze scholarly papers written about the Divided Memories project by scholars from each of the five societies examined in this unit.