Sunday, November 11, 2007

Textbook Tug-of-War

This week's On the Media features a report on an ambitious textbook analysis at Stanford University that asks some of the same questions we've asked in AIS. Project directors wonder why, for example, American textbooks offer extensive coverage of Pearl Harbor; whereas, Korean and Japanese textbooks offer a single sentence of coverage. Similarly, the Japanese textbooks ignore or grossly downplay atrocities they perpetrated on the Chinese.

The project hopes to offer "a comparative examination of high school history textbooks in China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States, focusing on the period from 1931-1951. This will be followed by a second comparative study of popular cinema dealing with historical subjects from roughly the same period."

Can a multi-national examination of history from multiple perspectives arrive at the truth? Can projects like this bring about reconciliation between nations? How long should nations wait before undertaking such projects? How long is too long?


Elizabeth L said...

Pearl Harbor was one example that hit me to be the clearest connection between US versus Korean and Japanese textbooks is due to pride and prejudice. The Japanese attacked the Americans which was the trigger for the war. Even though it was a huge apart of history for both countries the Americans are covering this event extensively over the Japanese because it clarified the reason we went into war. It makes us look better because we werent the ones attacking and we came up stronger than the Japenese. The Japenese chose not to explain it because it demonstrates them attacking and losing.
Textbooks are the focus of education in schools to teach the history to students, who are the future of the country. The Japanese don't want to demonstrate there mistakes; however, the Americans tell more because they feel students can learn from there faults, there is always a solution. I think this says alot about the countries goal and how they handle things and look to their solutions. Therefore I do believe a multi-national examination of history would only benefit us because more than one perspective on an issue brings you closer to the truth, it is like a trial in court: usually the lawyer who bring in more evidence wins the case.

Brandon said...

I feel there is no way a "multi-national examination of history" would work because if different countries are disagreeing about what to put in their textbooks right now, they would definitely disagree in the future. Also, I feel that something like this would be extremely biased. For example, would multi-national mean every single country, or just a few countries? How would someone deal with the extremely controversial versions of history (like Ahmadinejad's version that doesn't believe in the Holocaust)?

I also believe this is empirically proven not to work, for example, China has been protesting against Japanese textbooks for years now (, but they still keep some of the same passages, which shows that people normally don't like to look back on their past. If you force nations to change their view of history, I really feel that could only increase hostility.

Moira C. said...

I agree with Brandon that a multi-national examination of history would be biased, unless of course the "multiple perspectives" were from a variety of opposite viewpoints and they were an even amount of different biases. Then, hopefully people would get a better understanding and find what they believe to be the closest truth.

I don't think that this would bring about reconciliation bewtween nations, most likely, but in extreme cases I suppose it could. However, anything that happen over 15 years ago should be okay. There are always radicals who will deny history, or just change it to fit what they want, but I think overall this comparative examination could work.

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