Colonialism has left its marks on postcolonial societies both on those of the colonizers and those of the colonized. Their connected or entangled histories have shaped and burdened national identities up to the present. It is only recently that European nation states begin to acknowledge how little their colonial pasts have gone by. Scholarly and public debates in France, Belgium, Great Britain or Germany have brought to the fore what seemed to be an almost forgotten heritage. Education on colonialism often served as a means to legitimize colonial violence and to propagate the civilization mission. In this respect school textbooks and especially history textbooks are of great value because they present – intentionally or not – national master narratives. Their ways of presenting und commemorating a rather dark chapter of national history shed a light on national self-perception. Moreover, the ways in which history textbooks integrate the experiences and memories not only of the colonizers but of the colonized and their descendants is crucial for a sense of belonging and of social cohesion.
The paper will look at German and French colonialism and how it is presented in contemporary history textbooks. The German example stands for a rather belated and short-lived colonial experience which ended after World War I. The French example stands for a long colonial heritage whose reverberations were felt even well after decolonization.
Postcolonial studies have contested national master narratives which favoured a Eurocentric perspective in pointing out that the histories of the centres and the peripheries are in many ways interrelated or connected. Since colonialism has never been a purely national project but a project that has been fuelled by the rivalry of European nations a comparative approach will contribute to a better understanding of colonialism as a transnational phenomenon. The paper concentrates on different modes of narrating and remembering colonial pasts. It reflects upon the framework of education on colonialism taking into account curricular reforms, debates about history laws and discussions about recompensation for colonial violence. The Franco-German history textbook published in 2006 (Europe and the World since 1945) and 2008 (Europe and the World from the Congress of Vienna to 1945) will serve as a starting point. Written by a bilateral group of French and German experts the textbook presents a common view on European and global history. At the same time it attempts to depict both national histories as entangled histories (histoire croisée) with shared memories in the double sense of the meaning.
Focussing on the German and French national self-perception in the mirror of colonialism the paper aims at a comparative discussion of the role of education on colonialism and of Europe’s connected pasts.