Paradigm, No. 14 (September, 1994)

George Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research

Michael Cahn

77 Garden Walk,
Cambridge CB4 3EW

The institute, incorporated as a public institution, is located in a spacious residence in Braunschweig. It was founded in 1951 as the 'Institute for Textbook Improvement'. Its original name indicates more effectively the work which is pursued there. In the German post-War era, one of its primary aims was the comparative study of textbooks for geography and history in an attempt to reach a standard of national schoolbooks which would be conducive to international peace. It can easily be imagined that this was both a difficult and a rewarding task. In the early years, the consultations with French and later with Polish authorities were especially important, but the institute also sponsored contacts with other European nations. Meetings, conferences, assessments and recommendations aimed to identify divergent accounts of history in textbooks and to find acceptable presentations of recent history that would not differ widely in a European context.

The notion of Versachfichung was of great importance for this work: the belief that there is, in every case, a standard of factual accuracy which can be used to identify and measure distorted or partial accounts. Part of an admirable attempt at international peace education, such a search for a neutral and unemotional formulation allows one to read educational texts for the various political interests they voice. In a sense, these distortions remain relatively straightforward: not least in the sense that they can, in principle, always be rectified. It would be an interesting question if this search for political distortions was prepared to recognise, self-reflectively, the political interests that in turn sponsored this international unification and homogenisation of historical accounts.

Today, the institute is mote generally interested in the representation of inter-cultural relations. It devotes special attention to the study of the representation of such topics as the European Community, national prejudices in textbooks, Third World, multicultural societies, ecological issues, the German question, Turkish as a native language in Germany and so forth, in teaching materials.

The institute at present employs a staff of more than 30. It edits a journal entitled Internationale Schulbuchforschung, now in its 15th year, which also publishes essays in English, French and in other languages. The detailed list of its publications, about 50 monographs and collected volumes, fills more than 80 pages and is available on request. The institute also awards scholarships for textbook research which either possesses a European perspective or furthers the concerns of education for international peace. It houses a significant library which has a collection of German and European textbooks and related materials amounting to approximately 35,000 volumes, of which about 7000 volumes are pre-1945. The institute also publishes, with the support of UNESCO, a newsletter entitled International Textbook Research Network. Connoisseurs of English as a Foreign language will find much to enjoy there. The address is Georg Eckert Institut für Internationale Schulbuchforschung, Celler Str. 3, D-38114, Braunschweig, Germany.

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