A Common Vision: Contesting History and Education in Postwar Lebanon
Nazarian, Gregor Peter
This paper examines Lebanese history textbooks and debates surrounding reform of the history curriculum to show how history education functions in postwar Lebanese society. Although the Ta'if Agreement ending the civil war called for a unified history curriculum to foster national unity, repeated failures of reform efforts have left the outdated 1970 curriculum in place and a variety of privately published textbooks in Lebanese classrooms. The lack of a unified history curriculum has come to be seen as a symbol of sectarianism, and specifically of the problem of multiple competing visions of Lebanon's history and identity. History education in Lebanon provides a particularly rich source for studying the production of history because it provides a forum for multiple voices of opposition to speak directly to each other on historical issues. By contesting the history curriculum, a wide variety of actors including journalists, politicians, bureaucrats, teachers, and textbook authors engage in the production of Lebanon's history. In this paper I examine the processes informing construction of official texts (including curricula and textbooks) and political contests among interest groups and the state over the functions of education. I analyze four twelfth-grade history textbooks to show how private publishers and textbook authors diverge and converge in constructing historical narratives within the confines of what the curriculum marks as official history. This examination suggests that a centralized curriculum, minimal as it is, and a crucial state exit exam work to constrain the broad range of narratives possible in private textbooks. I also investigate two major failed attempts to update and unify the history curriculum through media coverage and the views of policymakers, politicians, and educationalists toward the process. The debates surrounding these attempts show how unstated disagreements over the social and political function of history education have compounded disagreements over its proper content, undermining efforts at reform. Although the history curriculum may remain unchanged, it still informs new editions of textbooks and inspires lively public debate, all of which constitutes a continuing process of historical production aimed at creating a history, or histories, of Lebanon.
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