There has been a deluge of stories on 9/11 and its aftermath in the past week, ranging from the personal to political to polemic, some looking back on the past 10 years, some looking forward to what could come. I’ve been trying to keep a close eye on who’s been writing what on the issue, and have generated a small list on some of the standouts. See below for a few recommendations, and feel free to comment with your own – I’d like to keep this list growing with suggestions.
“He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”
Orwell 1949: 37
Think back to your high school history textbook. How many hours did you spend bent over its pages, copying “key terms” onto flashcards the night before an exam? How often did you complain of the weight it added to your backpack?
How often did you question what was written on its pages?
“The Politics of 9/11 Narratives in History Textbooks Worldwide” is an in-depth analysis of how political forces have shaped the narratives on 9/11 in high school textbooks worldwide. It provides a never-before seen look into history textbooks from across the globe, illustrating how purportedly objective accounts are refashioned for political ends. While history textbooks are often seen as an authority on their subject, authored by teachers and historians, those who can be counted on to write objectively on events of the past, to distill the “important stuff,” this study reveals that it is press teams more than educators and politicians more than academics who are dictating the narratives currently found in textbooks around the world.
In United States history textbooks, the events of September 11 are most often described as an attack – specifically a terrorist attack. The timeline of day’s events is described in great detail, with a large emphasis in the response questions placed on memorization of the order and nature of the attacks. For texts that are generally characterized by fairly straight forward, bland sentences throughout other chapters on other subjects, the 9/11 narrative is dominated by action verbs and passionate retellings.
For the vast amount of space devoted to discussion of the destruction and death caused by 9/11, the reader is provided surprisingly few pictures. There are rarely pictures of the burning or fallen towers. This is especially interesting, as such an image (see above) is often the sole or main image that accompanies the discussion of 9/11 in foreign textbooks.
My research on the events of 9/11 and its aftermath in history textbooks across the globe was recently featured on WBUR’s “All Things Considered.” You can listen to the audio (above) and read the transcript (below) from my interview, or get it all on WBUR’s website as well.
Full transcript, with interview by Sacha Pfeiffer.
I was recently quoted in the New York Times on the way in which 9/11 is being taught in history classes around the world. The article is currently running in their special for the anniversary of the event, entitled, “9/11: The Reckoning.”
Click through to read the full article, “The Lesson” by NY Times education reporter Tamar Lewin.
A while back, Foreign Policy magazine came out with a fantastic piece by Robert A. Pape, delving deep into an issue that is rarely discussed – the why rather than the how of anti-American attacks.
For nearly a decade, Americans have been waging a long war against terrorism without much serious public debate about what is truly motivating terrorists to kill them. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, this was perfectly explicable — the need to destroy al Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan was too urgent to await sober analyses of root causes. Continue reading
In November 2009, I spent a week with my head buried in textbooks as far as the eye can see. Where can one do this? At the one and only Georg Eckert Institute in Brunschweig, Germany, home to over 100,000 textbooks from scores of countries.
I was on a research trip collecting clippings, searching for retellings of 9/11 in history textbooks from all over the world. It was a bit like a treasure hunt – and a coded one at that. As I spoke painfully few of the languages in the books I was sifting through I found myself looking for clues – dates, names, catch words – to tip me off about the mention of the event. But sometimes even these don’t jump out, especially for languages with non-Roman alphabets.
In order to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11, “The Stories We Tell” has shifted its focus to examining the way in which the event has been remembered in the decade since. Check back throughout the week for features on the way narratives on the event have been shaped, both at home and abroad.