Resisting Anamnesis: A Nietzschean Analysis of Turkey's National History Education

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Political Science



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Journal of Contemporary European Studies


The Turkish Republic that emerged from the collapsing Ottoman Empire offers an instructive example of a self-conscious deployment of history by political elites to build a nation fitting the new state. The purpose of official history has been to tie the population to the land and the State, and to the project of ‘modernization’ (meaning, mostly, Europeanization). It encompasses many apparent contradictions that nevertheless have had to be reconciled in the historical narratives presented to schoolchildren and what has been omitted from those narratives, such as the role of Europeans as wartime enemies versus the new Republic's European orientation. In order to explain how Turkish republican official history selectively synthesized and mobilized disparate potential historical sources of a modernizing national identity, I analyze history textbooks and curricular materials from the 1930s through the 1950s, applying a four-way analysis drawn from Nietzsche. Following the schema presented in his early essay ‘History in the service and disservice of life’ I show examples of how different elements of Turkey's past, as well as key events in European history, are deployed in monumental, antiquarian, and critical modes of representation. I discuss Nietzsche's main preoccupation in that essay, the importance of forgetting, and apply it to some of the occlusions in the history curriculum of the early Republic. The article sheds light on the content of the history curriculum and the challenges facing reformers today, and also illustrates an analytic schema that could be applied to other cases of national identity construction.


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This article has also been published as:
Webb, Edward. "Resisting Anamnesis: A Nietzschean Analysis of Turkey's National History Education." In New Perspectives on Turkey-EU Relations, edited by Chris Rumford, 31-42. London: Routledge, 2013.
For more information on this publication, visit Routledge's Website.



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