History textbooks (1953-1991)
The emphasis of the early work of the Council of Europe concerning history was on the treatment of national and European history in school textbooks.
As stated in the proceedings of the first conference organised in Calw, in 1953, the "purpose [was] not to use history as propaganda for European unity, but to try to eliminate the traditional mistakes and prejudices and to establish the facts… It is especially necessary to avoid any interpretation of historical development which might be used in the particular interest of one state, or which might disturb the friendly relations between peoples".
The participants to this first conference also highlighted issues that would be further developed in subsequent activities:
- the necessity to introduce the idea of Europe in history teaching;
- the importance of knowing the past for understanding the present;
- moving away from the "exclusively political views in order to give due weight to cultural facts, to economic and social problems, to the main currents of ideas and to the religious element";
- to develop the critical faculty [of learners] by presenting different sides to a question.
The format of the conference also set the working method that would be used: history teachers and professors, and history specialist would sit around a table and reflect and compare their views and their teaching in open dialogue.
It is at this early stage that the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research became an important partner in the Council of Europe's work on history.
Until 1958, the Council of Europe organised five more international conferences to look at how European history was presented in some 900 of the 2000 school textbooks then in use in member States.
This cycle was followed by two further conferences on "Religion in school history textbooks in Europe" (Louvain, 1972) and on "Co-operation in Europe since 1945, as presented in resources for the teaching of history, geography and civics in secondary schools" (Braunschweig, 1979) while parallely, a reflection around the teaching of history that goes beyond the mere content of school books has been engaged since 1965.