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Colonialism and Decolonization in National Historical Cultures and Memory Politics in Europe

Modules for History Lessons

Edited By Uta Fenske, Daniel Groth, Klaus-Michael Guse and Bärbel P. Kuhn

Colonialism and decolonization are historical phenomena that are part of the historical experience of many European countries. This volume offers students and teachers a new understanding of how colonialism and decolonization fit into our shared European past and contains teaching materials for history classes in European schools. The contributions have been produced by the EU project CoDec, involving partners from Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Great Britain, Austria, Poland and Switzerland. Analyzing colonial pasts, processes of decolonization and memory politics in different European countries from comparative and transnational perspectives, the study presents useful sources and practical suggestions for cutting-edge history lessons in European schools.
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Why “colonialism” as a concept causes confusion, and exploration of alternatives within historiography

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Introduction to the Module

In history as a discipline as well as in history education, key concepts are of great importance. They help to order the massive number of past events, and to structure the discipline of history. Key concepts attribute names to issues that are somewhat the same, although they appear in different phenomena and events. Colonialism is such a key concept, which tries to bring similar historical events under the same umbrella. During the last decades, however, it has become too broad and general, and therefore confusing as a key concept, used in overly diverging contexts and meanings. European overseas expansion, US and USSR Cold War interventionism, non-European imperialism, all inner-state or inner-continental relations of dependency, knowledge-power-relations etc.: all of these have been described by different scholars as “colonialism”, although they represent diverging phenomena, not only in themselves but also in terms of occurrence in time and space. Therefore, scholars nowadays recognize the problem accompanying the use of “colonialism”1, and have started a search for new concepts, to distinguish different phenomena from one another.

Three eminent and renowned scholars do so in their scientific overview works based especially on secondary literature, in comparing, and distinguishing, European overseas expansion since the 15th century from other colonialist- or imperialist-like phenomena. Odd Arne Westad, Norwegian historian specializing in the Cold War and contemporary East Asian history and director of the Cold War Studies Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science, distinguishes...

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