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Constellation Analysis

A Methodology for Comparing Syllabus Topics Across Educational Contexts


Jason Nicholls

Edited By Bryan Cunningham

Jason Nicholls’ Constellation Analysis is an important contribution to studies in Comparative Education. From a deeply philosophical perspective (drawing in particular on the work of Hegel, Gadamer and Foucault), the author explores the ways in which topics in history education may be analysed and compared across international contexts. Utilising the Second World War as an «exemplar topic», the depiction of this crucial historical event in three countries, Japan, Sweden and England, is subjected to a highly novel form of interrogation. The book provides the reader not only with important insights into the nature of the books in use in classrooms across these contexts, but also into the educational – and indeed broad socio-political – environments beyond the classrooms.
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Jason Nicholls had star quality.

I first met him when he came to Oxford to be interviewed as a D.Phil. applicant. We were immediately struck by the warmth of his personality, by his huge intellect, and by his infectious enthusiasm for the topic he was proposing: a study of representations of the Second World War in the school textbooks of a range of countries. I agreed without hesitation to supervise his research.

From our early discussions following his arrival in Oxford it was clear that the subject of his thesis would be problematic. There was first the question of which countries to include. Germany was conspicuously absent from his plan, but Jason felt that without knowledge of the German language he would not be able to do justice to German sources of all kinds. (He was a proficient linguist, able to cope with material in the languages of the other countries initially proposed in his study.) And there was the problem of the precise focus – comparing textbooks could too easily become a catalogue of descriptive, juxtaposed presentations of the content of the textbooks concerned at all levels of the school curriculum and analysis would be difficult.

I suggested to him that he should instead focus on the problems involved in comparing textbooks, and in particular, history textbooks dealing with the War, and especially in selected countries: in other words, on how to undertake such a comparison. The study would then be essentially a contribution...

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