13 Recommendation for Authors of History Books

The following 13 recommendations are excerpted from Razvan Sibii’s paper, “Imagining ‘Romanianness’ in History Textbooks,” which has been presented at DUO IV. In the original text, the recommendations are backed by an extensive discussion of critical pedagogy and by an ethnomethodological analysis of chapters from two Romanian history textbooks.

The 13 recommendations:

1) Use lots of metatext (i.e., talk about talk) to explain your linguistic (and political) choices.

2) Be reflexive – show the reader that this narratives comes from someone and is therefore situated and not God’s honest truth.

3) Surrender your unquestioned authority and all-encompassing knowledge: say when something cannot be ascertained, when there’s insufficient proof to make an argument, and so on.

4) Include information about the nature of your historical sources and the process by which their credibility was established.

5) Recognize the constitutive power of language and therefore be careful when using words that label groups of people, events, periods of time, geographical units, etc. Discuss your choices.

6) Recognize the power of language to produce political subjectivities – be careful how you speak of “us” and “them.” Make deliberate use of ambiguous and contradictory identity categories – just as they are in reality.

7) Recognize the power of declarative, unsourced sentences to pass as the unchallenged Truth.

8 ) Do not use language to smooth over ambiguity and paradox.

9) Offer alternative interpretations for historical events and phenomena.

10) Recognize controversies among different schools of historiography and explain their context and roots.

11) Recognize that ideograms like “unity,” “the people,” “nation,” “homeland,” “country,” etc. are linguistic phenomena with powerful ideological, political and emotional effects. Avoid using them uncritically.

12) Avoid presenting processes and events as “just happening” all by themselves (a technique called “agent ellision” through “nomination”).

13) Recognize the metaphoric nature of language, and the rhetorical effects of your choice of metaphors and metonyms (such as presenting a person as the embodiment of a nation).

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