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  • Writing the Nation:Textbooks of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
  • Betty S. Anderson (bio)

We have struggled and we have fought from the beginning, and on behalf of a message, just as our fathers and grandfathers fought beforehand, in defense of their message, the message of unity, the message of freedom, the message of strength, the message of building, the message of protecting our sacred things and our sacred land, and the message of protecting the land of the Arabs for the unity of the Arabs. (King Hussein, foreword to the 1959 textbook, Tarikhna al-Hadith)1

Education is truly a mirror unto a people's social being and it is also the means by which that being is reproduced and passed onto the next generation. For that reason education has been the main ideological battlefield between the economic, political, and cultural forces of oppression and the forces of national liberation and unity. The education system was the first fortress to be stormed by the spiritual army of colonialism, clearing and guarding the way for a permanent siege by the entire occupation forces of British imperialism.

(Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Writers in Politics, 1997)2

These two quotes illustrate something of the transformative process the writing of history has undergone in the last two centuries. In the past, history has always served to explain peoples' connection to the land on which they lived, to define many of their public and private relationships, and to interpret the spiritual and material phenomena surrounding their lives. Today, the writing of history fulfills much the same function. However, since the nineteenth century, history and historians have been recruited, both wittingly and unwittingly, into national projects all over the world, to delineate and simultaneously legitimate, the existence of new nation-states. The parameters of historical analysis have been "limited" by the lines drawn on maps, whether in Europe or elsewhere, and the discourse of historical writing has been influenced by the national histories defined and disseminated by European historians, civil servants, and governments. Those who were colonized, as in Ngugi's African example, came under the direct control of the purveyors of this new discourse, while others, as in King Hussein's Jordan, found that a freer education system did not obviate the desire to appear as equally "national" as the European powers. To achieve that "national" status, leaders throughout the world had to physically build the infrastructures of their states, and, just as importantly, to provide the narratives connecting the people to the lands bounded by the lines on the map. These narratives appeared as historians themselves wrote about the feats that had taken place within those lines over the centuries and as government leaders commissioned histories to specifically place their present actions into the linear narrative of their nation's past. Throughout this process, the nation, whether defined as a territorial, linguistic, ethnic, or religious unit, gradually became a primary actor in the evolution of history and the writing of it.

King Hussein's quote above comes from the 1959 Jordanian government textbook, Tarikhna al-Hadith, and serves as an illustration of how textbooks themselves can shed light on the connection between nationalism and the writing of history. In many ways, a textbook is the most glaring example of how history is manipulated by government leaders, for, as Michael Apple and Linda Christian-Smith report, textbooks "are conceived, designed, and authored by real people with real interests."3 Also, "they signify—through their content and form—particular constructions of reality, particular ways of selecting and organizing that vast universe of possible knowledge."4 In the case of the Hashemites, the leaders constructed a reality they wanted the new Jordanian citizens to accept, namely the legitimacy of Hashemite rule and the state boundaries drawn by the British colonizers. The purpose was to envision a Jordanian "imagined community" radiating out from and dependent upon the Hashemite kings.

Obvious problems are presented by the use of textbooks for any type of historical analysis. One reason has already been discussed above: governments naturally manipulate the message presented in them. This manipulation changes in tone depending on the level of interconnectedness between the governed and the governors, but...


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