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  • The Narrative of AcculturationHungarian Jewish Children's Books during the Dual Monarchy, 1867‒1918
  • Daniel Viragh (bio)

Since the French Revolution, the modern state has had a definite stake in creating citizens who participate in civic life with vigour and 'patriotically' support the state's policies in military, political, and economic contexts. Feelings of patriotism are best developed in elementary and secondary school through the incorporation of teaching materials that expand the pupil's natural sense of attachment to the birth environment into an abstract feeling of love for the 'imagined community'1 of the nation. As a number of historians have shown, in nineteenth-century European contexts the study of national geography and history were the prime tools that educators chose to effect this expansion of their charges' loyalties.

In Peasants into Frenchmen, for example, Eugen Weber devoted an entire chapter to the development of modern schooling in rural France at the end of the nineteenth century. As he noted, the function of the modern school was to teach a 'new patriotism'2 which created a 'whole new language' providing 'common points of reference that straddled regional boundaries'.3 The objective of modern schooling was in part to impress upon children 'what the state did for them and why it exacted taxes and military service'.4 Weber showed that the 'vast program of indoctrination' created through compulsory elementary education relied heavily on French geography and history in order to 'persuade people that the fatherland extended beyond its evident limits to something vast and intangible called France'.5 Thus the national map and the primary-school reading book were important tools for facilitating this inculcation of the idea of 'nation' into young minds.

So, too, in the German context, the idea of Heimat was introduced early in a child's education in order to expand the child's loyalty from the areas surrounding [End Page 73] his or her immediate physical context to places ever farther away that eventually merged with the unseen boundaries of the German state. The American historian Stephen Harp noted:

The closest English equivalent [to Heimat] may very well be the 'home' in 'homesickness', which implies some of the same idealized nostalgia and which can change according to context to mean everything from one's family to the nation-state.6

According to Harp, 'the meaning of Heimat changed according to context, embracing everything from one's village, to the surrounding area, to local vegetation, to customs and history, to the region, and, by suggestion, to the German nation-state'.7

Harp's study of elementary schooling in the French–German border district of Alsace-Lorraine in the period between 1850 and 1940 reveals that for both French and German state administrators the indoctrination of the population was especially important in a geographical area which had changed political ownership on three different occasions within living memory, and where the local population still remembered schooling under previous political regimes. But being in a border region only emphasized tendencies that were present in all other parts of Germany and France. As the British historian Jeff Bowersox has shown, by the beginning of the twentieth century the study of Heimat in geography lessons throughout the Wilhelmine school system was eventually expanded to include Germany's colonial holdings.8

For school administrators, a primary objective was to make the national narrative as appealing to children as possible. The Canadian historian Stephen Heathorn studied the construction of gender, class, and Englishness in British elementary schools by conducting a thorough investigation of reading material published for primarily working-class elementary schoolchildren in Britain between 1880 and 1914. Heathorn points to a central paradox with respect to the place that the study of history was accorded in the textbooks: after the promulgation of a revised Educational Code in 1862, history declined as an actual subject in school textbooks, while emphasis was squarely placed on reading, writing, and arithmetic.9 However, by the 1880s schools had begun using historical reading books in order to teach basic reading skills; hence, the presence of a narrative that was partially based in history and partially mythologized in service to the nation actually increased. Heathorn points...


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