Re-writing European History for the Classroom*
By Emily Davies
The history of Europe is being taught to pupils in a ‘distorted’ way in order to promote the EU, a leading British historian has claimed.
Professor David Abulafia, of Cambridge University, said the ‘soft push’ for further European integration that had been seen in French and German education was beginning to ‘creep in’ to British classrooms.
He joins television historian David Starkey and Professors Richard Shannon and Robert Tombs in launching a campaign, Historians for Britain, calling for a fundamental redrawing of the UK’s relationship with Europe.
In total 30 academics have backed the campaign and contributed essays to criticise the concept of a single European identity that underpins the emphasis on further integration.
In his essay Professor Abulafia wrote:
‘The search for common roots has not been ignored in Brussels and among its acolytes. School textbooks are issued that attempt to present the history of Europe as a common enterprise.
‘It hardly needs to be said that this has involved a distortion of the past, by assuming that a sense of European identity has existed for centuries, and by assuming a common purpose leading to the ultimate unification of Europe.’
Millions of children across the continent could be being taught a skewed version of history for political purposes, Professor Abulafia feared.
‘There is a soft push to create a sense of European citizenship which is based on frankly an invented common history, because the history of Europe is to a large extent the history of division, not the history of unity,’ he said.
‘When it has been the history of unity, as we’ve seen under Napoleon and Hitler or under the Soviets in Eastern Europe, it has gone disastrously wrong. It is a papering over the discordant elements in European history to create this idealised event.’
The Cambridge academic said the European Union had been presented as a ‘great train’ with the tracks leading to a ‘United States of Europe’ in some textbooks.
He raised concerns that children were being misled into believing that ‘European citizenship trumps national allegiance’ and suggests the notion that it is ‘obvious and natural’ to have a fully integrated European state.
He added: ‘Attempts to create an artificial notion of ‘Europe’ distract from the reality of the situation and make it harder to rectify the many problems that exist within the EU’s institutions.’
His concerns are shared by other historians, one of whom compared the push for European unity to the tyranny of Joseph Stalin, and another who warned that it undermined principles defended by Sir Winston Churchill.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of Business for Britain, the campaign backing renegotiation which is affiliated with Historians for Britain, said the idea of a single European identity was ‘dangerous’.
He told the Daily Telegraph newspaper:
‘The EU’s official motto is ‘United in diversity’, a laudable philosophy. Unfortunately, many of the EU’s policies seem intent on crushing that diversity, striving to replace Europe’s many historic identities with a single, artificial ‘European’ culture.’